Local flavours fire Fifteen chef's fame

By Louise Johnson
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Tobie Puttock, author of Italian Local

Tobie Puttock, author of Italian Local

Tobie Puttock, author of Italian Local

With his second book on Italian cooking, Italian Local, fresh on the bookshelves, a bustling restaurant at Fifteen Melbourne, television and magazine commitments and a growing international profile, it’s amazing that Melbourne chef Tobie Puttock has time to source local produce, but he says, that’s what it’s all about.

Tobie’s passion for Italian food was born in Melbourne, when at 18 he started working at Caffe e Cucina, and took him to Europe where he cheffed his way across the continent, working eighteen-hour days in Italian speaking kitchens.

“I didn’t go and live in Rome where I was surrounded by English speaking people ... I found myself in a little tiny village near a ski resort and I lived there. I very much opened myself up [to staying there] ... so therefore I met a lot of people who became very good friends of mine, and I became involved with their families and would eat with their families quite often. By learning and opening myself up to the culture I really began to understand the reasons behind the food, which was a big thing.”

Like all good Aussie backpackers, Tobie’s travels eventually led to London where he found a job at the River Cafe alongside a young Jamie Oliver.

“It was amazing because a lot of the restaurants I’d worked in before were about cooking food the way you’ve been shown on quite a big scale, and cooking quickly as well so you can feed a lot of people and make lots of money. When I worked at the River Cafe it was all about the produce and being as fair as possible to that produce. It was really simple cooking but I probably learnt more in seven or eight months in that restaurant than I did in many, many years working other places,” he says.

Tobie says travelling really helped cement his approach to food and the Italian philosophy to produce he had learnt in his early days cooking in Melbourne.

“This cooking business and being a chef isn’t just about cooking it quickly and making food as nice as you can. You have a certain responsibility to be putting good produce on the plate for these people and not only do you provide them a good service by taking time out of your schedule to source good produce, but it makes you feel good as a chef because you’re setting a standard. People are coming in [to the restaurant] for that standard,” he says.

“One of the things I got from Italy is that everyone in Italy is normally eating produce from locally grown farmers. Australia is starting to catch on to this.

“With farmers’ markets popping up all over the place, it is now possible for many of us to purchase at least some of our food direct from a primary producer. When I’m ordering for Fifteen Melbourne, I am on the phone as much as possible to pin down my suppliers on what’s what and where it’s come from.”

This trend for good quality, traceable produce is permeating kitchens around the world and, if restaurant fashions continue as they have with London and New York filtering into Australian dining, we are likely to see a lot more emphasis on produce.

“In London and New York right now the big cooking is really comfort food and simple cooking using sourced, traceable ingredients - so we’re talking really good quality shepherd’s pie, really good pasta, slow roasted meat, and there’s a huge emphasis on the origin of the produce as well.

“In my opinion it doesn’t take sense to take a beautiful tomato and blitz it and make it into a foam or something, and I’ve always been like that - I don’t get impressed by those things. I’ve always just wanted to take really good ingredients and do as little as possible to them to get their maximum flavour out.”

Tobie is such a massive advocate of local produce, VisitVineyards.com asked him to identify his hot three suppliers for Fifteen Melbourne.

Often his produce comes from small producers who don’t supply to the public, like his cheese maker George, whose full name and phone number are solid gold secrets to chef’s like Tobie.

“We try and use Victorian producers as much as possible, saying that if I find a better chook coming from Queensland which is free range organic I’ll get it, but where-ever possible we try and use local produce.”

Tobie’s hot three:

  1. Boundary Bend Olive Oil, Victoria
    “One of the most used products in the kitchen is olive oil – Boundary Bend olive oil is fantastic, we actually go out there and choose our own blend and then we get it bottled specifically for us.”
  2. Fernleigh Farms, Bullarto, Victoria
    “We get some really great pork and we don’t get a lot of this because of the old supply and demand thing. Fernleigh farms do a little bit of lamb, but it’s mainly Wessex Saddleback pork. We can only get them on special occasions because they just don’t have the quantity. That’s one of our biggest problems with making the switch over to traceable produce small suppliers ... they often can’t keep up [restaurant] supply.”
  3. Oliveria, Prahran, Melbourne
    “Olives are a big product in our kitchen – Oliveria is a shop in Melbourne that absolutely specialises in olive products and you can walk in and taste and buy olives, we get most of our olives from there.”


  • Melbourne (VIC)

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