Lincoln’s Vito launches a British cuisine invasion

We all know the British love pizza, lasagne and of course spag bol – but could you ever imagine the Italians tucking in to a ploughman’s lunch or a Sunday roast?

Over 2000 years after Romans landed on our shores, Lincoln restaurateur Vito Cataffo is returning the favour – albeit with a friendlier agenda. He’s trying to take quality British food to his native Italians for Channel 4 show Dolce Vito: Dream Restaurant, attempting to start a British restaurant in Bologna called Passion, using only British produce.

Star of the Channel 4 show Dolce Vito: Dream Restaurant, Vito Cataffo. | Photo: C4

Born in Italy, Vito moved to England when he was one. Growing up, his father preserved the Italian tradition of eating together: “We were always brought around the dinner table for big family meals. My father was instrumental in maintaining that when we came to England…He would invite friends and families, very much English families, because he had a farm, so his workers would come along and enjoy the same quality of food. When he branched out into the restaurant business, he wanted to involve the customers in the quality eating habits that we enjoy in Italy.”

He and his family now have a restaurant base of around 35 restaurants, among them being Gino’s in the Bailgate: “We’re like a medium-small size corporate business. The way we do it is that we involve the owner-proprietors of the restaurants, where they’re actually owned by the operators – they’re not managed. This, in essence, then delivers to the customer a quality product.”

Vito’s television show came about after he was spotted on a BBC pilot show called Homes Live which had enjoyed a positive response. He pitched an idea to production company CIWC:

“I told them I was developing a concept in which I would take British produce to the Italians. Of course, they thought I was mad.” However, Channel 4 didn’t think so and commissioned the programme.

He’s passionate about British food and is certain he can make the Italians love it too. He blind-tested British beef against German, French and Italian stock. His test subjects, six chefs and a group of Italian grandmothers, all chose the British meat as the best. This, he said, gave him the confidence to go on as he knew he was dealing with quality produce.

Vito comes across on screen as amicable, if a little stressed at times. However, behind the scenes he can be hot-tempered: “In the restaurant business you are a fierce person….It’s theatre and you are the conductor. [I] hear every single note. Every single piece of pasta, meat, cheese – I see everything coming out. If I see something out of place, I do then blow my top…what they don’t realise is that I’m doing it for the customer.”

He doesn’t have much time for “celebrity chefs” either, who he believes have lost sight of the fundamentals: “I’ve had enough of Gordon Ramsey…Anthony-Worral Thompson, all these old guys. All they’re doing is regurgitating the same old, same old. Even Jamie Oliver. It’s now all about their TV shows, not about the actual cooking.”

With an academy in his sights and a pilot for a new show being filmed in January called Britain’s Got Cooks, which is a talent style cooking show whereby chefs cook to music, we could be seeing a lot more of Vito in the future.

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