“Ah, now that’s what I’m after,” says John Picone, unwrapping a bundle of glossy, shimmering squid. It’s the second batch he’s had delivered for lunch, a bid to increase his odds of having the best produce available and at the ready. “When you’re cooking squid this way, if it’s not as fresh as can be, you might as well forget it.”
“That’s the thing about Dad,” says John’s daughter, Daniella, watching her father, who’s now standing over a simmering pot layered with succulent pieces of the freshly caught farmed rabbit that arrived yesterday, slotted spoon in hand. “He goes to this much effort whether he’s cooking for three or 12 of us. He’s passionate about food and has passed that on. My own children are already little foodies and love spending time in the kitchen with their nonno, tasting and trying things.” John and wife Lyndall’s other daughters have also caught the bug – Kassia owns Harvest, a much-loved local cafe and deli, with her husband Tristan, while Lara works for a food magazine and says she tries to soak up her dad’s knowledge whenever she has the chance to be in a kitchen with him.
John’s own love affair with food began in Lipari, the Italian island where he was born and raised until his family moved to Australia when he was nine. His fascination with cooking was nurtured by his father. “Mum was a good cook, too, but Dad was the creative cook in the family. He encouraged me to learn by throwing me in at the deep end, putting me in charge of a pan of sizzling onions when I was five, with strict instructions not to let them burn. I had to learn quickly!”
Now, everything John creates in his own kitchen, from the dishes his nonna taught him to those he’s lovingly developed himself, is done from memory. You won’t find a book of handwritten recipes lying around – or a microwave for that matter. “I don’t like taking shortcuts. Flavour comes from doing things properly and by using quality ingredients. I’m a big believer in knowing where your food comes from. It’s something that inspires me in the kitchen.”
But, as passionate as John is about his food and all the trappings that go with it, there is one thing he’s even more zealous about: his family. As each person trickles into the kitchen to greet John and Lyndall on the Sunday they invited us into their fold, the house gradually filling with three generations of Picones and their extended family and friends, John’s smile grows ever wider. Only when everyone is seated around the table with forks poised, is the lunch he and Lyndall have created, complete.
“To me, family and the friends you adopt as family are everything,” says John. “It’s what life’s all about. And if you can enjoy great food when you get together, well, that’s the icing on the cake.”
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Photography by John Reyment