By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHAT’S with celebrity chefs and their love for Delhi? Even before we could stop talking about the galaxy of Michelin-starred chefs who spent a week in the national capital, thanks to Anand Kapoor and his non-profit Creative Services Support Group, the city is abuzz with the news that London’s celebrity chef and television presenter Aldo Zilli is opening a restaurant at The Ashok, the state-run hotel infamous for its evil-smelling corridors, in partnership with Kashif Farooq of Urban Pind.
Zilli has just made headlines by creating a pair of edible stilettos from fresh pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and truffles (price: 7.90 pounds) for the multiple award-winning Manchester restaurant, Cicchetti, which is said to be the favourite of Coleen Rooney, wife of the England and Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney.
Farooq’s Urban Pind, the N-Block Market, Greater Kailash-I nightclub, has seen better days, when the queues outside it and its discriminatory “foreigners first” entry policy kept the watering hole in the news.
Those were the days when Farooq could get away by making his infamous statement — “Foreigners know how to talk to or approach women. Indian men get drunk and start to misbehave.” He said this to author Omair Ahmed in Outlook magazine, but now, after being for years the must-go-to party spot in South Delhi, Urban Pind seems to be no longer top of mind for Delhi’s night birds.
Born in the Italian seaside town of Alba Adriatica in Abruzzo, Zilli ran a number of restaurants in London (the most famous of them being Zilli Fish, a Soho institution, which he sold along with the rest of his chain after he hung up his chef’s whites in 2012). And of course, he’s a television favourite — as we learn from his website www.aldozilli.com, he has co-hosted with Enzo Olivieri a top-rated cookery show shot in Sicily (it has gone into its second season); he has travelled around Britain with fellow chef Silvena Rowe to compete in local cook-offs; his wife Nikki and he have mentored on television a homeless boy on television; he has lost 15 kilos on a reality show named Celebrity Fit Club; and he has even charmed the audience with his Italian songs in the ITV1 show, Celebrity X Factor.
He is also an acclaimed author of ten cookbooks and two autobiographies — his book over 100 vegetarian recipes, Fresh and Green, was on the Daily Telegraph’s Top 10 for 2012. He writes a weekly column for the Daily Express Saturday Magazine; he has consulted with Kraft Foods and Morrisons Supermarkets, where his Pizza Calabrese with Nduja (Calabria’s signature soft salami) was a national best-seller; and he has opened his own public relations and marketing company, Zilli Media (www.zillimedia.com).
Who brought Kashif Farooq and Aldo Zilli together? The buzz is that the match was sealed by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar of London’s Benaras restaurant. And the restaurant brand that they are bringing in, Cicchetti (named after the Venetian term for ‘small plates’, pronounced ‘chi-KET-tee’), is run by Carlo Distefano’s San Carlo Group, which has become famous riding on the success of the restaurant, which opened last year at the Piccadilly with a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5/5 after a hugely successful start in Manchester, and the Waterloo Street cocktail bar-cum-restaurant, Fumo. After he sold off his business, Zilli joined the San Carlo Group as Chef Consiliere, a consultancy position that makes him responsible for designing the menus of Cicchetti (www.sancarlocicchetti.co.uk). Having made its debut in Birmingham in 1996, the Group has spread its wings to 12 locations, including Kuwait, Beirut and Bangkok.
The entry of Cicchetti into The Ashok follows closely on the heels of the rather unimpressive opening of Michael van Cleef Ault’s nightclub for the fatcats, Pangaea, in partnership with the colourful owner of Spice Global, B.K. Modi. The industrialist’s other venture at The Ashok — Nom Nom, the Pan Asian restaurant in association with Dharmesh Karmokar — is yet to acquire the buzz of its Mumbai counterparts, which have got rave reviews from critics and guests alike. Will Cicchetti do what the combined star power of Michael van Cleef Ault and B.K. Modi has not been able to achieve in the jinxed state-run behemoth?