Presented by Multicultural Museums Victoria in partnership with ABC Radio Melbourne, the cooking contest will take place at the Hellenic Museum on July 1 and will be broadcast live on Libbi Gorr’s Sunday program on ABC Radio from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm.
In the spirit of healthy competition, five grandmothers from the Chinese, Greek, Islamic, Jewish and Italian communities will be showing off their culinary skills, presenting a dish inspired by their cultural background in just over an hour.
Representing the Belpaese is Rosa Mitchell, the honorary Italian nonna of all Melburnians.
Without giving away too much, Rosa will prepare a dish which is the epitome of Italian comfort food and is sure to win the judges over.
The Sicilian-born chef explained that Italian cuisine is celebrated for its simplicity and use of wonderful seasonal produce.
“It’s about it being so simple that it appeals to everybody,” she added.
This kind of food philosophy was engrained in Rosa from a very young age, as is the case with many Italians.
The celebrated chef spent the first seven years of her life on a little liquorice farm in the outskirts of Catania, set against the backdrop of Mount Etna.
Her father worked on a citrus orchard which was managed and lived on by her aunt and uncle.
“Once a week we’d get on my dad’s bike and ride to his work,” Rosa recalled.
“My mum and aunt would bake the weekly supply of bread while I’d play with my cousins along the water and in the orchard. Then we’d ride home on the bike – my dad, my mum, me and a week’s worth of bread.”
Another of the chef’s fondest childhood memories is visiting the famous market in Catania and devouring fresh coconut, “the best arancini I’ve ever had”, and traditional doughnuts called le graffe.
Rosa’s mother was one of 11 children, all of whom followed their parents to Australia.
When Rosa and her family first arrived, they lived with her maternal grandparents in Kingsville until her father got settled and found employment.
Then after years of tireless work, her parents proudly bought a house in West Footscray, where Rosa spent the rest of her adolescence.
The oldest out of all of the grandchildren, Rosa shared a special bond with her grandmother and inherited much of her culinary skills from the family’s matriarch.
“I got to be in the kitchen with her and help her cook for the masses,” the foodie laughed.
That, along with the fact that she was often left to look after her brothers and prepare the evening meal after school while her parents worked hard to build a life in their new home, sparked Rosa’s lifelong love affair with food.
However, her passion didn’t translate into a career straight away.
Instead she pursued her other great love: hairdressing.
It wasn’t until after around 30 years of hairdressing that Rosa stepped into a commercial kitchen.
She and her husband Colin bought a small vineyard in central Victoria in the late 1980s and through selling wine, they met many chefs from near and afar.
After making a few contacts, the couple became founding members of Slow Food Victoria.
Through their involvement with the movement, they’d get together to cook with others within the hospitality industry and Rosa became admired for her simple yet authentic and wholesome food.
It wasn’t long before Rosa was running the kitchen at Con Christopoulos’s restaurant Journal Canteen, which specialises in home-style food from the heart.
As they say, the rest is history.
Nowadays, people head to Rosa’s Canteen, on the corner of Little Bourke and Thomson Streets, for a taste of the talented chef’s culinary magic.
Over the years, Rosa has sourced products from the vineyard, her brother, farmers’ markets and direct from farmers and growers.
“It’s nice to have a relationship with your suppliers,” she said.
“You know where your produce is coming from and that it’s been looked after. And you’re supporting a small business rather than a big organisation.”
Rosa still thrives on running her own restaurant and misses it when she’s not there.
Over the years, she has expanded her career to writing books, running workshops and being a special guest at cultural events such as the Multicultural Grandmothers Cook-Off.
She will also host her first tour in Sicily later this year, taking guests on an exploration of her favourite restaurants and wineries on the island, along with the pistachios of Bronte and the red garlic of Nubia.
As knowledgeable as she is passionate about food, Rosa is the perfect person to represent Italy and its cuisine.
For more information about the Multicultural Grandmothers Cook-Off, visit Multicultural Museums Victoria’s website. This event is free but booking is essential.