He’s travelled tens of thousands of miles cooking hundreds of dishes with dozens of chefs in most every continent on the globe, yet the biggest cooking lesson celebrity chef Shane Delia has learned isn’t the secret to whipping up the perfect Bombe Alaska or a genuine French macaron, it’s that a meal, made for and shared with family and friends, is the highest form of respect you can show those you love.
Shane, who has traversed the world as part of his hit SBS cooking show Spice Journey, says that this life-changing discovery, about the true meaning of hospitality, has shaped the way he cooks – and caters – especially when it comes to weddings.
“If we think we’re hospitable, try walking down the street of a tiny, dirt poor village and, despite the fact the locals have little money and even fewer resources, they’ll always invite you into their home, to sit amongst their children and parents, and they’ll share whatever little they have to cook you a meal,’’ says Shane.
“That’s pretty humbling and it’s taught me a lot about the importance of cooking for others, especially at weddings where someone is asking me to come into their circle and cook a celebratory meal for their most beloved family and friends on the most special day of their lives. It’s an honour, and I try never to forget that.”
Despite being best known his work on Spice Journey and his ownership of Maha, a popular Melbourne restaurant specialising in modern Middle Eastern cuisine, Shane is a classically trained chef, who started his culinary life cooking authentic French cuisine. He says he’s cooked everything from a notoriously fiddly Boeuf Bourguignon to “more croissants than I could even begin to count.”
His extensive culinary experience and creativity caught the eye of catering giant Peter Rowland who recently signed him up to head their innovative new project, The Chef Collective, which calls on some of Melbourne and Sydney’s top culinary talent to cater for major events such as the Grand Prix and Spring Racing Carnival and, now, weddings.
If one cooking superstar isn’t enough, Peter Rowland clout is such, they can pull in multiple chefs from across Australia to be part of the project.
The aim of the Chef Collective is to curate custom menus for events big and small, including 50th birthdays, and even the odd celebrity wedding (but also many more ‘normal’ weddings, Shane adds).
“Unless a couple specifically request it, I like to try to steer clear of the traditional sit-down, very structured menu,’’ says Shane. “It can be cold and boring, two things a wedding and wedding food should never be!”
“Weddings are about love and passion and excitement, and through my work with the Chef Collective, I really try to bring that same passion to your wedding reception food because now, I can just call up the best chef in any type of cooking and get them to help me make the meal even better, more genuine and more of a truly one-off culinary experience.”
Shane says that, as a the result of the Chef Collective collaboration, his culinary offerings are more authentic than if he were to cater an event as a single chef, a particularly delicious proposition for die-hard foodies wanting to create the perfect wedding day menu.
“I now have so many more resources and avenues to explore, so If I am cooking an Indian themed wedding reception, I’ll ring up the best Indian chef in town and we’ll source the spices from where they buy their spices,’’ adds Shane whose attention to detail even extends to ensuring the waiters’ shoes are polished and choosing the exact style and pattern of plates used at an event.
“If couples prefer something more simple, like a piping hot meal of steak and chips, well, the team will do a great steak and chips using a beautiful scotch fillet with hand cut chips fried in duck fat,’’ he says adding that the power of cooking as a collective, often, changes the way something as simple as the sourcing of the meat or vegetables being used for a meal happens – for the better.
While most caterers typically source ingredients from their everyday suppliers, working as a collective brings further expert knowledge into an already well-oiled team.
Since each chef has his or her own suppliers and their own knowledge of the market, “Instead of just heading to, say, my local butcher for that beautiful scotch fillet, one of the other chefs in the collective might know of some gorgeous Tasmanian grain-fed beef that is about to hit the market and that may be a better option for the final dish.”
Shane says that for a recent event, the couple they were catering for talked about a particular dish they loved at their favourite local restaurant, so “we called up the chef, found out how he cooked the dish and made it just the way the couple liked it – and, naturally, they were thrilled.
“That’s what’s so clever about cooking as a collective, you’re able to get input from your fellow chefs, each of whom has their own specialty and expertise, and the result is clients who are truly satisfied – and very, very full. It’s a really clever idea, bringing together multiple chefs to put together a single event.”
Despite his already extensive experience as a chef, Shane says his collaboration with Peter Rowland has further expanded his culinary vistas, affording him the opportunity to work with some of Australia’s best culinary wizards on events ranging from a mere 50 people to a whopping 2000.
“I love that I could be working on a small, intimate wedding one day and a major international event the next,’’ says Shane, whose Rowland by Shane Delia menus and The Chef Collective services are available exclusively through Peter Rowland, “but, as a team, we honestly do try to approach every event – and every meal we cook, especially for weddings, which are all about family, remembering that this couple has chosen us from thousands of other caterers to cook this very special meal for their family and their friends on this most special of days.
“So we do. We cook for them, like we’re cooking for our own family and friends – and that’s the highest form of respect we can show them.”