Hangin’ with an Italian Master

Pizza dough at the wood oven
The Master At Work

Room to Improve…this is why it was worth it

Paolo Tullio is an Italian living in Ireland, he’s a chef, a writer an actor and an all round groovy guy. You will have seen Paolo on RTE’s successful TV series The restaurant, along with Tom Doorley he’s one of the resident judges with the unenviable task of sampling and evaluating a 3 course meal designed and executed by various A,B and C list Irish celebrities….the guys is a saint.

But this is not why Paolo Tullio is familiar to me, it is instead his food writing – both restaurant review and recipes. Paolo has a defined style and flavour to his musings and this stands him miles apart from his peers in my opinion…the words lazy and dull spring to mind when I think about most of Paolo’s journalist peers.

My impression of Paolo had  been entirely based on what I read and observed on TV  so when the opportunity to meet Paolo presented itself I was torn as to accept or not…..that old problem of not meeting your heroes suddenly popped into my head……….the other issue was the fact that our meeting was to be filmed for Television……….and to really lump pressure into the mix was that this meeting would also involve cooking together…..Paolo is a Michelin starred chef….I’m a bluffer with food blog.

Parma Ham and Rocket Pizza

I cook pizza regularly but much to my own disappointments I don’t have a pizza oven so what I produce whilst dam good still falls short of what it could be. The idea was hatched by the TV production company to put Paolo and I together and to cook Pizza for RTE’s Room to Improve,  a light-hearted interlude mid way through a home improvement show shot at Paolo’s home using Paolo’s home-built wood fired pizza oven……I needed no more coaxing, this I was not gonna miss.

Now this is a kitchen!
Now this is a kitchen!

So here’s the reality of the situation….go make Pizza with an Italian Michelin Starred chef, put it on TV and try not to make a arse of myself in the process. Now that’s a tall order for me, not only was it slightly daunting to be faced with meeting Paolo…in his own home but to cook pizza with him and in the process try and impress him…that would be a Herculean feat for me. Two things could happen on the day, first Paolo turns out not to be the guy I had created in my head, the pizza cooking is a disaster and I never attempt it again or second Paolo surpasses my expectations, we cook great pizza together and I leave literally walking on air………

This was a 50/50 gamble……well in mind head it was…in reality there really was never ever going to be any other outcome other than pure unadulterated joy. That day at Paolo Tullio’s house will stay with me for the rest of my life for more reasons than I could possible articulate but I’ll try……

Paolo is warm, unassuming, generous, interesting, authentic, inviting, captivating and funny. He welcomed us into his home on a warm Tuesday afternoon mid-summer and immediately made us feel at home taking us on a tour of his kitchen…a place I can only imagine had seen literally thousands of incredible feasts. Paolo has no pomp or circumstance about himself, he has no airs or graces and has no pretence…..what a guy!

What hit me like a tonne of bricks was Paolo’s genuine interest in us..he has  a hand shake like freshly baked bread, it was warm and soft but substantial and nourishing…I wanted to keep that hand, take it home and keep it close in times of worry! As the TV people did their TV thing setting up cameras, twiddling sound and plastering our presenter with make up Paolo lazily but confidentially began rolling a cigarette as the hustle of TV buzzed around us…I fell in love with the dude right then an there..how fucking cool are you I thought!

So the day kicked off with obligatory staged chatter about home kitchens and how they can be ‘professionalised’ by some simple tweaks and geography, this would form part of the actual TV segment driven by our presenter Dermot inspiring discussions around how professional kitchens could be set up in the domestic. Yawn. Both Paolo and I where very visibly itching to get this segment done, dusted and out of the way so we could get out into the sun and the real reason we were all together……Paolo’s hand built wood oven.

The two Paolo's and the star of the Show..the Oven!
The two Paolo’s and the star of the Show..the Oven!

If you are  a Trekker and you had the opportunity to sit on the bridge of the Enterprise then that is probably a good way to begin to describe how I felt when getting the chance to experience Paolo’s outdoor cooking area – Wood Oven and BBQ pit combined.

This had been a labour of love for Paolo and my jaw hit the floor the minute I saw it, a huge panic also gripped me when I remembered what was coming…creating and cooking pizza from scratch in front of Paolo! I’d made my own dough spun up my own pizza sauce and was ready to have it tried and tested by the man himself. I have to say I’ve been nervous a lot in my live…but never to the degree!

The show’s host Dermot joined us in our pizza creating and very quickly a competition broke out between himself, Paolo and me….the cordiality became warfare which Dermot was determined to win. So for fear this doesn’t make the actual edit here’s a snippet of our genial host’s attempt at Pizza….sorry Dermot 🙂

 

Our day ended with red wine and good conversation with Paolo and his wonderful family, talk turned to food and art and we forgot that a TV show was being made, late afternoon rolled in and time to depart began to loom..I felt guilty having hijacked Paolo’s day probably the best day of the summer. I had no need to feel guilty Paolo’s fresh bread hand shake came back and this time in double, he paid us compliments that made me weak at the knees and melancholy that we had to leave……

But leave we did and rolled home through the Wicklow hills, the sun as our backs and Paolo’s wood oven lazily smouldering waiting for a shoulder of pork to work on or just warm the Tullio family and they kicked back and wondered why this weird Northern had dropped on them out of the blue.

 

Hangin' with Paolo
Me, Dermot, Clare and Paolo

 

 

 

 

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