Hands on fire

The rise of fresh produce in the Australian kitchen

“Fresh produce” has become a buzzword in the last few years, but for a chef, fresh produce is not a trend–it’s our lifeblood. The plated food you serve your customers is only as good as the quality of the produce used in a kitchen. At Gradi Group, one of the most exciting things about the produce we source is that there is a whole lot of Italian culture that goes along with it.

For years, Italian produce has been an unsung hero in the Australian kitchen, but that’s changing. Italian fresh produce is varied and delicious, and I have been so pleased to see a variety of Italian vegetables in particular make their way into Australian vernacular. Cavolo nero, or Tuscan Cabbage, has become a widely-used ingredient in both restaurants and homes around the country. San Marzano tomatoes are another great example (although yes, they are technically a fruit). Considered the best of its kind by chefs around the world, this humble tomato is steeped in history, and originates from the town of San Marzano sul Sarno where it was first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Legend has it that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770 as a gift from the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and was planted at the base of the mountain. It’s this kind of historical link that makes Italian produce so very special. Designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for Vera Pizza Napoletana (true Neapolitan pizza), they are also obviously of special significance for me!

But it’s not just fresh produce that heroes a dish or makes for great eating. Don’t get me started on how incredible Italian diary produce is because I may never stop! The increasingly widespread popularity of Italian cheese such as “burrata” and “mozzarella di bufala,” brings even more ancient Italian produce to the fore of modern cooking, and the inclusion of mascarpone or ricotta in desserts is practically mandatory! This merging of very traditional, very historic produce with the demands of today’s increasingly savvy palate is something that thrills this Chef to his very core.

Everyone uses produce differently, and everyone has their favourites, but freshness and quality are the key elements, regardless of one’s preferences.

As we head into summer, sometimes the best way to enjoy some of our finest Italian produce is the simple way. Simple but flavour-packed dishes such as a fresh, zingy Caprese salad truly lets the produce speak for itself. That’s all the speaking that needs to be done because those you are feeding will be left speechless.

Johnny Di Francesco
Known as “Mr Pizza”, Melbourne based Johnny Di Francesco is the head of Gradi Group and was named the best in the world at The 2014 World Pizza Championships in Napoli. Johnny’s passion for Italian cusine draws from traditional Neapolitan techniques, with his family originating from Naples. With a host of award wins and many successful restaurants under his belt, Johnny has established himself as a force to be reckoned with internationally. On invitation, Johnny represented his home country in several key pizza events. Judging and competing. Johnny has visited Paris, Las Vegas and Parma to share his expert knowledge and put his unique stamp on the international pizza domain. Culminating in his World Pizza Championship win, Johnny has gained national and international media attention, media coverage and recognition.
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