Maurizio Di Ciano has been serving up an authentic taste of his homeland - Italy - for over a decade and in a city becoming noted more than ever for its gourmet high points, Maurizio Restaurant is an essential part of Perth's colourful dining landscape
If you're going to pick a country with more than its fair share of culinary showstoppers, then you'd be hard pressed to find one which beats Italy. From Piedmonte’s risottos to Rome's ciabattas, Venice's Bellinis to the pizzas of Naples, never has a country been so blessed with delicious recipes.
And thanks to the boy from Abruzzo on Italy's eastern side, Perth's lovers of Italian food need go no further than Fitzgerald Street to get their fix of la dolce vita.
Maurizio Di Canio was brought up in Lanciano in Abruzzo, east of Rome but a million miles away from his growing foodie empire here in Perth
"At the age of ten I started working in a little local trattoria in my home town, chopping the carrots, onions and garlic. By 13 I knew that I wanted to continue working in hospitality so my Dad took me into the mountains of Abruzzo to the Villa Santa Maria, a famous hospitality school. Well, I just fell in love with it."
Placements in Venice, the Savoy in London and the home of hoteliers, Switzerland, followed before he returned to Italy, establishing a successful catering business in the early 1990s.
"I spent four and a half years in Switzerland after that, spending the winter in hotels and summer in the Interlaken area working in restaurants," says Maurizio.
"But I didn't like the cold weather, I wanted to go somewhere sunny so I visited Australia and loved Perth."
Moving to the city in 1997, Maurizio became a well known maître d' in a fine dining establishment in West Perth, all the while keeping his eyes open for a new business opportunity.
"There's a big Italian community here in Perth but instead of going out, people tended to cook at home. I wanted to produce the kind of food which was authentic and full of vitamins, just like they would have enjoyed back home."
Maurizio started a one man catering venture - "I did everything - the cooking, the promotion, the distribution" - working with organisations like the Italian Club and others. His reputation as a purveyor of delicious Italian fare began to spread and customers began to ask him to open a restaurant where they could enjoy a true taste of Italy.
"I opened a little version of Maurizio's in 2000, and then in 2004 I took over the current premises, all the time still running the catering business during weekends."
Such was the popularity of his cheffing skills, Maurizio reached a tipping point, and in the process came up with a unique way of marketing the food of Italy and bringing the punters to his door in droves.
"My customers wanted something different, especially on a Saturday night, so I came up with the concept of combining great food, wine and a concert all in the one package."
Il Giro d'Italia was born.
This culinary tour of Italy's regions runs from March through to November, with a different featured region each Saturday night.
As diners tucked into authentically created delicacies, they would also be entertained by three tenors, a violinist and an accordion player, performing popular operatic numbers.
It was an instant hit and has become a mainstay of Maurizio Restaurants's calendar every since.
"People loved it and still do - it's something special, an evening with a bit of class and our regulars return year after year to hear the music and enjoy the food."
In April, guests can experience the cuisine of Tuscany (or Toscana) and Marche, two northern regions with their own distinctive highlights.
"The cuisine of Toscana is peasant food," says Maurizio. "In summer there will be tapenades and crostinis while in winter it's stews, bolitas, cavolo nero (the area's distinctive black cabbage), and pork is definitely the main meat of choice."
Maurizio sources many of his ingredients from Italy, visiting regularly to keep up to date with new producers and ingredients. In fact, his side business of Gusto Italia is a treasure trove of hard-to-source Italian ingredients, making it a mecca for those in search of authentic buffalo mozzarella, EVO, prosciutti and the best olives around. He makes use of WA's rich agricultural hinterland too and has built a network of trusted suppliers from Wanneroo for herbs and salad leaves to Jarrahdale for vegies and stone fruit.
"We've served chianina, a very special type of beef from Tuscany. The steak is just huge - no less than 700g per serving, and from Marche, we'll serve suckling pig."
With changing menus every year - Maurizio's nickname is 'the walking talking menu' thanks to his encyclopaedic knowledge of his homeland's cuisine - regular guests experience the whole spectrum of Italy's vast repertoire of food.
"We'll match regional wines to the menu too, from San Giovese to Montepulciano, as well as the 'SuperTuscan' blend of wines, giving the earthy, dusty style of Tuscan wines more depth and bulk."
With a TV series in the works later in the year as well as the demands of running one of Perth's most popular restaurants, Maurizio is showing no sign of slowing down.
"I love the challenge, I love my food too much too compromise on quality and authenticity."
And if you have to choose just one of Italy's regions to sample during Maurizio's Il Giro d'Italia, Maurizio has a recommendation.
"I'd say Sardinia. It's one of my favourites, so many strong, delicious flavours from such a unique island. And of course Abruzzo, but I would say that, wouldn't I? PL
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- Il Giro d'Italia at Maurizio Restaurant, 235 Fitzgerald Street, Perth runs each Saturday until November 15. Visit mauriziorestaurant.com for a full list of events. The 5 course degustation dinner and pre-dinner drink costs $110 per person.