Filipino-australian chef Ross Magnaye, of Melbourne’s Rice Paper Scissors, taps into his Davao roots to deliver modern Asian finger food.
“Everyone knows that if you go to Rice Paper Scissors, you’re going to get dirty,” says chef Ross Magnaye, who runs the kitchen at one of Melbourne’s hottest Asian fusion restaurants, where most people eat with their hands. Owned by Magnaye’s friend, Rahmie Clowes, Rice Paper Scissors brings small plates of Southeast Asian hawker-style dining to two comfortable and convivial establishments in Melbourne, on Liverpool Street in the city centre and Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.
“It’s modern Asian street food with Australian ingredients. We have 10 things on a menu, so two people can share five dishes at a really good price. People come in, sit on stools and chow down. It’s nothing too fancy and we encourage everyone to tuck in with their hands,” Magnaye says. “People want variety and fine dining doesn’t allow that as much as menus with sharing portions. We’re lucky that, here in Melbourne, there are lots of wine bars and tapas places, so people are accustomed to relaxed meals with shared plates.”
He grew up enjoying casual family feasts in Davao City, Philippines, where he was born and lived until age 15, when he moved to Melbourne. At his childhood birthday parties, his mother and grandmother would whip up large celebratory meals for family and friends. “The presents and games were fun, of course, but the best part of these parties for me was being in the kitchen watching mum and grandma cook.
When I was about six years old, I decided that cooking was what made me happiest,” he says.
His grandmother, a chef and restaurateur at popular eatery Carol’s in Cagayan de Oro City, told him to go to cooking school. Magnaye followed her advice and never looked back.
His first job was at the venerable Italian restaurant Society on Bourke Street, in Melbourne, which has since closed. He trained as a pastry chef with Darren Purchese at
Burch & Purchese in South Yarra, and an apprenticeship completed at D.O.M in São Paulo, under Michelin-starred Brazilian chef Alex Atala. Then he went on to award-winning Aziamendi in Phuket, where he worked under another Michelin-starred chef, Eneko Atxa.
As head chef of the award-winning Rice Paper Scissors, Magnaye combines his culinary training with the flavours of his childhood to create dishes such as Filipino-style caldereta – slow-cooked goat shoulder in a rich tomato sauce with local vegetables and truffles; pinakbet stew with okra, pumpkin, snake beans and pork belly cooked with Filipino shrimp paste; and squid in its own ink with garlic and coconut vinegar.
“Filipino cuisine has really bold flavours,” Magnaye says. One of his signature dishes – Davao-style barbecue chicken, marinated for three days in garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, kaffir lime, turmeric, oyster sauce, fish sauce, banana ketchup, Coca-cola and brown sugar – is testament to how he makes such stimulating flavours work without overwhelming the palate.
“Southern Filipino cuisine is much sweeter than northern Filipino cuisine. In Davao, we also have lots of fresh seafood, which I love working with,” he says. One of his bestsellers is a grilled seafood platter with a dipping sauce made with