RITA MACALI | SUPERMAXI

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By Jo Rittey

 

Having been told by Gourmet Traveller’s Michael Harden that I “must” speak to Rita at Supermaxi I was excited to meet her. On a Melbourne day where it was very hot and then poured with rain, I drove to Fitzroy North and while I waited for Rita to finish rolling pasta, Giovanni made me the best long black I have had in a long time. 

 

Hi Rita. I was reading that you’re responsible for bringing real pizza to Melbourne.

 

With Ladro. Yes, a long time ago. But yes, you’re right, that was my doing, at the start.

 

How do you go about being a revolutionary?

 

I’m a qualified chef and I’ve been cooking for a long time. Actually it’s 31 years this year. But I worked mainly in fine dining restaurants in all my training and when I was an apprentice, then after that, I was very passionate like all young people are. I went to Italy and worked there for a year, then came back and kept working for other people that I knew, like Philippa who you interviewed, and her husband, Donovan Cooke. I kept working at that level. They opened up another restaurant called Luxe a long time ago and that won best new restaurant and being part of all that at that time in my career, I just absorbed it all.

 

Then I got burnt out. It’s not sustainable to continuously work at that very high level. It’s full on, doing all of those crazy hours. As much as I loved it, I couldn’t do it forever. So I just stopped cooking. I got a job as a waitress at a place called I Carusi in East Brunswick. Then I started cooking there and working there, at a very casual pizza place, with Pietro Barbagallo, and he was lovely to me. But people would ask for certain things and he would say no to everything. Being a person who has worked in the kitchen and getting feedback from customers, heard what people really wanted and I could easily do that for them. It wasn’t hard to deliver something really good in a casual place.

 

I’ve known the owners at Ladro for many years and we have worked in other places together. So we had that friendship and then Ingrid suggested that we do something together. At that time I was ready for something new. It’s all about timing. And that’s where it all started.

 

We had a really great partnership and the place was busy and it went well. Everything was right.

 

Do you use Italian flour?

 

Yes. I haven’t really given Australian flour a chance. I don’t do Napoletano pizza like a lot of people do here. I’m not a trained pizza maker, I taught myself. Napoletana is a softer dough; we do more the crunchy, thinner, Roman style pizza. I have only used Italian flour because I want to. Not for any other reason. I want to keep it as authentic as I can and it’s Italian pizza, so I use Italian flour.

 

Pizza chefs seem very passionate about how long they leave the dough to prove.

 

There’s a passion there. I think when you’re making the Napoletana pizza, that falls under all the rules of what you have to do to be able to call it Napoletan.

 

Are there rules for Roman pizza?

 

No. I make it today for today but I will also use it tomorrow too and it is a little different and it’s fine. The pizza crust is lighter if it’s proved slower and longer, but I get the texture that I want and love by doing it the way that I do. I like it to have a bit of chew, a bit of crunch and it has to hold together so that when you pick it up, it won’t collapse in your hands.

 

For the toppings, we don’t pile it up. We do have a Meat Lovers but it’s not like the places around Melbourne we grew up with and they are fine too. We don’t make it minimal to the point there’s nothing on it; I want you to eat. But there’s enough, not too much and not too little. When the guys in the kitchen do put too much stuff on, I say, we’re here to make money, not friends. But if there’s not enough stuff I say, we’re here to make friends, not money.

 

It’s a fine line. And you make your own pasta too.

 

Yes, that was what I was in their doing when you arrived. I use one of those little home-style pasta machines for the spaghetti. We make gnocchi and I make filled pastas sometimes.

 

The menu doesn’t change much. We offer some specials but I don’t like the menu to be too big because I want the food to move and I want to serve it fresh. If the menu is too big and there’s too much choice and you’re not busy, it’s hard to keep it moving.

 

 

It’s not always about doing the latest and newest. It’s not sustainable; it’s exhausting. I’m not into it. I feel comfortable doing what we’re doing. Even if we repeat a lot of the stuff. People come back for good food.

 

I think there has been a pendulum swing back to the good food that’s not too complicated and just tastes really delicious.

 

That’s what we do here; fresh, good, tasty food.

 

 

Supermaxi

305 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North

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