Two talented young Adelaide chefs left one of this country’s top restaurants to create the pop–up eatery Kitchen Selva.
The couple in question, Laura Cassai and Max Sharrad, were working at Orana before deciding to take the plunge with a pop-up restaurant they hope they can turn into a bricks and mortar place within three years, basically before Sharrad turns 27. “It depends on how well the pop-ups go,” Sharrad says about opening a bricks and mortar restaurant. “Ideally, I’d like to open it within the next three years. That’s my goal. I want to open one before I’m 27, purely because that’s what Marco Pierre White did.”
Did Sharrad leave the most acclaimed restaurant in the city because of that goal? “Absolutely,” he says. “I still to this day wake up and think about the food they’re doing there at Orana.” “We went there [Orana] the other week and we were like, ‘Oh my god, it’s so good’,” Cassai says. “You can’t fault it. It’s amazing. It was hard to leave. It was a good decision. We left on good terms. It was just like: how long can you stay in one place without doing your own thing?” “I’d been there for two years, Laura had been there 18 months,” Sharrad says. “ ere wasn’t any room to move up. There was Shannon [Fleming, Head Chef] who has been with Jock [Zonfrillo] for six years, and there wasn’t really anywhere to move up as quickly as we wanted to. That’s why we were like, ‘Let’s do our own thing’.”
Sharrad and Cassai are a couple outside of the kitchen as well. They met while working at Orana. Cassai got the job as Orana’s junior chef after finishing runner-up in the 2014 season of MasterChef, and became Orana’s pastry chef, while Sharrad has worked at Copenhagen’s NOMA and at the two Michelin Star restaurant L’Enclume in England. After Orana, they didn’t want to go to another Adelaide restaurant. “To go to another restaurant that I really wanted to work in would mean travelling interstate or overseas,” Sharrad says. “I’ve done that already, I’ve worked in England and Copenhagen. I think this is a step in the right direction for us because we can pioneer a new style. Our style.” With Kitchen Selva, which held its first dinner at the Market Kitchen on June 9, the food is their version of fine-dining but held in a casual setting. It is what they call “wild Australian”.
Wild South Australian-influenced ingredients with a twist on childhood memory dishes, for example the first dish is a pasty,” Cassai says. “A mushroom and wild herb pasty, so it’s from Max’s childhood as his grandad used to make pasties. So we’re doing a little version of a pasty.” Sharrad says all the dishes are “super seasonal based on memory and experience” using produce from local ethical farmers and producers. “We’re using veal from Marino which will be served with grass, so the idea is the animal is plated with what it eats basically,” he says. “It’s got common grass and garlic grass and some wild radish in there as well. I’ve got a cool squid dish, squid tubes that are thinly sliced and arranged on a plate with succulents and a really hot broth made of charred celery juice and seaweed oil. That will be poured over at the last minute on the table and will lightly cook the squid all the way through.
“Michael Wohlstadt has the Dairyman in the Barossa Valley, as well as Barossa Heritage Pork. He started doing dairy and it’s outrageously good. Small producers who have got time to spend with their animals and care for them is a big ethical factor these days, that’s the road we want to travel.” They want to organise two dinners a month, with one of those dinners to be held monthly at the Market Kitchen. The next dinner will be held on Thursday, July 21. Aside from Kitchen Selva, Sharrad is helping out at Grace the Establishment and Cassai is working with fellow MasterChef alumni Andre Ursini and Poh Ling Yeow. “I’m currently working at what’s now known as the Grace with a chef called Quentin Whittle, who used to be at the Stranded Store,” Sharrad says. “He’s doing cool food. Fresh and clean. It’s fantastic. It’s super generous and it’s food he wants to do.” “I’m working for Andre as his recipe development chef,” Cassai says. “I’ve got a kitchen in Prospect and I get to muck around with lots of new recipes or dishes he wants to have on the restaurant menu. I’m helping Poh out with her Market stall [JamFace].”
With Adelaide’s easy access to some of the best produce in the land, and with a population similar to the hub of New Nordic cuisine, Copenhagen, Sharrad believes Adelaide could have a food scene that matches the hip Danish capital. “Absolutely. Orana kicked it off. Duncan [Welgemoed] was doing cool things at Bistro Dom and now he’s got Africola. Hentley Farm’s always been good. Magill Estate even, that’s up there as one of the top restaurants in Australia. New people coming through like Tim Bourke and Sarah Feehan doing their South West Supper Club, that’s really fantastic for the state. They’ve got a similar ethos to us, keeping it local and simple. A mate of mine Kane has got a pop-up he’s doing as well. These are all people that have been through Orana. That’s the centrepoint for growing the state in terms of food and that sort of dining.”
Kitchen Selva will be hosting dinners at the Central Market Kitchen on July 1, August 18 and September 21
Photos: Jonathan Van Der Knaap, Instagram