Naomi Lowry is a contradiction
The Popolo chef was inspired by family, guided by Michel Roux Sr, and fuelled by cheese and beer.
You grew up in varied places and have worked in both hemispheres – how important do you think travel is in shaping a good chef?
Travel and experience abroad is important but it’s not essential in a kitchen when you have so many cultures surrounding you. I’ve never worked in a kitchen that didn’t have at least three nationalities working alongside me. We inspire and learn from each other.
Of the high profile chefs you have worked with, who left the biggest impression?
Michel Roux Sr in the UK gave me simple advice that the new generation don’t always understand: “work hard and you will achieve”. For a three Michelin Star chef, there was no pan throwing – a very kind-hearted generous gent. I am the only person that I know of to whom he gave his stock recipes to. They still hold pride of place at the front of my personal recipe book.
What do you hope to achieve through your menu and your dishes at Popolo?
I place great emphasis on my relationships with key suppliers. I love to get a 5am text message saying “wow, you should see this fish I have especially for you today” or “Naomi, I’m checking with you first if you want these limited stock figs before I call the others”. Flavio [Carnevale, owner-operator], my chef team and I sit daily to discuss the menu of the day, specials.
Summarise your style and approach to cooking.
Rustic fine dining – a contradiction, I know, but a bit like me, a British gal running an all Italian kitchen…and it just works!
Why did you want to be a chef?
I’ve cooked all my life for siblings – my grandma was passionate about cooking and extremely well travelled. My mother was a banker’s wife and constantly entertaining in the 80s, so I was always in the kitchen as a child helping her prepare elaborate dinners for up to 30 people. This to me was much more fun than cartoons.
Has the attitude towards female head chefs changed during your career?
I think I’m oblivious to the fact that there would ever be anything other than a positive attitude to female chefs, maybe because I’m the oldest child of four siblings! It’s definitely more accepting than generations ago – yes, times have changed. Flavio’s aunty was what we would now call a ‘sous chef then head chef’ at one of Sydney’s most famous Italian restaurant for 48 years and not once was she ever referred to as that or ever mentioned publicly or to customers. Instead she was called a ‘cook’ and paid as such. Today, restaurants are very proud to promote and declare female and male chefs equally.
What was the last, best thing you have eaten?
I drop in late on Sundays to my lovely friends, owners of one6eight in Balmain, who make me a private ‘snack plate’. Last Sunday was truffle mash with roasted pork, crackling and burnt apple puree.
Which restaurants are on your 'must visit' list?
Silvereye and Master.
What are your store cupboard staples?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, lemons and sea salt… I think every head chef in a European restaurant would say the same.
What is your post-shift snack?
Cheese and birra. Popolo has such a unique stock of Southern Italian beers I’ve never tried before…I’m working through.
What trends do you predict are coming for 2016?
If you look at New York and London burgers are out and hot dogs are in. I don’t follow trends, I follow seasons and what our customers love to eat.
What excites you about the Australian dining industry?
We are not tied down in tradition so there is less judgement and comparison, giving us the flexibility to experiment with our cooking and with our dining out. It's a true, exciting multicultural society and we have all the beauty that brings.