Aldo sets his sights on youngest eaters

Chef on a mission: Aldo Zilli  at Lookers Sheffield Alfa Romeo.  Picture: Steve Parkin
Chef on a mission: Aldo Zilli at Lookers Sheffield Alfa Romeo. Picture: Steve Parkin
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“I admit I had an eating disorder – and food is still a struggle for me.”

It’s something you expect a reformed anorexic model to stay, not a celebrity chef.

Aldo Zilli revealed his battle with binge-eating while cooking for a Sheffield audience last week.

The Italian maestro talked frankly about food being his passion and his fortune, but also his failing.

Chefs have to like food, but he discovered the real reason for his over-eating on TV show Celebrity Fit Club last year.

“Dad was a farmer, then a fisherman. There were nine kids and we had nothing. I became a chef because of hunger – it meant I could eat all day long,” he explains. “But show psychologists made me realise my over-eating stemmed from being hungry in childhood. Food had become a comfort and a stress-reliever.”

He got it under control and lost over two stones. To his chagrin one has gone back on, but his eating issues have sparked a new enterprise – baby food.

“It’s the only thing Jamie Oliver hasn’t done,” he quipped to guests at the city’s new Alfa Romeo dealership Lookers, on Savile Street last week.

But there’s a more altruistic reason for developing the recipes he invented for youngest child Twiggy, now three, into a Baby Zilli range now on supermarket shelves.

“It’s crucial babies try different flavours from four months to educate their palates. I believe it stops them becoming obese in later life,” says the owner of Zilli Fish and Zilli Green in Soho.

Can he do for baby food what he did for UK Italian restaurant menus which only ever ran to pizza and spag Bol? The ebullient, Zilli reckons so. “When I first came to Britain at 19 - mainly chasing a pretty little blonde - I discovered people didn’t know about sun-dried tomatoes and rocket, part of life in Italy.

“I spotted an opportunity and started cooking authentic food. In the ’80s I put risotto on the menu in London for the first time. Paul and Linda McCartney had it and raved about it. And it was just risotto.”

zilli tips

Buy sun-dried tomatoes loose, in bags, They are cheaper than those in jars. Boil what you need in water for eight minutes, then use.

Use stalks of fresh basil – full of flavour.