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Chef Alessandro Pavoni began his career in the northern Italian city of Brescia where he worked at Carlo Magno with the renowned Iginio Massari and Giuseppe Maffioli. His passion for cooking kicked off at the age of 10 when he sampled a 3kg stuffed hen his grandmother cooked. This graduate of the Art, Science and Technological Centre of Food in Brescia and the Caterina de Medici Hospitality School then opened Sydney’s popular restaurant Ormeggio at the Spit in 2009. This after several stints working as a chef in various Michelin-starred venues along with managing a team of 30 chefs at the Park Hyatt hotel in Sydney.

Recently, Indonesia Tatler had an exclusive tête-à-tête with Chef Alessandro during his participation in Mejekawi’s Culinary Collective dinner series. The Italian chef talked about his background, fondest memory, menu strategy, and the hardest dish he ever cooked.

How did you decide to become a chef?

My nonna [grandmother] was my inspiration when I was a child. My earliest food memory is being in the kitchen with my nonna as she cooked for our family. This was every Sunday, and her speciality was a whole hen—still my favourite all-time meal. She used to cook one for the family and one for me, and then make an incredible chicken broth that she would then use to cook a risotto. The way she brought family and friends together with her cooking... Well, I wanted to be able to do that, too. 

What is your fondest memory behind the kitchen?

When I was at the Park Hyatt we did Lindsay Fox [Australian businessman]'s 70th birthday extravaganza—it was three days of cooking in different locations with 400 guests moving around by ferries, including nine heads of state. It was epic—my biggest challenge and still one of my greatest memories of the kitchen.

Has your culinary style changed throughout the years?

Absolutely! Thirty years ago, it was a different time—the food back then in fine-dining was a lot heavier: heavy sauces, that sort of thing. These days, it is lighter, fresher, produce-oriented. The techniques have changed, too, and technology is applied so much these days, it’s the norm now.

I have to admit, though, that the more I learn, the more I turn back to my favourite way of cooking for myself—the original cooking on coals that I learned in my mountain town in Italy growing up.

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What made Ormeggio at the Spit different from other Italian restaurants?

Ormeggio is different from other Italian restaurants because we focus on a modern approach, rethinking tradition while still honouring it, whereas most other Italian restaurants are all about staying in their traditional roots.

Read also: Ormeggio Culinary Collective By KU DE TA’s Mejakawi Is Not One To Miss

What did you learn from working in a hotel restaurant? Have you interpreted it into your own business?

Being executive chef of the Park Hyatt Sydney taught me a lot about the business side of the industry. It gave me invaluable experience managing big teams of people, multiple outlets, and, of course, finance, which is my new passion. I’m crazy about Excel these days.

How do you strategise in terms of menus and cooking styles at Ormeggio?

It’s a big team effort, with everyone in the team able to give ideas, feedback, comments, and imagination into the menu and its development. Though overall I have to give the credit for Ormeggio these days to my Head Chef and business partner Victor Moya, who is cooking with us here in Bali, too. He’s the most talented chef I’ve ever had the honour of working with. The current menu we are doing, the Trip via Spain, is a tribute to Victor, his Spanish roots, and his incredible style.

What are the challenges you faced in handling Ormeggio and how have you solved them?

There are two biggest challenges that are ongoing. The first is to stay contemporary with your offer. The answer to that is to listen to your team, work together, invite people to share experiences with you, and always be hungry to learn more and take risks when you feel passionate about something. The second is just as challenging, and that is keeping on top of the human element in your business—planning for the future, ensuring your team is training and growing with you, but also keeping on top of what are, in Australia, crazy high labour costs.

What’s the hardest dish you have ever cooked and why?

Anything whole and huge and on proper fire and coals is always challenging, but I'm having a lot of fun with this at the moment [laughs].

What do you think of the dining scene in Indonesia, or perhaps in Bali?

I love it. I’ve been coming to Bali now for almost 20 years now. I’ve got great friends here and seeing Bali’s dining scene grow has been really interesting.

Read also: 19 Perfect Places For A Ladies’ Luncheon In Jakarta

Tags: Chef, Dining, Restaurant, Sydney, 15 minutes with