Aldo Ortado’s earliest memory was following his Nonna Lucia around the kitchen, as she stood over big pots of ragu, hand-kneading silky pastry into gnocchi.
To keep him out of trouble, she would give her grandson the job of crushing cherry tomatoes onto freshly baked bread, sprinkled with oregano.
From Bacoli – a small Italian village near Naples, to Sans Souci, Aldo’s passion for comfort food inspired by family has landed him a place in Masterchef 2018.
Aldo, 31, is among the top 24 contestants this year who will carve up their best meals to win the title of Australia’s best amateur cook.
Aldo moved to Sydney five years ago, but his Italian roots are never far from his kitchen.
“Each day, my Nonna would ask me what I wanted for lunch and I always said ‘pasta with cannellini beans and mussels,’ ” he said.
“I love cooking that simple, rustic food because it brings me back to being back home.
“I get so emotional because I think of my family when I cook.
“It reminds me of the time I spent with them around the table, talking – sometimes yelling at each other, then shutting up and eating.”
Aldo is the manager of Italian restaurant Giro Osteria and general manager of Thai restaurant, Alphabet St, both at Cronulla.
So far he has won over the judges’ palettes with his grilled octopus and cauliflower purée parsnip chips with tarragon sauce, and his memorable classic Sunday lunch dish – seafood stew.
And Nonna was right there with him – watching Aldo on Skype, checking that he seasons his dishes before serving them up for a taste test.
Aldo got a resounding ‘yes’ from all three judges, who said he cooked with honesty and precision, and described his cooking as elegant enough for a fine dining restaurant.
“It’s my Nonna on a plate – I want to make her proud,” Aldo said.
“I have doubted myself because English is not my first language, so there is a barrier being an Italian on an Australian cooking show, but I believe in myself.
“I hope to win so I can open a restaurant called Lucia.”