Written by Mark Beretta
Photography by Roman Liebich Photography
Take a Sydney day that belonged more in Spring than the depths of Winter, a sleek Riva 88, and a high-powered Technohull fun-machine, add one of Sydney’s most creative chefs and a bunch of appreciative friends, and instantly you have the perfect recipe for a memorable day out on the Harbour.
For David Wright – owner and Head Chef at Sydney’s renowned Buon Ricordo restaurant in Paddington – preparing a delicious three course lunch on the water was new experience. But it turns out it’s a natural fit for the true lover of Sicilian delights. Wright’s speciality is traditional southern Italian dishes so there’s a prominence of seafood, which sits perfectly with being afloat.
With a life-long passion for cooking that had its roots in boyhood days spent in the kitchen learning from his Sicilian Nona, Wright has immersed himself in the traditional ways. His style is not a reinvention or innovation, but more a homage to the time-honoured dishes of his ancestors and those rich, classic flavours that we search for in great Italian meals. And he’s nailed it. These are the familiar dishes many grew up with at the family dining table, reproduced with delicious perfection – a reflection of the time Wright has spent cooking in Italy.
Family has been a common theme to Wright’s career in the kitchen. It’s fair to say his rise has been stellar – he joined the Buon Ricordo team at the age of 17, made Head Chef at the age of 23, and then just seven years later took over as the restaurant’s owner, marrying Buon Ricordo’s sous chef, Rosalba Bertocci, along the way.
“I have made Buon Ricordo my home,” he says. “It’s more than just a job for me. It’s not so much about me as a chef, but about Buon Ricordo as an establishment and an institution. We have a certain legacy to pay attention to.”
Much has taken place inside the colourful walls of Buon Ricordo, and in the great Italian tradition the restaurant has hosted weddings and baptisms, giving it an enduring connection to the local community and a true Italian authenticity.
Wright’s credentials are impeccable. As soon as Wright was qualified, Buon Ricardo’s founder and then owner Armando Percuoco sent his young protégé to study and hone his skills at the two-Michelin-starred Don Alfonzo restaurant run by the Laccarino family in Sant’Agata, Sorrento. Later, Wright won a scholarship to ALMA – the international school of Italian cuisine in Parma, Italy – to further develop his skills.
With that training under his belt, he returned home to combine his learnings with great Australian seafood and produce. “I’ve always been passionate about seafood,” he says. “Where I grew up (on the Central Coast) was close to the beach, so every day was about fishing and surfing. That time has a big influence on my cooking, because to this day a lot of my dishes are seafood focused.”
Percuoco was the master to an eager and impressionable young apprentice. “Armando was more than a boss, he was a father figure,” Wright explains, describing the yearly years that launched his culinary career under the tutelage of the veteran restaurateur. “He showed me another whole world or philosophy which was incredibly formative for me both as a chef and as a person.”
It has left Wright, as the new custodian of the Buon Ricordo institution, feeling like the protector of an important legacy. He sees his role as preserving the traditions of the popular establishment for the generation to come, instead of trying to renovate or alter the well-known identity of the place. He laughs that the restaurant now looks after the grandkids of the original patrons. And in the classic Italian way, it’s a good tradition that’s continuing.
The best news is that Wright and his passion and skill for true Italian meals are here for us to enjoy. The clearest sign that what everyone has loved about Buon Ricordo is not fading away is Wright’s refusal to alter menu favourites such as Fettucine al Tartufovo and Salmonatta – two of the regular diner’s best picks. He’s not about to mess with a formula that’s been a winner for decades.
His dishes, therefore, were perfect for a lunch at anchor on Sydney Harbour. In fact, if you closed your eyes in the warm winter sun, you could briefly lose yourself and drift off to the Amalfi Coast. What’s more, our host vessel suited the theme. The Riva 88 is a sporty, striking, sleek classic, and a fine example of Italian styling and design. It encapsulates everything good about Mediterranean living, with beautiful dark timber finishes and comfortable and practical lounge areas. The U-shaped aft lounge, free of a table, makes the perfect area in which to relax and chat before lunch, and then relax and laze once appetites are sate. An easy-to-fit awning adds welcome shade over the dining table.
Brock Rodwell, from Australian brokers Ray White Marine, believes the success of the Riva brand here is due to its suitability for our conditions and owners’ desire for both style and practicality.
Ray White Marine is a part the larger Ray White group best known for its operations in real estate, but it also extends to commercial and rural property, hotels, and insurance. The company says it is delivering a fresh approach to marina and boating sales, and its introduction of marine public auctions has been a hailed a success.
With locations at Marina Mirage on the Gold Coast and the Sydney Boathouse already well established, Rodwell has headed south to plant a Ray White Marine flag in Melbourne, which boasts the highest rate of Superyacht ownership of any city in Australia.
Accompanying the Riva on a beautiful day for boating, the Technohull is in its element as a support vessel – with its three 350-hp Mercury outboards, the Technohull not only looks a million dollars, it has the grunt to match.
Going under the title of a multi-functional day boat, it really hits the mark. The level of performance on the stunning Omega 45 flagship model has to be experienced to really be appreciated. It’s a seriously powerful, multi-purpose 13.8 metre boat, designed to perform in all conditions. If it doesn’t put fun into your boating experience, I’m not sure anything ever will. Its versatility is impressive – it’s a super-enjoyable day boat that moves you very quickly from one place to the other, with plenty of power for a full load, water skiing, or pretty much whatever you want to do.
Dining with a brilliant chef like Wright aboard is a reminder of the many possibilities of boating. If you have a galley aboard and the opportunity to entertain, having a chef for the day takes the entire experience to a delicious and even more memorable level.
Chef David Wright
How would you describe your signature cooking style?
Traditional Italian, which actually seems to be somewhat of a rarity these days. I focus on Southern Italian, with seafood being a passion of mine.
What is your signature dish?
At the restaurant, I have an Entrée called ‘Crudo alla Negroni’, which a carpaccio style starter which uses Kingfish cured with Gin & Vermouth, then finished with Campari crystals, the 3 ingredients that make up the famous Negroni cocktail.
In your time as a chef, what has changed in the way people dine?
People share a lot more, eat a lot less, and eat a lot earlier
What is on your culinary bucket list?
Ristorante La Madia in Sicily. I have heard nothing but good things and its on my list next time I visit Sicily.
What is one ingredient you cannot go without?
What is so special about cooking in Australia?
We are blessed with some of the best produce in the world, and just about every culinary discipline is well represented.
To view the David Wright’s full menu on the day: click here