Head CHEF - DAVID CAFARELLA
Where did it all begin?
I’m one half Italian and one half Dutch, and I come from a family with strong cultural roots in regards to food. The Italian side of my family are very food focused. We have our annual passata day where the family gets together to crush, cook and jar more than 100kg of fresh tomatoes into home made passata. It’s quite an event in the summertime, the heart of tomato season. Nearly anyone is welcome to attend, a great example of Italian family hospitality. It takes all day and we eat pasta for dinner to sample the fruits of our collective efforts.
We have sausage days some years, which is a very similar day but in the heart of winter so it is cool enough to dry some. My dad makes all different kinds of cured small goods and smoked products that we enjoy throughout the year.
Everyone in my immediate family can cook beautiful food. My two sisters Anney and Jenny are both professional chefs and my brother makes the best ham hock and fennel seed baked beans you will ever taste. My dad works in telecommunications and my mum is a very good painter, so creativity is most definitely a strong quality within our family
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I had thoughts about becoming a chef from as early as 12 or 13, although at that time I had no idea that being a chef was such a multifaceted occupation. I knew I loved food so it was always a consideration.
I was very into music, so as a young boy I also had dreams of making it big as a Rockstar. I have been playing drums for 25 years now and I’m still no closer to achieving stardom. At around 14 I did my first few shifts at a friend’s family restaurant in Lygon Street. I was washing dishes and cleaning up around the chefs, and this quickly renewed the idea of being a chef. Before I knew it I had left school and signed an apprenticeship. Some of my greatest learning experiences began when I started in wineries and high profile businesses with great chefs around me. I took up my first head chef role at 19 and have been a chef for nearly 20 years now.
What are some pivotal moments in your cooking career?
My time at Domaine Chandon was very influential on my career as it was where I think I finally found the balance of creativity, leadership and administration. In many ways it marked my coming of age in terms of management and business acumen.
When I look back, I started in hard and fast pressure cooker type kitchens and quickly became a sort of machine turning out plates of food. Once I had my first taste of highly creative kitchens and chefs, a little fire started and I quickly began a pursuit to understand advanced techniques, how and why things work and in some ways this pursuit pushed me to create more and more difficult dishes.
Then came the great realisation that just because there is a lot of technique in a dish, it doesn’t ensure that it is a great dish. These days I look to have a great corner stone that leads the whole dish, the technique involved is just to back up that foundation.
What makes the Yarra Valley unique?
I’m lucky enough to call the Yarra Valley home and I’m proud of living and working in this stunning part of Australia. I have developed great relationships with local growers and it is nice to be in touch with a talented and thriving community of food producers. As a chef in the Yarra Valley, I enjoy being away from the bump and grind, hustle and flow or whatever you want to call it of the city and the calm and focus that it brings me.
What can we expect from you?
Creating menus in this inspiring setting really excites me. The Mediterranean influence here is a perfect match with my background and represents a great challenge and opportunity to get in touch with the kind of food I have grown up with and love. The dining experience at Meletos is one that I really enjoyed on many occasions before taking the position, so to now be contributing to that experience is a nice thought.