Laura Sharrad on life after MasterChef, the art of letting go, and why coffee is a drink for any family occasion.
The process of selecting the right coffee to serve at any new café or restaurant is a considered decision. It has to have the “X factor”, exude quality, and most of all, appeal to the customer base, and it’s exactly the decision chef Laura Sharrad and her husband Max are in the process of making for their Adelaide- based restaurants.
“We use D’Angelo Coffee here in Adelaide. Being in the warehouse and watching the roasting process unfold has been an amazing experience. Thanks to Tony [D’Angelo] we’ve gotten to learn about the in-depth processes required to create the best blend, which is so exciting,” Laura says. “I just need to ensure that bags of this coffee end up back at our house.”
Growing up in a traditional Italian family, Laura says coffee was synonymous with every family get-together.
“Coffee is a part of entertaining and celebration. When we had family and friends over, there was always a big pot of coffee on the stove top. The smell of freshly brewed cafetière coffee and the whistling noise it makes when ready is one of my fondest memories. It’s still my favourite way to drink coffee,” Laura says. “We actually got one as a wedding present a few years ago and I absolutely love it.”
Laura starts her day with a double shot latte after the gym and has another two piccolo macchiatos throughout the day.
“I love my coffee, it’s my happy place, but I also need my coffee – strong, with a nice aroma and nothing overly bitter. Being in the hospitality industry, it definitely helps you get through double shifts. At the moment, I’m working more front of house than in the kitchen, so I avoid making a coffee in the restaurant because I know if I make one for myself, I’ll have to make 15 for all the chefs watching me,” laughs Laura.
“My latte art is improving. Tony [of D’Angelo’s] has been teaching me. I can do a love heart – sometimes it’s more of a fern – but I am getting better. I do know that I won’t be applying for the World Latte Art Championships any time soon.”
One competition Laura did apply for and flourish in, was MasterChef Australia, where she placed runner-up in series six in 2014. Before applying for the reality show, she says good food, like good coffee, was simply the “heart and soul” of her family’s gatherings.
“My love for cooking evolved because of my family. My nonnas [Maria and Rosa] were exceptional cooks, as is my mum [Anita]. I grew up in a family that celebrated eating, wine and coffee at every occasion,” Laura says. “Whether I was sitting on the benchtop with a wooden spoon watching my nonna cook or learning how to make fresh pasta, growing up in that environment of passionate foodies was pretty special.”
Laura was in her first year of university, studying teaching, before she applied for MasterChef. She had to decide whether to travel to Melbourne to audition or sit her exams in Adelaide. Each day, Laura is thankful for making the decision to board a plane to Melbourne.
“It’s an opportunity I knew I’d never get again. It was a way to develop my mastery. I didn’t go on the show with the intention tomakeacareeroutofit.Iwas18,Iwason television, and it was exciting,” she says.
“At the same time, I was able to really discover myself along the way – who I was and what I wanted to do. I had never lived out of home, so it was a big learning experience and a great platform to discover my talent and become my own person. It wasn’t until the last week of filming that one of the producers asked what I was going to do after the show ended.”
Laura was given an introduction to then-guest chef and now MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo, who she went to work for as a pastry chef at his award-winning restaurant Orana in Adelaide.
“I fell in love with hospitality,” she says. “It can be a very tough industry and I was brought up in a bit of a bubble, from a traditional Italian family, so to go into the crazy hospitality scene was very eye-opening, but it’s definitely made me stronger, especially for a woman in hospitality.”
Orana was also the place Laura met her now-husband Max. Together, they opened their first restaurant four years ago called Nido Bar and Pasta, followed by their second venue called Fugazzi.
“It is madness. I knew it was going to be crazy. I think you talk yourself into the idea that the second venue will be easier, but the biggest thing I’ve struggled with is letting go of one venue to help out the other,” Laura says.
“There are so many aspects to running a business and I can’t do it all. I’m so lucky to have such a talented team at both restaurants, which has taken the pressure off and allowed us to now go on holidays and have the weekends off,” Laura says. “I embrace the motto that ‘no-one’s ever going to do the job that you’re going to do, so you just have to trust that you have taught the next person to do the job how you want it done’.”
Laura put her own motto into practice when she returned to the MasterChef kitchen in 2020 for ‘Back to Win’ season 12. She says it was a great opportunity to show the skills she’d developed, and once again, narrowly placed runner-up.
“I’m super proud of doing the two seasons of MasterChef. The whole idea that ‘winning isn’t everything’ is definitely true. You know the time on screen eventually ends and that the real world is waiting,” Laura says.
In that ‘real world’, is Laura’s other proud accomplishment, opening two restaurants together with her husband by her side at a young age. And if having two restaurants wasn’t enough, Laura and Max have turned the basement of Fugazzi into a function space that is due to open in April.
“It’s technically not a restaurant, more like half the space, but we’re very excited about its potential to host meetings and events for our local community,” Laura says.
This year, Laura is embarking on her own journey away from the kitchen and into the TV spotlight as the solo host of My Market Kitchen.
“It’s a big responsibility and very exciting. It’s been such a fun project to be part of for the past three years and now I get to host it alone. There’s lots of travel involved, and it’s a step closer to my end goal of having a food and travel show,” she says.
When she’s not travelling, Laura is busy balancing her social media commitments – cooking, editing, and posting recipes for her more than 131,000 Instagram followers.
“I’ve got to be really disciplined with myself. It’s going to be an exciting year ahead, and hopefully it ends with lots of travel as well,” she says.
“Italy has been on the cards pre-COVID, so fingers crossed for a November trip or a little cheeky mid-year Southeast Asia adventure. In failing that, I do love a good weekend getaway – we missed doing that during COVID. We’ve spent all this time dreaming of incredible places to go, now we have to make it happen.”
The hardest part, Laura says, is leaving her staff to uphold her discerning pasta- making standards at her Italian-inspired restaurants.
“It was terrifying to leave at first, but we trust our team. Our customers are always in good hands and will enjoy delicious pasta even if I’m not the one cooking it,” Laura says.
“There’s a very authentic tiramisu on the menu also, that’s everything you could want in the dessert: espresso mixed with marsala, mascarpone, a secret trick to our eggs to make it light and fluffy, and cocoa powder on top. It’s delicious. Next time you’re in Adelaide, put it on your must-visit list, and come say ‘hi’.”
This article appears in the April 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.