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Bringing the Spice

At home in Tupelo, Chef Nev brings upscale global cuisine to local diners.

Written by Eugene Stockstill | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Neville Eroll, aka Chef Nev Taz (Taz because of his Tasmanian devil-like intensity in the kitchen), aka Mowgli (because of how much he enjoyed playing with the animals in his boyhood South Africa), is at home in the world.

Born in India, he moved to South Africa at age 2 during apartheid’s waning days. He has traveled and worked throughout Europe, and for a time, he lived in an Italian town right next to Corleone, the town of “Godfather” fame. And that’s just the start.

He has interned with Chef Gordon Ramsay. He helped prepare the food for George Clooney’s 2014 wedding. He speaks eight languages — Italian, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Swahili and English. And he owns a Yamaha motorcycle that can take him almost anywhere he wants to go.

“We used to leave Italy and ride eight hours to Croatia just for the food,” he said with a big smile.

These days, Chef Nev calls Tupelo home, and he has big plans to bring the world to Tupelo’s front door. Partnering with the owners of Amsterdam Deli, he hopes to open a new restaurant in Tupelo sometime this summer: Spezia (the Italian word for “spice”), or maybe just Spice? Chef Nev is toggling between names as he juggles all the other details involved in starting a fine-dining establishment.

An earlier incarnation of the idea opened months ago atop Caron Gallery, garnered favorable reviews, then closed while developers worked on plans and specs.

Different locations for the new restaurant are being shopped, Amsterdam Deli’s general manager Robbie Curbow said.

When the restaurant debuts, diners will have a chance to enjoy a wide variety of world and local cuisines, as well occasional live music, in an ambient space.

The dress code will be semiformal (dinner jacket or sport coat required), and customers should expect to pay $120-$130 for a special evening. Chef Nev describes the menu as eclectic contemporary, meaning that you will be able to sample chocolate, beef and wine, for example, in ways you never before imagined.

“We want you to feel like you’re walking on a red carpet,” he said, “(with) food that will make you stop, think and savor.”

The big question for Chef Nev: Why Tupelo?

At age 16, the young man left South Africa to begin hospitality studies in Italy. He earned two degrees and gained a world of practical knowledge that made his lifelong dream of becoming a chef a reality. That dream first took flight when he and his grandmother would watch Sanjeev Kapoor, an Indian chef and television celebrity.

“I was fascinated with the chef’s coat and the long hat,” he said.

Chef Nev’s trade has taken him across Europe, and to San Francisco, where he worked with Dominique Crenn, “the cooking superhero for women,” and The Cello at the St. Louis Four Seasons Hotel. After a disappointing business startup in Missouri’s gateway city, he was planning to move to the northeastern United States or back to Europe when a former business partner from Pontotoc invited him to move to the Deep South.

Relocating to the Magnolia State wound up putting Chef Nev in touch with the owners of Amsterdam Deli on Main Street, who became friends, then mentors and then business partners. One day they said to him, “Let’s put something new up here. Let’s start some new culture.” The result of that creative tag team will be Spezia/Spice.

You don’t have to spend much time with Chef Nev before you realize that he lives and breathes all things cooking. For him, food fires up his imagination, feeds his creative juices and gives him the chance to speak what he calls the most international of all languages.

“You can connect to more people through bread and water” than anything else, he said. “That’s something I hold close to my heart.”

When not cooking up special dishes or relaxing at home, Chef Nev rockets through the region in search of culture and food, astride a motorcycle that looks like it was painted by Picasso. He also teaches cooking classes at Amsterdam Deli: to children twice a month on Sundays; and to adults on occasion. One of his greatest thrills as a chef was cooking a tuna concoction for a group of children, watching them lick the plates clean and then hearing them proclaim to their parents they liked the tuna more than the chocolate.

“It’s like I’m a child with them,” he said. “Children are the best critics.”

Chef Nev plans to settle permanently in Tupelo, and the internationally trained culinary specialist and world traveler says he feels as much at home in Tupelo as anywhere else he has lived.

“It doesn’t matter where you live in the world,” he said. “If you feel like you’re home, you’re home.”

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