At home with... Paolo Tullio : Soul food
Interview by Jacqueline Kavanagh
Interviewing the actor, writer and renowned restaurant reviewer Paolo Tullio about his stunning Wicklow home is not as straightforward as you'd expect. There are a number of very good reasons -- well, excuses -- for this. The first being: the moment you put your foot over the threshold of his house, which resembles a glass spaceship morphed with an enormous, toppled, wooden star, you're made to feel completely at home.
So at home, that an hour after arriving you'll still be chatting about Bruce Forsyth, choosing names for puppies and testing night vision goggles. And any chance of discussing architects, flooring or kitchen design goes straight out his enormous Canadian pine-framed windows.
In fact, attempting to carry out any kind of serious interview seems rather rude in a house that has an amazing capacity for making you want to kick off your shoes, sit back, discuss scallops and drink Marques de Riscal 2000 Gran Reserve.
And then there's the other major distraction: the food. It's said that smell is the least-used of our five senses -- not in Paolo's house, where the nose gets a serious workout. In my case, my senses were treated to Scamorza (smoked cheese cooked on a griddle), followed by Zampone (stuffed pig's leg -- tastes way better than it looks and sounds) and mash, accompanied by Lardo (made from layers of pig fat -- something of an acquired taste. So, the rule about not talking with your mouth full also puts paid to much interviewing.
Paolo has built the type of place you find less and less these days, where a combination of great food, good conversation, stunning scenery and innovative design blend seamlessly to make the perfect home for entertaining, relaxing and -- aaahhh -- more relaxing.
The four-bedroom house sits tucked away in the tiny village of Annamoe, which boasts an antique shop, tea-rooms and A-list celebrity residents including Daniel Day-Lewis, John Boorman and U2 boss Paul McGuiness. And while architects Duncan Stewart and Paul Sinnott designed the house, Paolo says there were some very specific ideas he wanted included in his new home.
"The house has been built precisely and exactly to my specifications. To how I wanted it completely and exactly, which is quite a nice way to do it," he says.
The positioning of the rooms was key to the success of the build.
"I was really concerned right from the start about having the sun's aspect right," explains Paolo. "The kitchen points southwest and gets the sun from the moment it rises to the moment it sets -- assuming, of course, there is any. The evening rooms get the evening sun and my bedroom gets the morning sun."
He would find the notion of building a house without taking the sun into account bizarre.
"I find it absurd in a country where we don't see a lot of sun that houses are built that don't seem to take the sun's aspect in at all. It's not that we get to see so much sun that we want to hide from it," he says.
And naturally, the kitchen is the focus of the house.
"The kitchen was, of course, important to me and I wanted a decent dining room. I can't spend my days talking about food and not have a decent dining room or kitchen," he smiles. "I wanted a kitchen where I could cook, be able to talk to people when I'm cooking, and have a view."
And what a view that is. From his impressive kitchen windows, Paolo looks out over Castlekevin Hill, the valley going down to Glendalough and Scar Mountain -- and there's not another house in sight.
The imaginatively-shaped house is almost like a queen starfish chopped in half, the crown being the little glass pyramid which lights up the wide winding staircase leading to the gallery library. This piece of architectural art sits perfectly on eight acres of coveted Wicklow land.
"We're planting more trees all the time," explains Paolo as he cooks. "We planted another 40 just last week. At the moment, we're planting oaks and sycamores. I want something for my great-grandchildren to look at. They'll get to see the oaks looking splendid, assuming we still have a planet."
But it's not only planting trees that has kept Paolo busy.
"This year I got tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and lettuces up and running," he says, with pride. "I now know if you go out to your garden and pick a tomato from your own tomato plant, I swear to you they taste like nectar. You'll think they are the most fabulous things in the whole world."
And having 800 yards of the River Avonmore at the end of the garden is proving an incentive to take up a new hobby.
"I think it's got salmon in it again after many years. I don't fish but I might start soon if there is salmon in it," he laughs mischievously.
As well as demanding a large sitting room, with its impressive Alsace-Lorraine wood-burning stove, and enough bedrooms to accommodate party guests who want to stay over after a glass of wine too many, Paolo insisted his new home must be warm.
"I've spent a lot of my life in rather old, draughty, cold houses. If you go to dinner, you really ought to take your overcoat in most houses in Wicklow. This is the first time I've lived in a new, warm house," he admits.
"And I've now decided new warm houses are definitely the way to go."
And he says that thanks to the insulation in the house he's never been toastier.
"Last year, to heat the whole house with oil central heating for a year, with hot water everyday, cost €1,200. That's the benefit of insulation: you have the heat on for two hours and the house will stay hot for another 12 hours."
If there were such a thing as Michelin stars for homes, there's little doubt Paolo's front door would be pretty crowded.