Sydney is home to a variety of restaurants serving up top-quality, delicious food. From pint-sized cafes to internationally renowned fine dining restaurants, there are plenty of options for the foodie in one of Australia's best loved cities. Yet behind every good dish, there's a talented chef. The chefs that call Sydney home are known for their innovative ideas, love of fresh produce and the pride they take in creating a memorable experience for their customers.
Meet the chefs behind the dishes at five of Sydney's Good Food Guide Hatted restaurants:
Brescian-born chef Alessandro Pavoni has been passionate about food since a young age. He dates it back to when he was ten-years-old and he tried a three kilogram stuffed hen that his grandmother cooked up. He enrolled in the Art, Science and Technological Centre of Food in Brescia and began his career in Italy's north, working alongside Iginio Massari and Giuseppe Maffioli at Carlo Magno.
Pavoni steadily made his way through a variety of Michelin starred restaurants, including Lake Garda's Villa Fiordaliso, before moving to Sydney in 2003. In 2005 he assumed the role of Executive Chef at Park Hyatt, but by 2009 he had dreams of his very own restaurant.
Ormeggio at the Spit was opened in Mosman in 2009 and quickly established itself as one of the best dining establishments on the North Shore. It took just nine months for The Good Food Guide to recognise Pavoni's excellence and award the restaurant its first coveted Chef's Hat. It's since claimed a second Hat that it maintained this year.
Pavoni believes that the key to his success is recognising contemporary flavours, techniques and textures and then combining them in his North Italian offerings. Ingredients are of high quality and always fresh, and his flavours are strong and bold. The striking d'Albora Marina location takes the food to a whole new level and has helped to influence Pavoni's seafood-inspired menu, as well as the name – Ormeggio means "mooring" in Italian.
Pavoni has great respect for his heritage, and it comes through in his culinary choices. He said, "I love to embrace traditional recipes that have been handed down through the families of my region, and in particular my grandmother, who was a tremendous cook."
An all-round nice guy, Pavoni prides himself on giving back to the culinary world and is often seen hosting workshops around the city.
Sardinian-born Giovanni Pilu first came to Australia aged 20, looking for a new life that would be fuelled by his love for good food. With the unique flavours of his homeland as his inspiration and new wife Marilyn by his side, Pilu opened his first restaurant in 1997.
Pilu's broad Italian menu slowly introduced Sydney to his Sardinian flavours and by 2004, Pilu was ready to expand his Sardinian repertoire and focus on the food that was so close to his heart.
Finding the perfect location on the beachfront at Freshwater, Pilu at Freshwater opened its doors in 2004 and has since been awarded two Chef's Hats by the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food Guide. Pilu uses authentic products that he imports from Sardinia, together with fresh local produce from Sydney's finest food providers. His technique is refined and innovative, yet distinct to his homeland.
Pilu helped to establish the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia (CIRA), which is committed to teaching and promoting the values of Italian food in Australia. He is active in the local community and enjoys sharing his passion through his TAFE cooking classes.
His menu offers spectacular dishes such as lightly battered zucchini flowers with squid and prawns, and his slow-roasted suckling pig is perfect for sharing.
Kerby Craig has swiftly established himself as one of Sydney's youngest up and comers since undergoing an apprenticeship at Tetsuya Wakuda in 2000.
Fascinated with modern cooking techniques, Craig embarked on a journey through Europe and Asia, perfecting his craft in kitchens such as London's La Trompette and Vancouver's Restaurant West.
In 2009, Craig returned to Sydney, where he took on the role of Chef de Partie at Koi. Showing his potential, Craig was quickly promoted to head chef. Once at the helm, Craig drove Koi from strength-to-strength, eventually earning the restaurant a Chef's Hat.
Craig has an intense passion for Japanese cuisine and in June 2012, he opened Ume, a Japanese restaurant in Surry Hills. The restaurant's long, narrow tables are traditionally Japanese, as is its menu which ranges from sashimi to barramundi with shiro dashi butter.
Within the year, Ume had been awarded a Chef Hat and continually receives rave reviews for its exceptional food. In a review, the Sydney Morning Herald described Craig's style as "refined and graceful cooking", showing he's a chef who is all about food appreciation.
"Australia's Godfather of Indian Cuisine", Kumar Mahadevan has wanted to be a chef ever since he can remember. He loved cooking alongside his mother and grandmother as a kid and has absorbed their love for experimenting with flavours.
After dropping out of an economics degree at the University of Madras at age 16, Mahadevan enrolled in the Madras Catering College. Within a year, he was offered a job at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. In 1981, despite being offered a higher salary, Kumar left for Iraq where he took on a role at the new Sheraton hotel. With the war intensifying, Mahadevan left for Australia in 1985 where he cooked for the likes of Prince Philip, Elton John and Mick Jagger in Sydney's Mayur restaurant.
Mahadevan quickly rose up Sydney's food ladder, eventually leading to the opening of Aki's in 2003 on the newly restored Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. It was a gamble to include an Indian restaurant among such fine-dining restaurants, but it soon paid off with Aki's being awarded the first ever Chef Hat for an Indian restaurant. The recent 2013-2014 Good Food Guide showed Aki's maintaining its Hatted status.
Aki's key to success is its use of traditional Indian cuisine and contemporary techniques. Mahadevan's signature dish is his palak patta chaat, but other delights include crab with iddiappam and seafood rezalla.
When it comes to cooking an Indian curry, Mahadevan believes it's about using fresh spices and getting the balance right with the flavours you use. He explained, "It is important to understand the flavour of each spice on its own and blend them cleverly. It is very important not to over complicate the dish with spices – you want it to be delicate and fragrant, not heavy and overpowering!"
Mahadevan's clever understanding of each individual spice and unique blending style has made Australians excited about Indian cuisine.
Ross Lusted has an incredible list of restaurants behind him, having worked in kitchens such as Darley Street Thai. He was executive chef at Rockpool, Singapore's Mezza9 and was most recently the head of Food & Beverage Development for Amanresorts.
It was at Amanresorts where Lusted perfected the art of not only designing food concepts and menus, but also how a kitchen and restaurant should be set up – from a kitchen's architecture to a table's presentation for dining.
With this knowledge under his belt, Lusted returned to Australia to open The Bridge Room, a sleek restaurant set in a stunning 1938 office building off Circular Quay.
The Bridge Room, where Ross Lusted serves up his culinary magic
Lusted exudes cool and this is reflected in the design of the room and the way the staff handle themselves. For a relatively new establishment, the restaurant feels surprisingly old, as if the staff has been working its tables for years and years. Everything flows smoothly and the incredible food appears effortlessly.
It's hard to pin down exactly what theme the restaurant fits into, but every bite is packed full of flavour whether it's a clever Thai dressing or a hunk of slow-grilled Junee lamb saddle. The Bridge Room features an open kitchen and Robata grill, complimenting both its Asian and European dishes. It's not hard to see why The Bridge Room was awarded two Chef Hats by the Good Food Guide and Ross Lusted was honoured with the title of this year's Chef of the Year.
Now you've heard about the names behind the food, why not check out these restaurants when in Sydney? The recognised status of these five dining destinations mean you can expect quality service and a delicious meal. The chefs who run these recognised Sydney restaurants are all at the top of their game and passionate about the food they put on a plate. Their restaurants are also participating places to dine with the Good Food gift card.
About the author: Mireille Kilgour has been an entrepreneur for 35 years in the hospitality sector. French born, she has been an accomplished business owner and operator for a number of Sydney venues. Leading the industry with high profile institutions such as Lamrock Café Bondi, she has endless passion for the industry, and now has the pleasure of supporting restaurants to fill their tables with the new Good Food Gift Card program.