A champion of Middle Eastern cuisine, Shane Delia dishes up some of Melbourne’s most flavoursome fare at Maha.
A celebrated chef, business owner and food tech pioneer, Shane has made quite a splash on the culinary scene in Australia. He founded the upscale food delivery service, Provider, and has made countless TV appearances over the years. His Middle Eastern restaurants throughout Melbourne – Maha, Maha East and Maha Bar – give diners a taste of the flavours he grew up with in Malta. We had a chat with Shane and picked his brain for some tips and tricks for budding young chefs.
Q. If you had to describe the cuisine at Maha Bar in three words, what would they be?
A. Tasty, fun, flavoursome.
Q. What is so special about meze-style dining?
A. It gives diners a chance to taste an array of dishes, textures and flavours, all within the same meal. Meze is the ultimate medium for conversation. It brings people together and lets them connect through food. You can go as easy or as hard as you like. Light and snacky meze with cocktails and friends, or go big and venture though a robust dining experience that takes you on a journey of spices and flavours.
Q. Tell us why Middle Eastern cuisine is so close to your heart.
A. We Maltese have a strong relationship with our Phoenician ancestors, who today are known as Lebanese. Maltese culture is studded with so many influences, both cultural and culinary, but for me the purest base of our being is Phoenician. You can see it in our architecture, hear it in our language and feel it in the generosity of the spirit of our people. There is something spiritual about the connection I feel when travelling through the Middle East that takes me back to the memories I have of my family in Malta. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’ve never felt more at home than when I’m walking through ancient cities in Malta, North Africa, Turkey or the Middle East. There is a deep connection with the places and people I meet that draws me in. Food for me has always been the way I express myself, and the flavours and passion of Middle Eastern food is the language I feel most comfortable speaking. It also helps to be married to an amazing Lebanese woman (Maha), whose family have opened their heart to me. Immersing myself in their culture helped me reconnect with my own heritage and discover the deep-seeded ancestral connection we share.
Q. What is an iconic Middle Eastern dish all foodies should try?
A. For me it’s a “smile” dish called riz a la djaj. Poached chicken and rice cooked to perfection, studded with toasted nuts, noodles and caramelised lamb. It makes me smile every time I eat it.
Q. Why is it so important to support and mentor young and emerging chefs?
A. The future of our industry is hinged on producing the next wave of talented hospitality professionals. We need to focus on delivering a well thought out training plan for our young people — not an exhilarated plan to get them to be head chefs or rock stars. We need focus that teaches them the fundamentals of being a chef, waiter or sommelier. This takes time, patience and support. It’s not as easy as extending the length of an apprenticeship or altering the curriculum taught. There are some significant cultural changes that need to be made that refocus our energy into training and the expectation of trainees.
Q. What is your favourite dish to cook for friends and family?
A. I’m a fan of cooking long and slow dishes. A big pot of braised oxtail ragu finished with some spices is always a favourite in my home. But my wife Maha is a big fan of barbecued meat and vegetables. Light, tasty and fun.
Q. Who does the cooking at your house?
A. I don’t know, I’m not really home to experience it! Hospitality isn’t a nine-to-five job, we work. I mean we really work! We are the people who get in early to prepare what is needed to bring to life the experiences our valued customers are expecting. We love it, we live for it – but we are also slaves to it. So dinners at home with the kids are more of a luxury than a staple.
Q. It’s a special occasion and you’re going out for dinner. Which restaurant are you choosing and what are you ordering?
A. Ahhh, that’s a loaded question! Of course I want to choose one of my Maha venues. I have so many mates in the industry that it’s not just about where I would like to eat, it’s about who I think needs the most support at that time. We are blessed to have so many brilliant restaurants in Melbourne, no matter where you eat it is safe to say you will have a good time.
Q. For all of us novice cooks at home, what is one absolute no-no in the kitchen?
A. You need to clean as you go. Don’t start cooking and leave huge amounts of dishes and mess to clean up at the end. It makes the whole process less enjoyable. Plan what you are cooking and then do all your prep first. Chop those onions, weigh out all your ingredients, get that pot of water on and heat that oven. Get ready! Wash up, serving plates out and table set. Then get cooking. You will enjoy the process more, cook better food, and have less to clean up when you’re done.
Check out Shane’s restaurants next time you’re in Melbourne, or if you live in the area, treat yourself to a fancy meal at home with a Providoor delivery.
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