Chef Roi Rigoni talks about his carbonara ‘epiphany’ and the culinary gifts of his mother Bruna, while partner Sue White enthuses over her new Raffaello ice-cream.
Since 1996, partners in art and life Roi Rigoni and Sue White have been sharing their version of modern Italian hospitality with Kiewa Valley locals and visitors at their whimsical restaurant, Roi’s Diner, which reflects the personalities of this culinary duo.
Roi’s food, based on the traditional flavours of his family’s ancestral home in Italy’s Veneto region, enjoys a loyal following but it’s Thursday pasta nights that are a real cause for celebration.
Each day’s preparations begin with Roi making pasta using his mother’s vintage hand-cranked Urania pasta machine. Feeding the machine with a dough made from fresh local eggs and doppio zero flour, he gradually winds its rollers down to the narrowest setting, creating paper-thin pasta.
‘The machine, it’s beautiful,’ says Roi. ‘I broke my hand-cranked pasta machine not long ago, and I was talking to mum, Bruna, about it. She’s 85 now and doesn’t make pasta herself anymore, and she said, “You can take my electric one.” I said, “No thanks — I’ve used them and I don’t like them. They’re slow and they’re noisy.” That’s when her eyes lit up: “You can take my old pasta machine — the one I brought when I came out from Italy. It still works.” And there’s nothing that runs better than it.’
One of Roi’s favourite recipes is another gift from his mother: fettuccine with sage, black peppercorns, salted butter and parmesan cheese. ‘This dish is something I was brought up on. Mum made it when we came home from school. The reason I put it on the menu is that we grow the beautiful sage that Mum brought back from Italy years ago. It’s called winter sage because it doesn’t die back in winter. It has large leaves and a delicate flavour compared to regular sage. In Italy they batter it lightly and serve it as a bar snack.’
They’ve provided so many cuttings from their sage plants that now ‘the whole valley grows it’, says Sue.
Another popular pasta dish came to Roi as an epiphany last winter: the idea of ‘deconstructing’ pasta carbonara, refining the flavours by removing the cream. ‘Traditionally you wouldn’t use cream anyway,’ he says. ‘It’s a last-minute dish made at the table. In Australia, everybody throws in cream to stop it coagulating as it travels from the kitchen to the table. Instead, I thought to keep all the components separate — the butter, garlic and parsley, crispy prosciutto, and the homemade pasta, which is so much lighter — and toss them all together at the last minute like a salad.’ To finish, Roi puts a knob of butter in a skillet and cooks a whole egg until the whites are just firm, sitting it on top of the pasta and piercing the yolk as it goes to the table.
‘Plenty of restaurants make complicated food that is a triumph of design over flavour,’ say Sue. ‘But these pasta dishes are “anti-complex”. Flavour and texture are everything.’
But pasta nights at Roi’s aren’t just about pasta. They’re also about Italian desserts, including the ice-cream for which they have become renowned. ‘Roi went through a stage of making all-fruit ice-creams,’ says Sue, ‘but I decided to make Raffaello ice-cream, because I love that combination of almonds and coconut in Raffaello chocolates.’
Sue looks cheekily at Roi. ‘And my tiramisu is better than his, because I use a lot of short blacks – concentrated flavour.’ A consummate chef with his own thoughts on tiramisu, Roi doesn’t challenge his long-time partner. Instead he confirms, ‘It’s all true. People love it.’
177 Kiewa Valley Highway, Tawonga, Victoria
Tel 03 5754 4495