Michele Circhirillo is originally from Piemonte, the gastronomic capital of Italy. His passion for pizza and gnocchi is evident form the way he talks about the food he makes, but also very evident in his award for silver medalist as part of the World Pizza Championship recently held in Australia.
When did you start cooking?
18 years ago.
Yes, yes I started in Piemonte. After I went to places in Italy like Emilia-Romagna and Toscano. After that I went to France for seven years.
Paris, Savoie and Corsica.
After that I went to Spain and Portugal, then back to Italy, I stayed for a while in Estonia, Latvia and Poland. Then I decided to come to Australia.
Australia is a long way top come. What made you come to Melbourne?
I checked the world map and Australia was the furthest away destination. I wanted to go as far away as I could. The opposite to Italy.
When did you come over?
I came seven years ago.
Where were you working before 48H?
I was the Executive Chef of the DOC group for five years and then I was Executive chef of the Brunetti Group. After that I decided with my associate, Fabio, to open this place.
In all the different places that you have been, have you always made Italian food?
Italian fusion actually. When you are talking about fish, for example, there’s not really an Italian way, a French way, a Greek way. Seafood and fish is actually something that’s pretty international. But yes you can do a little bit of fusion with that too, like with the pasta I cook mussels with coconut milk and some Asiatic flavours, so you can do a little bit of whatever you like.
I really love to go to the markets in the region or country where I’m going to cook and look at what the market is offering and then I do the menu. I always like to use the local products and what’s in season.
Which market do you go to?
The one down the road, Prahran Market, is really close and the quality is really high.
Did you always want to be a chef?
Yeah. I’ve always worked in the kitchen. I started off helping the chef and I was young and after that little by little, I worked my way up and found my own way to cook.
So the dishes you cook here, the gnocchi and the pizza, how have you made that your own?
It’s simple. For a start, you won’t find a gnoccheria, or the gnocchi bar, in Italy, or anywhere in Europe like this one. In a gnocchi bar, you have the traditional gnocchi dough and it’s associated with a hundred different sauces. Our place is a little bit different. There are three different types of dough and they are paired with some sauce. You can have the traditional one or you can have the black activated charcoal gnocchi with another sauce or you can have the one that have prawns inside the dough.
Inside the dough?
Yeah. For the pizza, you have the traditional pizza and then there’s gourmet pizza. You might find home made porchetta on the pizza, you can find 48 hour marinated salmon on the pizza or 48 hour marinated tuna; stuff that you don’t usually find on pizza. The kind of stuff you usually find in top restaurants. We try to put a medium-high level of cuisine with pizza.
So is this what you mean by fusion?
Yes, it’s a little bit of fusion. In Italy too there are some very high level pizzeria too. More expensive and with famous chefs.
And the 48 hours is how long you marinate some of the fish, but does it also have something to do with the dough?
Yes. Our dough is actually proved for a minimum of 48 hours. When you start to make your pizza dough, there is an intricate process going on in the dough. It stops after 24 hours and then something else happens, the segregation of the gluten and this gives the pizza lightness, fragrance and crustiness. Usually after one of our pizzas, you won’t feel heavy.
The activated charcoal…is that your idea or is that from somewhere else?
In Italy in the last two or three years they have started using activated charcoal with mozzarella. And firstly I wanted to do squid ink to make black gnocchi but then I wanted to make a vegetarian and vegan option, so I thought why not? Why don’t we use activated charcoal in the gnocchi?
Is that purely for colour or are there some health benefits?
Number one for colour and it doesn’t actually have any flavour but the softness of the gnocchi changes. It’s actually a little bit softer with the activated charcoal and there are health benefits because the gnocchi is easier to digest and lighter.
And it’s already gluten free?
All our gnocchi are gluten free, yes. Gluten free, but not for coeliacs because you are in a pizzeria and this means flour.
So, a year on from opening, is this how you would imagine it would be?
It’s actually better than what we thought. Next year we will open a second one, but I cannot tell you where it will be because we are signing on Wednesday.
How exciting. And when people come here, what’s the experience you want them to have?
We actually want to give our guests an Italian experience, not just the food, but also an Italian welcoming, and the kind of atmosphere you can find in every restaurant in Italy. We want people to have an Italian experience from the moment they enter the door to the moment they leave the restaurant. We want them to eat good food, of course, but today many places serve good food. For us it’s important to give them the Italian experience.
373 Malvern Road, South Yarra
Mon – Fri 5pm to late
Sat – Sun 12pm to late