Andrew Davies is a pretty controversial guy, although he doesn’t actually mean to be. Trained under the likes of Jacques Reymond, he’s a hard-working chef whose main priority is feeding people, whether that’s at a fine dining French restaurant, a bustling pasta bar, or in the middle of Arnum Land while catering on the set of Aussie film Canoes. But in the age of celebrity chefs, prolific food bloggers and Instagram-first-eat-later diners, Andrew's old-school approach is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Since Facebook became a fixture of Gen Y life, he banned mobiles in the kitchen. (Apparently toilet breaks times went up 1000 per cent, so perhaps a broader rule needs to be conceived.)
Phone-obsessed diners are another irritant.
“I know people who, if coffee comes to the table, have to take a photo of it,” Andrew says. “It’s like proof, ‘Yep, I’m here now!’”
Bold enough to say what many of us are thinking, he’s all about the food – authentic, handmade food – not 15 minutes of fame.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to be a celebrity chef. I prefer being in the kitchen.”
And, when it comes to his Adelaide restaurant Osteria Oggi, what a kitchen it is. Ribbons of papardelle dangle from the ceiling, hoisted up on a purpose-built pulley system. Pasta is made fresh every day, keeping with the restaurant’s food philosophy and literal name. (‘Oggi’ pronounced ‘o-jee’ means ‘today’ in Italian.)
For Andrew, Oggi’s pasta extruder is the beating heart of the restaurant. In case you’re unacquainted, this machine mixes the dough and pushes it through a nozzle (the ‘die’) into various shapes.
“…From tiny shells of gnocchetti right through to your tagliatelle, spaghetti, casarecce, and any other long pasta you feed out by hand and slide a knife over the side,” he lists. “It’ll let you make whatever shape you want.”
But that’s not the only utensil Oggi has up its sleeve. The chefs also use a wire pasta cutter called a chitarra. With tight strings like its Italian namesake – the guitar – the chitarra is best for egg-heavy pasta doughs that are more common in the North.
While Australia is blessed with an abundance of Italian restaurants, most serve traditionally Southern dishes. Generally speaking, the North of Italy is more affluent, so its people didn’t need to migrate to Australia back in the ’50s. Their higher living standards have also meant that Northern food is richer than that of the South.
“[Northern Italian food] leans on the influences of other European countries close to it, like Austria, Germany and France,” Andrew explains. “They can afford different flours, eggs in their pasta, and things like cream and truffles. They have a greater array of seasonal vegetable and access to game birds, different meats and cheeses.”
You’ll see each of these elements in the menu of Osteria Oggi. Some recipes are as traditional as can be – “the ragu pasta recipe comes from a lineage of… I don’t know how long, but it hasn’t been changed for some time” – while other dishes are wide open to interpretation.
Interestingly, though, you won’t find an Italian chef in the kitchen.
“We have one Italian the on the floor who we had to import from Milan,” says Andrew. “He’s brilliant. He’s our saving grace to a certain degree. We need to check things with him and he gives us the little nuances and terminology for different recipes.”
“The best cross-cultural experience I’ve had... was without having to leave the country.”
Since deciding to open an Italian restaurant, Andrew’s picked up plenty of specialist knowledge himself, but he hasn’t always been in this business. Contemporary French cuisine was his former bread and butter, having worked in Michelin-starred restaurants for most of his youth, and headed up d’Arry’s Verandah winery-restaurant in McLaren Vale. It was at that point in his career that Andrew’s enthusiasm for of French techniques seriously waned, so he decided to quit.
“I went into film and television catering for a few years – every job was a new adventure,” he says. “I did the first Wolf Creek, and worked up in Arnhem Land on Canoes. It was awesome. [Being in Arnhem Land] was the best cross-cultural experience I’ve had. And it was without having to leave the country.”
But a passion for pasta and a craving for Northern Italian in Adelaide eventually led Andrew to open Osteria Oggi with his business partners. We mightn’t tweet or ’gram about it, but we’re very glad he did.