Melbourne-raised chef Curtis Stone is currently based in Los Angeles, where he runs Michelin-starred restaurants Gwen and Maude. But he makes it back to Australia multiple times a year and is currently spending some time in Melbourne.

On Friday February 2, Stone joins Stef Condello at Collingwood Yards – the new home of Condello’s Stefanino Panino – for an event hosted by Cargo Crew, the Melbourne chef-wear brand for which Stone is an ambassador. The pair will be turning out three Italian-Australian-style panini from 7pm until sold out.

When he’s not working, Stone takes time to enjoy the local food and drink scene. “I’m lucky because whenever I come to Melbourne I get to eat out,” he tells Broadsheet. “And Melbourne’s always got something new and something old you want to relive. It’s such a special place to dine.”

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He tells us about the restaurant he thinks is a must-visit, and why everyone needs to try a South Melbourne Market dim sim at least once.

What’s a memorable meal you’ve had in Melbourne lately?
The day I arrived on this trip I went for lunch with my mum. We went to Pincho Disco and we had a beautiful lunch. It’s sort of different – you don’t see a lot of South American, Central American, Latin American restaurants [in Melbourne]. The head chef [Diego Cardenas] is Colombian, and he cooks really beautiful food.

It’s an interesting mix that I’d never quite seen, actually. There are a few chefs from Argentina and another one from Peru, so there was some Peruvian-style ceviche and crudos. We had a green aguachile which was really good – sharp and bitey. We also had a tuna crudo with a puffed tapioca crisp, and a bit of slow-cooked lamb shoulder that was bloody delicious. It just sort of fell off the bone.

And on past trips?
I had a really good meal the last time I was here at Osteria Ilaria. The hand-made pastas were fabulous. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not. It’s an Italian-style, pasta-focused menu, fabulous flavours and good, honest cooking.

What’s something you miss when you’re in the US?
I think the bread that we have in Australia is incredible. We have a great bakery culture and in the States they don’t necessarily.

How did the collab between you and Stef come about?
I’d heard of [Stefanino Panino] when [it] was in Carlton, and I love it when somebody just picks something they love and do it, and do it really well. That’s what he’s done.

At Gwen, we started just as a dinner restaurant, but the butcher shop [attached to the restaurant] is open [during the day] so we said, “Maybe we should sell a sandwich.” I went to work on the [meat] grinder and we did a meatball sub and a couple of sandwiches. They grew in popularity and before we knew it, we were doing over 100 sandwiches a day. It just smashed us in the kitchen, so in the end I had to stop it.

When we decided to do this, I asked [Condello] about his attitude and he said, “I’m Italian but I’m also Australian. A lot of people try and do this Italian-American thing, but I just want to be Italian-Australian.” So, we’ve developed some sandwiches that show off native ingredients but do it in an Italian style.

Where do you tell people to go if they’re visiting Melbourne?
Attica is one, because I think it really shows food that you can’t get anywhere else. I think that’s a must-do. [Chef and owner] Ben Shewry is one of my favourite chefs in the world. He’s such a talent. I know he’s been spoken about a lot, but he’s such a talented cook and flies our flag really well.

I really love the food you can get at our markets, so I’ll often send people to the Prahran Market, or to the South Melbourne Market to get a dim sim. If you haven’t had one of those, you have to try it. It’s a pretty unique thing – I’ve never seen one in Southeast Asia, and I’ve certainly never seen one in America. And Gary [of G McBean Family Butcher], he’s an incredible butcher at the Prahran Market.

What would you like to see happen in the Melbourne food and drink world in the next few years?
It’s a funny way to describe Melbourne, but I feel like it’s a really competitive city. I don't know why. Maybe it’s because of our love of sport. I just think Melbourne tries really hard, but in a good way. I think when we do something, we really latch onto it, and a lot of what Australia hangs it hat on really started in Melbourne. Like our coffee culture – I really feel that started in Melbourne. And I think the food in Melbourne is still very independent, it’s very chef-driven. I don’t really know where it’s going to go next. But that’s kind of the fun of it, right?

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