ITALIAN celebrity chef Massimo Mele is coming to the Hunter Valley next month as a special guest of Hunter Culinary Association.
Born in Tasmania but having spent his early childhood in Naples, Mele loved helping his Nonna and aunts in the kitchen, chopping tomatoes for passata when allowed but watching, always watching – and learning.
He and his parents returned to their Hobart restaurant when he was eight. Mele frequented the kitchen, introducing locals to honest Italian fare made from the freshest of Tasmanian ingredients.
He was at the coalface when “modern Australian” became an identifiable cuisine but he never lost sight of his Italian culinary heritage.
One day the ambitious young cook spied a job in the newspaper he liked the look of, borrowed an ill-fitting suit from a friend and flew to Melbourne on a whim. He met with chef Roberto Castellanni Donovan and starting working at the chef’s St Kilda dining institution, Donovan’s.
Mele moved back to Tasmania armed with new skills and a renewed enthusiasm for his craft, and went on to open Mud Bar and Restaurant in Launceston, which won industry praise and earned Mele recognition at the Lexus Young Chef of the Year Awards.
Hungry to learn more, he spent time with family in Naples and frequented the Amalfi Coast, broadening his cooking horizons, before returning home to run Hugo’s Group kitchens across Sydney. He was also executive chef at La Scala on Jersey, Woollahra, for a time.
While in Sydney he made regular appearances on television, won awards and rave reviews for his cooking, and travelled overseas to cook for dignitaries and divas.
But the lure of Tasmania again proved too strong, and Mele returned to collaborate with local producers and start his own pop-up dinners called Tutti a Tavola, host a series of street feasts and specialty dinners and eventually start his own brand – Food By Massimo.
These days he divides his time between southern Tasmania, where he’s starting a family with partner Kristy and trying to perfect his mother’s gnocchi, and Sydney, where he is opening a new restaurant in October. He is also Brand Ambassador for Electrolux.
Mele’s food philosophy? Keep it fresh, use the best ingredients and let the produce be the hero. And there’s no better place to do that in the Hunter than at Margan, known for its enviable kitchen garden (which is more like a paddock) and its estate-grown produce.
Mele will be guest chef at Hunter Culinary Association’s seasonal lunch at Margan Restaurant on September 12, where he will demonstrate how to cook in harmony with the seasons. This will be followed by canapes and a three-course, wine-matched menu from head chef Jonathan Heath and the Margan team.
To book your seat at Mele’s table, email Kirsty on firstname.lastname@example.org.