I’m talking to Giovani Pistritto Head Pastry Chef for Cafe Sicilia, Surry Hills . I have had to do this through an interpretor as Giovanni doesn’t speak English all that well.
How long have you been in Australia? : I’ve been in Australia for almost a year now. I started working for Caffe Sicilia when the restaurant opened in March 2011.
Are there any ingredients you wish you could get here?: In Italy, pastry chefs use a special aromatic essence in their pastries and desserts. While typical essences like vanilla and almond are available in local groceries here, there are other varieties that are only available in Italy. We use these for our famous Christmas panettone and brioche.
How long have you been cooking and was that always in pastry?: I’m Italian so cooking is definitely in my blood! I started working with pastry when I was 13 years old when I worked for a local café/bar in my hometown of Lentini. But it wasn’t until 1994 that I actually became a pastry chef. I worked for a famous pastry chef in Lentini called Giuseppe Caltabano at a place Café Cristal. He is one the reasons why this is the career I have chosen for myself. I learned everything about pastry (especially about Sicilian pastries/desserts) from him. His passion, creativity and enthusiasm about pastry making are what inspired me most.
What is the thing that you most enjoy cooking?: The joy and satisfaction I see in people’s faces when they eat my pastries and desserts is what I enjoy most about my job. Also, being a pastry chef is not just about the techniques but also about being creative. At Caffe Sicilia, the presentation of each of the varieties we have on offer differ on a regular basis. Thinking about how to decorate each is very fulfilling for me, like I’m a kid once again!
Favourite place to go in Sydney (at the moment,) can be a cafe or a walk or a shop!: I love taking my family and our dog Nuvola (a shih tzu maltese,) which means cloud in Italian, to Hyde Park for a picnic.
Do you like being a chef and why? : Yes, I like being a pastry chef because I love seeing people’s reactions when they first bite into that cannoli, for example. They’re happy and appreciate what I have created for them.
What are the two things you would not be without in your kitchen ( this can be anything from and ingredient to a knife or a mixer or a person!) Oven, mixer and the staff!
What inspires you in the kitchen ( can be a book, an ingredient or a person )
I look up to pastry chefs in Italy especially chef Giuseppe Caltabano from Café Cristal. If I wasn’t given the opportunity to work for him, I don’t think I’ll be a pastry chef today. He was always supportive and I always apply the skills and techniques I learned throughout the three years I worked for him. I’m always looking for something new so when I do get free time I spend it on the internet looking for new recipes I could tackle and add my signature touch.
Do you cook at home… or are you never there? What kind of food do you cook? My wife does most of the cooking at home but when I do get a chance I end up baking anyways!
Who has been the most influential person in your career so far?
Again, it would have to be chef Giuseppe Caltabano from Café Cristal.
Do you have a favourite ingredient? At the moment, my favourite is hazelnut. I have been using it in some of our desserts and soon in gelato!
What restaurant (in Sydney) would you most like to go to?
I’ve been to Rockpool twice and I’ll go again and again!
What first gave you the idea to be a chef?
I started working in the kitchen at a very young age. I was 13 years old when I first worked in a café/bar. I watched carefully as the pastry chefs make everything from brioche and cannoli to breads and wanted to try it for myself.
What was the first thing that you cooked that you were really proud of (at the time?) I was 13 years old working for a café/bar when one of the pastry chefs called in sick. The café/bar was busy preparing for a big catering project so they asked me to help out. They gave me ingredients to make arancini balls and I made them from scratch. I’d never forget that day, I was stressed but relieved at the same time because it turned out the way they wanted.
What is your dream holiday? I want to go to Fiji, Turtle Island to be exact ,and just relax, lay on the beach with a beer on hand.
Some of Giovannis pastries
Sfogliatella Napoletana Mixed pastry including Mini Tiramisu Mini Calzone, Brioche
At one time I spent 8 months living in Florence and was very spoilt by the experience. It was never just the food, it is about being swept up in the moment the enthusiasm, atmosphere and the pride. My enjoyment of Caffe Sicilia is all about the staff and the atmosphere on my recent visit . It was here that we met Brad Pitt. Well anyway, he looks alot like Brad from Thelma and Louise.
The Manager welcomed me and put down a glass of house marinated mixed olives, they’re delicious and keep me occupied while I wait for my friend to arrive. I am a little dubious when I spy the antique style glasses, feeling they may not be serious about wine but I am pleasantly surpsrised when I order a glass of Collio Pinot Gris ( Italian $11.00 by the glass), suggested to me by Brad as it is from the region he grew up…….. and it arrives in a lovely glass. ( and the other is Innocent Bystander , Rose $11.00 also one of my favourites)
All of the staff members are Italian, and sitting outside in the early evening light I could be in a Piazza in Venice or Sienna, if it weren’t for the view of the Red Lantern Vietnamese restaurant across the street. Like Italians in cafes all over Italy , they are full of suggestions and keep bringing us little titbits to taste despite our protestations. NO! NO! NO! you must try, it is from my home town… etc.
We take a while to look at the menu and the waiters are helpful making suggestions for food and wine. We order and then sit back to enjoy the show. Prices are very reasonable ranging from 20 to 30 dollars for Duck or Veal Cutlet and a large and varied choice of Seafood.
The entrees arrive . The first, Tortello di Beetroot e Ricotta , white wine thyme reduction and Prawns. $24……. and a suggested Gnocchi with Bug Meat and roast tomatoes. Both entrees are pleasantly cream free, but are based on the same sauce. The pasta for the Tortello is rolled thinly and the beetroot within has just enough of an acidic touch and a sweet beetroot flavour. The prawns are fresh and lovely and the sauce a very tasty reduction of white wine and stock but the 3 elements of the dish dont seem to gel together, like they have been cooked separately then added together, but I ate every last bit
Tortello di Beetroot e Ricotta $ 24.00
The light as air Gnocchi with Roast Tomato Sage and Bug Meat is stunning looking , but lacks a bit in the flavour department for my taste. $25.00 ….
Our decision to move straight to pasta , rather than try something from the the Salumeria Delicatessen selection or the Antipasti , means we are quite full already and have chosen a main dish to share. The counter inside the restaurant is broken into two sections. One side full of salamis, mortadella, prosciutto and cheeses, and I see a beautiful wheel of Taleggio nestled amongst the goodies. The other is for Giovanni’s pastries and cakes to eat here or take home .
We have chosen a Aqua Pazza. which is a piece of poached Snapper with Mussels, Prawns, and Pippis. It has a cherry tomato and parsley reduction. $27.00, all fresh and lovely but again a little disconnected.
The Warm Salad of Zucchini ( 14.00) with fennel, chilli and garlic seems to lack Fennel and chilli ( and I am not sure about the Almonds on the menu) but it is delicious velvety crunchy and warm ( although chilli would have been wonderful). By now we are having animated conversations with the waiters who are enthusiastic about the food and the restaurant and proudly offer Sicilian Granita, which Brad says, Giovanni makes every day.
It is very smooth ( compared to what we would call Granita)and quite sweet. The dark green Pistachio Granita is not so attractive but it is so intensely pistachio flavoured that it is heavenly. I am told ( rather proudly)that they have a machine that is imported from Sicily to make this treat. We are full but Brad ( the waiter) is upset that we have not yet tried any pastries and says that he will bring us a surprise.
A Cannoli arrives along with a small glass of Orangecello each. This is of course like Limoncello only Orange, delicious and very strong.
We order tea and it is delivered in lovely tea pots with loose leaf tea.
by now we are having lots of fun, Brad says it is Sicilian tea…
The waiters are not only enthusiastic about their own restaurant they are also enthusiastic about their local restaurants as we have a bit of a chat about their favourites in Bondi, where they live.
Before we leave we are delivered a bag of goodies. I notice that several other tables have the same delivery. Inside is a Nutella Croissant ( eaten quickly by the Teenager at my house) and a lovely Brioche with flaked Almonds.
We leave after having a really fun night. Thanks for the pastries Giovanni, thanks Brad…..
Have you ever been completely swept up in the atmosphere at a restaurant?