Before chef Diego Huerta took over as head chef at Maha, he worked for four years as a chef de partie at Geranium – a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen that was named the best restaurant in the world by the World’s 50 Best in 2022.

Huerta, who was also previously head chef at now-shuttered South Melbourne fine diner Lume, says leading the kitchen at Shane Delia’s 16-year-old restaurant Maha is “an interesting challenge because Middle Eastern cuisine is something I hadn’t explored before getting this job”.

We took five minutes with Huerta to hear what he has in store for Maha.

Never miss a Melbourne moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

What will you change and what will you keep the same at Maha?
It’s hard to change something that has worked for so many years. I think Shane wanted to bring some new blood into the group and new knowledge, which is where I come in. But for me, the learning process is in the Middle Eastern cuisine.

I’m hoping to upgrade the customer experience and see where that leads, focusing on more fine dining – which is not easy when we do 300 covers a day.

What did you learn at Geranium that you’ll take with you to this new role?
Discipline. Rasmus [Kofoed, head chef at Geranium] is such an incredible chef. I realise now just how lucky I was to work beside him. It was awarded the number one restaurant in the world for a reason. My biggest takeaways from that time were discipline, passion and dedication.

What is the kitchen set up like at Maha?
It has to be really organised. We’ve got three different menus – à la carte, tasting and souffra. Tasting goes more into a fine-dining experience, more table serving. Souffra is more casual, more family-friendly; à la carte is self-explanatory. We have 15 chefs – it’s very functional and must be very organised for the amount of covers that we do. It’s definitely intense, but a lot of fun.

Any dishes you’re excited to bring to the menu?
It’s interesting because I’m simultaneously discovering this cuisine whilst creating dishes. I’m excited about all of them – we’ve changed the whole menu.

I’m very happy with the trout. We’ve done it in a shiraz sauce with lots of Middle Eastern spices, the scales are puffed and we’ve done an orange reduction sauce on the side.

Ultimately, I want to redefine the tasting experience so that our customers don’t have the same experience twice.

What are your ambitions for Maha?
It’s still very early stages. But for now, I’m focusing on small changes, one thing at a time. No one likes drastic changes and Maha has been working well for over a decade – it’s well-known and loved. Time will tell.