Born to italian parents in Melbourne, restaurateur Maurice Terzini moved to Italy when he was nine. He spent his childhood on the Adriatic coast. He fell in love with the region’s culture and heritage, and so began a life-long passion for Italian hospitality. Terzini was inspired by the Italians’ love of food, for sharing meals, for entertaining and for good conversation.
Terzini is the father of a three-year-old boy, Cesare. He started his entrepreneurial career at the age of 23, opening Caffe e Cucina on Chapel Street, Melbourne. The New York Times subsequently named the venue one of the top 10 cafes in the world. Since then, he has opened several acclaimed Australian dining venues, such as Icebergs Dining Room and Bar on Bondi Beach in Sydney. Icebergs has a special place in Terzini’s heart. The annual New Year’s Day Party at Icebergs has been a popular attraction for many years and continues to pull in a diverse crowd.
The restaurateur’s portfolio also includes Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, Melbourne Wine Room, North Bondi Italian Food and Café Veloce. The last was one of the first dining destinations in Australia to integrate retail and food. Other highlights of Terzini’s career to date are Da Orazio Pizza and Porchetta, and the just-opened Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills, New South Wales.
Last November, Terzini expanded into Asia with the much-applauded launch of Da Maria, a modern Italian eatery in Seminyak. Highlights of an exclusive interview:
What inspired you to become a restaurateur?
In Australia, the Italian culture was very watered down, so my determination was to create a real Italian experience and to do Italian food properly – to present Italy with passion. I ended up in Milan in 1984, where my sister was working as a designer. I fell into the punk and disco scene, where it was normal to spend time in all these incredible clubs and restaurants.
On my return to Australia, I also was lucky enough to work for the legendary Marios and Henry Mass in
Fitzroy. From there I went onto Caffe e Cucina – my first gig in August 1988. Then came Il Bacaro, the Melbourne Wine Room and The Snake Pit – one of the first disco bars in Melbourne. In 1999, I ended up in Sydney, starting Otto Ristorante Italiano, Nove Pizzeria and then Icebergs. Next came North Bondi Italian Food, while also collaborating with Tsubi and Sneaky Sound System.
What was your ambition when you started out?
To represent what contemporary Italy is all about. In Australia, I felt that Italy was misrepresented. They aren’t all farmers there. The Italy I grew up in was very socialistic and rebellious. They don’t sit at home and make sausages every weekend. I really felt there should be somewhere that represented what contemporary Italy is all about, which is how Caffe e Cucina was born.
The opening of Caffe e Cucina was definitely one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced in my career. My partner and I were still young. We had no real business experience. We had a thousand dollars each in our pockets and we built the café, along with a few builders, with our own hands. It was a special moment when it opened. Not much has changed since then. I’m constantly trying to highlight the links between food, drinks, art, music, fashion and design. It’s all encompassing, you know? Fashion, art, music, food. It’s life! One of my greatest inspirations in music is a Melbourne-based punk rocker, Rowland Howard from The Boys Next Door. Another one is a book written by one of the world’s great chefs, Marco Pierre White.
What qualities should a top restaurateur possess?
Vision, consistency and a very clear understanding of his or her product and of the team around him or her. There are a lot of talents out there in regards to moments, such as a campari at Bar Camparino. I knew then that I had to be involved in hospitality.
You are also known as a fashion designer. How did this come about?
I was intrigued by the way the youth dress. In 2014, with my partner in life Lucy Hinkfuss, we launched Ten Pieces to represent contemporary fashion. In 2015, we drained the pool of Icebergs and used it for a runway. It was considered an important moment in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week history.
Why did you decide to move into Bali last year?
I feel that Bali, being now an international F&B destination, this is a more exciting time to be opening. Bali now has a lot in common with my brands. I also like the idea that I am part of the urbanisation of Bali, bringing it into the current 2017.
Why did you choose Chef Steven Skelly to helm Da Maria?
Steve is a talented chef with a wealth of experience. He understands Bali and has worked there for a number of years. He also really understands what we are trying to achieve and I think has already fit the brief perfectly.
What percentage of the produce used in the Da Maria kitchen is local?
Where possible, we always try to source local ingredients. Sometimes you are unable to find certain ingredients in Bali, so you tend to look
for a substitute. This is a great way to utilise local farmers and growers. Steve has a really good relationship with local growers, which he has developed over a number of years. The Da Maria chefs go and visit the farms to meet the farmers and understand the processes behind the produce. The relationships grow from there. The quality of the produce in my mind has dramatically improved, as well as the operators that have made the move or a planning to start ventures in Bali. I think this is a really exciting time for Bali in terms of F&B culture.