“Representing the Mediterranean… with Australian produce in a sophisticated environment”.
Nicholas Deligiannis, neatly summing up his unique ‘fusion’ of classic and modern cooking techniques, influenced by Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey, and countries across the Mediterranean. Head Chef at the age of 24, Nicholas started at the Frédéric Bar and Bistro in Cremorne, Victoria when it opened in September 2019.
Over 50 years, recipes of the healthy “Mediterranean diet” continue to influence Australian cooking and eating. Research has shown that by the 1990s, Australians were closer to the Mediterranean in their food consumption than three decades earlier. Helped in no small way by the many settlers from Italy and Greece establishing restaurants in Australia.
First real step on the career ladder
Which is where it all began for a young Nicholas, who recalls growing up working in his family’s restaurants, acquiring early skills – and “definitely developing a passion” for life in the kitchen. At the age of 16, Nicholas was ready to take his first real step on the career ladder.
“I took my first job outside of the family, at a cafe in Federation Square, an arts and culture district in Melbourne. There, I really started to understand the whole process of becoming a chef, which pretty much cemented me making the decision to make hospitality a career”.
One year later, Nicholas started his apprenticeship at Bistro Gitan (run by Jacques and the Reymond family) in South Yarra – known as the ‘glitzy’ suburb of Melbourne. Here he worked for 3 years, under head chef Steven Nelson, currently co owner of ‘The Recreation’, part bottle shop, part bistro, in Fitzroy North.
I moved to London, which is where I really honed my skills
Soon it was time for Nicholas to broaden his culinary horizons. During their early career many an aspiring chef spends time learning new food preparation and cooking techniques in restaurant kitchens abroad.
“Once I finished at Bistro Gitan, I moved to London, which is where I really honed my skills and developed into a chef”. Starting at Pollen Street Social – Jason Atherton’s fine dining Mayfair bistro – Nicholas worked in the garnish, fish and sauce sections, followed by stints at ‘The Glasshouse’ in Kew Gardens, sister restaurant to Chez Bruce, and Le Trompette, high-end modern French food restaurant, Chiswick.
Another world of cooking very much influencing my style today
Now aged 22, Nicholas returned to Australia, to “step into the Sous Chef role” at ‘The Recreation’ Bistro & Bottle Shop, which they opened at Fitzroy North in December 2016. Both venue and menu clearly clicked with more than the dining out crowd. In October the following year, The Recreation received its first Chef’s Hat, “a very proud moment for the owners and staff”, says Nicholas.
15 months later and Nicholas was on the move again – to the Mornington Peninsula in S.E Melbourne, where he took another sous chef role at 10 Minutes by Tractor, and the Petit Tracteur Bistro, Main Ridge, working with Chef Adam Sanderson. The menu recipe ingredients are sourced from fresh regional produce by local growers, kitchen garden and foraged items from the forests and surrounding areas.
“Whilst there, Adam and I worked with local farms and producers to compose Australian/European dishes for both Petit Tracteur and for the reopening of 10 Minutes by Tractor. Adam opened me up to another world of cooking very much influencing my cooking style today”.
But Nicholas was about to suddenly step up the next rung of his career.
”Just prior to the opening of the new 10 Minutes restaurant, I was offered to join the Frédéric Bistro as Head Chef. Naturally I jumped at the chance”.
Menu signature dish and food philosophy
Frédéric is described in Australia’s Gault & Millau best restaurants guide as, “industrial meets classic bistro…a great mix of casual elegancy”. Nicholas – also name-checked in the guide for his “extensive experience in European cuisine” – points to menu highlights.
“Since day one, our signature dish continues to be Sweetcorn and Espelette Madeleines with blue swimmer crab. All the classic steak are represented with a marble score 4 (Aus-Meat beef quality grading system) Porterhouse plus various garnishes, and a weekly change of flavourings. Our Chicken Liver Pate Cannolis with cherry gel is a top seller that gets reordered every night, and finally, a Beef tartare puff pastry tart made with in house seasoning”.
Naturally, in creating and preparing his menu dishes, Nicholas follows a food philosophy guided by the classic core values he defines as, “Technique, Skill, Flavour and Presentation – at the highest level possible”.
Nicholas admits that he is partial to using chives at every opportunity, “to finish a dish …to bring texture, subtle flavour and colour” and mentions another favourite cooking technique – grilling.
“Going back to my Greek roots, I consider grilling and cooking over a fire is more of an artform to me than anything else. Whether it turns out disastrous or the tastiest meal you’ve ever cooked, I would say that meat, seafood and vegetables definitely benefits”.
Managing stress is about ”managing time”
The young head chef also takes a decisive view on managing the demands and stress of the restaurant kitchen. “In my eyes it’s about managing your time in and out of the kitchen”. Nicholas says he “does his best” to not bring work home, and does all his ordering, rosters, food costs and menus all in the restaurant. “I don’t go home until its done. It allows me to utilise my time out of the kitchen, to do what I enjoy”.
Which is to relax with a favourite cook book! Nicholas says he is currently enjoying Shannon Bennett’s, ‘My Vue’ modern French cookery. “Its a great read going through one on Australia’s most successful chefs’ journey”. Another culinary delight for Nicholas is ‘The Square’ by Philip Howard.” A dive into one of the worlds best – it’s amazing the techniques and skill presented in that book”.
Another important key to managing daily life on the pass, according to Nicholas, is to “Surround yourself with positive people, whether they’re your staff – or even suppliers. It makes it super easy to come to work and allows you to overcome any issues if any do arise. Prevention is always better than a cure”.
Every person can make it in this industry
The young Head Chef also offers a few words of advice to those are just starting out in the industry. “In the workplace you are constantly learning, so never allow yourself to get comfortable. Age is only a number. Every person can make it in this industry. It just depends on how you present yourself and go about getting there”.
Looking back over his own career, Nicholas says he was always learning from the many influences around him in every kitchen he has worked.
“There are too many people to thank for moulding me into the chef I am today. But I must make mention of Steven Nelson, Adam Sanderson, Jacques, Nathalie, Edouard and Antoine Reymond – and my headache of a Sous Chef, Marc Townsend, the most creative person I’ve ever met”.