Aldo Zilli

The celebrity chef, Aldo Zilli,  has just been named the new brand ambassador of Lucarelli, the restaurant in the Mailbox carving out a reputation for truly authentic Italian cuisine. So, we got up close and personal… 

Tell us about your cooking

There are two key things for me in my cooking. Seasons are important and freshness is important. Simple methods are what Italian food is known for, but to achieve great Italian food you must have the very best, freshest ingredients. My style is very regional as ‘Italian food’ actually doesn’t really exist in Italy. 

How did you become a chef?

I started learning to cook when I was very young as a small boy with my mum. I loved to watch and learn and help my mum cook and once I was old enough, I went to catering college in Pescara, a city which is on the Adriatic Sea. After my studies were complete, I then went to France and Munich to work. I came to England in 1978 and opened my first restaurant in 1986. My influences are from Southern Italy where I grew up in fishing village – hence my love affair with fish. 

What do you eat at home?

I love to sit round with the family and my kids, and I like my wife to cook – ideally on a Sunday. We eat a lot of fish and sea food. My kids favourite though is my macaroni cheese. They love to tuck into that!

Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?

That’s difficult as I have met so many. But for me it is my mentor Luca Parosi, a Sicilian chef who cooked French food. He was the most talented person I have met in my life. He inspired me to carry on in this business at 18, and I learned so many techniques from him. In Birmingham, I think Glynn Purnell is an exciting chef. 

How has your restaurant been adapting to the current crisis?

Training and service is so important, service is more important than ever. We must give diners a good time when they decide to venture out. They are not going out so much now, so when they do we must give them the best experience possible.

Share a cooking tip

Always put pasta to sauce, never sauce to pasta.

What was your favourite food as a kid?

I am the youngest of nine children, so food was scarce and we didn’t get a chance to have a favourite. However, I will never forget the gnocchi my mother made. It was so good I am planning to introduce that in Lucarelli.

Food heaven and food hell? 

My heaven is shellfish or lobster thermidore. Hell for me is tripe. 

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?

Insects in a restaurant in China. That was interesting! 

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?       

An actor.

Lucarelli Restaurant, Mailbox, 117 Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1 1RF. Tel: 0121 665 6762,