The Broadsheet Kitchen series gives chefs a chance to reimagine some of Australia’s most exciting restaurants. Its latest stop is Leonardo’s Pizza Palace, where head chef Matt Butterworth will do a complete takeover of the menu.
Is the owner of Leonardo’s, Nick Stanton, nervous about it? Absolutely not.
“He’s cooking from his noggin and his heart,” he says. “He’s excelled more than a lot of chefs who’ve worked with me over the years and I’m looking forward to watching him get really creative and unleash.”
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Butterworth grew up in a small coastal town in Tasmania called Penguin, which actually features a 10-foot-tall statue of a penguin as one of its attractions. Despite the fact that the area is abundant with fresh seafood, wild game and quality seasonal produce from nutrient-rich soil, the food scene – as it exists in bigger towns and cities – is basically non-existent. Instead, produce that’s made or grown at home or caught locally is exchanged among friends and family.
“My concept is a reflection of growing up in this part of Tasmania,” says Butterworth. “It feels genuinely authentic,”
Flavours and experiences of his childhood include hunting for wild venison and wallaby, and growing classic vegetables (such as cabbage, carrots and potatoes) and stone fruits (such as golden and greengage plums – the latter a particular favourite for its tartness). Due to the cold, there was always a fire going, and his dad, a fisherman, often brought home fresh crayfish, scallops, kingfish and snapper.
The theme of the menu encompasses country-style techniques with preserves, relishes and homegrown garden vegetables, which are combined with charcoal flavours from cooking on open fires – think damper made with a classic Tasmanian ale and served with Duck River butter. Butterworth’s keen to tie into the Leonardo’s Pizza Palace theme with some elements of Tasmanian cooking. He’s also plotting to steal his nan’s relish recipe.
“She’s got [her recipes] printed in a folder now so she’s up with the times, but still has that OG mentality,” says Butterworth. “There’ll be a lot of grovelling to get hold of this though”.
For the special occasion, the tables at Leonardo’s Pizza Palace will be joined together to facilitate a feasting environment that evokes a sense of community. Dessert will be relaxed, with sweets like chocolate zucchini cake and scones dispersed across tables.
Stanton and Butterworth began working together at the now-closed Ramblr when it opened in 2016. The venue was acclaimed by critics and won awards, but after a spell Stanton and co were keen to try different things.
“Ramblr took a different turn and attitude at the halfway point, which was a good learning curve to see flexibility in the hospo scene,” says Butterworth. “It shows audacity to flip it and grip it into a different beast, and that’s what’s so cool about Nick – he’s always thinking about things in a different way.”
“Keeping a connection with your chefs and their families and the people they love is important,” says Stanton. “People who want the same result as you, work hard with you … their family and friends need to be part of that too.”
“He’ll stand in your ear and say, ‘When was the last time you called your mum? Stop what you’re doing and go call her’,” says Butterworth. “He’s a real genuine guy.”
Stanton believes it’s everyone’s job to develop ideas, give feedback and have a voice.
“Nick really values our opinions, and as a young chef, it’s encouraging to know your feedback is going somewhere,” says Butterworth.
“The only old-school thing that’s left in me,” says Stanton, “is when I feel chefs are ready to take on that next level of responsibility.”
When managing an entire restaurant, many factors beyond the kitchen come into play. For example, balancing the menu in terms of acidity or lightness/heaviness, drafting the wine list, coordinating suppliers and even curating a playlist – those are just some of Butterworth’s new responsibilities for the Broadsheet Kitchen event.
“I’m now thinking about the full dining experience properly for the first time,” he says. “As well as reflecting on my food identity and where my allegiances lie.”
Broadsheet Kitchen’s takeover at Leonardo’s Pizza Palace is on Tuesday, September 24. The five-course menu is $80 pp (with an additional $65 for wine matching).