Topolino - Luigi Trani

"Do you mind if I take a picture?" "Of course my friend, I have 1000s of pictures with nothing to hide."

Luigi Trani, or Topolino, has lived an amazing life filled with respect, appreciation and, of course, great Italian food. He owned famous restaurants in London, became friends with Princess Diana and even sang to the Beatles. Being able to hear about his experiences first hand was and honor. 

Greg Kamradt: Thank you so much for meeting with me

Topolino: Yes yes. Which part of the world do you come from?

GK: Near San Francisco, California.

T: Yeah? I left my heart there haha

GK: So why the name Topolino? How come they call you that?

T: So its a very long story, but um, it started when I was a little boy. I was in school, nursery school. And I was the naughty boy, I was small and caused a lot of problems. The teachers they were nuns....nuns ah mama mia. And so one morning the teacher had called for everyone to move, but I was caught underneath the chair. And suddenly this nun comes inside and sees me under the chair. I was a little bit scared. Suddenly she moved the chair and she spotted me. And she said to me, "Hey you know, you look like Mickey Mouse or Topolino in Italian.

GK: So then always Topolino from then on?

T: Yes always.

GK: Where did you learn how to cook?

T: In London.

GK: Did you go to London to become a chef?

T: Actually no, I am not a chef, but I love to cook.

GK: So then you just ran the restaurant?

T: Yes I had two restaurants

GK: What kind of restaurants in London? (Knew immediately it was a dumb question)

T: Well two Italian restaurants of course.

GK: Where in London were they?

T: In Chelsea, the best part in London. By the big supermarket Harrods.

GK: Are they still there?

T: The building yes, but its not a restaurant anymore.

GK: What was your favorite part of the business?

T: I loved the people, everyone came to the restaurant the first time and they come back all the time, I don't know why ha. 

GK: What was the most popular dish?

T: Spare ribs, its not Italian but it was the most popular. 

GK: When did you open the restaurants and when did you come back to Ischia?

T: I opened them in the 70s and I came back 11 years ago. (2003)

GK: Do you have a restaurant now?

T: No, no, they want to open up a restaurant with me but I tell them no. Enough is enough. Ha.

GK: What do you now?

T: Nothing I just cook now, play cards and enjoy life.

GK: Can you talk to m about the people that would come to your restaurant? 

T: In my restaurant there were very nice people, like Peter Sellers, Peter Ustinov, Princess Diana.

GK: So Princess Diana use to go to your restaurant?

T: Yes, plenty of times.

GK: What was she like?

T: Very nice. Very very very nice.

GK: Do you have any funny stories or interesting stories from running a restaurant?

T: I have plenty to tell you my friend. Well one morning Peter Sellers comes to the restaurant and he says, Topolino tomorrow I will go to your island. I said, "Oh very nice Peter I hope you like my island. Everywhere you go, please tell everyone that you know Topolino." So after two weeks he came back and comes into the restaurant and goes, "Hello Topolino!," I say, "Hello Peter! Did you like my island?" He says, "Topolino, your island is very nice, but something is wrong ha." When he said something wrong my heart went boom boom boom boom. I thought they did something bad, like steal his money or something bad. He says, "In your island everybody knows Topolino...But nobody knows Peter Sellers!" Ha. And then in 1965 I sang for the Beatles.

GK: Wait you sang for the Beatles? Whats the story?

T: You don't believe me? When I was in England, the 5th of November, 1963. I went to go sing for the best, well it was one of the best, restaurants in London. Used to call it Dolce Vita, all the movie stars went there. Also the Beatles would come there. I would sing and play there, I'm not a very good singer but I would play there. I made sure that the restaurant liked it when I sang. The waiter said that they called me over, and they asked me to sing the boom boom boom song. Anyway I went over to their table and when they were sitting down I played for them. I was a young boy and I had very very long hair, all the time, and in 1963 when I sang for them, they had very short hair. 

GK: Any other stories? 

T: Well I have cooked for Lou Reed before (shows me a picture of him and Lou dining). And last month I was supposed to go to Paris to cook for Louis Vuitton but I was in London to cook for an old friend of Lady Diana so I could not go. Seventy seven people were there, I did a beautiful buffet, ahh.

GK: Do you mind if I take some pictures?

T: Yes yes yes of course, I have nothing to hide, I have plenty of photos. 1000s of photos. 

I went around taking pictures of his house. Amazing decorations and memories hung from the walls. Each one I asked about came with a story from his career. He then brought out letters from notable figures praising his generosity and food.