VALE VALERIO NUCCI

It was with great sadness that I read that Valerio Nucci had passed on. The founding chef of both Cafe di Stasio and Richmond’s Grand (where he was also an owner), I have been privileged to eat many a meal prepared by this master.

Because of his predilection for cooking good, fairly simple food that always used the very best ingredients and had tonnes of flavour, I always regarded Valerio as a chef after my own heart.

He had no truck with fancy pants rubbish and, in a day and age when Italian cooking in Melbourne was still dominated by the stodgy offerings of yesteryear, his light, fresh food was a revelation. I will always remember his light touch with pasta and protein alike and the fact that an accompaniment to a dish may have been as simple as a few slices of tomato, but always the perfect tomato (I often wondered where he found them) dressed with the best olive oil, a few drops of superior balsamic, a couple of perfect tiny basil leaves and a judicious amount of seasoning. Perfection on a plate! But, as any half decent chef will tell you, perfect simplicity is hard to achieve.

I often had a drink with Valerio after service at Donlvey’s George Hotel when I first set up Tolarno and I must admit we rarely spoke about culinary matters (except for my enquiries about those bloody tomatoes, to which I never received a satisfactory answer). The state of Fitzroy Street always interested him, as did what the rather diverse locals were up to. But, above all, he was just a good bloke to have a drink with.

When he moved to the Grand, I visited him fairly regularly over the years. And, whilst he was rarely in the kitchen in the latter years, his food philosophy remained.

I am told he then returned to Italy to run a family property and, if this was the case, I’m sure he would also have excited the Italians with his precise, flavoursome cooking.

Valerio, to my mind, was one of the forerunners of Melbourne’s food revolution and, as I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to enjoy his inspired cooking and have certainly missed both his company and his cooking alike in recent years.

 

note:  Valerio Nucci was a chef in Melbourne, Australia

Move over Gordon f…ing Ramsay and Jamie Boy, a true English super chef arrives in Oz (and I bet you he doesn’t have any problems keeping his doors open!)

I’m enjoying the new Fairfax Good Food sections and, in particular, was very interested in an interview with English chef, Alastair Little, which revealed that he is to take over the late Jeremy Strode’s CBD Restaurant in Sydney. Excited because, to my mind, Little was the star of those heady days in London (the eighties) when ‘young Turks’ such as him, Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leith and Marco-Pierre White showed the world that English boys could actually cook. Although, the early days from this self-taught cook were not all beer and skittles.

“My cooking career was launched at the Old Compton Wine Bar. ‘Launched’ is perhaps the wrong word – kick-started is more like it, in that the Chef left and I volunteered to have a go. The very next day I was cooking 80 lunches armed with a copy of Elizabeth David’s ‘Provincial Cooking’ and a self-confidence that can only be viewed as foolhardy. My first ever review followed soon after. The Times Diary made several pleasant comments about the wines, the quality of the breads and cheese, but observed that ‘the only cooking he noticed was by a young man who was preparing lamb chops by the simple expedient of setting fire to them on the grill.”

Fortunately, by the time I came across Chef Little, he had honed his skills a little and was heading the kitchens at L’Escargot in Soho, which was owned at the time by wine guru Jancis Robinson and her husband, Nic Lander. Interestingly, also ensconced in the kitchen was one of our most talented produce-driven chefs, George Biron of Sunnybrae at Birregurra fame (now Brae). The food was marvellous – simple and fresh, yet highly skilled cooking.

After a stint at the highly rated and influential 192 Kensington Park Road, Little returned to Soho and opened his own eponymous restaurant in Firth Street.

I ate there a number of times (my brother Don owned wine bars nearby) and it was actually those visits that encouraged me to return to Melbourne and open a 40-seater – Fleurie – following the Little (and, dare I say it, Biron) principle of ‘keeping it simple’. In fact, I think it was a wonderful Tortino of crisp potato topped with the most perfectly cooked, spotlessly fresh anchovies and a scattering of what the Italians would most probably call ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ that tipped me over the edge. Sadly, I could never find, at that time, anchovies of the quality that would make such a recipe proud, so my dream dish never made it onto the Fleurie Carte. But, hopefully, Mr Little has more luck and the dish will feature in Sydney – I will certainly be keeping my fingers crossed. But, no matter what, I will be looking forward to more inspired cooking from the master.

PS.
Alastair Little and I, seemingly, have another thing in common – we both taught ourselves to cook (or at least to appreciate great produce) with the help of Elizabeth David and, in particular, her book “French Provincial Cooking”, pub. 1960. I will always remember, at a time when commercial tomatoes were pale and insipid, her tale of the joys of eating just-picked tomatoes with good bread and the best butter from Normandie. Little was obviously also impressed, because he talks of presenting an entree of a great tomato with mozzarella and the best olive oil, and gobsmacking the locals who had been brought up on Italian restaurant fodder of salads dressed with the oil from the chip fryer.

PPS.
I also noticed that his new restaurant will feature freshly shucked oysters with tiny spicy sausages. A wonderful flavour combination – the salty brine of the oysters and the hot spicy sausage. This recipe also featured on Jeremy’s menu, as it did on a number of my restaurant menus.  Although, I must admit, I didn’t pinch the idea from Little, but instead first encountered the dish in Bordeaux (circa 1970), where it was always washed down with a glass of crisp, flinty Muscadet – yummy!

And, there’s more … for plenty of new recipes, log onto my YouTube channel – Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One (or Two) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDLNrITNG0Gyhpz6350FA