A father and son team combine mining and dining in Australia’s opal capital.

Story + Photos Mandy McKeesick 

Flames leap from a frypan and heated words of Italian fly across the Piccolo Restaurant kitchen in Lightning Ridge, northern NSW. With crowds streaming through the doors, Felix Marino is actually at home in the high-pressure kitchen with his son Christian by his side, as he serves authentic Italian cuisine to the outback five nights a week, using almost all Italian ingredients. 

Felix first found himself in a commercial kitchen at age 13 in Italy and by 17 was working as a chef. Following his first wife, he relocated to Sydney in 1987 and continued his profession in restaurants in the upmarket suburbs of Neutral Bay and Double Bay. “I’ve cooked for [Luciano] Pavarotti, for [José] Carreras, for racing identities,” he says. “I catered for Bob Hawke’s wedding to Blanche and have thrown a party for [ballet dancer] Rudolph Nureyev, but it was too much pressure.”

When the pressure mounted, Felix would call on Christian to work for him. “When I was 13 I wanted a PlayStation, so he put me to work washing dishes,” Christian says of his first working relationship with his father. Christian moved from the kitchens to marketing, but then Felix called him and said, “It’s busy. I need help”, and so he returned to the fold to run Piccolos at Neutral Bay. 

During this time Christian was also making regular trips to Lightning Ridge to maintain a house inherited from family. On one visit Felix found a solution to his high-pressure world. “It was a slower pace and I liked the town, but something was missing at night,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #138

Outback Magazine: August/September 2021