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The Point Ballina

Published: Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Growing up in the back of a Pizzeria in Buenos Ares, Mariano Perpignano says he was destined to cook.

His Italian father did try to talk him out of it, by stressing the sacrifices he himself had made. And it is true, Mariano now admits, that
his father was rarely home, and that he often stayed the night on a makeshift bed in the restaurant, rather than making the long trek
back to his family.

pointStill, the young Mariano was passionate about food and cooking from a young age and with dreams of travelling to Europe (where his father was from) he undertook a chef’s apprenticeship in Argentina, and immediately scored a job that would prepare him for cooking in any kitchen in the world.

The name of this first restaurant was Maraña; a new enterprise, which at the time Mariano was there, became one of the favourites of Buenos Ares. With ten chefs working in the kitchen, these were exciting and challenging times—high pressure conditions with an emphasis on excellence and innovation.

‘I have very good memories about those days,’ he says. ‘Maraña went off. It was one of the most popular places to eat at that time. It was there that I learned everything about working in big kitchens.’ But when the opportunity arose, Mariano headed for Europe, and Barcelona, where he had a friend who was running a restaurant. He worked there for a while, before getting a job cooking for an elite catering company preparing feasts in Spanish castles, and even a banquet in the Sagrada Familia.

‘Here I was working for the high society of Spain,’ says Mariano, who now found himself immersed in the European food culture he had always craved.

Of course all adventures must come to an end, so eventually he returned home to Argentina. But not long after a new adventure began when he received a message from an Australian chef who he had met in one of the kitchens he had worked in. ‘He basically said, I have a job for you in Manly, Sydney if you want it. So I went.’

Mariano travelled to Australia and was sponsored by the Café Stein in Manly and granted a two year working visa. He managed the busy restaurant for two years, before heading north from Sydney on a holiday.

‘I was going to Cairns, but I stopped in Byron Bay on the way, says Mariano. ‘And it was there that I met Angie.’ Fast forward to 2014. Mariano and Angie are husband and wife, and living in The Channon. They have two little boys Tavio (8) and Zayden (6) and live a semi sustainable lifestyle on acres surrounded by 120 acres of bushland.

Five days a week Mariano travels to Ballina where is the Head Chef at the Point Restaurant—an exceptionally beautiful place to dine, perched on the banks of the Richmond River (complete with dolphins and sensational sunsets).

Before this, Mariano worked in several restaurants in the region including the Tattersals Hotel in Lismore, where he transformed the
kitchen from a pub grill to an award-winning restaurant, with a Best Food and Beverage award and an AHA award for food.

But his work there was done and he was ready for the next challenge. The job at The Point came at the perfect time. ‘This job is a dream for me! It was what I was hoping for and aiming for,’ he says.

‘The kitchen is a playground for me. My inner child likes to come and play here, inventing new and interesting dishes, and having lots
of fun.’

‘It gives me the opportunity to create something special and interesting, that caters for traditional tastes, plus for those who want to try something very different from what they can cook for themselves at home.’

Mariano’s biggest challenge is to keep stretching himself and his diners, by creating new and interesting dishes, while at the same
time not getting too ahead of himself, and making sure that the old favourites are still available.

‘Yes there will be a steak or a parmigiana, and a fish of the day. But there will also be Goats cheese, with zucchini flowers, beetroot
tapenade, caramelised onions and baby cress…or a confit pork belly with an apple witlof salad, and a date and orange puree.’

‘And there is a big Italian influence. I’m aiming for a house-made, special, elaborate menu. For example, we make our own pasta,
and our own icecream.’

Mariano will capitalise on the availability of seasonal produce, altering the menu every three to four months, maintaining flexibility and variety.

Out back in the kitchen, he leads a team of 12, including 6 chefs. ‘I enjoy leading. I run the kitchen like a small democracy an involve the team in the decision making. The kitchen is a creative environment—I don’t want robots. I tell them, the recipe is a guide. Trust your judgement and I will trust your judgement.’

‘Some chefs are dictators but that doesn’t breed positivity.’

‘The kitchen must be a place where the staff want to be. If my staff want to be there, then the diners will want to be there too. It’s really that simple,’ he says.

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