Gino D'Acampo: 'I want my Leeds restaurant to offer £15 pizzas in a five-star setting'

Gino D’Acampo has never been busier, with a multitude of television series, new restaurants and a range for Asda, but the celebrity chef manages to find time during a visit to Leeds to chat to Catherine Scott.

Gino D’Acampo is in his element. It is the fourth night in a row that he has hosted a special dinner (£200 a head) at one of his eponymous restaurants housed in top hotels in London, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds.

He may be a chef, but at heart he is also a showman who sparkles under the Christmas lights as much as the food served by the army of waiters and waitresses in his recently opened restaurant on the ground floor of the Marriott on Boar Lane, Leeds. Gino's brand ambassador Giuseppe Bergonzi gives guests a tour through the meal and accompanying wine pairings.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But Gino, 47, doesn’t want the restaurant just to be for those who can afford £200 a head although this did include a meet and greet with the man himself, a signed copy of his latest cookery book and an impressive goodie bag.

Gino D'Acampo always dreamed of opening his own restaurantGino D'Acampo always dreamed of opening his own restaurant
Gino D'Acampo always dreamed of opening his own restaurant

“The idea is that people who have finished a day’s work can just come in for a £15 pizza but be in a five star environment. Or you can come for a special occasion and spend £150,” says Gino as we chat over his favoured Negroni cocktail. “I want to create a five star experience that everyone can enjoy. We attract a clientele who appreciate value for money – they choose to spend their hard earned money with us – and recipe means something to me and comes from one of the 19 books I have written.”

The Leeds restaurant is the fifth Gino D’Acampo restaurant to open in a hotel. The first was Luciano (named after his son) in the ME London on The Strand, London.

“Luciano was something of an experiment after Covid, and was the first time I had worked with a hotel. We thought if the formula really works we could branch out with other hotels which we did.” And it seems to be a formula that’s working.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“If I had the money I could open 30-40 restaurants one after the other with the amount of hotels calling us worldwide, but I don’t want to over stretch the cash flow of the company. It’s not easy. Like everything in life you have a few failures before getting the formula right.

“I believe the safe way to do it is ‘piano piano, slowly slowly’. But now that we have formula right I am eager to grow if I can get enough money behind me to do it.”

And grow he is with plans to open internationally very soon. Each restaurant will share seventy per cent of the same menu –what Gino calls his core menu with Italian staples of such as lasagne and risotto. The rest of the menu changes with the seasons. “People want the classics – I once experimented with taking spaghetti with clams off the menu and we had the most complaints that season with people wanting to know where were the clams – you have to be careful to give people what they want.”

Born in Naples into a family of strong women, it was actually his grandfather who instilled a love of cooking in a young Gino. “My mother was a good cook but she could only make five or six dishes. The problem my mother had was she didn’t want to clean up after cooking so she only used one pot,” says Gino.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“My inspiration came from my grandfather who used to be a chef. He had a restaurant and I used to go there all the time and I loved the idea so I went to catering college very young.” And it wasn’t just the food that attracted a young Gino to become a chef.

"I used to see my grandfather talking and kissing so many young ladies when he went round the restaurant after the service – I thought there are worse jobs than that.”

When he was 17 he met and fell in love with his now wife.

“We met in Spain in a restaurant; I was the chef she was the waiter and so I moved back with her to the UK.”

He was 24 when he first appeared on television – something he says was never part of his plan.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I am living someone else’s dream. My dream was to open a restaurant – it was never my dream to be on TV or write 19 cook books.” The break came when a TV producer went into one of the restaurants where Gino was working.

"He nagged me and nagged me to be on a show, Good Food Live, on a new channel – UKTV Food on Sky hosted by Jeni Barnett. I did one and the day after they received so many letters –99 per cent of them were from women – they said he’s cute, he should come back.”

The show was live and since then he has thrived on live television, such as ITV’s This Morning, although that has sometimes got him into hot water.

“I don’t like to play other people’s games. I just say what I think. People say ‘Gino you need to be careful what you say’. Why do I need to be careful? I have never hurt anyone I have always been nice, straight forward and respectful to everyone – if the time comes and it’s the end of Gino D’Acampo, let it be.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

£ I go on This Morning and I say what I have to say – I don’t really care. I don’t insult anyone I don’t offend anyone; some people like it some people don’t – if you don’t like it there are a lot more channels you can watch. You are free to choose.”

His television career has expanded from being a TV chef. He was crowned King of the Jungle in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2009, his current show Gino’s Italian Escape, is more of a travelogue, and he starred with Gordon Ramsay and Fried Sirieix in Gordon, Gino and Fred’s Ultimate Road Trip.

“There was a bit of cooking and travel but it was more about the relationship between the three of us.”

When he was approached to take over as host of Family Fortunes from Les Dennis in 2020 he admits he was baffled.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The head of ITV called me and said I think you should be the new host of Family Fortunes. I thought it was a joke. I said to him ‘Why would I want to do that ? It’s an iconic British show, everyone is going to hate me. He convinced me to go to the studio. I had a go at the game and flipping loved it.”

Gino spends a lot of the time away from his wife and three children, working and filming in his beloved Italy. “That is the reason my wife and I are still together after 30 years,” he says. “I have always said to my wife we can only respect our life together if we respect our life without each other – we all have to have our own friends, go on our own holidays. But I only work for six months of the year.”

Although Christmas is the busiest time of year for restaurants he does get time off which he spends in Sardinia with his family.

“We don’t do Christmas like the British – everything on one plate covered in gravy. We do a suckling pig and I cook a beautiful sea bass in salt. I never understand why everyone chooses the worst cut of meat to have on Christmas Day – the best day of the year. People say it is tradition – it is beyond my understanding. “

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He claims to be slowing down but that’s not really in evidence the night I see him.

“I’m just going to disappear one day to the beach of Sardinia in a pair of shorts and flipflops with nature. I would love to be castaway with my family.”​​​​​​​

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.