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Meet Leeds' Simmer Kitchen Chef Al Roberto
Eat and Drink
January 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

From rockstar to Yorkshire chef, Al Roberto shares how he set up Leeds-based Simmer Kitchen which hosts private dinner parties, chef demonstrations and more

We catch up with Al to hear more about his journey into cooking.

Growing up around food naturally got Al interested in creating his own dishes, however becoming a chef was not his first career choice. ‘My family had Italian restaurants back in the late 80s and early 90s, so I’ve grown up within the restaurant scene,’ he says. Once he was old enough Al started helping in the kitchen and here is where his passion for food sparked.

‘Probably from the age of 14 I started really cheffing in my dad’s restaurants cooking in the kitchen and it was funny because even though I'd been around food and loved it, I wanted to be a drummer. That was my main passion,’ Al explains. Working on weekends in his dad’s restaurant allowed him to pay for drumming lessons and at the age of 18 Al decided to leave Yorkshire to move to London and pursue his music career. ‘I didn’t really do much cheffing after that because it was all about drumming. I did a bit of work for MTV, I went to college down there and I didn’t pick cooking back up until I was 27. I spent about 10 years as a drummer traveling all over the world, but food was always a big part of my life as I had kids young and was cooking for my family.

‘Then after a year and half in Dubai I came back and I thought, I can’t tour around anymore, what else can I do and what else am I passionate about? I was never good at school so thought I would get back into cheffing and a friend of mine owned a pub in Pool in Wharfedale so asked if I could come and do a service. I’d never worked in a pub, it’s always been Italian food, but I worked there and really enjoyed it,’ Al says. Rediscovering his love for cooking, Al decided to focus on becoming a chef, working in various restaurants around Yorkshire including Rosette-awarded restaurants such as The Rattle Owl in York.

With a family to support, Al says it wasn’t easy to get into the industry. ‘I couldn’t just go work as a commis in a Michelin-star restaurant on minimum wage, instead I really had to be thrown in the deep end and learn my craft really quickly,’ he explains.

Covid then arrived, and everything changed for everyone. ‘Everything closed down and I did what I suppose everyone else did which was bake, bake, bake,’ he explains. During the first lockdown Al supported his children at home, but when the second lockdown came, he says times became tough. ‘During the second lockdown my son Lewis was diagnosed with ADHD and autism and we were thinking of closing the restaurant in Leeds at the same time.’ Thinking about what he could do next, Al went back to what his family were known for – delicious wood-fired pizzas. ‘My son and I thought together we would do pizza kits so families and kids around the local area could cook [and it would be] just us two driving around delivery them. It built up over time and we got really busy, to the point where we were doing 50 to 60 kits a week.’

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When lockdown restrictions eased Al decided to launch Simmer Kitchen. ‘We thought this really works and so many people came up to me saying when everything opens back up again please do private dining,’ he recalls. Now the business caters for a variety of events including weddings and Al also hosts workshops and chef demonstrations. ‘I do kid and adult wood-fire pizza workshops and we’ve done these for three years in a row at The Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival. I’ve also done workshops with the likes of Cathedral City and Lidl UK and I love the entertainment side which I think is where my drumming comes in.’

Going back to his childhood for inspiration, Al’s cooking style is naturally Italian. ‘I think my style now is more homely and wholesome but still very much rustic Italian and my inspiration comes from my childhood, thinking back to the past and using flavours which remind me of a memory,’ he says.

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Looking ahead to 2024 Al is working on his first cookbook, which he hopes to have finished by the summer. ‘I’ve worked on this over the last couple of months, having meetings with publishers and I have also got a photographer booked in. I’ve always wanted to do a cookbook but there are so many out there and so many different styles of cookbooks, so there’s no point me doing one about how to make pasta dishes, it needs to be something different and something more real.

‘It naturally came to me to do a book on family cooking and how important it is to eat well but also think about why you’re cooking. I’ve got some really good recipes in there and it’s going to be wholesome recipes which people can do, but also have a therapy side of cooking to it. It’s still a work in progress but hopefully it’ll be done in summer,’ he says.  

Despite a cookbook and Simmer Kitchen hosting workshops, chef demonstrations and catering for events, Al still has another restaurant he would like to pursue. ‘I want to get another restaurant, something little like a pizzeria which might do some Italian tapas and maybe some private dinners because it’s been about three years since I've run a restaurant. However I naturally like to do demonstrations because I like the performance side of things and also when the book comes out I want to sway towards foodie talks.’ With lots in the pipeline we can’t wait to see what Al ends up doing next – just watch this space.


Favourite ingredient to use?
Butter because it’s versatile and it adds so much flavour.

Best place to dine locally?
Stuzzi is a fantastic Italian restaurant which cooks authentic sharing-style Italian food.

Your favourite hidden gem in Yorkshire?
I go to Grassington a lot and I love it up there.

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