For Pepe, owner and chef of Glenside restaurant Pepe Cucina, the charcoal grill is integral to the authentic Italian cuisine he serves.
Seasonal seafood and Italian regional fare is showcased on the a la carte menu and in daily specials, such as char-grilled Spencer Gulf prawns with cannellini bean puree and crisp pancetta, and pasta dishes including paccheri with slow-cooked duck and porcini ragú.
Here, Pepe reveals more about his background, the food at Pepe Cucina, and his upcoming special wine dinner.
The kitchen culture at Pepe Cucina is …
Italian! Despite the stereotypes of chefs, I like to keep the mood calm and focussed in my kitchen. We do have a lot of fun, too, and because of the very open design there is a great relationship between the chefs and the floor staff, many of whom come into the kitchen to help when its needed.
Who are you cooking for?
First and foremost I cook for me, meaning that I cook the things that I love to eat. A lot of our customers are Italian or of Italian heritage and many others have travelled to Italy and are looking for the flavours they experienced when they were there.
Describe the current menu.
At the moment our menu is focussed on winter ingredients, with dishes such as polenta, gnocchi and ribollita or Tuscan vegetable soup that are guaranteed to warm you up from the inside out. As always, the chargrill is centre stage with the Fiorentina steak a stand-out dish along with seafood such as local octopus, prawns and swordfish.
What does it seek to achieve?
We want our guests to be able to close their eyes and feel as though they are in Italy with all of the authentic flavours that you would expect to experience there.
Who or what has had the greatest influence on your cooking?
My father, Agostino, was a huge inspiration, always going out of his way to put the best, seasonal ingredients on our table, even if that meant walking many kilometres to get them. Since he died, I have been privileged to work with many great chefs who have influenced me in different ways.
What are the hero ingredients?
At the moment I am working on a very special menu for a wine dinner where I will be pairing some of the best Italian wines with luxury ingredients such as Tasmanian black truffles, South Australian oysters, fresh tuna, wagyu bresaola, dry aged beef and locally farmed rabbit.
What is your favourite dish?
It’s hard to choose because for this event I am cooking so many of the dishes I love, but perhaps the rabbit, which I will stuff with herbs and pancetta, or the hand-made gnocchi which we will serve with freshly grated truffle.
What is your favourite food and wine match?
Again, it is the rabbit with the Brunello di Montalcino or, for a white wine match, the seared tuna with pistachio crust with the Tenuta di Fassina Etna Bianco. The tuna, pistachio and Etna Bianco all come from the same region of Sicily and are in perfect harmony with each other. The rabbit is a classic Tuscan dish which matches well with Brunello, the supreme form of Sangiovese which has earthy notes of funghi and violets.
What are you cooking at home?
The food I cook at home is really very similar to what I cook at the restaurant. Usually what I cook is determined by what ingredients I have to hand. Right now, winter vegetables like broccoli and slow-cooked beans with maybe a porchetta in the wood oven if I have time on the weekend.
Pepe Cucina’s “The Italian Dinner” is being held on Friday, August 19. Tickets are $250 per head. Bookings can be made by phoning 8379 8991.
Shop 105 Burnside Village, 447 Portrush Road, Glenside.
Open Monday to Wednesday, 9am to 4.30pm; Thursday to Saturday, 9am to 10pm; Sunday, 10.30am to 4pm.
Disclosure: Salvatore Pepe is married to InDaily publisher Amanda Pepe.
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