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Interview: Frank Camorra

Owner of the growing MoVida restaurant chain, Frank Camorra is changing the face of Spanish cuisine, one small plate at a time.

Interview: Frank Camorra

Encompassing five restaurants and a bakery, Frank Camorra’s MoVida restaurant stable has breathed new life into Spanish tapas in Australia. We chat to the chef and restauranteur about his recipe for success.

What have you been up to recently?

I just got back from the south of Spain three weeks ago, where I’ve been working on another book with Richard Cornish. It’s a recipe book but also a travel guide. We visited both cities and the countryside.

What led you onto the path to becoming a chef?

I was actually studying to be an architect at Deacon University. I soon realised that I wasn’t ever going to be an architect. More and more, I enjoyed working in the kitchen, so I decided to pursue it professionally through an apprenticeship. At first, it was difficult to get a job, because people were questioning my commitment to the profession at first. Then I got my foot in the door at a small restaurant in Lorne. I stayed there for about a year, and then moved up to Melbourne where I began working with the Grossi family.

Who are your biggest culinary influences?

People like Guy [Grossi], and Greg Malouf when he was in Australia, because we’re trying to do a similar thing; bringing traditional food here from our heritage and making it work for the local market by updating them and reinterpreting them.

How would you describe the essence of MoVida?

It’s a combination of good food that’s still professional, but fun at the same time. We want to keep it at a high quality, but lighten it up a bit too.

What is the biggest misconception that Australians have about Spanish food?

There’s one that always pops up about people assuming that Spanish food is very hot or spicy. It’s strange because Spanish food is almost the opposite. By Australian standards, because we’re so used to Asian food now, we have a high tolerance to chilli, which is actually quite unlike the Spanish who don’t have much of a tolerance to spice at all. Even back when I first started out, there was this big confusion between Mexican and Spanish food being one and the same.

MoVida is now open in Sydney; are the restaurants the same in each city?

We always try and reinterpret each restaurant a little bit, but we also want to make sure that people know they are visiting a MoVida restaurant, no matter where they are. The menu is a bit different because we have a different head chef in Sydney, but there’s always six signature dishes that will be the same across both. Also in Sydney, we tend to serve up lighter versions due to the climate.

Which one dish can’t we leave MoVida without trying?

Definitely the anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet.

How important is pairing the right drink with food for you?

It’s an interesting one for us, because we don’t serve a degustation style menu. So when you’re sitting down at MoVida, I always recommend starting with a sherry, and then moving onto a red wine with your tapa.

Earlier this year, you featured at the Gourmet Abu Dhabi event. How did you find it?

It was good – very enjoyable. We did rolling dinners, with menus that went on for five days, matched with amazing wines. And we also did a gala dinner, so we were kept very busy.

Would you ever consider opening a MoVida overseas?

We’ve been offered a couple of overseas partnerships – in Jakarta, and Singapore, for instance. But you just have so much less control when you go overseas. It would be interesting, but I think we’d have to really consider it. With our Sydney business, I’m over there once or twice a week. I’m not sure that it’s the right move for us; it would be nice to have one in a fantastic holiday spot, but I’d be a bit worried about not knowing the local market well enough.

Which five ingredients would we always find in your pantry?

Paprika is one of the most important ingredients in Spanish cooking, and there is a whole range of different varieties. There’s smoked, sundried, sweet, sour; for me, it’s like what parmesan cheese is for Italian food. Aside from that, you’d find olive oil, garlic – dad grows a heap of garlic in his backyard in Geelong, and I’m always raiding his garden – Spanish rice, and canned seafood like mussels, anchovies, tuna, and clams. It might sound strange, but the Spanish really do put out some quality artisan products in cans. You can find them at high-end grocers like Jones The Grocer or Simon Thomsen in Australia, and also in Spanish delis.

What else is in the pipe for you?

Consolidation, and making sure we stay on the right track with our businesses. Actually, there is something else coming up too; we’re opening up another MoVida at the airport – in the Virgin domestic terminal this time. So it will be a licensing agreement with the ARE, specialising in airport food and beverage. It will be the same as what we did in Tullamarine – Bar Pulpo which is a scaled-down version of MoVida: the same dishes, but simpler, and a small, punchy wine list. Apart form that, I’d like to settle down for a little while. It might seem like we’ve grown quickly but when you look at it, it’s been two to three years per business. So we’ve made sure we don’t grow too quickly.

And what about the cookbook you’re working on?

The cookbook won’t be out until next Christmas. We’re testing the recipes this year, and then production takes a long time. But as always, there’s a lot of travel coming up. I usually do one or two food tours of Spain each year, with seven to ten people booked in each. We also import our wine and our hams from Spain, so there’s always a good excuse to travel there frequently.

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