Adrian Richardson’s rich traditions

There have been many significant people in Adrian Richardson’s life that have offered him advice, passed on skills, and shared recipes. But when it comes to coffee appreciation, Adrian has his grandfathers to thank. 

 “I lived with my grandparents when I was young and there was always a coffee aroma in the house. I remember my grandfather grinding the coffee with an electric grinder and putting it into a little cafeteria – that was nonno’s coffee,” Adrian says. “I would sit on his knee, put two sugars in his coffee and stir it around.”

His nonno, Armenio Ferrai, was full of stories, including that when he was based in Ethiopia during World War II, he came across a woman with two children. 

“My nonno had no food, just coffee. He wanted to give the kids something, so he got out his handkerchief, put some coffee in there and ran water through, like a makeshift filter,” Adrian recalls. 

Back in Australia, Adrian’s nonno carried on his love for coffee with a unique creation called the mixed eggy: two egg yolks with sugar and cream in a coffee cup, mixed with a little coffee poured in. That was Adrian’s breakfast before school.

His other grandfather, a well-known chef, had his own method of making coffee. He would roast green beans on a pan, grind them with a hand grinder and make a Turkish-style coffee. 

With so many coffee-making influences, Adrian now has his own method, which he has passed onto his nine-year-old son, Roman Richardson.

“He’ll warm up the coffee cup and make me an espresso with two Nespresso pods and add half a spoon of honey. I know that about four spoons of honey go into his mouth before I get mine, but that’s our routine together,” Adrian says.

When he’s not at home, Adrian enjoys an espresso with a little bit of hot milk at a local Fitzroy café or at his restaurant La Luna Bistro, a 20-year Melbourne institution. 

“I’ll like coffee until about 1pm or 2pm, then no more. That way it remains something special and not something you consume all day,” he says. “A good coffee has to have a beautiful smell as soon as it hits the table. Once you drink it, I enjoy a little bit of bitterness, the sharpness, and a bit of strength – I like the buzz.”

As a teenager, Adrian felt that same adrenaline while soaring hundreds of metres above the ground. Like his father, who flew planes in the airforce before a career as a prominent chef in the ‘60s, Adrian also developed a passion for the skies. To help pay for his flying lessons and gain a student pilot licence, Adrian got a job in a kitchen. However, to the “shock horror” of everyone, he stayed in the kitchen. 

“I started my cookery apprenticeship at age 18. I realised it’s what I wanted to do,” he says. “Last year I took a joy flight with my boys and flew a plane from Lilydale Airport. I just knew I wouldn’t be committed to the profession. I’m happy to let the professionals do it and sit in the back with a glass of wine.”

As an apprentice chef, Adrian became  accustomed to coffee drinking early in his career, going through a couple of kilos a week. Even now, he embraces coffee as a way to unite his team.

“A coffee break gives them a minute to stop, have a chat and be settled before service. It’s a lot healthier than going for a cigarette,” Adrian says. 

La Luna Bistro’s chefs use the restaurant’s Wega coffee machine to extract a litre of espresso shots a few times a week to make the menu’s tiramisu. When they do, Adrian says the restaurant is filled with the “most beautiful flavour”.

“Unlike other recipes, we use strong coffee and it makes such a difference to the end product,” he says.

La Luna Bistro uses its own blend thanks to Coffea Coffee, a small Melbourne roaster who has supplied Adrian with coffee for the past eight years. 

“I tend to establish long relationships with my suppliers. Coffea has given me training on grinding and milk texturing, but everyone has their own style of making coffee. My theory is you don’t tell people how they should bring up their children, and you don’t tell people how they should make their coffee,” he says.

The only requirement Adrian has is a blend that’s ‘smooth’ as espresso, and ‘packs a punch’ in milk-based coffees.

“My grandfather would often say to me: ‘coffee is one of the most important things in a restaurant. It’s the last thing customers have before they walk out the door. They can enjoy great food, wine, and service, but you have to deliver a good coffee. It’s a small amount of the bill – just a few dollars – but it makes all the difference, especially when people are particular about their coffee.”

That includes Adrian. He has been lucky to travel the world for his work, and has developed a refined palate along the way. He recalls a rugged little coffee shop in Guatemala, American filter coffee that made Starbucks’ espresso look good, and the stand-up espresso culture in Italy. But at the end of the day, he says there’s no place like home for a quality cup of coffee.

“Melbourne is the coffee destination of the world,” Adrian says. “It’s just something we do well. In the United Kingdom you go for a beer at a pub, and Australians go to cafés for good coffee.”

Adrian has been around good coffee and great food his entire life. Childhood food memories are a cluster of cultures. His mother was born in Ethiopia, his grandmother was born in Egypt, and his grandfather was from northern Italy.

“My grandmother was one of the best cooks in the world,” he says. “I grew up in her kitchen. She’d always go to a little extra trouble to cook me something delicious: cotoletta, stuffed artichoke or Lebanese flat breads. I’d always go to bed with a full belly and a smile.”

It’s no wonder Adrian’s family passion for food has resulted in a career extending more than 20 years. In that time he has opened two restaurants – La Luna Bistro and Bouvier – written cookbooks including the acclaimed Meat and The Good Life, travelled the world, and featured on TV shows including Ready Steady Cook and Iron Chef America, and currently co-hosts Good Chef Bad Chef on Channel Ten. Adrian will release a new show called Richo’s Bar Snacks later in 2018 on SBS. 

He says cooking shows have become TV entertainment. They have given home cooks an insight into flavours and cultures that are more accessible than ever before. 

“Australians have gone from meat and potatoes to all of a sudden being bombarded with choices. Australians have really taken to cooking and kids are getting involved,” he says. “I’ve always said that boys should learn to cook at least five dishes so when a pretty girl comes along you know how to cook something for her and put a smile on her face.”

Adrian is also responsible for putting smiles on the faces of thousands of home cooks. At the base of every project he touches however, is a love for a trade that’s given him a ‘dream career’.

“I’ve been very lucky to do many things out of a simple trade of cookery,” he says. “The highlight would be having a restaurant that’s stayed open nearly 21 years and still loving what I’m doing. I would have thought I’d be bored with it by now, but I still really enjoy it.”

In more ways than one, Adrian’s career is the gift that keeps on giving. 

“One thing about being a tradesman is that you have to pass on your skills. I often get stopped in the street or people will email me and say: ‘Adrian, I know how to cook a steak now because of you.’ Or, ‘I cooked your recipe and it was great.’ It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that people are cooking the dishes I make, and passing it on,” he says. 

“Cooking is not going to save the world or save lives, but if it brings people a bit of enjoyment and pleasure into something that can be quite mundane, then that’s a beautiful gift.”