CELEBRITY chef and restaurateur Aldo Zilli will put finalists through their paces in the Scottish Italian Awards.

Excitement is building around the second year of the contest, which has added extra categories, a bigger venue and the chance for winners to compete in a new UK-wide final.

Event organiser Warren Paul said: "We are delighted that Aldo Zilli has come on board as part of the judging panel.

"He is a well-known name and a fantastic chef, so it's great to have his support."

Aldo will judge the best pizza restaurant and best chef categories, putting the finalists in the latter through a 'Hell's Kitchen' scenario before announcing the winner.

Warren added: "Last year the chefs got to cook for the judges in their own surroundings - this time, we are asking them to recreate one of Aldo's dishes in front of him at the Cook School in Ayrshire. It's a fantastic opportunity for them - but it will be nerve-wracking."

The success of the Scottish Italian Awards - a capacity audience of 630 people attended last year's final - has prompted organisers to branch out.

The first English Italian Awards will be launched in Manchester next spring.

Warren said: "Our aim is to invite some of the Scottish finalists to compete against the English winners, with the aim of being crowned British Italian champions. It's a fantastic incentive for businesses to take part."

The 18 accolades up for grabs this year include best business, best marketing team and best fish and chip shop, plus new categories - best restaurant design and best deli.

Finalists are determined by public vote and the top five are visited, unannoun-ced, by the judging panel. Voting closes on September 10 and the winners are revealed on October 26 at Glasgow's Thistle Hotel.

Warren added: "We were overwhelmed by the response last year and are expecting this year's to be just as successful."

To vote, or for more information, visit www.scottishitalianawards.co.uk