In the late 1990s, Stefano de Pieri made his television debut as the host of the ABC program A Gondola on the Murray. That series saw the Italian-born cook and restaurateur embark on culinary adventures around his adopted home of Mildura, the small town on the Victorian side of the Murray River.
Two decades later de Pieri is still living and cooking in Mildura, where he operates a restaurant and café. On 27 May he’ll return to the small screen with a ten-part new series for SBS Food, Australia’s Food Bowl with Stefano de Pieri, which again puts the Murray-Darling River Basin in the spotlight. The series focuses on the relationship between food and the environment it comes from, and will see de Pieri tour the region to meet local farmers and producers.
As well as two TV shows, Mildura also gave de Pieri one of his most useful cooking tools – a butcher’s cleaver seized from a country pub kitchen, which he has since lost. Here, he tells us about that beloved misplaced utensil, as well as the story of two other prized belongings.
What I’d save from my house in a fire
I would save a box of photographs. I know that I could transfer them to my phone or computer but I like the photos themselves because they’re in different formats, and it’s the format that tells you about the time in which the photo was taken.
Some are polaroids. Some are regular photographs, from when you used to take them over to the chemist to be developed – something that doesn’t happen anymore. Some are professional photographs developed in someone’s studio. There’s a materiality to each of them that disappears once you make an electronic copy of it and that’s the part that I want to preserve.
That box contains photographs of family, friends, lovers. They go back 40 or 50 years. I’ve lived a long life.
My most useful object
I had to think long and hard about this. But on an almost daily basis, especially when I cook at home, I use a certain copper pot with handles. It’s about 25 or 30cm in diameter and eight or nine centimetres tall, and I accidentally discovered that it gives me the best risotto I could ever hope to cook. Cooking a good risotto is a skill but without a good tool, it never reaches great heights. This pot will help anybody make a good risotto, even if they are a hopeless cook.
I know this sounds a bit pretentious, but it came from a shop in Paris. A friend of mine got it for me there. Don’t ask me what it’s called. But much to my chagrin, I realised that the same pots are available in Australia. There’s a marvellous copper pot shop in Fitzroy, Melbourne and they’re all there. I don’t know if they’re the same brand but I’m sure they’ll achieve the same result.
The item I most regret losing
About eight years ago I lost a very old butcher’s cleaver. It was significant to me because I found it in the old hotel where I established a restaurant. A lot of country pubs have enormous, fully equipped kitchens from when they used to cater to hundreds of people, back in the days when pubs in regional areas were the only place people could gather for weddings and so on. So there’s a massive kitchen in the Grand Hotel in Mildura and I extracted the cleaver from there.
But I used it in the days when legal fishing of Murray cod was permitted. We would get these very large beasts and the cleaver was the only thing that used to cut through those bones. I think we changed address and in the move, it somehow got lost. I’ve regretted losing it ever since, because it was symbolic of my journey learning how to cook and deal with river fish.
But losing it also feels symbolic because I’m glad that eventually the fishing of Murray cod was replaced with aquaculture. You can’t fish for commercial reasons in our rivers anymore, and thank god for that.