The hunt­ing chef

Field and Game - - BUSH TO BANQUET -

Matt Fowles in­tro­duces us to Ric­cardo Momesso, a chef who has worked in some of Mel­bourne's finest restau­rants but who first gained a love and re­spect for wild food while be­ing car­ried on his fa­ther's shoul­ders on week­end hunt­ing trips.

Ev­ery week­end of Ric­cardo Momesso's child­hood in­volved hunt­ing for rab­bit, hare, duck and, par­tic­u­larly, quail.

He was learn­ing the south­ern Ital­ian tra­di­tions brought to Aus­tralia by his fa­ther.

“Be­fore we were born Dad worked at the Ford fac­tory and they used to go out the back af­ter work and come home with a bag of quail,” Ric­cardo ex­plains.

“At 14 I had a sin­gle-bar­rel Boito; on Sun­days in win­ter we'd go and pick wild mush­rooms first and then we'd walk and shoot half-a-dozen rab­bits and come back.”

Back home with wild meat, mush­rooms and ar­ti­chokes, Ric­cardo would watch his mum and aun­ties go to work in the kitchen.

“It would turn into a feast,” he says.

It begs the ques­tion: what was the big­gest in­flu­ence on Ric­cardo gain­ing a pas­sion for food that led to a ca­reer as a chef?

“Def­i­nitely the re­spect came from Dad and the prepa­ra­tion and cook­ing side of it came from Mum, but the re­spect for where food comes from, I got from Dad,” he says.

“As an ex­am­ple, Dad raises pigs for salami and he has a ded­i­cated vegie patch just for the pigs; he treats them like they are his pets.”

In the Momesso house­hold, ev­ery­thing hunted was for a pur­pose and noth­ing was ever wasted. Ric­cardo re­calls fam­ily time around the kitchen ta­ble with his fa­ther on the pluck­ing ma­chine and the chil­dren (like a well-oiled as­sem­bly line) trim­ming and dressing ducks.

He can't imag­ine his own chil­dren do­ing the same and see­ing it as a nor­mal part of daily life.

“Now we have ipads,” he laughs.

“With the new gen­er­a­tion you have to ease them into it; I've tried to ease my chil­dren into it.”

His own chil­dren share his love of quail, some­thing Ric­cardo ad­mits is a bit of an ob­ses­sion.

School and Ric­cardo were not a good match and at 14, the day af­ter he quit school, he was given an ul­ti­ma­tum — come up with a plan for a ca­reer by din­ner­time or start work the next day at the fam­ily ser­vice sta­tion.

“Af­ter din­ner he said, ‘Have you made up your mind?' and I told him I wanted to cook, to be­come a chef,” Ric­cardo says.

“The next day I was in the kitchen wash­ing dishes at Spaghetti Graf­fiti.”

At 16 he was ap­pren­ticed at Café E Cucina, Il Bac­aro and fi­nally, Est Est Est. Af­ter five years work­ing in Italy and France, the roll call of din­ing ex­cel­lence con­tin­ued at Circa and Il Bac­aro in Mel­bourne be­fore Ric­cardo be­came co-owner of ac­claimed Ital­ian bistro, Sarti, in Mel­bourne's CBD.

Af­ter sell­ing his share in Sarti, he is now ex­ec­u­tive chef at the 400 Gradi res­tau­rant, which show­cases the food of Naples.

A sig­na­ture through­out his ca­reer has been dishes fea­tur­ing wild game.

“No­body did game, still they don't,” he says.

“I was the only guy in Mel­bourne who would have hare on the menu; wild horse, wild camel — I'd give any­thing a go.

“It is OK to buy your meat from the su­per­mar­ket but it also OK to shoot it; you shouldn't be judged for it. I am not a shooter, I am a hunter — there is a big dif­fer­ence.

“I've seen the bill­boards with celebri­ties say­ing duck hunt­ing isn't a sport — they are damn right; it is not a sport, it is a life­style and you re­spect the duck and the food it pro­vides.”

Ric­cardo has never had the op­por­tu­nity to hunt Mag­pie geese but a friend who re­tired up north in­tro­duced him to it.

His friend was hunt­ing a lot and needed a recipe to cook the legs suc­cess­fully.

“I think the wild mush­room risotto is a nice fit with the seared mag­pie goose breast,” Ric­cardo says.

“I think the trick is not to get the skil­let too hot, just sear both sides and then into the oven for a few min­utes; it can be medium to rare with a bit of pink through the meat and just a driz­zle of aged bal­samic — beau­ti­ful.”

He's not the only chef to take a lik­ing to Mag­pie goose. One of the world's finest, Marco Pierre White, was re­cently asked about his best dis­cov­ery.

“The meat was so fine it was as good as the finest roe deer, the finest hare, the finest pi­geon d' Brest, the finest chal­lans duck — it was that good,” he told Good Food Guide.

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