I have been into cooking since I was a small child. My grandmother was a big foodie and would always tell me stories about where you would go for the best panettone, the fanciest crudo di mare, and the richest chocolate in Milan in the ’60s and ’70s.
My passion for Japanese and Asian cuisine stems from my childhood. Most of the time, I was living with my mum in the countryside near Lake Maggiore. Everything was very homogeneous and everyone was Italian and quite conservative. I would spend a few weekends a month in Milan and go to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant with my family where I would eat raw fish and jellyfish salad as a five-year-old, which triggered my curiosity.
I had a brief chapter as a cook at Nobu in Milan before I moved to Australia to explore the Asian casual dining scene in Sydney. I joined Cho Cho San and loved the fast-paced environment where you’d work on a wok or hibachi and slice sashimi elegantly but quickly.
I was then approached by Esca Group’s Ibby Moubadder, and we started testing dishes for Ito in March. We started the process by moving from a traditional Japanese menu to a more eclectic approach. We thought owning my heritage as an Italian immigrant cooking Japanese food would be more interesting, and we noticed a lot of similarities between the two cuisines in terms of flavour profiles and [ethea] along the way.
We want Ito to be a modern, buzzy izakaya with constant menu changes to keep it seasonal. Seeing what’s fresh and available from your suppliers and running with it is a very Italian approach — nothing is set in stone.
I am a big fan of seafood and Japanese and Italian cooking offers me a huge canvas to play with. We have amazing fish suppliers in Sydney, and we have ongoing conversations with them on what’s best whether it’s oysters, oily fish, or crustaceans. I’m also looking forward to doing specials with vegetables and fruits at
the peak of their season.
The duck ravioli is a decadent dish on the menu. Some people don’t get the texture, but it’s probably my favourite. Growing up, ravioli was my favourite food, and I would steal Rana tortellini straight from the pack uncooked.
The filling resembles agnolotti del plin which is a northern Italian braised veal pasta dish. But instead of veal, I use duck legs braised in master stock that are then shredded and whipped with parmesan and cabbage. The mixture is wrapped in egg wonton pastry, cooked with brown butter and ponzu, and dusted with sansho pepper.
Seeing quality produce, especially from smaller growers, brings me so much joy. Ortolani means greengrocers in Italian, maybe that’s why…