As a chef, Francisco Javier Araya has dedicated much of his life to sourcing sustainable ingredients in countries such as Spain, Japan, China and his native Chile.

He’s established strong connections with key culinary players all over the world having worked in Spain’s world-renowned restaurants elBulli and Mugaritz and Shanghai’s NAPA wine bar and kitchen. His Tokyo fine diner, 81 Restaurant earned him a Michelin star in 2013. Now, he wants to share this success with everyone.

Araya’s restaurant-to-retail concept, Calia, aims to help customers and diners better connect the food they’re eating to its origins and the stories behind it.

He wants people to understand the effort that goes into sustainable produce, either through signs explaining a product’s history or origins, or staff who are on hand to explain that information and offer samples.

Araya has also tried to emulate the fine dining experience, but do away with certain parts of the process he thinks are unnecessary.

“With high-end restaurants, a lot of money is spent on creating new dishes and rotating the menu often,” says Araya. “We don’t have this same demand and we don’t need extravagant plates and tables.”

Calia is divided into two areas: the restaurant and the retail store. The idea is that every ingredient you’ll find on the restaurant menu can be purchased a few steps away.

The store stocks items ranging from chocolate-coated strawberries and wasabi-flavoured macadamias, to sake and high-end tea. And every product has a story.

The Wagyu beef, for example, comes from a family-owned business on Robbins Island in Tasmania, where the cows are raised in a coastal environment and use the low tide to access smaller islands in search of seaweed to graze on. Because of that diet, the meat has a deeper umami flavour, says Araya.

There’s a recurring Japanese theme at Calia, and it’s not by coincidence. “The thing with Japanese cuisine is they really respect the product, the tradition and the technique – this is our focus at Calia.”

Calia’s fish supplier, Mark Eather, is renowned among Australia’s best restaurants for his sustainable and sensitive line-caught fishing practices. Eather usually works directly with restaurants such as Dinner by Heston, Vue de Monde and Rockpool, so the partnership with Calia marks his first in retail.

Eather’s method minimises waste and kills the fish instantly by way of iki Jime (a Japanese method where a spike is immediately inserted into the brain of the fish). This is supposed to harness more flavour, since the fish don’t suffer from distress or rigor mortis.

“The fish are flown straight to us and sometimes we receive his catches from the morning, that same day,” says Araya.

Private degustation dinners can be arranged by appointment, and Calia will also be hosting masterclasses by local and international chefs. One of the first with André Chiang, whose Restaurant Andre is currently ranked number two in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, is already sold out.

“In time, we’ll offer our customers intimate excursions with our suppliers so they can experience the whole journey of the food, as well as better understand the products we offer,” says Araya.

Most products stocked in the store can be sampled and tasted (you just have to ask) and regular customers can enjoy Seven Seeds coffee on the house.

“It’s important to look after the people who look after you,” says Araya.

Shop 8, Level 3, Emporium Melbourne
(03) 9662 1688

Sat to Wed 10am – 7.30pm
Thu & Fri 10am – 9pm