5 minutes with Francesco Mannelli
Good food is all about quality ingredients and an open mind, says Mode Kitchen & Bar’s head chef Francesco Mannelli.
Where I grew up in the hills of Florence, my family picked olives to make olive oil and harvested grapes to make wine, so I’ve been involved in food and hospitality from a young age. And my mama is great cook so I’ve naturally always been in love with food and wine. I chose to become a chef when I was 13 or 14 years old — this is not unusual in Italy. So when I first came to Australia at 23, I already had eight years’ of experience.
Australians have a great interest in food — and that’s what appealed to me about working here. Sydneysiders like to go to restaurants and enjoy nice dinners and dishes. There’s not that much attention to dining out in Italy, and maybe that’s because we’re lucky good food is part of our culture, but I appreciate that people talk about restaurants and what they have to eat here. I think Australia’s dining scene is about to become one of the biggest in the world and we can expect five or six restaurants here with more than one Michelin star in the future, so I’m curious to see when this will happen.
One of my biggest influences is Jeremy Strode, my culinary hero and one of the most passionate chefs I’ve ever worked with. He instilled the importance of celebrating a single ingredient when I was his number two at Bistrode CBD. I also look up to Peter Doyle, who I worked with at Est. After all these years, he’s still the first in the kitchen doing the mise en place. He has such care and attention to detail. And my wife who also works in hospitality is also one of my mentors.
My approach to cooking is constantly changing because I’m always building my skills and being influenced by different waves of food movements, cuisines and people. I’ve learnt how to cook different types of cuisines, including French and British. At Mode Kitchen & Bar, I’m learning different ideas from my Chinese sous chef and Korean chefs. I always draw on my experiences when it comes to creating the concepts of my dishes.
When I came to Sydney a decade ago, fine dining was so popular. The dishes were fancier and smaller, but now it’s more rustic and street food-inspired at the same time. It’s the kind of food that I love — fewer elements and more based on the ingredients.
My upbringing influences the dishes at Mode Kitchen & Bar a lot because I don’t like having many elements. I think this comes from my background with Italian cuisine, which is not too complex and everything is based on the single highest quality ingredients. The menu is modern Australian with a Mediterranean influence. Our food is simple and seasonal, executed exceptionally well but not over-the-top, and there’s a lot of work to achieve the end result.
I love our Fremantle octopus, potatoes, leeks & radishes. It was the first dish April Shen (sous chef), Terry Seeto (junior sous chef) and I cooked in the kitchen together, using our wood-fired oven and the smoky and charred flavor is incredible. I also love the Mode G&T, our signature cocktail that combines Archie Rose gin and the Dirty Tonic made with native bark, which really impresses me. It’s the perfect pre-dinner drink to have with our Hiramasa kingfish sashimi starter served with macadamia nuts and sweet and sour onion.