Jimmy Toone isn’t one to keep still. The 33-year-old chef steers the kitchen at The Salopian Inn in McLaren Vale, where he’s been cooking for the past three years (plus another three years before that, with an 18-month stint in Japan and one pandemic-related shutdown in between) alongside executive chef Karena Armstrong.
It was during said shutdown that Toone and his partner, Jo Leal, started making pizzas at home, an activity that soon evolved into Secret Pizza Club (SPC) – the couple’s no-longer-private pizza pop-up, previously seen at Loc, Good Gilbert and Aldinga’s Fall From Grace. Their coveted woodfired sourdough pies might come topped with braised leeks from Toone’s mum’s garden, pancetta cream, basil and fior di latte; braised kangaroo tail with roast-garlic cream, basil, parmesan and sugo made from mum’s last-season tomatoes; or Kris Lloyd buffalo-milk cheese and kishk, an umami Levantine spread made from fermented yoghurt and bulgur wheat. And in Adelaide’s packed pizza scene, they’re getting lots of buzz.
SPC has also spawned an equally delicious and carby spin-off, Secret Pasta Club, which is cranking out hand-rolled cappelletti, tortelloni, pappardelle and more for a select few diners every month or so (keep an eye on their Instagram page for their next appearance). And if that wasn’t enough, the pair are now gearing up to host a one-off long-table dinner beneath the festoon lights of Summertown Studio this Friday. The seasonal menu will feature local produce from Aldinga micro-farm Village Greens, with Hither & Yon wines on pour, and music from DJ Cazeaux OSLO.
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Before then, we take five with Toone to hear about the inspiration behind his and Leal’s cooking, how he avoids burnout, and where he eats when he’s off the clock.
Can you tell me a bit about your cooking experience before The Salopian Inn?
Jo and I spent around four years working winter seasons cooking in high-end private chalets in the French Alps, and travelling the rest of Europe during the summer. This is when we really fell in love with food, wine and all things hospitality. Experiencing different food cultures all around the world has been some of the most valuable learning I’ve done.
What inspired you to begin Secret Pizza Club?
Secret Pizza Club started during the Covid lockdown period. I purchased a Gozney Roccbox and started making lots of pizzas at home. I would post them on Instagram, which sparked a lot of interest from friends and followers. We made them available for purchase through a closed Messenger group, which gained traction very quickly. We would deliver to different areas on certain nights of the week. It kept us very busy until the eventual reopening of restaurants for dine-in trade. We’ve since done regular pop-ups at Fall From Grace, as well as events at Loc Bar, Good Gilbert and many other private parties.
Secret Pasta Club is very much Jo’s thing – I just help with the execution and a little of the prep. For her, the pasta-making itself, and photography/design work is a creative outlet she enjoys. She has always loved making pasta at home, and having set up the pizza nights, it felt like a natural progression to throw a pasta night in the mix also. It has been great for me to help her establish something and support her vision, as she has been supportive of my cooking for so long.
How would you describe your cooking at these pop-ups?
Produce-driven food that’s not over complicated. I try to source the best ingredients as locally as possible (which is not difficult here on the Fleurieu), and showcase them in a way I think is delicious and accessible to as many people as possible.
What’s the kitchen set-up like?
For pop-ups we try to be quite versatile with the kitchen set-up and tailor it to whatever menu we are planning for the event. For instance, at Summertown Studio we’ll be bringing in a parrilla grill, Japanese hibachi and doing all the cooking over live fire.
What’s your current favourite on the menu?
SPC Pizza-wise, margherita pizza is always my go-to (with a tin of Ortiz anchovies and lemon wedge to turn the crust into a little anchovy-toast situation). Also The SPC hand-held tiramisu that Jo makes – I could eat 10 of these.
Hospitality is a tough gig. How do you avoid burnout cooking at the restaurant and doing these regular pop-ups?
I have a tremendous amount of support from Jo, as well as an amazing team at Salopian. Nothing would be possible without all the hands that help keep things moving forward. Shout-out to all the hardworking staff at Salopian, and the legends that help us out with all the SPC pop-ups.
How does the energy of a tiny, two-person pop-up compare with that of a full kitchen operation?
Anyone who’s been to the Salopian on a busy weekend knows it’s pretty mental, but that’s part of the fun. The camaraderie and banter working with a big team is great, and it truly feels like one big family at Salopian. The smaller pop-ups (particularly the pasta nights) are a great opportunity for us to execute a very controlled, polished set menu. Anyone who knows Jo will understand she’s quite the perfectionist, and her attention to detail is what makes her pasta so great. It’s nice to do a bit of both.
There are so many beloved signatures at The Salopian Inn. How do you balance keeping diners happy (and keeping those items on the menu) with keeping your creativity fuelled?
There are a couple of dishes on the menu at the Salopian that are untouchable (buns and dumplings). A lot of creativity at the Salopian stems from the kitchen garden and a goal to reduce waste as much as possible. Wherever we can come up with a delicious secondary use for something, we do, and a lot of the menu development evolves around that idea. The produce from the kitchen garden gives us an awesome starting point to work from. Then adding bits and pieces from our long list of amazing suppliers makes the creative process relatively streamlined.
Where do you love to eat and drink when you’re off the clock?
Himeji for Japanese food.
Cam Wah for wet dim sim and Chinese curlers.
Parwana for absolutely everything.
Jolleys Boathouse. Chef Harry Bourne is doing some amazing food there.
Amalfi for rigatoni con pollo and spinaci pizza. This one’s a bit of nostalgia – very different to the pizza and pasta we sell, but awesome in its own way.
The Scenic Hotel: everyone’s favourite pub.
Hellbound/Exeter Hotel/Loc Bottle Bar for east-end drinks.
Muni – all the love for this place.
Jimmy Toone and Jo Leal’s Small Town Table is at Summertown Studio on Friday November 3. Tickets are available online. Secret Pasta Club is popping up at Fall From Grace on November 10 and 24. Check Instagram for details.