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Aldo Zilli

Published:  23 July, 2008

This a big year for you with the 10th anniversary of Zilli Fish as well as the publication of a new book. Are you doing anything to celebrate?
We've given the restaurant a facelift. It used to be all blue and fishy, so to speak, but now we've gone a bit more contemporary and neutral. We let the food do the talking now, not the design - simple design but very good food and service. After 10 years, it was about time for a facelift. People do it to themselves and restaurants need it too.

Are you doing anything else to mark the occasion?

Well, I made sure we won the World Cup!

Your masterclasses are new this year too. How are they going?

They've taken off big time. I head down to Billingsgate fish market at 6am with the group, then back to the restaurant, and I teach them all about fish and pasta and what to do with it. At the end they sit down to a massive lunch for two or three hours and eat what they've cooked. I do the classes about once a month, but only when I've got time. After Celebrity X-Factor things have gone a bit mad in terms of TV work and cooking demonstrations around the country.

How was Celebrity X-Factor?

The whole thing was a really good laugh. I don't think I'd ever do it again, but at the time I didn't know what I was doing so it was quite surreal. I had to live with the other chefs for about a week and that all became quite competitive and bitchy, but it was a great experience overall and Simon Cowell is amazing to work with, very cool and calm. We raised 25,000 for Action For Hunger, so that's the main thing.

Does all this new TV work mean that Zilli Fish will be taking a back seat?

No, definitely not. I've done a fair bit of reality TV but I'm tired of that now, I just want to cook. Sometimes you have to do something out of your comfort zone to be well known in your comfort zone, and that's what the TV shows have done for me. I'm still going to do TV work but it will all involve cooking.

Do you have trouble finding time for everything?

I have a diary like everyone else, so there's no real problem. In terms of the restaurant, the morning is where it's at. As long as I'm up early to buy all the food and devise the menus etcetera, that's all I can do for the restaurant. I admit that I don't do the cooking anymore, but I'm in the restaurant most days to talk things through with the kitchen team. I have a wife and 5-month-old son and I like to spend as much time as possible doing nice things with them.

Your wine list is mainly Italian. Are you involved with putting it together?

I have very good suppliers who direct me towards wines, but I have my own taste too. I like wine a lot, although I do tend to favour wines from my own region of Abruzzo - Montalpulciano is a wonderful grape. I like New World wines as well. I lived in South Africa for a while and the wineries around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are incredible. French whites can be great too. Basically, I love good wines and I really don't like cheap wines.

But you don't have very many non-Italian wines on your list at the moment.

No, but the list is about to change in line with the other changes. I'm planning to bring in a sommelier just for Zilli Fish to help with this. I want to increase the current list by around 15 or 20 wines and become a bit more adventurous. I think this is necessary for us to come up to speed with the rest of the world. I want to increase our cellar as well.

Do you have a new sommelier in mind?

I'm looking for a non-smoker who doesn't eat curries. I want a nice clean palate, so he/she can understand the different flavours. I don't believe any chefs or sommeliers should be smokers. I don't really have any other stipulations, though it might help if they're young, blonde and female! I'm just kidding about that, but I do think there are a lot of great female sommeliers out there now and they're not always given the same chances as the men.

Do you have plans to open any more restaurants?

I'm never going to open another restaurant. It works much better for me to do one thing really well. I used to have seven restaurants and I burnt my little fingers on a couple of them, so, for me, less is more. It means that I am directly involved as well. If I'm never in my restaurant then what's the point of having my name above the door?

You've done a fair bit of charity work in the past, do you have anything new in the pipeline?

Barnardo's and Children in Need are the two main things this year and these will both involve one-off shows with the chefs from Celebrity X-Factor. So good luck to the listeners!