Fin­ger-lick­ing fu­sion

Filipino-aus­tralian chef Ross Mag­naye, of Mel­bourne’s Rice Paper Scis­sors, taps into his Davao roots to de­liver mod­ern Asian fin­ger food.

Crave - - CHEF - Words Michele Koh Morollo

“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

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