Young chefs reckon the Riverina town of Griffith has all the ingredients to make the perfect foodie destination.

Story Therese Hall   Photo Dee Kramer

Pub chef Rod Pieper has a twinkle in his eye as he presents a deceptively plain pizza. In contrast to the ubiquitous overloaded varieties, this pizza appears to be no more than sauce on a base. “Here we have a Toppa,” the 28 year old announces to lunchtime diners at the Area Hotel’s Hot Olive Bistro in the New South Wales Riverina town of Griffith. Out-of-towners may be initially underwhelmed, but locals can hardly believe their luck. “When I lived in Sydney I missed Toppas so much,” says Bella Vita tour guide Cassandra Cadorin, helping herself to a slice. “Whenever I asked for a Toppa in an Italian pizzeria, I was met by a blank stare – they had no idea what I was talking about.” 

This idiosyncratic pizza variety – consisting of house-made tomato sauce, oregano, garlic and olive oil – says much about the food culture of Griffith. Its simplicity is mouth-watering, with its focus on high-quality, locally grown ingredients. Although the Toppa’s origins are probably post-World War II immigration, when Italians flowed onto the irrigated flats surrounding Griffith to grow vegetables, wine grapes and oranges, it’s being revived by a new generation of local Italian-Australians. “Young people like me want to make Griffith a foodie destination,” Cassandra says.

While they may not be serving Toppas, several new entrants onto the Griffith restaurant scene are dipping into their Italian heritage to profile the region’s agricultural abundance. Limone Dining is a modern fine-dining destination restaurant operated by 28-year-old award-winning chef Luke Piccolo, and Zecca Handmade Italian is a strictly Italian regional-focused restaurant owned and run by a local trio in their 30s: Daniel D’Aquino, and Ben and Michaela Di Rosa. 

All are Griffith-born grandchildren of Italian immigrants, and both Luke Piccolo and Zecca chef Ben Di Rosa learnt the basics of their craft from their grandparents. In Luke’s case, it was the three hours he spent with his ‘nonna’ after school every day while his parents Peter and Rose were working in the family’s Griffith cafe, Miei Amici, that cemented his skills. “Luke got a great education from his grandmother, who is an amazing peasant cook,” Peter says. “When he came into the cafe to help out at 16, he already had the most incredible skills.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #116

Outback Magazine: December/January 2018