If you missed Stanley Tucci’s rise to social fame over the last year, where have you been? His extensive and innuendo based martini & negroni tutorials throughout lockdown were a must watch and guess what, you missed out. His charming smile, those signature black glasses, the smooth New York, London mixed accent and his outrageous cocktail skills became across the internet and food lovers. From his home in Barnes he shares with his wife, Felicity Blunt (Emily Blunts sister), he saved our minds and palettes during the pandemic and it was his deep passion for food and drink that brought us all together. His new memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food is predominantly funny and heartwarming, but it also sheds very personal light on things such as the mouth cancer he suffered from several years back, that without the wonder of modern medicine could have meant that he would have possibility lost his ability to taste. For someone whose life is centred around food, this discovery was devastating and only further deepened his appreciation.
With wonderful anecdotes of his childhood through to his on-set culinary adventures (we read about this introduction to whale thanks to filming in Reykjavik), and the food he loves to cook at home for family and friends, his culinary past, peppered with personal recipes, makes for a great read (he even details his “Ragu Tucci” in there). “I must admit that years ago I never thought that my passion and interest in food would come close to eclipsing how I felt about my chosen profession,” he says. He tells us how he wrote Taste through the first lockdown, out of work and nothing to do apart from cook for a house fall of kids. “I wrote it like I write a screenplay. You sit down, you have an idea of what is going to happen and you start writing. Some days are easier than others – some days it just flows – but I’d set myself, like, 1,000 words a day and aim for that. I got to moments when I’d think: ‘Why am I doing this? Who cares? Is this really interesting at all?’ And then other times I felt I really had something to say.” The result is a brilliantly charming and funny history of Tucci food. The book is unique in the fact it’s a mix of recipes readers can use themselves at home, recollections of his early years in New York, the passing of his first wife, Kate, and his experiences of fatherhood. It’s memoir meets cookbook and its bloody perfect.
He is a lover of the British restaurant scene and raves about his favourite places to eat to all that will listen. “Riva, here in Barnes, is great. I also go to Giorgio Locatelli’s, Sartoria, Scott’s – because I love how old-school it is and it looks so beautiful – and the Delaunay and the Wolseley, and then the little Soho places like Duck Soup, and Sabor is incredible. Incredible. [Nieves Barragon] is one of the nicest people ever. Americans cannot tease the Brits about having bad food. I’ve been here eight years now and the restaurant scene is so exciting here.”
Tucci is currently filming more of his CNN series, Searching For Italy, which is proving highly popular, though he is now doing an episode here in the UK. “We couldn’t go to Italy [due to Covid restrictions] so we decided to do one here, because there are about 400,000 Italians in the UK now. If you go to an Italian restaurant here, it’ll be full of Italians. Actual Italians. So we’re going to look at what they’re doing here, the great delicatessens and why young Italians are coming here. I found an amazing woman who is making mozzarella here using British produce. CNN approached me and one of the ideas I gave them was about breaking down Italian food region by region and exploring the reason why each region has the food it does, looking at topography, history, socioeconomics; all of that was really interesting to me. I’m going to cook with Gennaro [Contaldo] for an episode. He is the loveliest man ever.” Unsurprisingly, he has a deep love for the country (as do we), but is hard pushed to pick a top spot. “I really love the north. I love the climate. Emilia-Romagna, let’s face it, is pretty incredible when it comes to cuisine – the tortellini and the prosciutto, the lasagna Bolognese, it’s hard to beat. And the Amalfi coast, Umbria, Sardinia, and Rome… it’s impossible to choose a favourite place.”
But being based in London he isn’t stuck for places to source good Italian food, he tells us. “Valentina in Sheen is great. I Camisa in Soho and Lina are excellent. Eataly opened in Liverpool Street – I haven’t been yet but it was started in Milan and it’s heaven. If heaven were an Italian eatery it would be Eataly. And it’s huge. You can’t fathom how much they stock and the little restaurants and bars peppered inside. It’s staggering and there is nothing you can’t get there that is Italian.” If forced to choose a last meal, he admits it “might be lasagna Bolognese. In Emilia-Romagna I think I ate it every day.” A side note on this, we recently visited Eataly as our love for Italian produce is priority in our lives and it’s simply superb.
And his go-to cocktail? “A martini. I can just about have them now if I make them properly because my throat was so messed up from the [cancer] treatment – I don’t have all my saliva and it is incredibly sensitive, let’s put it that way – so if you have something sparkling, it still makes me sick because it’s like little needles stabbing me. And that’s just sparkling water, not even Champagne, so something super harsh has to be watered down. But a martini is good because you have to dilute it and, when made properly, it’s fine.”
So what tips does Mr Tucci have any pointers to making his favourite cocktail, the martini? “I recently went to The Connaught and we shot some stuff for Tanqueray, which was really fun and the bartender there, Augustino [Perrone] was a lovely, funny guy and he taught me a couple of really great things. I stir my martinis, as does he, but he taught me to hold the spoon and place it behind the ice so you get a silent stir. It’s beautiful and mixes it perfectly. They make their own vermouth by combining three different types – they are all white, but they are different and that matters because there isn’t one flavour profile. It hits different notes with a perfect balance. Having clear ice is also key. You have to freeze it slowly so it doesn’t become cloudy. It’s much cleaner.”