Brett Barbuto has officially joined the team as Head Chef for Mecca Alexandria! We asked Brett to teach us a little more about his outlook on home-grown ingredients, Southern Italian hospitality and care for mental wellbeing in the kitchen.
1. What led you to take on the job here at Mecca? How's it been so far?
I had heard through Adam (barista) that Mecca was looking for a new head chef in 2022. I was already quite familiar with Mecca from my time in the industry, and I found the work environment here to be phenomenal, full of opportunities. The hours worked perfectly with my schedule and I live right nearby, which definitely helped too!
Only early days so far, but I’m thoroughly enjoying being a part of it and looking forward to the future.
2. What got you into the world of food? Any big influences?
I have Southern Italian heritage, and it rings through in our family. Food is front and centre in bringing us together. When I was nearing the end of school, I was always cooking at home and didn’t really have any interests in actual trades. Cooking was the thing that clicked.
Over the years I have had many influences: from people I have worked with, to celebrity chefs and so on.
I would say at this point in time my biggest influences are:
Rene Redzepi and the team at Noma – they continue to influence the industry and help direct chefs to rethink how we view ingredients. And although they do it on a much grander scale the ideas stem back to the simplest thoughts and concepts.
Another would be Curtis Duffy. He's an accomplished chef from Chicago that has managed to overcome so many physical and mental challenges in his life and still be at the highest level in his industry. He is an advocate for mental health in chefs, something which I am very passionate about as it can be a silent and very real killer.
3. Are you a coffee fan? If so, any particular origins / styles / memories that got you into it?
COFFEE IS LIFE, I fell in love with coffee in the early 2000’s in the so-called “good old days”. Since then the coffee industry has exploded and grown in so many ways but still managed to be one of the most tight knit, constantly developing industries there is.
I have made many good friends and acquaintances over the years and have developed my passion for food to complement the drive baristas and roasters have for coffee.
4. How were the lockdown years for you? Any silver linings?
The last few years have been incredibly challenging and rewarding in different ways. As a whole, the industry has had to totally rethink, re-imagine and re-work their businesses, staffing and products in order to survive.
Although it has come at a price in which we see now the industry completely depleted of new staff, I feel as though it has also helped chefs, baristas, waiters and owners to really focus on maximising productivity and creativity during the last 2 years with the limited and changing resources we’ve had on hand.
5. Do you have any visions of future menu items you'd like to test out here?
I have always been a fan of Mecca’s menu and I am humbled to be the chef here now. My vision for the future of Mecca is to develop a full food program: Menu, Product Development and Staff Development.
I am planning to refine and develop the menu to showcase food that is not only sustainably sourced and majority house made, but also leading and pushing trends within the cafe industry.
We will use this incredible kitchen space to produce take-home versions of menu items that customers can enjoy at home. First things that come to mind are granola, chutneys, sauces and pickles, but we won’t know for sure until we start experimenting! We’ll also work with the baristas to develop a range of bottled drinks.
Not a lot of chefs, let alone broader hospitality staff have a great deal of knowledge and appreciation for the ingredients they use and just how much work and care goes into producing these things. Just like coffee, there’s a major difference in quality between freshly grown products vs mass-manufactured cheaper ingredients, and I’m keen to share detailed information on ingredient provenance with all staff to then pass on to our customers.
I am excited to rejuvenate our awesome vegetable garden area and turn it into a productive and sustainable garden that we will use towards our menu. I’ve always had a green thumb and am keen to get to work on this space. We’ll even incorporate time for garden care into the kitchen roster! Gardening is proven to be a great way for chefs to deal with anxiety and the pressures of a busy kitchen.
6. If you had uninhibited control of the cafe playlist for a day, what kind of music could we expect to hear?
Honestly, it would be the most random playlist you would ever hear .
You’d get a range of 90’s pop, to some Billie Eilish to Nina Simone, followed by some Marilyn Manson to Kanye.
Put simply, my music taste is rather wide, but doesn’t include country!!
Give Brett a wave & a smile next time you're at the Roastery and make him feel welcome!