From aspiring priest to Hell’s Kitchen host

Carlo Cracco's life as a TV host and head chef in Milan is a far cry from his early thought of entering the church. The Local takes a look at the chef's years of culinary creations and his award-winning approach to Italian ingredients.

From aspiring priest to Hell’s Kitchen host
Carlo Cracco's father stopped him enrolling in a religious school. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Who is Carlo Cracco?

Carlo Cracco is a MasterChef Italia judge who leaves a shower of Michelin stars in his wake.

Born in Vicenza, in the Veneto region, he currently runs the kitchen at Milan’s Cracco Restaurant.

Why is he in the news?

Cracco recently announced he will be launching the Italian version of British chef Gordon Ramsay's TV show Hell’s Kitchen, which sees contestants fight for a head chef job at a leading restaurant. In his show, Ramsay is famous for dishing out a generous portion of expletives to the participants.

How does Cracco stand out from other Italian chefs?

In a country known internationally for its rich food culture, it may be hard for Italian chefs to make their name known. Not so for Cracco.

He launched his career in 1986 at the first restaurant in Italy to be awarded three Michelin stars – Gualtiero Marchesi. His culinary creations have since been served up at some of the country’s best restaurants, including Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, which boasts three Michelin stars.

Does he make a good lasagne?

Cracco could arguably make the best lasagne in Italy, but instead he focuses on dishes which combine “Milanese tradition with a modern touch”.

A visit to his Milan restaurant, which opened six years ago, demands a rethink of Italian cuisine: think creme brulè with olive oil, black cod with coffee, chocolate cream with black olives – food of the Gods and the super rich.

What does Cracco do away from the kitchen?

Pose with naked models. Or one, at least.

The chef caused a storm in December 2012 when he featured on the cover of GQ with a naked Jessica Dykstra wrapped around him. He was wearing nothing but her boots.

The model stood up for Cracco and the magazine, saying she didn’t see a problem with the photograph.

“I’m naked, so what?" she said. “A lot of women have overstated the potential vulgarity of these photos, just because they probably don't have a sense of humour,” she said.

But was the photo a reflection of a playboy lifestyle?

Cracco has his female fans, but he is also a family man.

He has two children from a previous marriage and has since started a new family with Rosa Fanti, 17 years his junior.

Fanti admits the pair had a make-or-break moment early on in the relationship.

“When he came to my house, the first thing he did was open the fridge. Inside, I only had a pack of pre-cooked wraps and mozzarella: I wanted to die,” she told Italian Vanity Fair.

Thankfully, Cracco said he would do the cooking from then on.

Was Cracco always set to live such a life?

Not at all. He told Vanity Fair he worked hard for everything he has.

“I’m one of four sons from a simple family in Vicenza. My father, a railway man, worked three extra jobs. My mother did the same,” he said.

Such a tough upbringing proved invaluable for Cracco, as it stopped him following his dreams of becoming a priest.

“I wanted to enroll in a religious school, but had to pay for board and lodging. My father said: ‘You’re a fool. It costs too much,’” he said.

Much to the relief of his dinner guests. 

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La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]