I grew up in a tiny village of 300 people on the Italian island of Sardinia. I moved to Australia in 1993, and with my wife Marilyn, opened our first restaurant, Cala Luna, in Sydney in 1997. Seven years later, we made the move here to Freshwater and started Pilu and we’ve been here ever since. We love it here. We thought that if we’re going to make this restaurant our life, where better place to do it?
Where do you look for inspiration when you are creating a menu?
Local, seasonal produce. If you work with what’s around you and what’s in season, you can create amazing cuisine anywhere in the world. Over 90% of our menu is prepared using Australian produce and I’m a passionate supporter of Australian farmers - we have to make sure we’re behind them all the time. That’s part of the reason I’ve worked so hard to create a culture in my restaurant that’s all about seasonal cooking.
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
Olive oil. The only thing I don’t put it in is coffee! It is such a great ingredient and now Australia is producing fantastic olive oil at a good price.
How closely do you follow food trends?
It’s important to keep trends in mind, because people look for them and it’s an exciting part of the job, but the focus must always be on local produce. I think some trends can go too far. For example the molecular gastronomy trend went a bit too far in recent years – too many powders, purees and foams. In moderation that’s fine, but it’s important not to stray too far from what we do best.
Do you remember when you first tried a macadamia?
Growing up in Sardinia, we had almonds, walnuts and chestnuts. It wasn’t until I came to Australia in my 20s that I first tried a macadamia. To me macadamias are something truly amazing - so tasty and rich, that unique crunch. I absolutely love them. I use them on our menu in all kinds of dishes – sweet, savoury, meat…whatever! The philosophy that lies at the heart of Sardinian cooking is the use of produce that is both local and in season. So while macadamias aren’t Italian, when I use them on our menu, it’s still in line with the Sardinian approach to cooking because I’ve sourced them locally.
What’s your favourite way to enjoy macadamias?
Roasted and tossed in salt. I can’t stay away from them!
Can you tell us about your Locavore menu?
Locavore means ‘local’, so I create these menus as a celebration of local produce. It’s a six-dish menu that showcases fresh produce sourced within New South Wales and each menu is designed around three key local ingredients. Recently we did one featuring macadamias grown in the Byron Bay region. We had a main course of slow roasted lamb shoulder topped with crushed macadamias, and for dessert a choice of macadamia semi-freddo or sticky date and macadamia pudding.
Where is your favourite place to eat, anywhere in the world?
My home. There is nothing like finishing the week on a Sunday night, when I’ve done a massive lunch service, and picking up some fresh ingredients on the way home. I’ll throw some prawns and cherry tomatoes through some beautiful paccheri (a large tube pasta produced near Naples), make a tomato and burrata salad, steal some focaccia from the restaurant and make a Negroni with blood orange and Campari. For me there’s nothing better! Marilyn complains that I never want to go out, I always want to stay home. But I love my home!
Do you still visit Sardinia?
Yes we go back once or twice a year to visit my parents and see what’s happening on the food scene there.
What do you like to cook at home?
Last night we had lamb shoulder, salad with radicchio and Brussels sprouts.
What’s your favourite TV show or movie right now?
I really liked Eddie the Eagle – I was in tears at the end!
If you were an ice cream what flavour would you be?
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