Guy Grossi is seriously committed to the fundamental guidelines of the Italian cucina
Guy Grossi reveres his Italian heritage and is very much aware of its tradition, identity and values. In taking on the famous Florentino restaurant in 1999, the Grossi family have a huge task. They have bought, at a reputedly very high price, the most famous Italian restaurant site in Australia. Where The Latin shares a similar heritage, it’s a simpler place.Florentino has always been more showy. Guy
Times and eating habits have changed but irrespective, the Mural Room at Florentino is one of the great dining spaces. For Guy Grossi, his focus is on the kitchen and here he is helped by his brother-in-law, Chris Rodriguez, who was previously cooking at Caffe Grossi. The front of house remains the domain of long serving maitre’d and manager, Tony Pizzi, and Guy’s sister, Elizabeth.
Guy’s concern is getting, and keeping, the balance right in the kitchen. "It is very difficult to maintain consistency with our style of cooking, it is classic Italian, but we do come up with certain things that may not be in an Italian cook book." But Guy believes that whilst the food may not be strictly traditional, "when you taste and touch, it’s an Italian dish...it must have that identity whether created two minutes ago, or thought of two hundred years ago."
He feels constantly stressed by the pressures of the market, of people who want things that are different. "It is not necessary as a chef to get caught up in that and let it rule the way you cook. It is great to come up with something that is a little bit different, but as long as it sits within the fundamental guidelines of the Italian cucina. It is daunting to have to walk into the kitchen and think of a new idea every day, I prefer to make sure that the tripe we are making today is a superb dish, though we have done it a hundred times before, it is a dish that is passed down from my father to me."
He started cooking with his father Pietro, who was originally brought out from Italy by my grandparents to work as a chef in their restaurant Mario’s in Exhibition Street. Guy then worked at a seafood restaurant in Malvern with a "mad chef, a Czech who was very hard. He used to make me cry a lot when I was 15". He says this gave him strength for the next jobs before he joined Tolarno’s where his father was working. He was then at Two Faces with Hermann Schnieder, and after that went into his own place, Quadri. He and his Australian wife Melissa (whom he had met at trade school) were there for 3 years and then opened Caffe Grossi. They ran both in tandem until, with the birth of children, found they needed to concentrate on one restaurant and kept Caffe Grossi (with the acquisition of Florentino they have put this on the market).
Although the family expanded again with two other restaurants, Epoca and Pietro, they too have now been sold to allow them to concentrate on Florentino. As well as the full-time involvement of his sister, Elizabeth, and her husband and chef, Chris, Guy’s wife Melissa also comes in to help out, and his parents take a keen interest. He says that his mother is a very good cook. As she came from Verona and his father was originally from Puglia in the south, he has two very different culinary influences to draw on. "We might have things like orecchietti on the menu, a rustic handmade pasta that is a very classical pugliese dish that comes directly from my father’s childhood. Then, a polenta with a spezzatina which comes directly from my mother, and gnocchi is always there because of her influence."
Guy has been able to travel to Italy a few times and always takes the opportunity to eat a lot and see what is happening there. He remarks that "they are never doing anything very different, but they really worry about the quality of the food more than anything else. It’s not just a question of putting something new and different on a plate, but more like trying to get the same thing on a plate but just making sure that it is really superb. It is like if you have minestrone, you can have a great minestrone or a very ordinary minestrone, they are both still a ‘simple’ dish, but one can be a fabulous experience and one can be just an ordinary experience".
Meanwhile at the Florentino in Melbourne he wants it to as Italian as possible, "it has not been that for years". The aim is to have Italian food, a decent wine list to choose from, with Italian wines, and service which is both friendly and humble.