Jeremy Strode. He instilled in me the importance of celebrating a single ingredient. His passion was so strong – for food, for the kitchen, the craft, the ingredients, and the restaurant industry in general. He is probably the most passionate chef I’ve ever worked with to be honest. I also liked his no bullshit attitude. Also Peter Doyle. I want to be like him. After all these years, he is still the first in the kitchen doing the mise en place. He wakes up every day, goes for a surf, then goes straight into the restaurant. The passion and energy! And his knowledge is amazing.
I believe in the ingredients, in celebrating a single ingredient. Simplicity and seasonality – that is what I like. Food that is uncomplicated and approachable.
I spend a lot of time searching for produce. When I’m not in the kitchen, I like travelling around the country discovering ingredients and meeting producers. Like Tathra oysters on the south coast of NSW, or grass-fed English longhorn beef from grazier Richard Gunner in South Australia.
Personally, I love fishing. When I was growing up in Florence, I would travel 100km to the beach every weekend to fish off the sand. Now I take my daughters fishing in and around Sydney – Watsons Bay, Central Coast or south to Jervis Bay.
That’s easy. Fish. There are so many, I couldn’t pick just one. As a fisherman, I have an appreciation for fish. I can tell how fresh it is, how it’s been caught. I get excited when we get a fish delivery to the kitchen, when the fish are so fresh they are still in rigor mortis.
Favourite dish on the menu and why?
I’m in love with our Fremantle octopus, potatoes, leeks & radishes. It was the first dish we cooked in the kitchen here, April (sous chef), Terry (junior sous chef) and I together. I wanted to feature Fremantle octopus on the menu, and later discovered that April had accidentally ordered 5kg of paprika. Rather than send it back, I wanted to make the most of it, to celebrate it.
We came up with the octopus dish, with paprika-infused oil, leek and potato, slices of breakfast radish, dusted with paprika powder. We slow cook it then finish it off in the wood-fired oven. I had actually never cooked octopus in a wood-fire oven before. The result is tender and juicy octopus with smokiness from the wood-fired oven. It is one of our most popular dishes.
Why are we returning to a simpler form of cuisine?
As people become more interested in the origin of produce, appreciate the flavour and story behind an ingredient, they come to appreciate the power of simplicity. Compared to 10 years ago when I arrived in Australia, the quality of produce available here has jumped significantly. The vegetables and the nuts in particular. We have such amazing produce here.
I grew up in one of the world’s most food-focused regions. When I was younger, I spent time in the kitchen learning from my mother how to cook traditional Tuscan recipes and regional specialties, like my mamma’s traditional testaroli (she grew up in Carrara, close to Genova in Italy, where the pesto is amazing). Testaroli is a kind of unusual pasta, like a dough, made with a mix of water, flour and salt, sliced into triangles. With a pesto sauce, it’s very tasty.
My uncle owned a vineyard and an olive grove, where I spent time harvesting grapes and picking olives. My childhood was built on simple family food made with heart, using the best seasonal produce. This is the type of food, flavours and cooking I love and bring to Mode.
Best culinary advice you’ve been given?
Let the ingredients be your guide. Pick the produce first, then work out the rest.