Some of Sydney’s most talked-about chefs are alumni of 10 William Street. Its tiny kitchen has nurtured up-and-coming talent for years and has been the place where chefs defined their culinary skills.
There’s been Dan Pepperell, who is now at Restaurant Hubert and Alberto’s Lounge, duo Mike Eggert and Jemma Whiteman – respectively at Totti’s and Lankan Filling Station – and departing chef Enrico Tomelleri, who’s now cooking at 10 William Street’s sister restaurant Fratelli Paradiso, with another yet-to-be-confirmed venture in the works. Luke Burgess (ex-Garagistes) moved from Hobart for a short stint and continually pops up at some of Australia’s great restaurants.
Recently joining this prestigious list is Trisha Greentree. She moved from the regional Victorian town of Birregurra, where she was cooking and working the garden at acclaimed restaurant Brae. She’s slowly taken over from Tomelleri, overhauling the menu and giving the respected wine bar her own touch.
“I know the boys [owners Giovanni and Enrico Paradiso and Marco Ambrosino], and they never put it out there directly, because they never thought I’d actually move back to Sydney,” Greentree tells Broadsheet. “But when the idea did come, it resonated, and I thought that if I was ever to move back to Sydney, it would only ever be to work at 10 William Street.”
Greentree says she’s been coming to the pioneering wine bar as a customer for years, and what drew her to working there is that it’s “a home”.
“The boys have been in hospitality for their whole lives,” she says. “And working with them was going to be an experience. I wanted to learn from them. To work with them, people who actually live and breathe their business, it’s amazing.”
Despite the profiles of those who have come before her, Greentree says she’s not intimidated by their legacy. She’s keen to bring her own experience to the table and put her stamp on the bar, making produce the star. She’s working with local market farmers to buy seasonal ingredients and building her menu around that. It's tweaked each day depending on what’s available, but she’s kept the classic 10 William Street structure of three pastas, tiramisu and its much-loved pretzel with whipped bottarga.
Her admiration for produce and respect for farmers stems from her time at Brae, where she worked in the rural restaurant’s garden for a year and a half. She says the experience encouraged her to hold farmers and producers in higher regard and gave her the lingo to tell them what she needs.
“I feel like it’s different if you’re talking to them as a chef, when you say what you want, and you want them to produce different things. But I actually know the cycles; I know their troubles and their joys and their seasonal patterns, what they go through. To talk to them from a farmer’s perspective, it just changes the way you cook, changes the way you think. It takes the pressure off them to fulfil expectations from a chef.
“I think people often forget that nature has its own force. And we’re just blessed we can walk around it, so understanding that, it’s nice working with them and cooking accordingly.”
Greentree last worked in Sydney at Mr Wong, long before she turned to country life at Brae. She also refined her skills in California and Denmark. In Denmark, she worked at Henne Kirkeby Kro, an inn on the west coast with a two Michelin-starred restaurant. She says the British head chef Paul Cunningham taught her the value of simplicity; his dishes would have three dominant ingredients on the plate.
“Even though I was working there for a very short amount of time, I really took that simplicity on board, doing small things well,” she says. “There’s no smoke and mirrors. Especially now I’m writing a menu, I don’t like the smoke and mirrors; you learn all those techniques but at the end of the day you want to cook what you want to eat. I just like simple things.”
She says that’s especially the case at a neighbourhood wine bar: “They [customers] just want to be nourished and drink a nice bottle of wine. And that’s probably why this job is so natural for me, I know the wine list. I was a customer before I started working here, I drink the wines, I know a lot of the winemakers, so it’s kind of easy for me to cook the kind of food you’d want to eat with the wine.”
Greentree has also adapted her menu to Sydney’s climate, which is hotter and more humid than Victoria’s. “This means plenty of salads, steaming and crudités – more what you’d want to eat in this weather,” she says.
Her summer menu leans towards the south of Italy, but in winter her influences head north, with gamey ragus, polenta and risottos, and a heavier hand with the butter.
Like most of 10 William Street’s previous head chefs, Greentree’s never formally cooked Italian food before. But she doesn’t seem phased. She’s been taking tips from Tomelleri, who she calls “a pasta wizard”. He was born and raised in Verona and has worked as sous chef since the Dan Pepperell days, before being promoted to head chef in 2016.
“He’s only ever cooked Italian food, so he’s an encyclopaedia,” she says.
“I feel like Italian is the basis for most cooking. You either tend towards going French or Italian. And you always learn so much French technique, but the way I live and eat is Italian. It’s nice sticking to that now. I went on a holiday to Italy last year, and it really cemented it in.”
10 William Street is at 10 William Street, Paddington. It’s open Monday to Thursday from 5pm to 12am, and Friday and Saturday from 12pm to 12am.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on March 13, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.