At 20, Rosy Scatigna was living in her native Italy and training to be a lawyer. At 30, she’s behind the pans at Bar Morris, one of Sydney’s most exciting new hotel restaurants, as the head chef.

With soft lights, marble and velvet accents and a strong crimson colour wave, Bar Morris is the definitive chic hotel restaurant. The menu matches the space with decadent dishes inspired by Scatigna’s upbringing in the south of Italy, with a focus on citrus, seafood and spice.

Scatigna sat down with Broadsheet to explain how her life took such a turn, how she planned her first menu and the mentors she met along the way.

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You grew up in Puglia cooking with your family. Tell me about a dish on the Bar Morris menu that reminds you of home and of your family.
The focaccia is a family recipe. It’s very tall and moist. It’s unique because it contains 40 per cent spelt flour which we used a lot back in the south of Italy. I’m using my grandma’s recipe. My grandmother used to bake it in a wood fire which was very delicious. Unfortunately, we can’t bake it in a woodfire oven [at Bar Morris], but that’s the only difference.

How did your family react when you told them you were going to be a chef?
My family weren’t that happy when I decided to change careers because I trained as a lawyer back in Italy. I studied and graduated and then I started working for six months, but I realised that it wasn’t for me.

It was actually my mum [who suggested I change careers] because she always knew I had a passion for food. She said to me “Rosy, what are you doing? I know [cheffing is] a tough life but if you really want to change careers, just do it.”

And my family supported me while I attended the most prestigious [cooking] school in Italy. They were my first fans – they’re very proud of me. They can’t wait to come and eat in the restaurant at some point, hopefully this year.

Is there anything you learned as a lawyer that’s helped you now you’re a head chef?
I learned how to communicate with people. [Being a head chef is] not just about cooking. I think it’s more about communication and setting standards.

Despite only being in the industry for a few years, you’ve worked with so many amazing chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, and at Aria and Shell House here in Sydney. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from those chefs that you’re putting into practice at Bar Morris?
I took something away from each of those jobs. When I was in the UK working at the two Michelin-starred restaurant (The Hand & Flowers, UK), I learned all about being organised. We used to do a huge amount of covers. It was hectic and I was managing the pastry section by myself. I learned how to be fast and organised and how to work under pressure.

In Australia, Joel Bickford was my mentor – is my mentor. I started at Aria when he was a head chef there and then I followed him to Shell House, where he is now culinary director. I love his style. He’s what I want to be one day. I won’t compare myself to him now, of course, because I still have a lot to learn. I learned how to plate and how to build a menu from him. He gave me a huge chance to grow; I think I need to thank him for I where I am now.

And has Joel been to Bar Morris yet?
He was one of the first people that I invited. He came to our family and friends night. We gave a survey at the end and one of the questions was: “What’s the highlight of the experience for you?” And Joel wrote “Seeing Rosy achieving her goals”, which was so touching.

What dish on the menu are you most proud of personally?
I would say the savoury madeleine. It’s ’nduja and guanciale with preserved lemon. Madeleines are one of my favourite desserts. So I said to myself, why don’t I do a savoury one? Instead of sugar, I use parmesan and preserved lemon and then I just fill them with ’nduja emulsion and some very thinly sliced guanciale. [Then], everything is dusted with smoked tomato powder.

At the beginning I wasn’t sure if people were going to like it and I was nervous, but receiving all this positive feedback is making me very, very happy. So yeah, I will say that one is the dish.

Where do you like to eat and drink when you’re off-shift?
One of my favourite places is Alberto’s Lounge. I love their sense of hospitality. There’s something nostalgic about them and they’re cool without trying so hard. The food is honestly delicious and there’s another female head chef there, which is lovely.

Another place that I really love is Ante in Newtown. There’s a lot of young people serving food and explaining sake. They play great music, too.

I also love Mexican and spicy food in general. When I’m very tired a burrito from Guzman y Gomez really hits the spot. I shouldn’t say that but it’s true – chefs love junk food.