Philippa Sibley has done it all. The legendary chef started her culinary career in London with, as she tells Broadsheet, “all the legendary ratbags”.
The chef and cookbook author is perhaps still best known for her Snickers Bar-inspired sweet and was even invited to make a dessert for Oprah when the TV icon was in Australia back in 2010.
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Sibley was most recently part of the team at Hero, and now she has a new role as executive chef at Fitzroy North bistro Pinotta. A true culinary creative, Sibley says “I wake up with new ideas every day, so best to come in and see what’s on the menu”.
We took five minutes with the chef to learn more about what she has in store for her new gig.
How would you describe your cooking?
I consider myself a craftsperson. I have skills that are no longer taught – proper skills, the important stalwarts of cookery. Skills that take time and love and effort, but because I have been doing them for so long, are all second nature to me. I cook with intuition and care. [My cooking is] modern Australian, with Mediterranean and French classical roots.
What’s the kitchen set-up like at Pinotta?
The kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant, which is very unusual but puts us in the centre of all the action. It’s open, so people can see us in the larder and on the pans, and when they walk past they get to say hello, say thank you, and let us know we did a good job. That doesn’t happen everywhere you work. It’s connected to the guests and the front-of-house staff – [there’s] no divide – and that creates team and, in the long run, family.
What effect does the size or set-up of the kitchen have on creativity?
Creativity exists in any space. It’s inside each individual, and you take it with you from one space to another.
What are your ambitions for Pinotta?
Pinotta has been a proper neighbourhood bistro for over 12 years. I have come in guns blazing and surprise [owner] Heidi [Modra] every day with new ideas for the menu, and often a container of treats to sit on the bar.
I want to cook my food in a place where it’s respected and most importantly, enjoyed. Heidi and I work together every day to make sure our locals get the best we can both deliver.
You’re known for desserts. How does your experience in pastry influence your savoury cooking?
The time I spent in lockdown was great for reflection. I realised how much of a repertoire exists within me, not just as a dessert chef. I have expansive reference material within me, and all of what I do is organic, creative and highly intuitive. It’s never just been about desserts.
Who or what is inspiring your cooking at the moment?
I feel especially drawn to the incredible produce we receive in Melbourne. It’s almost romantic the way we only get cherries in cherry season, just for that moment, and it’s up to me to make the most of them in that brief window.