In the kitchen with tartan and truffles

Italian-Scottish Chef Raymond Capaldi's globe-spanning career.

Steeped in history and famous for its emerald green rolling hills, Edinburgh boasts some of the world’s most popular cultural festivals and numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s also where chef and restaurateur Raymond Capaldi’s earliest culinary memories were forged.

Born in 1965 to a Scottish mother and Italian father, Capaldi says his Italian heritage played a pivotal role in his development as a chef. He recalls fondly the family’s large, festive celebrations of Christmas and Easter, where lunch was akin to a glorious, modern-day degustation. The meat used for the ragù for the primo piatto of spaghetti, for example, was served as a secondo piatto. Platters laden with homemade salami and pickles and marinades from garden-grown vegetables were spread out on the table with freshly baked bread and homemade wine.

Chef Raymond Capaldi with his partner Jodi Crocker

With his parents both working, Capaldi spent hours at a time with his grandparents, frequently visiting the local beaches and forests. His nonno often took him out to forage for mushrooms. “He taught me how to identify the mushrooms and then carefully place them in a woven basket while allowing their spores to drop to the forest floor to help continue the mushroom’s life cycle.” Capaldi would then return home and be shown how to cook a wild mushroom omelet.

Capaldi also recalls how the windows of the town’s local Italian delicatessen, the now famous Valvona & Crolla, used to be covered up. “My friends were always curious about this unusual shop with strange smells and would wonder what exactly was inside.” Salt-cured meats, spicy cheese, and hard, crusty bread from the store would make their way into his lunchbox, the contents of which were the subject of jokes among his school peers. But it was these early food experiences that are responsible for who Capaldi is as a chef today.

Cooking with his mother from around the age of 10, Capaldi says he loved the “romance” of food, always wanting to present his dish in a “fancy” way, similar to a restaurant. Although the family had a fish and chip shop, he recalls the food there was always cooked to order using the freshest fish from the market and new potatoes (the Capaldi name is still connected to fish and chips across Scotland to this day).

Wonder Pies by Chef Capaldi

A talented soccer player, an injury halted teenage Capaldi’s hopes of pursuing his dream career. He found himself with no option but to reluctantly quit the team he was a part of and, in the process, waved goodbye to a contract that was on the table. At the time, he recalls his options were either a career as a painter and decorator or a chef. He decided to focus on his other passion, food.

Working in a country pub at age 15 was an eye-opener for Capaldi. “The kitchen had five chefs; I remember watching them all walking around with scissors in their pockets and wondering why. Then I noticed cartons being delivered and was surprised to watch the chefs open them, revealing pre-cooked duck à l’orange in sealed plastic bags. The chefs warmed each duck portion in its bag and put it on a plate. I then realized the scissors were used to cut up the herbs, which would be sprinkled on the dish prior to serving.” This was not what Capaldi had in mind when he chose to become a chef.

Over a short period, one by one, the five chefs left the pub, and it was only then that Capaldi attempted to prepare the duck dish from scratch. This led him to begin an apprenticeship at age 16 at British Transport Hotels—the hotels and catering business associated with British Rail—where, according to Capaldi, “you had to be extremely tough to work in the kitchen.” Yet, he credits this “brutal” first experience with setting him firmly on the path to becoming a globe-trotting chef. From the Dorchester Hotel in London to The Martinez in Cannes, Capaldi went on to cook in some of the most prestigious f ive-star kitchens around the world. At the luxury golf estate Glen Eagles in Scotland, he says guests included Sean Connery, who would fly in for a round of golf, Sylvester Stallone, and Princess Margaret, who had a riding school nearby. He then took up a position with Hong Kong’s Park Lane and then Regent Hotel, eventually landing at Melbourne’s Regent (rebranded Sofitel in 1996), where he went on to set up the Sofitel cooking academy.

Ray Capaldi at the Australian Grand Prix

About his early days in Australia, Capaldi says he loved the way in which food was embraced, particularly in Melbourne, with daily newspapers having pages dedicated purely to food—something unheard of in Europe. “I loved the multicultural food scene in Melbourne. Cooking here was so different from what I was used to. It was all about the food on the plate, nothing fancy, taking simple food and making it amazing.” He went on to open several successful restaurants. Gourmet Traveller referred to his food at Fenix as ‘brave, inspired and brilliant,’ and his awardwinning Hare & Grace was renowned for its nod to contemporary Australian cuisine. Then, after years of the fast-paced life of hospitality across Europe, Asia, and Australia, Capaldi was ready for a change of pace. In 2018 he founded Wonder Pies, a wholesale baked goods business that highlights locally sourced ingredients in a novel way. No ordinary pies here—think confit duck, lasagne filled, and bacon and egg pies.

With catering at his core and with his partner Jodi Crocker on board, Capaldi is focusing on what he loves, providing baked goods, artisan bread, and gourmet food services to restaurants and events, including the Australia Open and the Grand Prix. He believes that at the heart of any good business is good leadership. “You need to create and then foster a great culture, and you must take care of your staff.” He sees food as medicine, saying we need to nourish ourselves by eating good food, “food has a big part to play in our health; we are becoming a society where we don’t appreciate the small things in life.”

Slow braised beef cheek in red wine jus, chickpeas and glazed onion

With more than 9,000 cookbooks on hand and a 100-seat event space at his head office in Melbourne, Capaldi is on a quest for knowledge and wants to share what he can with the industry. His dream is to have an association where chefs and hospitality workers can come together, ask questions in a safe environment, and be supported on their journeys. And his favorite dish of all time? His mother’s spaghetti ragù, of course!

Images provided by Raymond Capaldi