“If there’s one thing I miss, it’s sitting down to pasta. I dream of having a huge bowl of Aglio Olio e Pepperoncino, all to myself,” sighs chef Alessandro Pavoni. A core member of the Italian food mafia credited with pushing Italian cuisine forward in Australia, Pavoni can no longer eat one of his greatest loves: pasta. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the celebrated chef has endured a host of health issues in recent years, including open heart surgery and a brush with cancer. Being told he could no longer eat most grains, processed flour and sugar for starters (basically all the fun stuff), Pavoni had to change his life in order to live well.
“I train like a Navy SEAL now,” says Pavoni, who earned the name ‘The Rock of Australian food’ for his imposing physique. “I wake at 5.30am, I do 20 minutes of Wim Hof (the Dutch extreme athlete AKA The Iceman) abdominal breathing, then yoga before my kids wake up. Then I drink a litre of water with apple cider vinegar … and then, of course, espresso.” It’s the time to focus on the day’s plan, a reflection of the long-term stuff before a surf or a Brazilian martial arts jiu-jitsu session – and that’s all before heading to work at 9.30am.
It might sound more like an athlete’s training day than one of a chef, but Pavoni insists he’s never felt better. “It has absolutely changed my life. Before I ate a lot of everything and I think in many ways, it’s because of that that now I can’t,” he says of the classic hedonistic lifestyle synonymous with the hospitality industry. “Now [because of the new way I eat], when I taste what I’m cooking, flavours are more prevalent, my palate is better.” But what about eating pasta? “I eat a bite, just to taste, which you would think would be a treat but it just makes me want to eat more!” he laughs.
“Now [because of the new way I eat], when I taste what I’m cooking, flavours are more prevalent, my palate is better.”
“If I could give young chefs, and people in general, one piece of advice, it would be to eat healthily. Start early with ancient or whole grains, and dial back on intense foods when you’re not working – it gives your palate something to contrast with when you’re cooking professionally.” Pavoni adds that the change in his lifestyle and diet has allowed him to work hard and perform better than ever.
A veteran of more than 17 years as a chef in Australia, Pavoni reflects on the changes he’s witnessed. “I can tell you, the past five to seven years in the industry have been fast and steep,” he says, crediting an increase in diners’ interest and general food knowledge, thanks to the rise of food in popular culture. “This stimulates chefs to become more creative and adventurous, and that brings change. It has skyrocketed the level of competition for me. I believe we are in the middle of a food revolution and I couldn’t be in a better position.”
“I think you have to be adventurous! Years ago, you wouldn’t conceive of seeing a pasta dish where the pasta is actually ribbons of cuttlefish."
Among his Italian peers Armando Percuoco, Lucio Galetto, Giovanni Pilu and Stefani Manfredi, Pavoni became known for his modern interpretive style in the kitchen, a theme we’ve seen explode in recent years with restaurants such as Sydney’s LuMi Bar & Dining and Pavoni’s own Ormeggio at The Spit. “I think you have to be adventurous! Years ago, you wouldn’t conceive of seeing a pasta dish where the pasta is actually ribbons of cuttlefish, for example.”
So what is he most proud of, to date? “I still love to teach people about Italian food,” he says. “You need to understand the basics before you can colour outside the lines, and there are great things about both. Bringing modern Italian to Australia, I could have gone broke, it was a huge risk, but I’m glad I did it. At the end of the day though, if we can give people memories, we’ve accomplished what we live for.”
Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs’ Line premieres Monday 6 August, 6pm weeknights, on SBS followed by an encore screening at 9.30pm on SBS Food Network. Episodes will be available after broadcast via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #TheChefsLine on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood and Twitter @SBS_Food. Check out sbs.com.au/thechefsline for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more!
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