Starlight Five Chefs Dinner: Interviews with the Chefs
By Deni Kirkova|
Our Melbourne room is dressed in Starlight royal purple as stars, dandelions and sparkles echo a starry night’s sky. Attendees are mingling and chatting, patiently waiting for the decadent five-course menu that’s to come.
The décor and mood aptly matched the theme for the Starlight Children’s Foundation Five Chefs Dinner event: Wish Upon a Star – a fundraiser in aid of the foundation that supports terminally ill children.
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) proudly sponsored and hosted the event on 20 October 2022, marking 11 years that we have partnered with Starlight. This year’s joyous event raised enough to support Starlight’s important hospital programs and life-changing Starlight Wishes.
Five of Melbourne's best chefs donated their time to create the degustation, including Alejandro Saravia (Victoria by Farmer's Daughters), Benjamin Cooper (Chin Chin), Guy Grossi (Grossi), Jacqui Challinor (NOMAD) and Josep Espuga (Pt Leo Estate). They worked together with MCEC Executive Chef Peter Haycroft to marry their unique talent and tastes for the one-of-a-kind menu. The spectacular event was a great privilege for us: a venue known for great food.
Featuring heart-warming and inspirational stories from recipients of Starlight's support, the evening was sprinkled with a performance from the Victorian ballet, a thrilling live auction and guest appearances.
We managed to grab time with three of the starring chefs to ask some of our most burning questions before the event.
Jacqui Challinor, Executive Chef of NOMAD
NOMAD is one of Sydney's best restaurants and is now settled into its second home in Melbourne along the culinary avenue, Flinders Lane. Known for smoky open-flame dishes and using the best of our local produce, NOMAD is a foodie's dream.
When did your love for food begin and what does your day usually look like?
I’ve always loved food but never really had any ambition to become a chef. I was always more interested in food styling, photography and nutrition. After school, I started a catering TAFE course to test the waters. I found my favourite day of the week was the practical... and the rest is history!
These days my typical day is a little different. As the Executive Chef, I oversee two kitchens and the development of another two restaurants so it’s not too much time on the pans anymore.
What's your favourite thing to cook at the moment?
I’m loving finessing my homemade pasta skills at the moment! I’ve never worked in a kitchen that serves pasta, so it wasn’t a skill that I've had the opportunity to develop. It’s my new favourite thing to cook at home. My go-to is lots of chilli, garlic, anchovies, extra virgin olive oil and pecorino.
Why did you choose to get involved with the Starlight Five Chefs Dinner?
This is my second year as part of the Starlight family and my first in Melbourne. Any opportunity to use what I love to do as a way to help people is pretty special. The work that Starlight does for sick kids and their families is priceless and I’m humbled to be able to lend my support.
What are you making for dinner and why?
I’m serving NOMAD’s signature olive oil ice cream sandwich, which is without a doubt my favourite thing I’ve ever created! I love that this dessert can change your perspective on olive oil and allow you to experience it in a way you wouldn’t expect to see. More than just a humble salad dressing!
Josep Espuga, Culinary Director of Pt Leo Estate
Josep Espuga is the culinary genius behind the fine dining experience at Pt Leo Estate. Here's what he had to say about his journey to leading the incredible food experience at one of Mornington Peninsula's most remarkable locations.
Tell us about your career and how you landed at Pt Leo Estate?
My love for food started when I was a kid while spending time with my grandmother. She lived in a very small farming village north of Barcelona and would collect ingredients from the local, surrounding farms. She would make fresh cow’s milk cheese or rabbit casserole made from meat she would butcher herself.
Both my mum and grandmother worked in restaurants, so I grew up in kitchens. I wanted to be a chef since I was 10 and started studying hospitality at 13. Since then, I've been cooking and working to learn and feed my passion for food, wine and hospitality.
I first trained in traditional cooking and later in Michelin-star restaurants and have lived and worked in places like Madrid, New York, Abu Dhabi, Melbourne, Bangkok, Hamilton Island and now the Mornington Peninsula. My curiosity to learn and practice keeps pushing me to travel. Working at Pt Leo Estate is very rewarding for me because we have three beautiful restaurants, a winery, cellar door and sculpture park all under the same roof.
What is your signature dish and what are you best known for?
I'm well known for using local ingredients and working closely with local farmers and producers. I learned from early on to always use what’s closest to my hands and to respect the people who work the land. In 2019, one of my dishes made it to the top dishes in Victoria list by Dan Stock of the Herald Sun. The dish was swordfish loin rolled in its own cured belly, glazed with a reduction made with its toasted bones and skin with a touch of honey, molasses, liquorice and soy sauce.
Why is the Starlight Five Chefs Dinner important to you?
It's a great honour for me to be part of the Five Chefs Dinner and I hope it's not the last event I have the pleasure to be part of. It fills me with joy to be part of something that has a huge impact on sick children. I have great and happy memories of my childhood and would love to help other children have happy memories too.
What are you making for the event and why?
The dish I'm serving is one of a kind, created especially for this dinner. It's designed to be paired with Pt Leo’s 2019 Pinot Noir. I personally tasted the wine with our head sommelier and based on the tasting, developed this dish. The dish is drunken chicken with sugarloaf cabbage, miso butter and riberries. The fermented and nutty notes of the miso butter and the acidity and red fruit notes of the riberries play really well with our young Pt Leo Estate Pinot Noir.
Alejandro Saravia, Chef and Co-Founder of Victoria by Farmer’s Daughters
Victoria by Farmer's Daughters offers Melbourne a unique culinary experience thanks to its unique farm-to-table approach to provenance-based cuisine. Set along Fed Square's riverside, Alejandro describes his new restaurant ‘like a small embassy of all the regions of Victoria’ showcasing the best the state has to offer.
Tell us how you became a chef and give us a snippet of what you get up to at work?
I started studying to be a chef when I was 16 in Lima, Peru, where I am from. My grandmother was the one starting me on the appreciation of ingredients taking me with her to market runs. It’s there where I discovered the magic of buying fresh seasonal produce and also the relationship that market vendors and farmers build with their customers. I love it.
After studying cookery, I studied marketing and business. When I finished, I decided to take on my true passion and go back to the kitchens and move to Europe to work in Michelin-star restaurants in Paris and the UK.
I arrived in Australia in 2006 and, after a year exploring Sydney, I recognised that there was a gap where I could introduce Latin American cuisine. After a while, I established a few Peruvian restaurants in Australia from Sydney to Melbourne.
A few years ago, I discovered a beautiful region in Victoria called Gippsland, which I have been actively supporting. It is the inspiration for one of my restaurants, Farmer’s Daughters at 80 Collins Precinct. This year, off the back of the success of Farmer’s Daughters, we opened Victoria at Fed Square. It is a tribute to all regions in Victoria that aims to bring the best of Victorian food, beverage and art to one place.
What’s your favourite thing to cook?
I love to cook dishes with an open fire: a grill or a pit, slow roasting or grilling. There is nothing better than cooking using all-natural elements.
Why is the Starlight Five Chefs Dinner important to you?
I admire what Starlight does in the children’s wards across the country and recognise how important their work is to help families and children during their personal battle against cancer. It’s a privilege to be able to support and contribute even in a small way to that magnificent work.
Tell us about the course and dish you are preparing for the dinner and why you chose it?
My course is a very simple but thoughtful dish, working with different seasonal vegetables sourced directly from local farmers. These are combined with my signature tofu cream that brings a tangy flavour and balanced with the herbal notes of the kale pesto.
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