Nick believes that passionate and talented chefs need to draw that passion out from the inside. Nick loves cooking so much that he spends a lot of his spare time cooking and, alongside his friends, Mandy DelVecchio and Osvalo Tugnéla, creates beautiful events to celebrate local produce and the producers that create it.
Let’s start with how long you’ve been a chef.
Since I was 18, so, what’s that? 14 years.
Did you always want to be a chef?
Not really. I wanted to be a vet. But then…I don’t even know why I decided to become a chef. I think it just came like a light from the sky because no one in my family is involved in hospitality.
Was that in Italy?
Yes, North Italy.
And you did all your training there?
I went to culinary school there for five years and then I worked the first two years from 18 to 20 in my hometown and then I flew to Ireland.
Yes, Dublin and I started there and I haven’t stopped since then. I’ve moved around a lot.
I’m going to sound really ignorant here but when I went to Ireland in the 90s, the food wasn’t that great, but I think now it’s a whole lot better.
It was very fertile when I was there with a lot of different influences because there’s not much culinary culture over there. But it was very French, Asian or Italian. Actually, it was in Ireland that I said to myself, this is what I want to do professionally. I worked with very interesting chefs; people that were basically pushing out the passion that was in their veins.
You have to have that passion, don’t you, because it’s such hard work?
Do you think anyone can be a chef?
No. It’s hard to explain to people and sometimes I ask myself, what’s so different about me; about the approach I have and the approach that other people have? When I do things I think you can tell the difference. I always thought that it was something you have to have in your hands and inside you. I use my hands a lot. They are the tools between me and the food. And it comes from the inside too. You need to have the feeling and the respect. I hate wastage and I hate it when people do things and they pretend to know but they make a mess and if you have to throw it away, that’s unacceptable for me. That’s why I say it comes from inside and when you pull it out from the inside you can call yourself a good chef.
What kind of cuisine do you prefer to cook?
At this stage my cooking is influenced by a lot of different cultures, so it’s maybe fusion. I like to use flavours from where I’m from and mix them with Asian flavours or Nordic with Australian. First and foremost wherever I go I always want to use the local produce. I don’t like to use the mozzarella from Italy when we have amazing producers here. That’s why we do Chapter 53.
How did you get involved with Chapter 53?
We created it. Me, Mandy (DelVecchio) and my friend Osvaldo (Tugnéla). Mandy and I met each other a bit more than a year ago and we started talking. She’s a food writer and in the business, she deals with coffee and so on. Osvaldo and I worked together at the last restaurant I was working at. He was a restaurant manager. We always had the idea that we wanted to do something for ourselves and not for the people we work for because when you work for someone you need to follow their rules so you always feel as though you can’t fully do what you want to and push the boundaries. I was talking to Mandy and she was saying that she’d really like to do something and I told her that Osvaldo and I were thinking of doing something too but not on a daily basis because we still need our jobs but to see how it goes. So we all met together and came up with the concept. We don’t want to be the same as other people. You see pop-ups everywhere. We just wanted to have meaning ad strong roots to what we were doing.
So it’s about bringing people together to celebrate local produce but it’s also about the discussion around that isn’t it?
Basically we create events by going to look for a producer who will then also come and speak about their product; what’s different about it and why we all need to do our bit as far as being consumers is concerned, so spending $1 or $2 extra to buy a fresh product made without pesticide or whatever. It’s about educating people as well.
It’s helpful for me as well because a lot of people think the chef knows everything and it’s absolutely not true. I don’t know shit and I’m learning all the time, everyday. It’s beautiful. That’s why I love my job.
I guess that’s why you have to have a good relationship with producers and suppliers so you can learn from them what’s new or flourishing that season.
Yes. Especially when you come from a different country.
So Chapter 53 has held three events?
Yes, we’ve just done the third one. The project was to do one every couple of months but with our private lives, between the three of us someone will have a wedding or be busy with work so it’s a bit hard. But we’ve promised ourselves that we’ll be more focussed. Every time we do it we have more followers; more people coming along. As a team we are growing into something better all the time. I believe that if we keep going along this path, something might happen.
My plan was to do one very two months. The first one took us six months to prepare. Now we have created a bond and we know each other better and can work together better.
It’s challenging but it’s exciting and we have lots of things planned for the future.
So when you work for someone else and you were mentioning there are more constraints on what you do, do you get to choose what goes on the menu?
Yes but it’s not the same. I have 90% freedom, but it’s never the same as when you have full control over what you do. It wouldn’t be possible to do something that I do for Chapter 53 here because of cost price and everything.
Would you like to have your own place one day?
We will. Osvaldo and I are working on it. We’re looking around. Hopefully we’ll have something before the end of the year.
I want that to happen. I’m not that old. I‘m 32 but I always had a dream that I’d reach 35 and already be one of the big names around, but you know, when you’re young and silly, you think like that. But I’ve still got time.
I don’t think it’s just about passion and being good at cooking to be a big name, I think there are so many other factors involved. It’s about networking and who you know.
Yes you need to know people basically. Unless you can put all the cards on the table and one day someone will come who sees your talent. You’ve got to be out there.
The last event was held in an orchard, is that right?
Yes, stone fruit. The main ingredient of every dish was stone fruit.
It must be good to have the challenge of a theme every time.
Oh yeah. It was pretty good actually because I did a dish that I thought people probably wouldn’t understand but it was the opposite; it was the wow dish of the day.
What was it?
Two weeks before the event we went and picked up some fruit so I could work on it before the event. We got some plums but I don’t remember the name because they have 420 different kinds of fruit in the orchard.
We slowly dehydrated the plums in the oven with just the pilot, a small flame, for a week without opening the oven. We added stoned dates and I made a very strong beef jus and the dish was like recreating a stew but without the meat because the plums and the dates had a texture that really reminded you of meat and I added a stick of rosemary to smell while they were eating. People really loved it and I thought it might have been a failure. It was beautiful on our chef palette but when you have people like a 75 year old man who has always eaten comfortable food with his wife and then he comes and tries something really different like that but they loved it.
Especially the guy that owns the orchard. he’s an older man who is used to living in the countryside and doesn’t really like the city or city people but he was actually very intrigued and excited about what we did and has offered us work out there cooking for events every now and then. So I was really happy. You never top learning. Even him.
What’s what you hope you can create with hospitality, that connection and community. How great.
Yes it’s really really good.