A Love of Victoria's Food Culture: A Conversation with Chef Alejandro Saravia
By Bree Pagliuso|
The passion for food flows through the heart of Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC).
After an incredibly successful evening at the Starlight Children's Foundation Five Chefs Dinner, we had the privilege of chatting with Alejandro Saravia, the culinary genius behind Farmer’s Daughter and Victoria by Farmer's Daughter and one of the great chefs at this year's Starlight Dinner, along with Benjamin Cooper, Guy Grossi, Jacqui Challinor, Josep Espuga, and MCEC’s Executive Chef Peter Haycroft.
Alejandro actively contributes to his beloved state of Victoria through his involvement in the Club Melbourne Ambassador Program, owned by MCEC.
His enthusiasm lies in showcasing Victorian produce, highlighting our venue's culinary facilities, celebrating our top MCEC chefs, and, of course, the unifying power of food.
How many years have you been involved with the Starlight Children’s Foundation?
I've been involved with Starlight for a few years now. It's my second time in Melbourne, and a fantastic experience. We've been able to raise money and awareness for the cause, and it's incredibly impactful for families and kids. It gives parents some much-needed time, and seeing the kids smiling is heartwarming.
Can you share your feelings from the night?
The event always leaves me with a generous and fortunate feeling. Our local Victorian suppliers were incredibly supportive and helped sponsor the ingredients. It was a heartwarming and memorable experience to be a part of.
What delicious dish did you prepare?
I prepared a dish with kingfish ceviche and sweet potato puree for the evening. Every year, it's all about exploring new flavours and working closely with the MCEC team, led by Executive Chef Peter Haycroft.
The team are a great help, making the experience seamless and enjoyable. We always collaborate on the preparation by sending our recipes in advance, hosting tastings, and finalising all the details together before the event.
The five chefs have such a strong camaraderie and sense of friendship, which really shows through the excitement and the success of the event.
All the chefs have high standards, and it's not easy to please them, so when you can make them happy, you know you have a successful dish on your hands.
We can only imagine what happens in that kitchen! Can you share some fun insight into the cooking experience alongside some of Victoria's best in a single kitchen?
The vibe in the kitchen was electric, and it felt like a celebration of food. Cooking alongside some of Victoria's top chefs in a single kitchen is a memorable and enjoyable experience. There is a strong sense of respect, and we all help each other in plating dishes. We make sure everyone has the right support, we crack a few jokes, and even brainstorm crazy ideas for the next Starlight event.
Any heartwarming moments?
One of the standout moments was when Guy Grossi took the stage in the middle of the event and sang an Italian song to raise more money. It felt so natural for the chef, and the event's warm and familiar atmosphere made it truly special.
What makes Victoria a top food destination?
I believe Victoria's status as a top food destination can be attributed to its diverse landscape and rich resources. I'm very lucky to be able to travel around Victoria and meet different producers; working with them, you can see the diversity it offers. Victoria is surrounded by the ocean, beautiful lakes, and fertile land, which is reflected in the way our produce is grown. There's a strong focus on quality, including grass-fed beef and some of the best dairy in the world.
Why do you love Victoria's foodie culture?
The foodie culture in Victoria is not just about the cuisine itself; it's about the culture that grows around it. It's social and eventful, bringing people together to celebrate not just food, but community and the arts.
As a Club Melbourne ambassador, can you share your thoughts on our spaces and how they can play a role in creating different dining experiences?
Any preconceptions about event catering are quickly dispelled when you enter the kitchen at MCEC. Being a Club Melbourne ambassador, I can attest to the significance of MCEC's spaces in crafting unique dining experiences. The venue's expansive kitchen, combined with the talented culinary team, allows creativity to flourish. Whether it's an event like Starlight or any other, MCEC provides state-of-the-art equipment and a strong emphasis on health and safety. The chef's dedication and passion for pushing culinary boundaries is evident in the quality of the food they produce. They source locally, make dishes from scratch, and do it exceptionally well. This dedication extends to replicating dishes for events like Starlight.
What are your thoughts on our venue as a food destination?
Peter's kitchen operates differently. It's a testament to the chef's and his team's passion, showcasing their commitment to our industry. They continuously push boundaries by sourcing local and seasonal ingredients. With their well-equipped infrastructure, they can undertake the challenging task of creating dishes from scratch and executing them exceptionally well.
Whys is food culture so central to who we are in Melbourne ?
It's a combination of factors. Firstly, our strong hospitality industry and the exceptional quality of produce and cuisine play a significant role. Also, Melbourne's culture emphasises dining out and socialising at restaurants and bars, making it an integral part of our lifestyle. In Victoria, going for a meal is an event and a social occasion, contributing to the importance of our food culture.
How do Victorian suppliers and produce factor into our menu?
MCEC is dedicated to supporting Victorian producers and suppliers. CEO, Natalie O'Brien, is deeply committed to our state and its producers. She has extensive knowledge, the charisma and connections to support local farmers, winemakers, distilleries, and producers. I appreciate the hard work of farmers and producers in Victoria, and I believe in supporting them and creating a memorable dining experience rooted in the rich resources and culinary talent of the region. This commitment goes beyond pricing; it's a matter of pride and promoting what our state has to offer. Guests can expect to experience the best of Victoria's produce.
I've been fortunate to be part of projects like the Five Star Chef, Club Melbourne, which allows me to proudly represent Melbourne and Victoria as my home. I'm dedicated to raising awareness of our local produce, and I've opened two restaurants, Farmer's Daughters and Victoria, that are entirely focused on showcasing Victorian produce. Supporting initiatives like the Starlight Foundation is important to me as it fosters a sense of community, which has become even more appreciated after the challenges posed by COVID-19. It's evident that people want a sense of community, even in large-scale events, and MCEC succeeds in making such events feel approachable and connected to our community.
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