Husband and wife team Michelle and Eugenio Maiale have been serving up some of Sydney's finest pasta dishes since 2007 (Annandale locals may be familiar with their silky ribbons of handmade pasta from Flour, Eggs, Water at the Tramsheds). Over a glass of aperol with the Maiales this week, we talked about their newest project A Tavola At Home, passing down a love of food from generation to generation, and their favourite Aussie travel destinations.
We both work really seamlessly together. It’s a union that has developed over the years and we somehow dance to complex moves in absolute unison. We have a very similar overall vision and aesthetic which definitely helps and we both have the same end goal. We both strive to succeed and have very high expectations of ourselves and we both help each other out when we can see the other needs some lifting up. Hospitality is most certainly Eugenio’s passion and it’s always clear that he is happiest behind the stove cooking – at home and at work! He is a real jack of all trades – handy in this industry – so you will often find him designing restaurant spaces, creating menus, or more often than not fixing things! I’m happiest when I’m being creative or streamlining and organising processes and pretty much do everything and anything in-between!
Food is at the core of every single treasured memory for us both as it involves our family, friends and loved ones. Food is emotional and powerful and it’s an honour to be able to do what we do for a living and help others create these memories and moments.
At Jim & Jane, these past few months have taught us to be more creative as we find new ways to innovate in retail. What have you learned from COVID19?
Not to take anything for granted, the importance of the food industry in the bigger economy, and the overwhelming sense of responsibility that comes with running four businesses. It has really been an incredible opportunity as a business to stop and take a breath. To see where we’ve come from and where we would like to go. The relationships that we have established with our suppliers, our staff, our industry peers, and our customers are really paying dividends during this period. We have felt an incredible amount of support and love which has been really encouraging and really helped us when we have felt totally overwhelmed with the task ahead and the uncertainty. We have also learnt that regardless of how long you have been in business for, it’s more important than ever now to learn new skills and open yourself up to new opportunities.
You’ve recently made the transition to making take home meals. What have you enjoyed about doing this?
Eugenio was really determined not to simply turn on the take-away button and put our meals into boxes onto the back of bikes to be delivered to people’s homes. Food is like a religion for Italians and Eugenio definitely treats it with the respect and love that he was brought up with. Food should be served piping hot with intention and with purpose and that was how A Tavola At Home was born. We invested in a cabinet and created a core launch menu which had the food that we would eat at home lovingly prepared in our restaurant kitchen with minimal cooking for customers to finish and eat at home. We have loved the creative side of designing the menu and have had the incredible support of a very close friend who helped us develop our own website for customers to pre-order their meals for the week ahead. We now offer pick-ups from Tramsheds Wednesday through Sundays and from Bondi and Surry Hills on Saturdays. The site also gives us flexibility to create our own delivery service if we wish (we delivered 100 mother’s day boxes in May!). We are also the first Australian restaurant to offer After Pay as a payment method which is a massive achievement and something we never would have considered pre pandemic. The online platform is obviously something we are all doing a lot more of during this period so it has been really exciting to see the benefits and potential of a unified commerce system for our business. We are excited to see where this takes us.
Do you have a go to meal you’ll make after a long day at work?
Definitely something from the A Tavola at Home cabinet. The minestrone is so quick and super nutritious. A bit of our house made focaccia and glass of our favourite sicilian red also goes down a treat.
Our cremino almost deserves its own “when Harry met Sally” scene! It is definitely turning into our iconic desert.
Many of your ingredients come from Italy. Have you had trouble with sourcing these? Has the past few months changed the way you source ingredients, perhaps turning to locally grown, Australian products?
Our suppliers have done an incredible job to ensure continuity of service. A lot of them suffered also and had warehouses full of produce so it has been great to be able to support them. We have recently signed a contract with a South Australian producer of ‘00 flour. They are the first in the country to be producing it and it’s as good if not better than its Italian competitor. We also buy our semolina from Tamworth and of course only fresh Australian fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood. It feels great to be able to support each other more than ever now!
We love your Cremino dessert. For those who may not have visited one of your restaurants before, what’s your signature dish that is a must-have? What’s been your best-selling take home meal?
Yes, the cremino almost deserves its own “when Harry met Sally” scene! It is definitely turning into our iconic desert. Our pappardelle con ragu is definitely our most signature dish. It appeared on the specials board of A Tavola over 13 years ago and is still our signature staple. It is made with hand-made silky ribbons of pasta with the slow cooked ragu of the day. It’s light yet decadent and definitely one of our biggest sellers.
On the take home side of things the Lasagne which we do in both a meat and vegetarian option are clear winners along with the Tiramisu and the focaccia!
You have four restaurants across Sydney- Flour, Eggs, Water in Surry Hills and Tramsheds, and A Tavola in Darlinghurst and Bondi Beach- each of which have their own distinct character. Do you think that your customers and the nature of each suburb play a role in shaping each restaurant?
100%. Community plays a pivotal role in any business. Bondi has a real relaxed surfy vibe, Darlinghurst is original, classical and euro chic. Surry Hills has this gorgeous inner-city vibe and we love the open market style feel of Tramsheds.
As parents, how have you been keeping your kids busy these school holidays?
The kids have been busy helping pack orders at the restaurant and are great assistants when we need to go to Bunnings, or Chefs warehouse. They have probably both earned apprentice level training already! Lots of fresh air and bush walks, bike riding and we have tried our hand at tie-dying and even cast the fishing rods out for some down time.
Do you have any tips for getting kids involved in the kitchen from a young age?
Involving kids in the kitchen and teaching them the importance of eating together from a young age is something that both Eugenio and I had instilled in us as kids and as parents it’s a non-negotiable for our kids. Both the kids can cook their own meals already and have developed their own flair in the kitchen. Dinner time is around our table every night together with plenty of conversation about food. My advice to parents is to not dumb down food too much and to eat the same meal together at the same time.
We have friends whose kids have loved your cooking classes. Do you have any plans for doing more of these (maybe online) in the future?
Yes! We ran a socially distanced Covid safe kids cooking class last school holidays and our next one on is on Thursday the 8th of October. They are one of our favourite types of classes. The kids pick it up instantly and always have the best questions. We get such fantastic feedback from parents letting us know about the meals that the kids have cooked at home and it’s so rewarding.
What’s a kitchen tool that every home chef should have?
A mandolin. It will level up your home cooking!
An ingredient you can’t live without?
Mum and Dad’s extra virgin olive oil from our olive grove in Adelaide.
Involving kids in the kitchen and teaching them the importance of eating together from a young age is something that both Eugenio and I had instilled in us as kids and as parents it’s a non-negotiable for our kids. Both the kids can cook their own meals already and have developed their own flair in the kitchen.
What kind of music would we find playing at home?
Classical Italian and Greek when we are feeling a bit nostalgic.
Chilled out beach club tunes when we need to escape and we love a bit of 80s when we have energy to burn. Eugenio’s first passion and love is singing so our playlist can be very eclectic at home!
What inspires you? Personally? Professionally?
Personally, our family is definitely a huge inspiration. Our grandparents who achieved so much and managed to leave a real legacy. Being able to visit the places they were born has really instilled a great sense of purpose to us both.
Professionally, we are driven and inspired by our staff, our suppliers and humans doing good things for other people. We are inspired by the customers that we meet that take the time to appreciate what it is that we do and knowing that we are putting so much love and care into what we do gives us a great sense of satisfaction.
Favourite cookbook? Do you have any food heroes?
Favourite cookbook at the moment – American Sfoglino: A master class in handmade pasta by Evan Funke and Katie Parla
Food Hero – Evan Funke – he is a culinary storyteller and a custodian of Italian tradition and a master in the old-world techniques of handmade pasta.
Food can be such an emotional and powerful carrier for memory. Do you have any treasured food memories you’d like to share?
For Eugenio making pasta and slow cooked sauces with his mum and aunties and then all sitting down to eat on a long table every Sunday- all 35 of them! Food is and has been a huge part of both our lives. We have been extremely lucky to have both been brought up with very similar values and with very big extended families all of whom are extremely good cooks. Food is at the core of every single treasured memory for us both as it involves our family, friends and loved ones. Food is emotional and powerful and it’s an honour to be able to do what we do for a living and help others create these memories and moments. Nothing beats a long table full of those that you loved full of food, wine, laughter and conversation.
Supporting local is so important at the moment. What’s your favourite Australian travel destination and do you have any plans for travel in the near future?
We absolutely love the Calile in Brisbane- Palm springs vibes in Australia. Spritz by the pool with great Greek food at your fingertips and Mykonos tunes in your ear. It’s the best. Great shopping downstairs and awesome food options Brisbane really pulls out the surprises. We have to mention South Australia also… It’s where we are both from and have a strong emotional connection to. The beaches in SA are also the best (sorry Sydney). We had the best holiday last Christmas in Carrickalinga – the beach and the water rivalled the Maldives. The wineries in the Barossa and McLaren vale are next level and there is a great food scene also. It makes for a great family holiday and am happy to send anyone a full itinerary if they wish!
What, in your opinion, defines good style?
Being comfortable in your own skin and truly being yourself without effort and with total grace.
Aperol Spritz. Preferably seaside in Italy thanks.
What 3 items at Jim & Jane do you have already and love or currently have on your wishlist?
- Dept of Finery Sneakers – they are so comfy and such great quality. I think the Zara will be my next off duty pair.
- The Rac on Teur Hamilton Island Candle – my bathroom scent. I always get so many compliments on this candle. It’s the best quality and smells like you are on a holiday.
- The glass amber straws – they are the finishing touches to my Sunday Spritz