Tasmanian born, Naples bred, celebrity chef Massimo Mele embodies the best of Italy and Australia. As Executive Chef at La Scala On Jersey, this apotheosis of Aussie-Italian flows through to the Woollahra restaurant and cocktail bar that showcases modern Italian philosophies and Australian produce. Feasting in the Italian manner of share dining is the cornerstone of La Scala and the mainstay of Massimo’s approach to food generally. With a love for simple dishes and street style bites, we can expect to see him launching a series of Tutti A Tavola Pop Up Events nationally - including Bucci Restaurant this evening. And just like Massimo himself, this feast of authentic Italian foods created from regional produce will marry the wonders of Italy and Australia for a flavour-packed food celebration.
Passionate about his heritage and food, this Delphian icon is gregarious, genuine and unapologetically cheerful. And it is this larger-than-life personality and deep-seated appreciation of his multicultural backgrounds that the Nutella Doughtnut loving character generously portrays in his culinary art as a chef, masterclass host and passionate advocate for fresh produce. He will be bringing this passion north to Brisbane for Regional Flavours, demonstrating new ways of cooking with the Australian classic, lamb. Expect butchery, carnivorous passion and a genuinely animated presentation. As he gears up for his appearance at The Hunting Club, we sit down with the fascinating culinary personality and explore his outlook on keeping things simple, how is family is his pillar of strength and what to expect when he dons his fully sick Reebok Pumps for Brisbane’s shores.
You have a close relationship with Brisbane: how did this relationship start and what keeps bringing you back?
The awesome people of Brisbane and great events! I love coming to Brisbane. I chase the sun - I have for years. I came to Brisbane two years ago and hosted an event at Bucci Restaurant. It was so much fun and everyone was so supportive and appreciative of me coming up and cooking for them.
What is your philosophy towards food and cooking?
My philosophy is simple - it’s produce driven. Growing up in Tasmania with Italian parents where we grew everything we ate, moulds you into a person that respects and appreciates great quality produce grown in-season.
Italian cooking is very much about love and family. Clearly this is something that inspires you with your cooking, but how do you transfer this to your dishes, to your staff and to your patrons?
The simple answer is that I don’t worry about tricking up ingredients to much. Tomatoes look like tomatoes on a plate. Same goes for my slow cooked lamb shoulder chop. What you read is what you eat in its purest form. Italian food is about bringing people together and sharing a meal.
Hospitality is a very difficult industry – it’s certainly not for the feint-hearted. How have you managed to be sustainable in such a trying industry, particularly as a chef?
I would be lying if I said that there have not been times over the years that it all seemed too hard, but I was lucky to have strong mentors in my life. My family - especially my father who trained me – were always there to support me when things got hard. My family has always been, and still is, supportive of my career and me. It’s not easy to be a chef, and it’s a lot harder to be a good one.
How do you marry your background in Italian and culinary techniques to cooking in modern Australia?
My style is not just classic Italian. It’s classic with a little modern technique thrown in there to not only refine the techniques but to make Italian food lighter and well balanced. Italian food is not just meatballs and lasagna.
What have we learnt from you, and what have you learnt from Australia?
Hopefully you have learnt not to take cooking to seriously - or yourself. It’s important to remember that cooking food should be a fun and enjoyable experience. Australia has taught me that great produce does not just grow in Italy. Australia is a great and exciting place to live and eat!
We’ve really seen a return to the paddock-to-plate mentality across the last five years. Is this something that had to happen or do you see it as a trend?
It’s a trend that will not be going away in a hurry. People are being educated in eating well and sustainably, and that will help us all in the end.
You’ll be coming to Brisbane for Regional Flavours. What do you particularly love about this food festival and what can we expect from you?
Simple delicious cooking and lots of great stories surrounding food, family - and a killer hair-do. I love that it is in Brisbane - it’s so much warmer than Sydney right now. I get to catch up with locals and chefs I have not seen for some time.
Massimo Mele presents A Cut Above: New Ways With Old Favs from The Hunting Club for Regional Flavours, 1.45pm Saturday July 18. Full details available here. Keep up to date with Massimo's food adventures from instagram or twitter.