Two Minutes With Pendolino’s Nino Zoccali

By Ellie Schneider
1st Nov 2013

Nino Zoccali knows a thing or two about Italian cooking. With two Sydney restaurants under his belt, Pendolino and La Rosa, a dedicated L'Olioteca (olive oil store) at The Strand Arcade, and a beautiful cookbook Pasta Artigiana, Nino redefines the kitchen of his heritage—drawing inspiration and ideas from the many regions of Italy. From his first job at the produce markets in Perth, to opening his seminal restaurant in Margaret River at age 25, Nino previously worked as head chef at Otto Ristorante, and is the founding member of CIRA—the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia.

We caught up with Nino to talk key flavours for spring and get his tips on preparing the perfect dinner party. Plus, Nino gives us his mouthwatering recipe of saffron linguine with baby bottle squid, which we'll have for you tomorrow.

TUL: Who or what first inspired your love of cooking?
Nino Zoccali: My mother and my father—they are both pretty passionate about food and the whole cycle of growing food, through to preserving and cooking it.

TUL: Now, we know you love pasta—do you have one favourite dish in particular?
Nino: No, great dishes are very hard to choose between. Anyway, I don't think you need to choose between dishes, as the seasons kind of do that for us anyway!

TUL: Are there any key dishes for spring?
Nino: I reckon lamb always tastes best in spring.

TUL: What is unique about your interpretation of regional Italian cooking?
Nino: Well, our philosophy is pretty traditional and I'm very focused on creating really authentic Italian flavours (most Italians that dine in our restaurants would probably say that the flavours are pretty traditional). But, being outside of Italy means that we can take inspiration and ideas from the many regions in Italy, which is something that Italian restaurants can't do as easily, as place of origin is very important in Italy.

With respect to Australia, I would say that the lengths that we go to with both our pasta and olive oil is pretty unique. In fact, when we tell Italians what we do with respect to olive oil and pasta, they are usually very surprised at the detail we go to in both cases.

TUL: What are the essential ingredients in any pantry?
Nino: For me, they are great olive oil, pasta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic and sea salt.     

TUL: Any advice for those throwing a dinner party?
Nino: Choose menu items that can be prepared in advance, otherwise you won't enjoy yourself as you'll spend the whole time cooking rather than entertaining. . . and you really want to have fun. Slow-cooked or braised dishes are great for this and, if done well, are some of the best dishes to cook and eat.  

TUL: And the guests you'd most like at your dinner table?
Nino: My family and my friends, I love eating with them, particularly my son and my wife.

TUL: And lastly, what are your top five places for drink, dine and design in Sydney?
For fish: Fish Face & Flying Fish are both great.

For vintage bars: The Baxter Inn.
Casual drinks after work: The Grasshopper (it's across the road and very handy).
Top End Restaurants: All of them, I'm loving Sepia at the moment; they deserve every accolade that they win.
Cafés: Our local Bond's Corner Cafe in Northbridge is fun and really friendly.

Image credit: Pendolino

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