Gennaro Contaldo: My Childhood on the Amalfi Coast

Ever wondered how Citalia’s Brand Ambassador and celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo spent his youth? Then dive right in.

Gennaro Contaldo was born on the Amalfi Coast in Italy and lived there for 20 years before moving to England in 1969. Despite living in the UK for all these years, there’s no place quite like home for him. Gennaro shares his passion for this beautiful country and loves Italy just as much as we do! Let’s take a look at some of his favourite memories growing up on this mesmerising stretch of coastline.

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Gennaro's Italy 

Discover more of the real Italy with our brand ambassador, celebrity chef, Gennaro Contaldo.

 

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What was it like to grow up on the Amalfi Coast?

Freedom, pure freedom. I come from a place that's 30 metres above the sea…our family house sits right on top and the night of my birth my father said, ‘The sea is rough, be sure to close the window properly!’ I guess because I could have tumbled into the water…  

As a child, the sea was my swimming pool, the mountains were my back gardens, and our little village of Minori was my playground. I don't even remember when I learnt to swim, as we would be at the beach every day. It was pure bliss.  

I used to get up in the morning and go jump in the sea. When I was in school my friends and I couldn’t wait to finish the school day so we could be wild, perhaps go fishing or even hunting in the mountains. I used to get told off a lot - probably because gallivanting around in the hills with weapons was a little dangerous. But it was like living in a kind of paradise. Everything was and still is so simple. 

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There are just 2,000 people living in Minori today and back then there were probably less. We knew everyone, or at least all the kids our age. When I go back and look at my friends I think - and sometimes even say - ‘Gosh how old you’ve become!’ But then when I see in their eyes I suddenly feel we’re all young again.  

It’s almost a disadvantage to be born in a place like the Amalfi Coast, because you don’t fully appreciate it.  

When I was about 10 years old, I began to see people from around the world in my hometown. I remember asking a child my age from Milan why he was there, and he told me they were on ‘holiday’. I didn’t even know what this word meant, let alone understand why they would come to Minori. It was only when I began travelling all over the world and settled in England, that I began to realise. Someone showed me an old Roman ruin somewhere, and I thought, ‘What’s the big deal? My sister lives in a house built by the Romans’. When I came back as a young adult, I had the aha moment, ‘Oh my God! My hometown is so very beautiful - wow, wow, wow! No wonder people love it here’.  

There’s a rhythm to life in Minori that is still the same as it always has been - everyone still stops for lunch at 1pm, and the shops all still close for a siesta. As a child I would walk the few hundred metres home from school and you’d hear people singing from their balconies, the rattle of dishes, and the wonderful smells. I couldn’t wait to get home.
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Everyone in the Amalfi Coast always ate to the seasons and expressed themselves through food - and that’s still the same today. Every single village along the Amalfi Coast are proud of their own produce and fiercely compete with one another. My father used to say to me that Minori anchovies are lovelier than any of the other villages and I never took notice - because as far as I was concerned, they were all from the same sea! But now as an adult, I realise he might be right. It turns out there’s a space in the seabed right by our village that grows a certain algae, which brings a unique flavour of the sea, and the fish are more silver. Such a subtle difference, but you can taste the difference from the anchovies compared to a village one mile away!  

Nowadays there's a lot of what we call agroturismo. Quite a few of my friends are lemon growers and have created albergo agriturismo out of their houses so that visitors can come in and taste this and that, all with a glass of limoncello.  

Lemons are everything on the Amalfi Coast - not just for your gin and tonic. Use them for lemonade, to flavour your fish, to disinfect your table. While researching my book Limoni, I found out that the Queen always imported Amalfi lemons. She would place a massive bowl of them on her table because their smell was so inebriating. If you find lemons growing as you walk down the hill, it’s okay if you take one lemon, the growers will forgive you. I always did as a little boy - you can’t help it!
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Where I come from everyone can cook. My whole family - my father, mama, dad, sister, grandma - would all cook inside the house. We had a family shop selling natural linen, which is a big product in the Amalfi Coast. I used to go with my father to meet his many customers. One morning we went to Maiori, a village about half a mile away, to meet with his friend Alfonso, who ran a family trattoria.  

I begged my father to stay and pick me up later in the afternoon, and the joke is that he picked me up three years later, because I rarely left the trattoria! I loved it so much there, and Alfonso would give me little jobs to do. If someone ordered chicken, I would be sent out the back to capture a live chicken - the food was that fresh. Over time I was working there over the school holidays as a summer job, and that’s what inspired me to become a chef. Aged 20, after travelling around Italy, I landed in the UK, and I am so blessed that I can now split my time between England and my beloved birthplace!  

The Amalfi Coast is an emotion, in fact all of Italy is an emotion. You capture moments and they move you, but the feeling stays forever.

Call us today to speak to one of our Italy Experts for further travel advice, hotel recommendations or to begin planning your next Italian holiday.

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