15 May 2022
Maurizio Esposito has spent his whole life in restaurants. When he was young, his parents ran Vivaldi, an Italian Trattoria, in Collins Place in Melbourne’s CBD, and he worked with them before starting an apprenticeship with the revered Stephanie Alexander at her Hawthorn restaurant. It was here that he learnt the foundational skills that underpin his life as a chef today; butchery, filleting fish, the concept of paddock to plate and seasonal menus.
Maurizio then spent six years working in Paris, London and Florence where he really cemented his true love of food. “Cooking is a vocation, it's not a job,” he says.
“My first food memory is making gnocchi with my mum at home. I was always in the kitchen with mum. I also have memories of my Nonna in Calabria, always with food, always a little sauce pot going with her little sugos and all of her interesting little things.”
While Maurizio has beautiful memories of cooking with his family he also reminisces about the time they spent together in the garden. He says: “My father was an agricultural man so he basically grew everything at home. We'd go out on Sundays and get as many pipis as we could, and have spaghetti alle vongole with them. Food has always been a part of my life in some way or fashion.”
Maurizio feels like the Yarra Valley has a real sense of place. He loves that he can buy products directly from local farmers. For example, he buys potatoes from a farmer just up the road and suckling pigs from 30 metres away. “It's really important to me,” he says. “I'm working with producers that are really very passionate about food.”
“There's a sense of calmness out here,” he says. “People seem to have so much time to spend with you and chat and show you things and the way things are done.” When talking about the gin pigs he uses in his cooking, Maurizio enthuses about the generosity of spirit of the farmers. “I buy about three pigs from him (the farmer) a week, and it's amazing because he's always got time to tell me about how he feeds them and how he looks after them. You just don't get that in Melbourne.”
Some of Maurizio’s favourite dishes to cook are spring dishes. “I love first season asparagus and white asparagus and morel mushrooms,” he says. “I think spring would be my favourite but also autumn because I'm mad about mushrooms.”
If Maurizio’s family were coming to dinner he says he would probably cook a mushroom risotto for the vegetarian and dairy/gluten free people in his life. For the others, a slow roasted, braised beef in red wine jus, like a beef burgundy. He loves to serve them hearty food that is comforting but also flavoursome, because they appreciate beautiful slow cooked food.
“We always break lots of bread and sit around and have a good glass of wine and just enjoy each other's company. I think dining is not just about eating, but it's sharing moments.”
Maurizio has never worked in a rural area before and he is enjoying his first foray outside of a big city. “I'm enjoying the whole synergy between the kitchen and the winery,” he says.
“What I love the most about working at De Bortoli is driving through the front gate and looking at the peace and tranquillity of the valley,” he says. “There’s something that is extremely beautiful about just looking at rows and rows and rows of vineyards and that just makes me feel like I'm in the right place.”