The Italian celebrity popped into Brum recently to do a stint in the kitchen at Fumo, San Carlo’s venetian tapas restaurant in the centre of town.
The TV chef is good friends owner Carlo Distefano and has added some new recipes to his menu. We decided to meet him at the bar for a chat about food
What are you up to today?
We have brought two new recipes to the menu. One is tiger prawns in a mustard marinade served with angel hair pasta. The other is a Sambuca monkfish with fennel and Jerusalem artichokes.
Do you set the Sambuca on fire?
No it’s not set on fire, the Italians don’t set anything on fire, it’s only the English that do that.
Have you always wanted to be a chef?
No I hated it at the beginning because it was such hard work and in those days you got kicked around a bit as well, so it was very hard for me. But we are talking 40 years ago, things were different then. But when I went abroad it became a necessity to work in the kitchen, because I couldn’t speak the language. So kitchen was my first port of call and then I started to love it and I have loved it all along since.
How would you describe your cooking?
My cooking is very simple with great seasonal ingredients. Lot of seafood, lots of fish. I come from a fishing village so that’s where my love affair with fish started. My Dad was a fisherman and I used to get paid in fish and so it’s a bit of a no brainer really.
What do you think of TV chefs, are they good for food culture?
We all have niches and are passing on something to the viewer which is educational and that’s really interesting. The entertainment is also interesting and that’s why it makes such a great thing to watch. It’s really helping food culture in the UK. It doesn’t necessarily mean people are cooking more, but they are understanding food more.
Which chefs do you admire?
I think TV chefs are all a bunch of… (laughs). They are all very, very vain. But everybody is to be admired. If I were to stop and watch anyone doing a recipe on TV it would be Michel Roux. He’s probably what I would call classic French food, the techniques he uses I like as well.
Are customers better informed?
The last ten years have been crazy with the amount of books and TV shows all about cooking. So I think the general public who come to our restaurants are better equipped now.
When you’re at home what do you cook for yourself?
At home I cook all the time as my wife can’t cook and I have too little kids and not everybody likes the same food. So it’s variety of meat, fish and vegetables. My wife is vegetarian and my kids need to eat protein so I buy them fish, I eat meat and we all eat whatever. It’s very fusion in my house.
Do you have a comfort food?
My comfort food is pasta, definitely.
What do you think of Birmingham’s food scene?
I love Birmingham. It’s really come up. I go to the BBC Good Food show and you can see the restaurant businesses here and everyone is really up and wants to do more and more. Mr Carlo here is doing a great job with the variety of restaurants he has. Fumo didn’t exist until a few years ago and now it’s like it’s been here it’s whole life. I think Birmingham is a great place to open a restaurant, I didn’t realise that until a few years ago but I do now.
What do you recommend today?
The lamb is very good and so is the pasta, but whatever you choose we are going to make it right for you.
Aldo Zilli’s baked cod with black olive crust and lentils
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 500 g Puy lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- 1.5 litres vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 100 g black olives 4 cod fillets (about 180 g each)
Heat half the oil in a large pan and add the diced vegetables. Cook until soft, about 3-4 minutes, stirring to ensure they don’t stick. Add the lentils and bay leaves, stir a couple of times, then add the stock and cook gently until it has been absorbed by the lentils for about 30 minutes. Keep warm. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/Gas Mark 4. In a food processor blend the remaining oil, the breadcrumbs, herbs and black olives until you have a smooth mix. Place the cod in a roasting tray and divide the olive mixture between the fillets, pressing it down with your fingers over the top and making sure you have an even distribution of the mix. Bake in the oven for 7-8 minutes. Serve the fish on top of the lentils.