Marcello Farioli runs two award-winning businesses—I Maccheroni restaurant and Rustic Kitchen Caterers—that are renowned for their authentic Italian fare. By Kerryn Ramsey
Born in Modena in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, Marcello Farioli studied psychology at the Università degli Studi di Parma. During this time, he started working in restaurants and soon found his true calling in hospitality. To improve his skills, he spent a year training at ALMA—La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana (The International School of Italian Cuisine), networking with some of Italy’s highly acclaimed restaurants. Farioli then spent three years travelling around Italy, working at Michelin star-rated restaurants before emigrating to Australia at 30 years of age.
How has the coronavirus impacted on your business?
Due to COVID-19, we’ve shut the restaurant completely and are concentrating on food delivery. As we are also a catering business, we have the knowledge and equipment to do that very easily. Nevertheless, the trade is very low. My full-time staff is on annual leave and they will then work on a casual basis. We’re managing but it’s not easy.
Where did you work when you first arrived in Sydney?
I came here in 2008 and my first job was at Otto at Woolloomooloo. I then moved to Pendolino in the CBD, then Fratelli Paradiso on William Street in Paddington. All were great Italian restaurants that served very authentic food. Around this time, I met my wife and began working full-time for Pearl Catering. They were doing all sorts of events for premium clients such as Louis Vuitton, Ferrari and Lamborghini. While I knew how to cook, this job allowed me to learn the logistics behind catering and how to get organised for all types of events. After a few years, I opened my own catering company, Rustic Kitchen.
Was it a large company?
No! When I started in 2013, all I had was a woodfired oven and I was basically working out of the back of a trailer. My weekends were spent supplying pizzas and canapés for birthday parties and during the week, I did casual work for other business. Then Rustic Kitchen began to grow and I was soon supplying food for business meetings, private dinners and weddings. I had to step things up.
How did you grow Rustic Kitchen catering?
It was clear I needed premises. I found an empty restaurant in Rose Bay where the previous owner had left all the kitchen equipment. The rent was cheap due to the imminent redevelopment of the building. It was a gamble but I ran my catering business there and also opened the first version of I Maccheroni restaurant. It had a long communal table with a menu designed to share. In its first year, it scored a 14/20 in The Good Food Guide.
What happened when the lease expired?
I found an available space in Woollahra that was perfect for I Maccheroni, my restaurant for dining and events, but also for Rustic Kitchen, my catering company. I opened on Jersey Rd, Woollahra, in 2018, serving classic, authentic Italian dishes created from sustainable local produce.
We run quite a few reoccurring events celebrating Australian produce combined with Italian regional recipes. Once a month we invite a local or international winemaker to hold masterclasses centred around the produce of a local NSW farmer. Our clientele is very mixed but a large proportion are locals who eat here again and again.
Each of your businesses picked up a gong at last year’s national Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence. How did that feel?
It really came as a surprise—a very happy surprise as I never imagined we would reach that far. I Maccheroni won best Italian restaurant—informal, and Rustic Kitchen won best small caterer. The great thing about those awards is that they’re decided by people in the profession so it’s genuine and non-political.
Is it difficult running two businesses under the one roof?
I move back and forth between the businesses all the time. I love my job and have reliable staff who can keep things running smoothly even when I’m not on the premises. I’ve met a lot of great hospitality professionals over the years and have a pool of people I can call on when help is needed in either business.
What is it about your food that makes it so special?
I was born and bred in Italy and lived there for 30 years so I know the flavours. They are hard-wired into my memory. Even though I’m cooking a modern version of Italian food, adapted to the day and age in which we live, I’m always truly respectful to the Italian way of cooking and to the ingredients I use. Australia has all the produce we have in Italy—and more. This truly is a country of opportunity.
What does the future hold for I Maccheroni, Rustic Kitchen and yourself?
I want to keep doing what we’re doing. I want to create a solid presence here in Woollahra and become a significant element of the Sydney food scene. What we do is different every day because we’re committed to buying locally while working with the market and the seasonality of produce. I’ve worked in restaurants where everything is standard, weighed and costed and the menu hardly changes throughout the year. Here, for both businesses, we have a bit more of an Italian flair about things—we use what’s in season and what’s fresh and our menus change accordingly.
What’s the secret to running a successful restaurant?
Hard work, dedication and embracing the long hours.