Who is John-Paul Romano? I’m the culinary director of the Amici Hospitality Group and our bar, Italian Brothers in Manuka.
Best recent dining experience: Always Nonna’s house! It’s a shame it’s not open for bookings, and she refuses to tell me the full recipes.
Otherwise, Raku is 100 per cent my go-to for any occasion – they deserve three hats.
Most embarrassing pantry item: I tend not to cook at home a lot, so my pantry is relatively bare – but a packet of Tim Tams never goes astray.
Must-buy ingredient: Ricotta. It’s such a versatile and underrated cheese and one that can be used for sweets, in cakes, salads, pasta or sandwiches, but it is best drizzled with honey and served for breakfast.
Of course, I can’t forget prosciutto either. Thinly sliced and fresh from the slicer, it should melt in your mouth.
Next big thing: Ever since we opened in 2019, the wine bar scene continues to grow in Canberra, and I would now love to see the apertivo (before dinner drinks and snacks) and the silver-service fine-dining scenes continue to grow.
I’d also like to see the nighttime economy grow in Canberra as I find it pretty sad that you can’t get a late-night dinner easily.
Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: 1or2 Cafe in Manuka. Uncle Frank cooks up a mean breakfast or brunch.
Also, 1or2’s Luisa Larobina has to be, without a doubt, one of the best and hardest working chefs in Canberra.
Biggest culinary influence: My grandparents.
Nonno Domenico was always one to experiment with recipes, especially using the principles of the Italian ‘cucina povera’ (the poor kitchen). When I lived with him in Calabria, in the south of Italy, he really taught me that food is art, science, poetry and the most flattering form of love.
But I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance of Dean Parkes, another fine executive chef who has been a great guide and mentor for myself and many other young people.
Favourite cookbook: I’m not a big cookbook person; I like to cook from the heart and make things up using smell, taste and presentation as a guide.
I think it’s important for a chef to be creative and experiment in the kitchen.
Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: Obviously, what Soc and Frank Kochinos have done as pillars of the Canberra hospitality scene, and what Wes Heincke has done with Assembly and Corella Bar in Braddon.
What’s on the menu this week: Most likely a beautiful wood-fired pizza from my good friends at Trecento. I’ll probably go for the Margherita di Buffala – just simple and delicious.
I’ll also probably stop past the Kingo for a steak and a pint of VB; it may not be classy, but nothing beats it.
Death row meal: A crispy corner piece of Nonna Guiseppina’s lasagne.
Some freshly sliced Italian bread with olive oil and balsamic glaze with a little pot of sugo.
We’re lucky to have two great Italian bakeries in Canberra – Dom’s and Pane Italiano – which produce authentic bread.
COVID response: During the 2019/20 fire season and COVID-19 pandemic, we had to diversify by successfully launching the brand Disaster Corporation which imported, wholesaled and retailed food, sanitiser, beverages and face masks.
It was a bit of a foray into the grocery and bottle store sector, but it helped us keep staff employed and our doors open, and our customers were able to enjoy their usual imported wine or beer from home.
My really simple recipe tip: Vegeta stock powder, especially before grilling chicken, or anything for that matter.
Italian Brothers is located in the Manuka Arcade, off Franklin Street. It’s open from 10 am to 10:30 pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays.