Massimo Mele was surrounded by great Italian food from an early age. He used to watch his mother, nonna and aunties cook in the kitchen every day. We recently caught up and had a chat with Massimo about when he decided to become a chef, his popular pop-up event Tutti A Tavola, what to expect at his Big Day Out Italian Street Food Cart and where he loves to eat, drink and play around Sydney.
1. You grew up surrounded by great Italian food, watching your mother, nonna and aunties cooking in the kitchen every day. How did they inspire your love of food?
To be honest, I was inspired as a kid. I guess I just loved to eat but in saying that, as a kid I remember watching the process which was always calm and never rushed. I know it sounds cheesy but you could always taste the love. I guess years later I now appreciate it more than ever
2. Can you pin-point the one moment you decided you wanted to become a chef?
This is a good question – there are so many turning points but the most powerful one I can remember was when my father was sick one day. We owned a restaurant and my mother asked me open up for her in the afternoon after school. She was running late and some customers walked in and wanted some food. I kind of just pulled the ingredients from the fridge and just started cooking. As I had worked by my dad’s side previously for the past year, I just put into practice what I had seen. Customers left happy and I sat back and was a little chuffed. I was only 12 years old at the time.
3. What was your favourite meal to eat as a child?
Sunday feasts which featured my mums lasagna… Nothing has ever come close.
4. Tell us a bit about your popular pop-up event ‘Tutti a Tavola’ – what’s that all about?
Well Tutti a Tavola came about when I was executive Chef at the Hugos Group. I wanted to push new and exciting ways to eat so I started doing Italian Street food which I love. Next I added a few more courses and it turned into a fantastic regional Italian feast. One big communal table with lots of amazing food, great wine and awesome people coming together around the table. Sharing, laughing and basically having a good time. I have been lucky enough to have taken the dinner to Brisbane recently and the next one is at Salt Meat Cheese on Friday November 15th. It’s themed around Sicily.
5. Where has been your favourite restaurant to work at and why?
That’s easy – Donovans in Melbourne. That’s the restaurant that made me realize just what I was capable of and more importantly how to do it professionally as well.
6. What signature dish would cook a girl to impress her?
I make a killer limoncello tiramisu I’m sure would impress any girl.
7. Top 3 ingredients you can’t live without?
Italian sausage, eggplant and mozzarella
8. Do you have a favourite restaurant to EAT at in Sydney?
There are so many but I guess my most recent dining out experience was Mr Wong and that was off the hook. Best Peking Duck I’ve had!!
9. Where do you go to grab a DRINK in Sydney?
A few of my buddies work in bars and are often opening new venues so I love to go and check them out and support my friends. Most recently my mate Leeroy just took over Durty Nelley’s on Glenmore Road in Paddington so I’ve been dropping in for a beer or two down there.
10. When you’re not in the kitchen, where do you love to PLAY in Sydney?
The BEACH!!!! Anything to do with water and sunshine is where I love to be when I’m not working. I actually get grumpy if I don’t get outside. I love going away with my mates – they do all the surfing and I do all the cooking.