Julie Adams (a fashion photographer) and Emma Scott (a writer and designer) have a shared love of Italy. And so together they bring to you beautiful, heartfelt, inspiring and often unexpected stories from people all around the world, and their 'affair with Italy'.
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Thank you to Lavazza for the Amodo Mio ELM5250 coffee machine to give away to one of our lovely readers. All you need to do to be in the running to win is post up on Instagram a photo of your 'best Italian coffee moment', include the hashtag #bestItaliancoffeemoment and the address @anaffairwithitaly
Can't wait to see all your wonderful photos.
Winner will be announced on 17.2.2014.
|Jan 2012||Annie||Melbourne, Aus|
|Feb 2012||Mel||Sydney, Aus|
|Mar 2012||Abigail||London, UK|
|Apr 2012||Michael||Dhaka, Bangladesh|
|May 2012||Suzi||Melbourne, Aus|
|June 2012||Christel||Tweed Heads, Aus|
|July 2012||Linda||Chicago, USA|
|Aug 2012||Amanda||Melbourne, Aus|
|Sept 2012||Paddy||Melbourne, Aus|
|Oct 2012||Mary||Ipswich, Aus|
|Nov 2012||Shelley||Preston, UK|
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About Alessandro Pavoni
- Born and Raised in Gardone Val Trompia, near Brescia, Lombardy, Italy. My parents and my brother are still there of course. We try to see each other every year or so, either here or there.
- I started studying cooking when I was 14.
- When I came to Australia on holidays (aged 28) I didn't speak a word of English, and when I met Anna (now my wife) she didn't speak Italian! We fell in love anyway and I moved here permanently in 2003, and I received my citizenship a couple of years ago. We were married in both Australia and Italy.
- I love all sorts of sports, and have usually been into extreme sports, rock-climbing, ice climbing, snowboarding, surfing... but now I'm learning golf!
- I'm an ambassador for Heart Research Australia. Their work has saved my life twice.
'I always ride bikes... I love the feeling of freedom. The problem is that if you give me a bike that does 250km/hr I will do 250. I decided I needed to save myself and get a Harley, with a Harley you don't need to go fast; you already look cool.'
Alessandro Pavoni, executive chef and owner of Ormeggio restaurant at The Spit, Mosman on Sydney’s lower North Shore, is an enormous guy with the personality to match. With a shaven head and foreboding stance, dressed entirely in black motorbike gear, he looks more like a bouncer you might find in one of Kings Cross’s infamous nightclubs than one of Australia’s most revered chefs. But I soon discover, as I sit down to chat with Alessandro, that beyond the tough exterior the man is a pussycat (well mostly!).
Alessandro grew up in a tiny town called Gardone Val Trompia, near Brescia, Italy. The region is known for its mountains and lakes, and Alessandro spent his childhood fishing, trail biking and enjoying the outdoors.
Alessandro: “When I was young I was a big eater. My Grandma used to cook one hen for me and one for the rest of the family. I was obsessed with food from a young age. When I was 12, I told Mum I wanted to go to chef school. My cousin was a chef, and I really admired him. I always knew I wanted to be a chef.”
Alessandro worked in many prestigious kitchens, many of them Michelin Star, throughout Italy and Europe. He believed that if he learnt the basics from the very best, he could then do anything.
I ask Alessandro what are some of his greatest memories working for such incredibly talented chefs.
Alessandro: “Well one experience that comes to mind (which I don’t share with too many people)... I was working for Gualtiero Marchesi, the God of Italian cuisine. He invented fine dining in Italy. It was a three Michelin Star, very tough kitchen. His head chef was a bloody bastard. The concept back then was very much like an army. There is great competition between chef and chef. Who’s going to be the first in the kitchen? Who’s going to be the last to leave? Who’s going to impress the most? Other chefs would put salt in your food to try and pull you down. When you work with 25-30 chefs everyone wants to look good. Luckily I was bigger than the rest so I was reasonably safe.
In the end I had a huge argument with the head chef and just punched him in the face! Every night, we would have to stay back and clean the kitchen. He would sit on his chair with his back to us and we would wait for him to tell us to go home, after we had worked 16 hours, every day. Eventually he would check the kitchen, find something wrong and then get us to pull it apart and clean it again. After a while I just exploded. All the other chefs were cheering me. The chef that I punched is now one of the best in Italy, so that’s why I don’t tell this story very often.
From there I went to France to work at Bocuse. This was an amazing experience because I learnt how to cook using the whole animal, a principle I still like to work with.”
Another great experience for Alessandro was when he worked at Fiordaliso, another Michelin star restaurant, set in Mussolini’s old house. They were not allowed to renovate the kitchen so the team were stuck working in tunnels, very hot and very hard. The house had six rooms containing Mussolini’s original furniture.
Alessandro: “I remember being very tired, I would never sleep. Of course after service you would go out to 5am in the morning and then you would have to be back at work by 7am to do pasta.Craziness.”
At age 28 Alessandro decided he wanted to learn English. He arrived in Australia (England was too cold). The problem was he settled in Leichardt, Sydney’s ‘Little Italy’, so after a year he still spoke no English.
Alessandro: “I had this amazing resume but no English, but I was determined.”
To improve his English, Alessandro decided to get out of Leichardt and explore Australia. He and his best mate, Maurizio, also a chef who now owns a pizzeria in Glebe, packed their bags, took two cars and hit the road on a three month journey around Australia, living out of the back of their cars. It wasn’t long into the trip when Alessandro’s car blew up. The two cars became one and the boys continued on in the Holden Camira. Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Alice Springs, Coffs Harbour, Cairns, Katherine, the Kakadu and so on. They met incredible people and Alessandro’s English did improve. But alas, things didn’t always go to plan.
Alessandro: “We were in Derby near Broome (in remote Western Australia), on a 700km dirt road. We had picked up an extra spare tyre and put it on the roof, just in case. We were in the middle of nowhere and one of the damn tyres blew out, and when we went to grab the spare out of the back the bloody case was empty. Luckily we had the extra on the roof. We took it down but it didn’t fit the Camira. How were we to know that you needed a different tyre for a Camira? I had certainly learnt every English swear word by then! Because it was Maurizio’s car, it was decided that he had to be the one to hitch-hike back into town to get a new tyre, my car had already blown up!”
It was now time for Alessandro to head back to reality and to his love, Anna. Anna and Alessandro had met earlier in the year while working together in Leichardt at restaurant Luna Blu. Anna worked front of house.
When Alessandro went back home to Italy for a time, Anna took a job in Bordeaux, France. She travelled by train to see him every weekend, and then together they moved back to Australia, this time permanently.
Alessandro, whose English was now very good, was offered a job as Executive Chef at the park Hyatt in Sydney, a job which he loved for 5 years before opening his own restaurant Ormeggio.
Alessandro: “I loved the location of Ormeggio immediately, surrounded by water it reminded me so much of the lakes back home.”
I ask Alessandro about his style of cooking at Ormeggio.
Alessandro: “I don’t believe in Italian cuisine, I believe in regional cuisine. My region is Lombardy which is known for the Alps, the snow, cold weather, cows, cream, and then down from the mountains you have the lakes with more of a Mediterranean climate; lemons, olives, freshwater crayfish, freshwater fish.”
Alessandro tells me that Ormeggio is a modern concept. They take a recipe from a region and then deconstruct it, adjust the flavour and ingredients and then try to put it together in another way.
Alessandro: “The only reason this concept works is because I have an amazing bunch of chefs here. My head chef is a very old friend of mine. He is very, very clever. He cooks a lot better than me.”
And work it does. After just 9 months of opening, Alessandro and his team were awarded the coveted Good Food Guide’s One Chef’s Hat award. An award that is not easy to obtain and even harder to keep. In 2013 the team were awarded two Hats.
Alessandro: “I am always looking to do something new, be innovative. In everything I do I just want to be better and better. I want to push the boundaries. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’m crazy, sometimes I don’t sleep because I am thinking so much about how to improve things and new ideas. That’s what makes life challenging and interesting, right? And my life is both, I am a really lucky person.”
Alessandro's Italian tips:
1. IF YOU WERE HEADING BACK TO ITALY, WITH THE SOLE TASK OF RELAXING, WHERE WOULD YOU HEAD TO?
Pezzoro. Pezzoro is where my mamma grew up and we still have our house there in this tiny little mountain village. If everyone is home, there are 60 people who live in the village. It is 1000m above sea level - you rest, you hike, you drink coffee or grappa with the locals, you play bocce, you listen to the silence. Summer or winter, it's fantastic. It's where I feel I'm home in Italy.
2. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE RESTAURANT IN ITALY?
In Alba in Italy I have had the most incredible dining experiences at a Michelin-starred restaurant called Piazza Duomo. The menu ranges over more than 40 dishes of absolutely incredible cuisine. The chef, Enrico Crippa, is a genius and I’d highly recommend the restaurant to everyone next time they’re in the north of Italy.
For something more rustic, I go to a couple of places regularly when I'm home:
• La Tana (Moderno, Lake Garda) - for the freshwater fish and cuisine of Lake Garda.
• Dosso Alto (Passo Maniva, the mountain pass which joins Val Trompia, Val Sabia and Val Camonica, my 3 valleys) - for classic Lombardian mountain cuisine. Be hungry.
• Al Frate (Brescia) - for a classic Brescian trattoria.
3. WHAT PART OF ITALY REALLY INSPIRES YOU AND YOUR COOKING?
For me the answer has to be Lombardy as this is my region. Each region in Italy has its own cuisine, and you can go sometimes only 20km and the food and recipes will completely change! I'm currently writing a cookbook on Lombardian cuisine and it has been so interesting. Lombardy is so inspiring for me due to its varied climates and geography. You have got the heavy and robust, meat-focused cuisine of the mountains, the almost Mediterranean lightness and seafood of the lakes and the interesting and varied dishes of the plains; all offering something completely different.
My best dishes: Spiedo Bresciano with Storo polenta, cotechino, gallina ripiena...
4. CAN YOU SUGGEST A FABULOUS COOKING SCHOOL OR COOKING TOUR TO DO?
Yes! I host Gourmet Tours to Italy with Accoutrement, in Sydney, Mosman. They are always really fun. I've done one with Stefano Manfredi in Franciacorta/Brescia, and two with Giovanni Pilu in Sardinia and Lake Como. They're really focused on 'behind-the-scenes' type foodie experiences.
The Sydney Seafood School is a wonderful cooking school here in Sydney. They are so organised and professional, and do different types of classes.
5. IF SOMEONE WANTED TO RENT SOMEWHERE AND EXPERIENCE THE 'ITALIAN WAY OF LIFE' WHERE WOULD YOU SUGGEST?
Anywhere in the country that is full of Italians... not full of people chasing the Tuscan dream!
6. FOR THOSE READERS OUT THERE WHO DREAM OF RIDING A MOTORBIKE THROUGH ITALY, CAN YOU SUGGEST THE PERFECT ROUTE?
The lakes regions for sure (Garda, Como, Iseo). The scenery is incredible; the roads vary from tiny little village roads to autostradas to tunnels and galleries through the mountains. And there is always somewhere breathtaking to stop for gelato!