Good Food Guide 2022: The Melbourne innovators

Andrea Vignali (left) and Davide Bonadiman at Al Dente restaurant in Carlton.
Andrea Vignali (left) and Davide Bonadiman at Al Dente restaurant in Carlton. Photo: Eddie Jim

Tough times made these inspiring operators pivot hard and power on.

Al Dente Enoteca

Turning a side-hustle into stand-alone business

Andrea Vignali was cooking at Grossi Florentino when the pandemic descended. On a temporary visa and ineligible for JobKeeper, Vignali (above, with business partner Davide Bonadiman) started hand-making pasta in his tiny sharehouse kitchen and selling it via Instagram. Melbourne went crazy for his tortellini cacio e pepe and silky pappardelle, and the social media hustle expanded via ready-meals platform Cookaborough.

Vignali joined forces with Bonadiman and began delivering lasagne, lamb ragu and lemon tart across the city. The two Italians, together with Vignali's hospo powerhouse girlfriend Michelle Badek, then took on a bricks-and-mortar space in Carlton, opening Al Dente, first as an enoteca and now as an elegant restaurant. It's testament to the power of community (and cacio e pepe).

Joost Bakker

Building a viable future for our food system

Plenty of people advocate for sustainability, but Joost Bakker (pictured right, centre) has lived his eco-campaign for 25 years. He opened a zero-waste soup bar using bones discarded by restaurants (Brothl) and harvested urine to use as fertiliser (Greenhouse).

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In 2020 he built his most ambitious project yet, Future Food System, in collaboration with chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone (pictured). The 87-square-metre three-storey house at Federation Square is a closed-loop ecosystem, growing vegetables, edible insects, fish, honey and grain, generating gas from captured methane to fire a barbecue, and electricity from 36 solar panels on roof, fence and walls.

The house is open for tours and will remain on site until April, when it moves to Monbulk to become his mother's new home.

Nornie Bero

Championing native ingredients and Indigenous cuisine

Torres Strait Island woman Nornie Bero's colourful restaurant and bar Big Esso showcases the food she grew up with. There's coconut-cured kingfish and rock-baked yam as well as mainland native foods such as emu and green ants (which are great in a martini).

Big Esso – which is Torres Strait slang for "the biggest thank you" – builds on the success of Bero's Yarraville cafe Mabu Mabu, and presents a career path in hospitality to other First Nations people. 

"It's about being accessible and visible," she says. "Indigenous cuisine exists. I don't feel like that's ever been showcased before and I want everyone to experience this amazing cuisine."

AFR L&L Christmas Rethink story by Jill Dupleix for Dec 5 2021 glossy edition
SUPERNORMAL FESTIVE BANQUET
Providoor - Supernormal hero-ing the duck this Christmas

A finish-at-home banquet from Supernomal, available via Providoor.

Providoor

Delivering restaurant buzz at home

Chef and restaurateur Shane Delia can now add "technology start-up entrepreneur" to his CV. Frustrated with existing delivery services (high commissions, soggy food), he launched Providoor, a finish-at-home food delivery service for upmarket restaurants. Taking a smaller cut than major apps and offering better quality control, it was a lockdown lifeline for restaurants including Supernormal, Entrecote and Longrain, as well as Delia's own Maha. 

Providoor expanded to Sydney in July, and Brisbane will launch in early 2022. Delia notes that 70 per cent of customers encounter a restaurant for the first time through the platform, and 20 per cent end up visiting the restaurant in real life. "It's not just about driving boxes to houses, it's about getting bums on seats."

Photo of Chef Gareth Whitton in Fitzroy on Thursday 21 January 2021. Photo Luis Enrique Ascui

Gareth Whitton of Tarts Anon. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Tarts Anon

Doing one thing, really well

Pastry chef Gareth Whitton lost his job in February 2020, when Dinner by Heston closed its doors. He was stacking shelves at Woolworths and baking tarts for fun when his girlfriend, Catherine Way convinced him they were good enough to sell. A flyer drop in their apartment building went ballistic and Tarts Anon was born.

Whitton initially made just 15 tarts a week from a tiny domestic oven; production has now scaled up to 200 from a pro kitchen in Cremorne. Pick-up orders for the thin, crisp pastries filled with combinations such as pear and almond, or oozy chocolate and caramel open each Monday night and sell out in as little as one minute. "Anyone who doesn't love tarts needs to have a long hard look at themselves," says Whitton.

This article features in the Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, published on November 30 with presenting partners Citi and Vittoria Coffee, and free with The Age. Also on sale from December 7 in newsagents and supermarkets.