While food has always been an important part of life for Rosa Mitchell, she didn’t start cooking professionally until her 40s when she worked with Brigitte Hafner at Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street Enoteca. Finding her niche, she went on to run the kitchen at Journal Canteen where she specialised in the food of her Sicilian heritage. This continued with her first eponymous venue, Rosa’s Kitchen, and currently at Rosa’s Canteen in Melbourne’s CBD, which celebrates its fifth birthday in 2020. Rosa leads regular cooking classes, takes food tours to Sicily and is the author of two cookbooks.
What does a ‘good day in the office’ look like to you?
A good day is when no one rings in sick! As long as everyone’s happy in the kitchen, I’m happy. I’d like to think we have a lovely environment in our restaurant. We all get on really well and everyone pitches in. There’s no demarcation, we all work together and clean at the end of the night. I’ve always said people have to be paid properly and have a few days off to rest. Most of my chefs only work three nights a week.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
I love feeding people. I prize myself on the seasonality of the vegetables I serve, and hopefully this makes people think about what they eat. Seasonality is really important to me and I try to buy as much home grown stuff as I can as well as harvesting from my own garden on our farm.
We often hear about the challenges of being a woman in hospitality. Can you identify any of those challenging areas? What have you done to overcome them?
I’ve never had any real problems but maybe it’s because I’m older. I started cooking quite late – at 48 – at Gertrude Street Enoteca, after a career as a hairdesser. So I had a different perspective from the start and probably received a little more respect because of my age. My colleagues looked at me as if I was the Italian nonna, which now I am!
The first thing I say to anyone who works for me is that we are all equal in the kitchen.
What are your tips for aspiring chefs, restaurant managers or women in hospitality?
Look after your staff. Keep them happy. Don’t overwork them. If you employ a chef to work 40 hours but expect them to work 70, you only have yourself to blame when they burn out. The other rule I have here is that staff must have two days off in a row, to unwind, relax and get fit. Then you get the best out of your staff.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self about forging a career in hospitality?
At 16 I was passionate about food, but I had no idea that I would have a career in hospitality. In fact, I started getting into cooking when I was eight or nine. My parents both worked and I’d have to get dinner ready for my mum while I looked after my younger brothers. As immigrants, we also had Australian neighbours who taught me recipes like shepherd’s pie. If you have a passion for food and a love for cooking it will show in your work. My current head chef, Clare Bartell, is only young but she definitely has the passion.
Why is it important to mark International Women’s Day?
It’s important to show respect for women, especially after everything that’s been happening globally. It’s important to make sure women are safe in the workplace and to look after each other. Whether it be in a kitchen or a hospital we all do the same hard work. We’re all equal.
Book your table at Rosa’s Canteen here.