Elia Vergnano

The head chef at one of the Mailbox’s newest restaurants, Lucarelli, Elia Vergnano talks about his passion for capturing the true essence of Italian cuisine – and being a total cheese ‘monster’ and avid Avengers fan 

Tell us about your cooking

Naturally, I lean on my Italian heritage with my cooking. It is really important to me to always use the best, fresh ingredients and to respect the traditional Italian way of cooking. We personally select and import the highest quality Italian ingredients – it’s what really sets Lucarelli apart.

How did you become a chef?

I was formally trained at IPRA (Institute of Professional, Regional Hospitality) for five years. I was determined to become a chef from the age of five. Luckily my parents understood my ambitions and supported me in pursuing this.

What do you eat at home?

My fiancée is actually vegan so she has introduced me to a whole new world of food. You can see that influence on the menu for Lucarelli, for example our deep-fried Avocado Fries. I would like to say I always have time to cook from scratch, but sometimes you can’t beat a quick cheese sandwich on fresh white bread!

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

I would have to say my dad, Mario. He inspired me to become who I am. Throughout the lockdown period he has been sending me photos of new dishes and ideas, and I can’t wait to go back to Italy to try some of them! My favourite celebrity chef has always been Gordon Ramsay, and it’s a dream of mine to cook with him one day. Don’t worry, there’s not as much swearing in my kitchen though! As for Brum, can I say myself? Just joking, I’m too fickle to just pick one, as it really does depend on what kind of food I’m craving at the time. I think that’s the great thing about Birmingham, we have so many different types of wonderful food, from fine dining to street food, and more. There are always new and exciting restaurants and chefs to keep the food scene buzzing.

Is the customer always, right?

I don’t think it’s about being right or not, but at Lucarelli we always say: “May all who enter as guests leave as friends.”

Share a cooking tip

I have two tips for cooking pasta. Always salt the water as soon as it starts boiling and drain the pasta one minute before the suggested cooking time to ensure it is the perfect al dente finish.

What was your favourite food as a kid?

It’s exactly the same favourite that I have now – pizza! You can’t beat a perfectly prepared Margherita pizza with high quality mozzarella cooked in a woodfired oven drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with fresh basil.

Food heaven and food hell?

Heaven is easy. I’m an absolute cheese monster. For me the best cheese in the world is Fontina, which is from my hometown of Aosta Valley. It’s smooth and nutty and really packs a flavour punch. My food hell would be cinnamon, it’s the only flavour in the world I really don’t like and I have no idea why.

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

During my studies we tried some weird and wonderful things, I remember trying cow’s brain and being surprised at how strong the metallic flavour was.

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

Firstly, I would definitely have a few less friends. I’ve met so many interesting people through my love of food. If I wasn’t a chef, I would probably be a film critic as movies are my other big passion. I’m an Avengers nerd at heart!

What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?

I would have to suggest starting with our Trio Bruschetta, my favourite of the three is the classic tomato with plenty of garlic. Next up would be Risotto Fontina e Salsiccia, followed by Carré D’Agnello Arrosto, which is oven-baked rack of lamb served with rosemary roast potatoes. For dessert it would have to be the Italian classic tiramisu served with an espresso. Is that too much food? Never!

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