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Yes, Chef! with Daniela Maiorano

Yes, Chef! with Daniela Maiorano
Daniela Maiorano. Photo credit: Dream Creative.
Sophie Hansen
Sophie Hansen Orange, NSW
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Welcome to Yes, chef! A monthly newsletter in which food writer Sophie Hansen shines a light on our regional chefs. This week she talks with Northern Rivers chef Daniela Maiorano.

Daniela Maiorano has a way of cooking, speaking about and moving around food that's just so … what's the word … fierce.

She has a confidence in her cooking that comes, I think, from the joint blessings of having grown up in a family of chefs and having a clear vision of the kind of chef she is.

Daniela is 39 years old. She is a chef, and so is her father, Clemente Maiorano, and her brother, Attilio Maiorano. If you haven't yet seen the Instagram videos of the three of them cooking together while continents apart – the kids in the NSW Northern Rivers and Clemente in his Abruzzo restaurant – please pause, click here and then come back to us.

How fun was that!

Daniela moved to Byron Bay seven years ago. She came to visit her older brother who was living in the area, fell in love with it, encouraged Attilio to come too and together they began working at Lilium, a restaurant-wine bar in Brunswick Heads serving punchy, Italian (of course) food and an impressive menu of “medicinal cocktails” and botanical tonics. The menu is amazing, very seasonal and uses lots of local ingredients, ferments and plenty of classic Italian cooking alongside native flavours and innovative twists.

When I spoke to her last week, our chef was navigating the backroads of Puglia en route to cook for a group of visitors travelling with one of Galah's favourite stylists and writers, Megan Morton. She kept breaking into Italian, taking directions from passengers in the car while explaining the correct way to make risotto (below). Spoiler: it involves a lot more butter than you think.

Daniela has just bought a villa near her family in Abruzzo, which she plans to use as a base for bringing Australians to the region for food and wine tours. Unwilling to give up either her Italian or recently adopted Australian home, Daniela will juggle them both for the foreseeable, taking regular trips back to Italy with groups of food lovers and spending the rest of the time at the Lilium pans.

Sophie x

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Yes, Chef! with Daniela Maiorano

Photo credit: Dream Creative.

A recipe that takes you home?

A dish that helps me connect with my region of Abruzzo is spaghetti alla chitarra. It's an egg-based pasta we make with this instrument that looks a little like a chitarra (guitar). You make the pasta sheets, roll them on top of this instrument and cut them into long, thin pieces of pasta. And to go with our pasta? I'd have to pick a lamb ragù with grated pecorino cheese on top. We use a lot of lamb. When I feel homesick, this is what I cook.

A recipe for joy (celebratory dish)

It's always about pasta! I make pasta when I'm happy or sad. And when we have a party in Australia, my friends here always want me to do some kind of pasta they've not seen or tried before. For a celebration, there's a fun thing we do near my home; it's a giant raviolo, like eight ravioli in one. So, we make two big sheets of pasta and fill them with smooth ricotta mixed with parmesan and salt and pepper. Then we serve it with tomato sauce on top. 

The sauce has to be a really good, slow-cooked one. I cook mine for a long time until it's really sweet and beautiful. Then I crush the tomatoes with my hand; blending them makes them too acidic. 

My brother puts a whole onion in his sauce for extra flavour, but for me it's just garlic and lots of basil. And, of course, a lot of olive oil. I think with a vegetarian pasta sauce, you want a good “two fingers of oil on top of the sauce”. With meat-based sauces, you need less because the meat will bring down fat. But tomato sauces? Lots and lots of oil. 

A recipe to bolster or soothe

Risotto. Because after the pasta, risotto is home to me. When I was little, whenever I was unwell Mum would make riso bianco with parmesan. Basically, it's white risotto. This is our chicken soup. It's therapy for any sickness. As an adult, I love making risotto, but mine is richer [than my childhood version]. 

I love it emulsified with lots of butter, stirred through with pumpkin and anchovy. It's so good and it makes me feel really fulfilled. I learned to make risotto while working as a chef in northern Italy. It's such a versatile dish; you can use anything that's in season: cream and mushroom, any leftover vegetables, easy!

But you must use carnaroli rice, not arborio rice. And please don't pre-cook the rice like lots of restaurants do. If you order risotto in a restaurant and they tell you there will be a 20-minute minimum wait, you know it will be good. You know they're making it properly for you. 

So, at home, you start with the right rice, add white wine, then slowly, slowly add the stock. Don't rush it. Add whatever flavour or vegetable you wish, and when the risotto is almost cooked, add your butter, a lot of butter, and parmesan, stirring until it's not too dry or too wet. The perfect equilibrium of starch from the rice, fat from the butter and salt from the parmesan. 

In winter, I also love making soup. Back home in Australia, we are coming into the colder months, and I love making a little ribollita during this time of year. You just slow-cook lots of garlic and pumpkin, then make little gnocchetti with flour and water. They're like tiny little dumplings, no potato, they're not heavy but they make the soup really filling. And then I'll always finish off with cheese. I love the hard cheese from my local Nimbin Valley Dairy.

Why did you choose to live and cook where you do?

Why the Northern Rivers? My other brother had married a woman from here, they had a kid, and he asked me to come and meet his family. I fell in love with the place, the atmosphere, the people, the produce, and I stayed. Until now, I'd been living and working in big cities, cooking in Rome, Berlin and London. For me, moving here was a really nice escape from the big city. I'm from a small town originally, and it was nice to be back in a community, to know everyone in town, to ride my bike around, to be a part of the fabric of the place. We all know each other here, and we all help each other. 

And then I convinced my younger brother to move here and help me at Lilium. We focus on the produce, and as much as possible, we source everything locally. We are so lucky in this region, the produce is incredible. We have so much amazing seafood and sub-tropical vegetables and native foods. It's an exciting place to cook. Also, there are some incredible chefs working in this area and, I always feel inspired by them, too.

What's an ingredient you're excited about right now?

Chicory is my favourite ingredient. When I am eating chicory, I am happy.

First of all, it's really healthy, and also it's delicious. I cook chicory like most Italians do; we boil it, then saute it with garlic and chilli. It's a little bitter, it's so tasty and it makes me feel great. This is good with pasta, soup, meat – it's good with everything. It's also good for your body, especially for the liver.

For me, food is simple. You just need three really good ingredients to make one good dish. So here, we've got chicory, garlic and chilli. Perfect!

Daniela's lamb ragù

Daniela's lamb ragù. Note from Sophie: Unfortunately I didn’t have chitarra pasta maker at home on the day we made this ragù. We did have a lot of beautiful potatoes though so made gnocchi to serve this with and it was outstanding. The long, slow cooking time and careful simplicity of Daniela’s recipe makes this a total keeper. x


1kg lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 big pieces

2 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 brown onions, diced

2 bay leaves

1/3 cup red wine

2kg tinned whole peeled tomatoes 

Olive oil 

Salt and pepper


Season the lamb pieces well with salt and pepper. Place your pan over a high heat and add about two tablespoons of olive oil. Sear the lamb pieces well on both sides then set aside. Add a few more glugs of oil (be generous!) and add the carrots, celery, onion and bay leaves. Reduce heat right down and cook until the vegetables are golden and a bit caramelised (about 20 minutes). Return the lamb to the pan and stir everything together. 

Increase the heat, deglaze with the red wine, and add the tomatoes. Smash and squeeze them into the pan with your hand as you go. Cover and cook on a very low heat for 3-4 hours. 

When ready, the lamb should be very tender. Break it up into the sugo and set it aside while you cook your pasta. 

If you can make or find spaghetti alla chitarra, that's perfect. But whatever fresh pasta you have is great, too. Cook in boiling salted water until al dente. Then drain and serve with the ragù and plenty of grated pecorino. 


Photo credit: Dream Creative.

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