10 minutes with: Italian pastry chef, Paolo Zanotti

Annabelle Sheldon

Paolo Zanotti was born to be a pastry chef. His father and grandfather were both pastry chefs back in Palermo, Italy, so as he grew up in a household of sugar, butter and eggs, it only seem fit that he would enter the work of Italian sweets. We spoke to Paolo about he love for Italian food and why Caffe Sicilia offers a unique experience.

What’s your favourite dish to make and why?
I love cassata Siciliana! Not only is this the most famous sweet treat from Sicily but it is also the first dish my father taught me how to make. Every time I create this dessert, it always brings back many happy memories of my childhood and of my father.

Which 5 guests would you most like to have at a dinner party?
Very simply…my family. For Italians, food is always enjoyed with the company of those we love – and we definitely feast! We’d start off with an antipasti such as salumi or cheese, followed by a light pasta dish or soup, head on to a secondi like veal involtini and of course not to forget the dolce and that would definitely be slices and slices of cassata Siciliana. You will definitely be full after an Italian feast with my family!

What do you love about Australian produce?
The quality of Australian diary is excellent. I would say that Australian milk, cream and better are some of the best in the world. At Caffe Sicilia, we work with simple products and the key to our cuisine is the quality of these ingredients. Our flavours rely on not complicating the dishes but allowing the quality of its components to speak for themselves. This is definitely what we get when we use Australian dairy products to create our pastries and desserts, which makes it a lot easier for me as a pastry chef.

What influences you when you cook?
In Italy, there is no escaping history and this certainly influences me as a pastry chef. Sicilian pastry is an old-age art with influences evident from the Arabs, Normans and even the Northern Italians. I feel very proud to be continuing this art and passing it on to the next generation. While I’ve only been in Australia for a short period of time, I also find inspiration from our customers. I have noticed that Australians are very prepared to explore the unknown and this challenges me to create pastries and desserts that they have never tried before but at the same time satisfy their sweet tooth.

What would be your ultimate meal?
A large bowl of homemade pasta with the freshest Sicilian tomatoes sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil. I’d finish this meal off with a ricotta cannoli.

What are your 5 most used ingredients in the kitchen?
Ricotta, butter, flour, cream and icing sugar. I am indeed a pastry chef!

What’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
A fly…by mistake.

What is your perfect food and music match?
The great Andrea Bocelli and cassata al forno. I remember my late father listening to his music over and over again while eating cassata al forno in the afternoons.

You have 10 minutes to make a snack, what would you make?
It wouldn’t be pastry that’s for sure because all Italian pastries take time, but I would make a quick panini at home and top it up with fresh tomatoes and cheese.

How did you get into cooking and what advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
I have been working with pastry for over 20 years. My father and grandfather were both pastry chefs back in Palermo. From the time I was born, I was always in the kitchen and surrounded with family who loved eating and making pastries. I learned the basics of making pastry from a young age, and it inspired me to want to expand my knowledge on Sicilian pastry even further. To any inspiring pastry chef, I would say love what you do, you require passion to be in this industry and that even though you sacrifice a lot in this line of work you also please many with your labour of love.

Have a look at our other 10 Minute interviews:
Baroque pastry extraordinaire, Jean-Michel Raynaud.
Spanish master, Miguel Maestre.
Celebrity TV chefs, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan.