Di Blasi appeared on our screens earlier this year as a guest chef on MasterChef Australia, where he showcased the immense skill and finesse which earned him The Age Good Food Guide’s coveted Young Chef of the Year award in 2016.
This March, the talented Di Blasi celebrated five years at Melbourne’s EZARD, where he began as a Sous Chef in 2012 and, under the direction of Teage Ezard, progressed to become Head Chef in 2014.
While Di Blasi has absorbed Ezard’s highly acclaimed “Australian freestyle” cuisine over the years, and is known for his signature dish sashimi, the young chef’s earliest memories of food featured very different flavours.
Di Blasi’s grandparents migrated from the southern Italian island of Sicily to Melbourne in the 1960s, settling down in what was a vibrant hub of Italian arrivals, the suburb of Carlton.
“The best food I ate in my childhood was always at my grandparents’,” he recalled.
“They had the standard Italian sprawling backyard filled with herbs and veggies, and every year the family would get together to make traditional sauces, with the kids helping make pasta, biscotti and lasagne.”
Those days in the garden and kitchen with his grandparents introduced Di Blasi to the wonderful world of food through the tastes and aromas of traditional Italian fare.
At the age of 15, Di Blasi decided to leave school and pursue a career as a pastry chef, inspired by the pastry company his mother worked for.
Di Blasi soon learned to love the craft and visual aspect of food; in 2003, at the age of 16, he began his apprenticeship in a bistro-style kitchen at the Glenroy RSL in Melbourne’s suburbs.
After just eight months, Di Blasi developed a hunger to expand his horizons and moved on to The Deck in Melbourne’s CBD, working under chef Ron O’Brien.
“This role really opened my eyes to the fierce world of proper cooking; I had a burning desire to learn and grow, and to make mistakes to learn,” Di Blasi said.
“It’s also where I really started to become fascinated with Michelin.”
Di Blasi’s fixation with Michelin grew as he completed his apprenticeship at The Point under the guidance of English-born chef Ian Curley, and his desire to travel to Europe was stronger than ever.
In 2007, after 18 months at The Point, Di Blasi returned to his roots, working as Chef di Partie at Italian restaurant Bottega in Melbourne’s CBD.
The young chef had pushed his urge to travel aside for far too long, however, and six months later he packed his bags for British Columbia to continue his career at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
Twelve months on, Di Blasi purchased a one-way ticket to the UK with one destination in mind: Tom Aikens’ the one-Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name.
Di Blasi had long been fascinated by Aikens, another young talent who conquered the culinary world at an astonishing age.
With his first restaurant Pied à Terre, Aikens became the youngest chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars at the age of 26.
It was Di Blasi’s dream to work for Aikens and, at the age of 19, the rising star successfully completed a gruelling 18-hour trial to become the new Chef de Partie at Tom Aikens.
Di Blasi spent two years at the London restaurant, where he quickly worked his way through the ranks and learnt some of the most crucial tricks of the trade.
“Tom taught me about creativity, seasonality, passion, drive, consistency, stamina – he engaged my real cooking brain,” he said.
“His energy and intensity were a huge influence on me, and today I pass down these values to my aspiring chefs.”
Working between 85 and 90 hours a week for a modest yearly salary of £14,000, and eating toast for dinner despite serving Michelin quality dishes for a living wasn’t easy; at the end of 2009, Di Blasi decided to return home to Melbourne.
However, his career as a chef was far from over.
Upon returning to his hometown, Di Blasi continued to hone his skills at the famously experimental restaurant, Verge, focusing on techniques associated with the refined Japanese-Euro cuisine.
When Verge closed in 2012, Di Blasi landed a job at EZARD, where he continues to work to this day as the restaurant’s Head Chef.
Di Blasi has seen and done a lot since commencing his career at the Glenroy RSL just 14 years ago, and his success has not come without its challenges.
“Obviously having both high career aspirations and working in hospitality come with a sacrifice of a work/life balance, and that’s twofold when you combine them,” he explained.
“Whilst getting to where I am now has taken a lot of personal sacrifice, it’s easily made up from the satisfaction I get from what I’ve learnt and where my career has placed me.”
Di Blasi seems to be well and truly in his element at EZARD, describing his role as challenging yet rewarding and his workplace as a happy, healthy environment.
“It’s probably evident from the presentation of EZARD dishes, but the artistic expression that I get to exercise in my food is really important to me,” he said.
“Beyond that, being a key part of people’s special occasions is really rewarding; to know that you’ve played a significant role in your customers' celebrations and subsequent memories is really gratifying and motivating.”
With plenty of fuel left in the tank and a burning passion that is far from being put out, we can’t wait to see what Di Blasi will bring us next.