What it's like to be... head chef at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Francesco Mannelli is the man behind one of the hottest new venues in Sydney's ever-competitive food scene.
As head chef at Mode Kitchen & Bar, the restaurant on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, Italian-born Francesco has created a menu focussing on simplicity and seasonality.
Staying true to Francesco's Tuscan roots, the food is unpretentious yet memorable, the interiors glamorous but welcoming.
We spoke to Francesco about discovering his love for food while growing up in Italy and the one piece of cooking advice he thinks everyone should know.
You grew up in Italy, how much does that influence your work?
My mama is a great cook so I’ve always been in love with food and wine. I lived in the hills in Florence with my family so we harvested olives to make olive oil and grapes to make wine when I was young, so I’ve always been in the hospitality world. I chose to become chef when I was 13 or 14 years old so it can be pretty early, but this is how it works in Italy. When I first came to Australia at 23, I had already eight years of experience. My upbringing influences the dishes at Mode Kitchen & Bar a lot because I don’t like having many elements and I think this comes from Italian cuisine, which is not too complex and everything is based on the single highest quality ingredients.
So what was your process behind creating the dishes at Mode?
I like to try something different in the kitchen by involving my sous chef and junior sous chef in brainstorms. We make a good creative team, because one is Chinese, one is Korean and I’m Italian, so everyone comes up with different flavours, which is needed to find the wow factor. I don’t like plates with a lot of elements. Simple flavours need to work well together and there’s a lot of work behind the end result. My wife who also works in hospitality gives me a few tips; she’s one of my mentors for sure.
How has Sydney's food scene changed in recent years?
I remember when I came here 10 years ago, fine dining was 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. Less flowers, less elements and more based on the ingredients.
What makes Mode Kitchen & Bar stand out in the Sydney food scene?
Mode means "of the moment" and is a response to locals and visitors wanting simple yet memorable dining. Our food is simple and seasonal, executed exceptionally well but not over-the-top, and our setting is friendly with a touch of glamour. There is a strength in simplicity and seasonality, celebrating the ingredient, not getting too fussy with what's on the plate. The menu is modern Australian, with a Mediterranean influence, due to my Italian background!. I like to play with many kinds of cuisines and ingredients - Spanish, Italian, French and Asian. I also like to make most of the menu gluten free.
What would your perfect meal and cocktail from the menu be?
I love the Mode G&T, our signature cocktail. The Archie Rose gin is fantastic and the Dirty Tonic made with native bark really impresses me. It’s a great pre-dinner drink and I like to match this with our Hiramasa kingfish sashimi starter served with macadamia nuts and sweet and sour onion.
What does a typical day involve for a head chef?
When I wake up, the first thing I do is answer phone calls and messages from suppliers to help me plan ahead, since our menu has daily specials celebrating what’s fresh that day, such as the Catch of the Day fish. After that I prepare breakfast for my two daughters, Greta and Sofia. When I come to work, I run the daily briefing straight away so I have a bit of communication with my junior chef. If I have time and it’s not super busy, I try new dishes and of course you’ve got service, and in the afternoon it’s a little bit of prep and organisation, as I’m always trying to organise the specials for three or four days in advance.
What's the best cooking tip everyone should know?
When I have to prepare dinner for friends at home, I never think about the menu in advance - I always go shopping first. For example, you should go to the fish market and see what is nice, what you like and what is fresh, and come up with the recipe when you are there. Maybe it’s easier for me because I am a chef and I have a few recipes in mind already! But you don’t have to do difficult things, just celebrate the produce. Less is more sometimes.