Sunday Lunch Campaign: 'Families drift apart if they don't eat together'

Sixty per cent of families don't eat together on Sundays. One in four don't even have a dining table. Top chef Aldo Zilli is horrified
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The Independent Online

"Sunday lunch isn't just important - it's a must," says Aldo Zilli, the flamboyant chef who has his signature restaurant in London's Brewer Street. "When I first came to this country 30 years ago, Sunday lunch was proper. They had a proper roast and everyone would make time to get together.

"But that's not happening any more. Now people seem to be more interested in other things - like going to the pub or having lap-lunches in front of the TV.

"It is so important for families to come together at least once a week. If eating around the family table dies, then the family starts to drift apart."

The problem is growing. A survey to be published this week by internet company Lycos reveals that as many as 60 per cent of British families do not bother to sit around the table for a Sunday meal any more. Indeed, a quarter of today's Britons do not even own a dining table.

Zilli, who is the latest in a long line of celebrated chefs to lend his support to this paper's Sunday Lunch Campaign, believes we need to view the weekend meal as a simple pleasure, rather than a chore, if we are to halt its demise.

"Sunday lunch needs to be sexier - it needs to change," says Zilli, a father of two. "We need to rethink what it is in order for it to survive. There is this mental block that Sunday lunch should always be a roast, which is absolutely ridiculous: it is about sitting together with family and friends... for three or four hours around a table. It is not only about the food, it should be about the atmosphere as well."

Part of our problem, according to Zilli, is that we have become too obsessed with convenience. "If it's not convenient, then people won't do it," he says. "But convenience shouldn't be a ready meal: convenience can also be good, fresh ingredients, cooked properly."

Zilli believes that Britons need to be more adventurous with their choice of Sunday lunches in order to breathe new life into the dying institution - but that doesn't necessarily mean cooking more complicated meals.

"I would like to see a reborn Sunday lunch with different foods and ideas," says the chef. "You know the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and the roast lamb and mint sauce, but there is so much more that you can do: you could have a nice pasta - or roast fish like we used to have when I was growing up in Italy."

Sunday lunch has always been an important part of Zilli's life: something that goes back to his childhood in Italy - the youngest of nine children born to a poor farming family.

Every Sunday, the entire Zilli brood would go to the local church - where one of his brothers was a priest - before returning for their meal. Their mother always cooked the food outside - something that Zilli himself still loves to do, and encourages everyone else to try, particularly in the summer months.

Those happy memories of great meals shared with his family have inspired the flamboyant Italian chef, who runs four restaurants in London, to lend his support to combat the slow death of the traditional Sunday lunch.

THE SUPPORTERS

Jean-Christophe Novelli Michelin-starred French chef

"The Sunday lunch is a great tradition, and it would be sacrilege to lose it."

Heston Blumenthal owner of the Fat Duck at Bray and voted Best Chef in the World

"It's about the company, then about the food. The key to the food is keeping it simple."

Antonio Carluccio head of Carluccio's restaurant group

"The art of cooking just isn't there any more in this country. This is to the detriment of cuisine and of family."

Richard Corrigan Michelin-starred proprietor of Lindsay House in Soho, London

"People need to take the time, to make the time and to stop making excuses."

The Recipe: Sea bass with sea salt and black pepper crust

Serves 4; one 2kg sea bass or four 500g small whole sea bass, gutted & gilled.

For the crust: 900g coarse sea salt; 75g black peppercorns, lightly crushed.

For the dressing: 175ml extra virgin olive oil; finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon; 6 tbs roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; freshly ground black pepper. Green leaf salad, such as rocket or baby spinach.

Lemon wedges to serve.

Preheat oven to 200C. Pat fish dry with kitchen paper. Mix together salt and peppercorns. Line a large baking tray with foil. Spread a small amount of salt mixture on the foil and place fish on top; if using small fish, place quite tightly together. Press remaining salt mixture all over the fish to completely enclose. Bake for 20-25 mins. Crust should feel hard and sound hollow when tapped and the fish should be hot.

Meanwhile, mix oil, lemon zest and juice, parsley and black pepper. As soon as you remove the fish from the oven, scrape the crust off the fish and lift off skin. Gently lift the flesh with a large palette knife, being careful not to let it touch the salt. Discard bones. Put fish on a large platter and spoon over some dressing. Serve the fish with a green leaf salad, remaining dressing and lemon wedges.

From Aldo Zilli's new book, 'Fish Cook: From Scallops to Swordfish' (Jacqui Small, £16.99)

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