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Taste & Tipples

The fresher the better for Mooloolaba chef

summer 14.15

SEE RESTAURANT MOOLOOLABA’S head chef Angelo Puelma paints an idyllic picture of his childhood growing up in the historic Chilean town of Quillota.

“This little town I grew up in grew avocados, apples, oranges, lemons and mandarins in the streets,” Angelo says at his riverfront restaurant, tucked at the back of Mooloolaba Wharf and away from the cacophony of diners at the busy nearby strip.

“We would sit in the [almond] trees and spend the day eating almonds. We used to climb this specific tree for plums and an old lady would get really angry at us. She would come at us with a hose!”

Angelo, 28, says food was always eaten straight from the source.

“We had a milkman who would walk up and down the street with a calf and knock on the door asking if you would like milk; we bought it from him every morning.”

“There was a bread man with a push trolley, and you knew the bread was coming – he had a horn. It was freshly-made by hand. Always. And in the afternoon an old lady would sell Chilean traditional sweets, filled with caramel.”

It is this paddock-to-plate style of dining that saw Angelo and his father Antonio take on the reins of See Restaurant in July.

Most of the food served at the restaurant is sourced locally and served fresh. And Angelo changes his entire menu regularly.

“I don’t copy anyone’s cooking,” he says. “I don’t buy the magazines; it’s only trial and error for me. I just imagine all the ingredients and how they will work out.”

Angelo hand-picks his produce from local farmers’ markets and buys his seafood straight off the Mooloolaba trawlers.

“I go to the markets every Sunday looking for new things,” he says. “I recently bought a bush tucker jam which I’m using.”

He is also fond of the region’s strawberries, macadamia nuts and lemon myrtle. Angelo says he can’t understand restaurants and cafes that bow down to popular food trends.

“If everyone is using kale, I’m not using kale,” he says.

Angelo uses a variety of ingredients and has recently been infusing his South American influences into his cooking.

His favourites are a Chilean fish stew, traditional empanadas (similar to an Indian samosa but stuffed with fish and South American flavours), and cerviche, which is fish cured in lemon juice.

Angelo says his passion for experimenting with food ignited in his mother’s Chilean kitchen, where he would use his friends as lab rats for his daily creations, whipping up a storm from as young as 12, while his mother often worked late.

“I remember the first time I cooked pasta I didn’t stir it and it was a big blob. It made me so sick,” he laughs.

And he wasn’t the only person he made sick.

“I once made a chocolate sauce for my friends with milk, chocolate powder and raw eggs,” he says.
 
"My friends had a glass of it and were sick for two days.”

Angelo’s mother was not as impressed with her son’s stomach-wrenching delicacies and would tell him to “go and be a doctor, why do you want to be a chef?”

“(But) it’s a job where I can be really creative,” Angelo says.
 
“It’s not like a normal job. Every day is so different, there are no limitations.”

Angelo’s experiments went as far as becoming a vegetarian for a year just to see what it did to his body.
 
The results? “I felt no change. I was just hungry all the time.”

What he did gain from it was a belief that eating red meat every day is not good for you. And he prefers fish over red meat for its nutritional value.

“Fish is full of omega 3, essential oils and vitamins. You get more out of fish and it’s easier to digest.”

Thankfully Angelo’s culinary creations have come a long way since his experimental youth, cooking his way around the world on cruise ships, before settling on the Sunshine Coast, where his father Antonio has lived for more than 20 years.

Angelo came to visit his father in 2010 for three months and stayed for the people, the sunshine, the beach and the food.

“There are people from all over the world here,” he says. “I’ve worked in Italian, Japanese and Spanish restaurants. You can do it all here.”

Antonio – who has cooked and managed restaurants across the country – is a co-owner of the restaurant, which is a real family affair.

All Antonio’s children have a place at the restaurant with Francesca, 16, a waitress and Thomas, 15, a kitchen hand. Zander, 13, is apparently brilliant with kids and will take them for a fish off the deck while their mum and dad dine.

You could say Antonio saved the day when he took on the opportunity of taking over See and incorporating his family into the business.

“My daughter was working at a fish and chip shop, my other son was working at McDonald’s, Angelo was head chef here and I was working for council and looking for a change.

"This place came up for sale. And we took on the opportunity. Now we can combine our passion for food, customer service and fishing.”

And fishing they do, just right out the restaurant window.

“We often have a fish and throw a rod out the window,” he says. “I’ve been eating the fish and crab from this river for 15 years.”

Antonio says uniting with his son to run the restaurant has been typical of a father-and-son relationship.

“Everyone says we are exactly alike and can be a little hot-headed,” he says. “A lot of our communication is yelling. But we tell each other we love each other and move on. Angelo does a good job in the kitchen.”

Antonio says his secret to cooking good food goes back to the old adage of “putting love into your food”.

“If you are unhappy and stressed it will reflect in your food,” he says. “A happy kitchen is a happy restaurant.”

seerestaurant.com.au
 
words penny shipway photos anastasia kariofyllidis
 

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