Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chef Interview - Mirella Wellingham of Esposito at Taste of Melbourne

Mirella Wellingham, head chef at one hat restaurant Esposito, will be at this year’s Taste of Melbourne festival. Mirella spoke with me about her food influences, working in a male dominated industry, her secret love of late night toasties and the most memorable dish she’s eaten.

Mirella, like most successful chefs, knew from an extremely young age (Grade 5 to be exact) what she wanted to do. She remebers when one day in the car, her dad turned around and asked her “What do you want to do?” Mirella’s response was immediate “I want to be a chef.” Luckily, as Mirella noted, she has been able to pursue that one career and not deviate away from it.

Mirella’s passion for food was obtained from a very common place for food lovers, her family. She was brought into a family with food always around, her father making boutique chocolates and later her mum making biscuits to sell. Coming from an Italian and Portugese background, her dishes obviously reflect some of that heritage. She will integrate into her food elements that she has experienced travelling in Portugal and growing up, her favourite food being that made by her nonna and mum. One of her most memorable dishes was something her friends cooked for her in Portugal, a dish that contained pork cooked off with paprika and spices, with fried potatoes, pippies and coriander. This is the type of food that Mirella herself likes to cook, more down to Earth. She can understand why some people enjoy molecular gastronomy, but for herself personally, that’s not her style. Asked what her signature dish is, she has quite a long think before replying that she is still working on her menu. However, one dish that she currently has on the menu and likes is a calamari cannelloni, where the calamari is the cannelloni, with a stuffing of prawn farce, a dolcetto glaze and served with wood eared mushrooms and horseradish foam.

As part of a large and vibrant food community in Melbourne, Mirella does meet up with other chefs for social events. Most of her friends, as she sheepishly said, are chefs, due to the fact that they work similar hours, can understand the hard work and have worked together before. Mirella works a whopping 65-80 hours a week, and says “you get used to it. It is hard, for sure. But I think everything is hard to a degree. So if it wasn’t mentally, it’s physically. It doesn’t matter what job you’re doing, I think it’s difficult.” Asked if the long hours has something to do with the industry being male dominated, Mirella agrees, saying that you do need stamina to put in all that effort all the time. Kids also factor into the picture, as the time when most women want to have children is also when they need to make it as a chef. For herself, she knows that’s how the industry operates and has always operated, and is happy to play by those rules. As for having to act a certain way, she states that “in the end, if you’re true to yourself, you’ll end up dealing with problems or issues or things in the way that you need to deal with them. Sometimes if you’re not aggressive, then there’ll be people that might walk all over you. That’s where you’ll need to pick how you talk and tone without going out of control.” Her own style in the kitchen is to be calm. She likes to have a joke and some fun, but always maintaining the trait of working hard. That’s how she’s been taught, and what she teaches her chefs.

When I ask about celebrity chefs and whether she gets envious of other chef’s foods, we both have a laugh. Firstly, Mirella feels that you don’t need to be a celebrity chef to run a successful business, but it definitely helps. “It is important for people to feel like they’re welcome, like they already know something about the establishment.” There are so many restaurants out there that you need to keep up with the game. And speaking of all the other restaurants, did she ever get food envy over some brilliant dish that another chef has done. She laughed and said “Always. And that’s sometimes where inspiration comes from. That people do something amazing and you might like the colour or you might like the flowers or the product that they’re using and you want to source that product and you’ll do it in your own way.” She’s constantly striving to improve herself, to “just to keep growing, keep doing really good food.” Hopefully, when her parents finally come down from Wangaratta and try out her food at Esposito, they too will thoroughly enjoy and notice the improvement in her food.

I asked Mirella some quick questions to conclude the interview. She definitely prefers seafood (over meat), sweet (over savoury), red (over white), dinner (over lunch), coffee (over tea), still (over sparkling) chocolate (over strawberry) and comedy (over drama). The two choices that she clarified was that she likes cook books over DVDs, but DVDs for general relaxation. Also, she doesn’t like either McDonalds or KFC, instead her guilty pleasure is late night toasties.

At Taste of Melbourne, Mirella personally won’t be there, but Maurice Esposito will be. The restaurant is presenting some amazing sounding dishes, so be sure to check it out. It was a pleasure to meet Mirella and to hear from a female’s point of view in a very male dominated industry. Mirella’s warmth, passion and calm nature really shone through. I think these traits will hold her in good stead and will take her far in the food industry.

Taste of Melbourne dishes

1.Spiedini – Italian skewers of king salmon with pork and pinenut sausage

2.Tempura oysters with dressing

3.Hot date tart made of lemon shortcrust pastry, date compote cooked in spice, orange juice, port and an almond frangipane

Thanks to Lizzy Ee of Hot House Media for helping to arrange the interview.


  1. I love Esposito! They have the freshest seafood. I especially like their Cannellon of Prawns and Panna Cotta. Hmm, I think I'm gonna visit them tomorrow. =)

  2. Kirstine, I can't wait to visit them too and try out that cannelloni. Did you end up going again?