Walking into Vaporetto in Hawthorn is like walking through a little portal to Venice. Greg Feck and partners, Kim Coronica, Stephanie Edgerton and David Wickwar’s love of Venice is clearly evident from the restaurant fit out to the menu. Greg describes running Vaporetto as not really work, but a “love affair.” I think that’s pretty much the best description I’ve heard.
Did you always want to be a chef?
Yes. I did always want to be a chef. Literally, from an early age. I can’t really remember the age, but quite young. I reckon about seven or eight. My grandmother had her own patisserie and so my mother worked in her mum’s patisserie from an early age. So I kinda fell into the love of food that way through my mum and my grandmother. I didn’t go down the sweet side of the cooking profession. I grasped the whole savoury side of things really. But yeah, right from an early age it was all I ever wanted to do and it’s what I’ve done all the way through and I’m 41 now. I’ve been cooking a very long time.
You’ve cooked all around the world, haven’t you?
Being from New Zealand, I’ve cooked with some really good people. But it wasn’t really until I got to London that I started really understanding about myself and the style of food I wanted to do; very Mediterranean with a huge influence from Italian food. I found myself gravitating to Italy all the time as much as I could. I’d travel there from working in London.
Working with people like Jamie Oliver and Ben O’Donoghue pretty much straight out of the River Café; I was influenced a lot by them as well.
How did you get to work with Jamie Oliver?
The place was called Monte’s. It was a private club on Sloane Street in Knightsbridge. It was his first real consulting project. Ben O’Donoghue had gone there from The River Café as well. I went along for an interview. It was a pretty mad day. It was an Open Day and the line had at least 200 people in it and I just had to bide my time until I got the interview. I must have said the right thing.
As a chef, what is it that you are looking for when you hire chefs?
I’m looking for people with good hearts, a lot of passion. I’ve be in the industry a long time and I don’t really look for too much in terms of experience or where people have worked. I tend to build brigades or crews in the kitchen filled with good people with really good strong work ethics; good integrity. People who will gel with others. We do a lot of hours, you know, 60 or 70 hours a week, so you want people who really like each other in the kitchen. So until you get that click, which I have at both Crabapple Kitchen and Vaporetto. The retention of staff is just amazing. I have people with me who have been here for seven or eight years. It’s more about finding the right balance of people within the kitchen that works really well for me. So I don’t look for experience, I look for the right temperament, the right attitude. Just good humble people who want to work hard and work in the right environment.
That’s great. I always think about the film and book, Like Water for Chocolate where the protagonist expresses her emotions through her food and the idea that whatever emotion or state of mind you’re in when you’re cooking is conveyed to those eating it.
I know you love Venice. Is Vaporetto it for you, then; you’ve found your absolute niche?
At this point in my career, yes. Vaporetto isn’t work for me, it’s more of a love affair. It’s easy for me to get out of bed in the morning. I’m very inspired about what I’m doing. We keep it very simple. We try and work with as many local producers as possible. We make all our pasta fresh daily which is quite hard to keep on top of. I think it’s something we are very passionate about Not just myself, but all the boys in the kitchen. We work very hard to maintain our standards of food.
So it’s Venetian cuisine. Forgive my ignorance, but how do you know so much about Venetian food?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Venice. I tried to count how many times I’ve been and it could be up to 12, 14 or 15 times. And every time, I think, oh you know, I’ve done it, but every time I go, I always find something different; an influence or I talk to somebody else from the city who has stories that have been handed down from their grandparents. I always pick up different influences.
The style of cooking is very simple, which I really like. And I like the whole history side of things with Venice too; the spice route. It gives us a lot of opportunity to use a lot of herbs and influences from North Africa. The food is quite exciting.
I didn’t know that about Venice.
Yes, you get pastas with flavours of curry; saffron, cumin, cassia, fenugreek, caraway. There’s a whole spice range because the spice route through Venice back in the 1500s was massive. The history for me is very intriguing. It gives the Venetians a little bit of an edge to their food because it’s very different, very fragrant. It’s also very simple and light because they use a lot of seafood from the lagoon and that’s what we recreate here. We use a lot of seafood. Our menu is predominantly seafood, probably 60 per cent. Then we have a couple of cuts of meat. But that’s the way I like to eat; lots of seafood. I think it’s working.
I feel as though if you have a particular style of cooking, here Venetian, do you have to follow the rules of Venetian cooking or is it more the feeling of Venice that you convey through the food?
I think it’s more the feeling. But I firmly believe in tradition. For instance, we use a lot of polenta, because they use a lot of polenta. We use a lot of radicchio, we use a lot of seafood. All the pasta, in terms of shape is Venetian, like the bigoli, for example. Certain dishes on my menu are things that are stamped in tradition, so we don’t really touch those too much. But obviously the menu had a sort of Hawthorn, Melbourne twist to it. Because let’s face it, the Australian palate is a lot different to the Venetian palate. You have to be careful when you open a restaurant. You can have a certain scenario or concept but you have to adapt to how Australians like to eat as well. It’s just trying to find that balance.
What has the feedback been? Clearly the numbers you’re getting indicate that it has been well received.
Yes we are doing large numbers. Ad to be honest, as a restaurateur opening something in this day and age in Melbourne, which can be hard, I’m happy. The feedback has bee really positive. I think it’s something Hawthorn wanted. I feel as though we are giving something back to the community as well. We are working in with the Lido cinema; people come and have a drink before a movie and then often come back for a snack after the movie. For Hawthorn, it’s quite a good marriage.
Running a restaurant is hard. You’ve got to love it to do it, but it was definitely the right move. I’ll never look back.
Vaporetto Bar and Eatery
Rear 681 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn