Lalla Rookh Perth
1) Tell us about your background, and how and when you came on board at Lalla Rookh.
My back ground in cooking has been predominantly fine dining. Over my career I have done time in several high end establishments (mostly in Melbourne) including Sarti (1 Hat), Circa, the Prince (2 Hat), Zio’s Ristorante (1 Hat), Bar Lourinha (Gourmet Traveller’s top 100) and 3 years as the Head Chef at Balzari (1 Hat and 1 Star in Gourmet Traveller). I also spent a year living and doing some work in Italy and Croatia.
I came on board at Lalla Rookh after a year of searching for the right role. I had moved back from nearly a decade of working in Melbourne and was shocked by how was hard work to find people that were interested in what I could do. Let’s call it ‘the Melbourne complex’.
2) The cooking style at Lalla Rookh is labelled ‘La Cucina Westraliana’ – please expand on this & how it distinguishes itself from other modern Italian restaurants in Perth.
I grew up in an ‘Italo-Australian’ family in the northern suburbs of Perth. My Nonni (grandparents) hailed from Friuli in Italy’s far North East, so the food I had growing up was not what most people would associate as typical ‘Italian’ food. And, like most Aussie ‘Italians’, eating Italian out at restaurants wasn’t much fun. It wasn’t as good as what I had at home.
What I’ve come to learn from my time cooking, and in particular my time cooking and travelling in Italy, is that ‘Italian’ food doesn’t really exist. Nor does Italy as a united country. It is a collection of 60 million people spread over 20 very diverse regions. So what makes us think we can be so general when referring to a cuisine?
The second thing I’ve come to realise is that the food that I grew up with here is as much a product of living in Australia as it is the traditional recipes and techniques of back in Italy. It is a product of a different climate, different availability of produce, and with these differences comes a freedom to change.
La Cucina Westraliana is a bit of a joke name we’ve given to the food that points to these two facts. Although a lot of the flavour you’ll experience in my food is of Northern origin, it is very much centred around WA producers and produce.
3) Lalla Rookh is one of the pioneers for the restaurant scene in Perth reaching a higher level and slowly gaining ground on our friends over East. How much autonomy were you afforded in creating the menu? Where did you draw your inspiration from for the menu?
Autonomy comes with trust. We started with a formula for the business and are continually evolving and improving on those ideas. As we’ve gained the trust of our customers, we’ve been able to keep on moving in a direction that we are more happy with.
As far as moving Perth’s dining scene moving forward goes, I think a lot of diners in Perth have been ready and waiting for a change in the dining scene for years. The industry and scene over here will only continue to get better. It’s great to see a new guard of restauratuers coming through that are keen to make a difference.
4) What are the latest trends you are seeing in the culinary scene? Being flat out with your duties, is it challenging to keep up? Or does social media assist?
Trends for me are a funny one. Of course there is fashion and so on when it comes to food and plating, but a lot of what we see only comes from the top 2 percent of restaurants and chefs (completely made up stat by the way, but you get my point). I’d like to say I mostly dance to my own tune, while being mindful that other people are watching my crazy dance and may want to dance like me too.
5) When it comes to cooking, who gets you excited? Should you have a night off – where do you like to eat?
I’m a traditionalist at heart, so I get excited my things like curing, game, smoking, charcoal grilling and roasting. Flavour is the biggest thing for me, as well as skilful cooking. I’m keen to go and have a fois gras heart attack courtesy of Martin Picard in Montreal.
6) With Point Fraser & Elizabeth Quay in the pipeline, how do you think the Perth restaurant/hospitality scene will look in five years?
Hopefully we don’t end up with districts as soul-less as Melbourne’s Docklands or Sydney’s Darling harbour.