Zucco Meanwood: Meet the head chef of the Leeds Italian restaurant that has bounced back from disaster

Just one month after opening post-lockdown, Zucco was hit by an unforeseen disaster.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 4:30 pm

A car smashed through the Italian restaurant in May 2021, leaving it closed for another five months while the serious damage was repaired.

Head chef Jack Richards set up a GoFundMe page on behalf of the Zucco family - and within 24 hours more than £7,000 had been raised.

Jack was blown away by the support of customers in Meanwood and beyond and the restaurant is now busier than ever.

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Jack Richards, 29, is one of the head chefs at Zucco in Meanwood (Photo: James Hardisty)

“The support helped us out massively," Jack, 29, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"It seriously meant a lot to us.

"The restaurant has been open for more than 10 years and a couple of weeks ago we had our highest ever take."

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Disaster struck last year when a car smashed into the restaurant, leaving it closed for five months (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

Jack now splits the head chef role with Richard Ashcroft, after working at Chapel Allerton cafe House of Koko while the restaurant was being repaired.

He grew up around the corner from Zucco, and fell into the culinary world after leaving school with "no idea" of what he wanted to do for work.

Jack said: "I applied for all kinds of stuff, like music and bricklaying, and ended up taking the first offer which was catering college.

“Within weeks, I fell in love with it.”

Zucco's menu changes daily, depending on what's in season, with a vast menu of between 50-60 small sharing plates (Photo: James Hardisty)

Jack started his career at the Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey, which was then Michelin-starred, before working at Leeds Brewery, Man Behind the Curtain, the Hungry Bear and a stint in Spain.

He joined Zucco four years ago and said its owners are not just his bosses, but like a family to all the staff.

While he recommends that all young chefs experience working in Michelin-starred, fine-dining restaurants, he loves the laidback atmosphere at Zucco, where everyone is welcome.

Zucco's menu changes daily, depending on what's in season, with a vast menu of between 50-60 small sharing plates.

Diners can expect pizzette, a variety of seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes, as well as Italian desserts.

Jack added: "Two people might get between five and eight dishes to share, which is great as you get to try lots of different things.

“It’s simple food, nothing is overcomplicated. It’s just properly-cooked Italian food.

“My favourite dish is absolutely the ox cheek risotto. We slow cook the ox cheek for about eight hours so the meat is perfectly tender.

“And the customer service we offer is top notch. We’re so friendly, it’s a real laidback dining experience - it’s so informal and there’s no dress code.

"We have all kinds of people come through the doors.”

During lockdown, Jack had to take an office job which he said was "one of the worst things" he's ever done.

Now back in a busy kitchen, he's also been mentoring his 17-year-old cousin - who has just taken a job at Michelin-starred Roots in York.

“The biggest challenge of the job is the hours," Jack said.

"You don’t get to see your family that much. I don’t have that many friends in the industry, because you never get to see people.

"But I can walk into a bar or pub in town and 90 per cent of the time, I’ll know someone in there.

"I love the people I meet through the industry, you make long-term friends."