Dean Fouritz loves cooking and bringing people together through food. His cafe, Street Talk Espresso might be slightly off the main drag, but there is a steady stream of regulars who come for the delicious food and coffee and the warm, friendly service.
Where does your love of food and cooking come from?
It’s definitely in my blood. Even as a kid I was always helping out. That’s what I did. I come from a Greek family. We were always around food. Everything we did was about food. You put food on the table and that’s when the socialising started. It was getting the food to the table that I enjoyed, but also getting the whole family around the table. That’s when we’d start to discuss how we’d been, how was your day, what have you got planned. Everything was based around food and that’s where my passion grew.
So you learned how to cook from your mother and grandmother? Where to from there?
Learning from my grandmother and my mum, it was all based on one style of cooking. I got my passion from them but it was all very traditional village style cooking. I wanted to take it further. I didn’t want to base myself on just one aspect of cooking. I wanted to try different cuisines. That’s when I’d start to pick and choose from different flavours and go ok, I know in Greek cuisine, we traditionally like oregano and lemon, and Italians are more into their basil. Let’s mix the two and see what happens. And that’s where I started to branch out.
From experimenting or from other chefs or cookbooks?
Nowadays I find I’m trawling through Instagram and watching cooking shows a lot. But definitely one person that comes to mind as an inspiration is George Calombaris. At the start he copped a lot of criticism because he took traditional Greek food which had been around for hundreds of years and, everyone was all, “how dare you change this’, but once people started to try the mixtures that he did, it was phenomenal. And now look at him. He’s a success. To do saganaki with fried grapes, that sweet with savoury…if you take that to Greece now and ask people to try it, they would look at you and ask, “are you feeling ok?” But once you try it, it takes you on a journey and it actually works. That’s what I love about it.
Do you have favourite places you like to go if you need to get away from your own kitchen?
For Greek cuisine, it’s Jim’s Tavern in Collingwood. It’s an institution. It’s also not just the food they serve there; it’s the way in which you’re served. There’s no menu. You sit down and it’s what they want to cook for you; “the fish from the market today is snapper and this is how we’re cooking it. It reminds me of how I grew up.
Another favourite would have to be 400 Gradi at Crown. I’m a big fan of Italian cuisine too. And top quality produce.
Top quality produce is obviously important to you. How do you source that?
It’s trial and error. Finding something that’s local but also finding something that’s consistent. For example, our meat. Our family was in the industry and I know what to look for. I’ll refer back to my dad because he was a meat wholesaler. He’ll say, beef; make sure it’s from Gippsland because it’s excellent quality and they are consistent all year round. For fruit and vegetables; we try and use people in this area. The haloumi is made locally from a little Cypriot man in Clayton. Again, when something is made with passion, it makes a difference. This little man makes it at home and it’s the real deal. It’s not mass produced, it’s not full of chemicals. If you have haloumi in Cyprus and then you have his, you know you’re getting the real thing.
Do you feel any pressure from social media to produce a certain kind of food?
Aesthetically, yes. Especially in the last 12 months, if your food isn’t Instagram friendly, it might taste the best, but if it’s not aesthetically pleasing online, it’s not that people won’t try it, but it just doesn’t get the same amount of attention as something that is. For example, our French toast looks really great and we get people coming in and ordering it without even looking at the menu and just pointing at Instagram. Social media is a massive influence.
What do you want your customers to experience when they come into Street Talk Espresso?
I want them to feel as though they are part of the family. I love to talk to all my customers. Obviously I’m in the kitchen a lot, but any opportunity I can get, I’m out here with the customers. I want them to have the experience I had when I was sitting around that table with my family. I talk to you as I would to a friend. It’s not just about “hi, what can I get for you?” We actually care, we want you to try things. It’s about the conversation. It all adds to the experience.