Ursula Ferrigno – Celebrity Chef and Author

Ursula Ferrigno – Celebrity Chef and Author

Ursula Ferrigno has established herself as one of the leading Italian chefs, both teaching and writing for audiences in the UK, Ireland and Italy. Her face is very familiar as she regularly appears on television and has a firm following for her cookery writing. However, as she is at lengths to point out, she is not a chef but a person who loves cooking.

Learnt to cook at her grandmother’s knee

Ferringno’s enthusiasm for cooking is obvious along with her trademark breathless delivery. Enthused by all things Italian, she learnt to cook at her grandmother’s knee. Her grandmother was an impressive woman by all accounts. Cooking every day for at least 15 people she made all her own pastas, hams and salamis. Cooking was art form to be enjoyed over a long and leisurely lunch. On a point of principal, her grandmother also never washed up afterwards. A principle which Ferrigno carries forward today. “I am lucky enough to have enough support in my teaching and demonstration classes so that I can concentrate on cooking rather than the clearing up,” she laughs.

As a young girl growing up, Ferrigno spent her spare time in the kitchen and not out in the playing fields or shopping malls. Moving from Italy to the UK, she found she missed genuine Italian food and began to experiment in her own kitchen. Armed with hundreds of her grandmother’s recipes, she began to develop a repertoire of dishes. The same recipes have also made their way into the eleven books she has currently written. There are, she says, at least another two books in the recipes left over.

Ferrigno studied food science in the UK but decided early on that becoming a dietician was not for her. “I enjoy food and prefer to indulge rather than restrict,” she says. However, the training has not been wasted as she will often use knowledge of health cooking as well in her courses.

Initially, Ferrigno founded a home food business before moving on to managing a restaurant. This was sold four years later and she moved into full time teaching. She was asked to appear on a number of UK television day time shows and from her initial success, decided she needed an agent. Duly obtained, her career took off and she now divides her time between teaching, consultancy, researching and writing.

“It’s not a proper job,” she says. “I have too good a time to consider it a job – it is more like being able to enjoy my favourite pastime and get paid for it.”

Ferrigno returns often to Italy to research her books and teaches in Luca in Tuscany. The lessons are taught in an old farmhouse that over looks the sea with views to Elba and Corsica. Attached to the farmhouse is a vineyard and olive grove.

Ferrigno is particularly passionate about extra virgin olive oil and also gives lectures on the subject. “We use the olive grove to produce our own olive oil,” she says.

“But it is not ‘oil’ in sense of slimy liquids. I prefer to call it Fruit Juice. We harvest the olives and bring it to be pressed. Nowadays this is done through centrifugal force. The water is extracted and all that is left if the green gold juice.”

Ferrigno is also a regular visitor to Ireland. For the past ten years she has been a frequent guest chef in Ghan House in County Louth. “This time I gave a talk on extra virgin olive oil and was amazed at the interest,” she says. “In the past ten years, there has been a significant growth in fresh and seasonal foods. The local supermarkets and delis are now stocking a great range of Italian foods, but there are also the tiny villages in Italy that sell directly from websites.

“When I first started coming to Ireland, the choice was very limited. It is probably a factor of people travelling much more extensively than before, but I am delighted to see so much knowledge and interest in genuine Italian food, from hams to olives.”

Ferrigno is part Irish, more strongly in sentiment than lineage. Her mother’s father hailed from Tipperary, and she herself feels very at home here. “The Italians and the Irish share the same love of living,” she says. “Meals are to be shared and enjoyed. I find that coming here is like coming home. We also have the same intensity of feeling about the soil. Food straight from good soil to the table in all its simplicity is one of the greatest gifts to bestow.”

Her latest book, “Italy sea to sky”, was published last year by Mitchell Beazley. A beautifully produced book, it is redolent with images from Italian farmland and forests. Explanatory chapters introduce the varied agricultural specialities across Italy – an enthusiasm that comes from her own family farming background. Above all, each recipe has a home, according to Ferrigno. “I didn’t make up the recipes, but sourced them from traditional cooks up and down the country, my grandmother being the dominant influence. As a result, the recipes are straightforward to make. I write for fellow cooking enthusiasts, not necessarily chefs.”