Leeds restaurants: Meet the Sicilian head chef at Culto Meanwood serving Italian food made with love

Everything served at Culto is made with love.

Saturday, 4th December 2021, 4:45 pm

From Sicilian arancini filled with mozzarella and ham, to the best-selling Diavola pizza with spicy Nduja imported from Calabria, the Meanwood restaurant's simple menu is full of authentic Italian food.

Heading up the bustling kitchen is Nunzio La Rosa, who has been a pizza chef for more than two decades.

Born in the Sicilian capital Palermo, Nunzio grew up surrounded by good food - waiting for the day he could leave school to work at his family restaurant.

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Nunzio Lirosa, 41, is the head chef at Culto, an Italian restaurant in the heart of Meanwood, Leeds (Photo: Steve Riding)

“My first memories are of my mum cooking squid in the pan, I loved fish," Nunzio told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“I started cooking at 20 years old after I finished school. My mum and dad had a restaurant in Italy and I worked there as a pizza chef. I was in love with food.

“My dream when I was a student was always to work in the restaurant.”

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Nunzio with Culto's Penne All’Arrabbiata, one of his favourite dishes on the menu (Photo: Steve Riding)

Nunzio moved to the UK in 2014 and joined the Culto team a year later, helping to oversee the launch of the restaurant's Sicilian street food eatery POCO in 2018.

If there was anyone qualified to bring Sicilian street food to Leeds, it was Nunzio, and the takeaway was an instant hit - with queues often tailing down Kirkstall Road.

Now Culto's head chef, Nunzio oversees the finest details of the restaurant's menu, from creating Napoli sauce from scratch using fresh tomatoes to trying new flavour combinations with his pizza specials.

The 41-year-old said: “It’s a simple menu from Italy, the pizza is very popular - normal pizza with white flour and charcoal pizza with a black base. People love it.

“We have traditional, simple pasta. There’s carbonara, arrabiata and arancini from my town in Sicily - veg arancini with truffle and meat arancini with ham.

“My favourite dish is the penne arrabbiata, a spicy pasta originally from Rome, we make it with chilli, garlic, Napoli sauce and cherry tomato.”

When the pandemic hit, the restaurant fell back on its extensive delivery menu to stay afloat - with orders pouring in from a loyal base of customers who wanted their Culto hit.

The restaurant delivers to most Leeds postcodes, serving restaurant-quality food in a takeaway format.

“We were very busy during the pandemic," Nunzio said.

"Culto never stops!”

Nunzio and his team want to show everyone how delicious Italian food can be and, according to Culto's glowing Tripadvisor reviews, they're succeeding at doing just that.

He praised the team around him, a kitchen full of experienced Italian chefs bringing their love for authentic food to Leeds.

Nunzio added: “I love everything about my job, from making the pizza specials, cooking arancini, bolognese and fresh Napoli sauce. I like to care about the food.

“Customers give very good reviews on TripAdvisor and in the restaurant.

“We make fresh bolognese, fresh Napoli sauce, and fresh arancini. It’s a simple menu and every day we get fresh veg and fish.

“We serve genuine food. Nothing is artificial, it’s all natural. I make the tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, the beef comes from local farmers.

"Everything is made by hand. It's cooking with love at Culto.”

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