What inspires you to be creative?
I tend to get inspiration from my colleagues, from the people I work with, from experiences I’ve had, places I’ve visited, food i have eaten that have positive memories At the moment I am going through a journey of finding foods that I loved to eat, making those flavours and textures completely plant based. One of my favourite sandwiches of all time was called the Cubano sandwich and it was served at a restaurant I worked at and was epic. Pulled pork, cheese, pickles, mustard. It was delicious! I wanted to recreate that here at Il Fornaio in some way.
Yes, we have had it and it’s the best!
Yeah. It’s delicious and I know it normally has pulled pork, but the thing we forget is that was surrounded by a delicious vegan sauce you know. So we just thought what can you substitute for pulled pork? The answer is Green jack fruit. It’s delicious. It’s got that same texture and I can get those flavours pretty darn close to what you can get with pork. Then for the ham, I found Inari at my local Japanese grocer. It’s got quite a meaty texture and I lightly grill it and then some cashew cheddar cheese and some pickles and mustard.
The menu at Il Fornaio is now quite extensive with plant based options. Is there any plans keeps exploring new options and swapping seasonally?
Absolutely. We did our first menu change last week with a few additions. Il Fornaio is one of St Kilda’s oldest cafes. It’s been around since 1994. They have great local clientele in the area. We really wanted to evolve the menu into this plant based direction but still making it accessible for the people who have called Il Fornaio their home for so long. That was the challenge and it’s something that I’m working on with Mark (the owner). Keeping our existing clientele and forge a new path with the plant based cooking. When I’m writing a menu I always go back to, what’s our ethos what’s our core? That is predominantly plant based, health promoting and ethical. That’s really our core so before I put anything on the menu it has to filter down to those core questions. If it does then it can go on the menu. One of the favourite menu items was the hollandaise and we had to sit down and think, it’s fine but Hollandaise is 70% butter and 30% is pretty much eggs. It just didn’t fit, so how could we rethink this?
We started exploring other fatty ingredients that are equally delicious and it’s avocados. So we developed a slightly Asian slanted avocado hollandaise with Kombu stock and miso topped with sesame seeds and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s got cold pressed extra in olive oil and there avocados and it’s absolutely delicious. We keep our existing clientele happy by serving as ethically sourced proteins as possible. But we are offering it as a vegan option as well. We are really trying to balance that.
Outside of work are you making quick meals for yourself or in the kitchen at home?
I’ve got a few local places that I go to get nourishing food. My mate has a Vietnamese restaurant and he does an amazing vegan pho. That’s one of my favourite things at least once or twice a week. I go there when I finish here in the afternoon and get a delicious bowl of pho with tofu and lots of greens. You can’t go wrong. When I’m at home and I’ve got the energy to cook. It’s usually about once or twice a week it’ll be whatever I’ve got in the fridge.
Before we opened I was experimenting with a vegan kimchi and fermenting a few other things at home. In the morning I try to start with a smoothie. Grabbing kale, nuts, seeds, almond milk, coconut yogurt or almond yogurt and just blitz it up. I really focus on getting as much nutrition in my body as I can. Because I know that if I’m not fueling myself I’m not going to be doing a good job. If I can’t nourish myself. How can I nourish others?
What is your favourite dish on the new menu?
I’m really proud of the Cubano which is a sandwich from Southern Florida, very influenced by Cuban Immigrants. I really wanted to recreate all the flavours and textures. I had one of my good friends who’s an amazing chef come in, and he’s eaten the previous sandwich with pulled pork but he came in tried it. He was just glowing with praise. He said it was so delicious and so yummy that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t pulled pork. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t or cheese. It was just delicious, and to hear that from someone that I respect and who is a two hat chef himself was incredibly humbling. I’m hoping that we can keep on the trajectory that we’re going and we can keep promoting the plant based vibes at Il Fornaio and who knows, probably take over the world.