Aldo Ortado’s big personality, honesty and sense of humour quickly won over fans of MasterChef Australia 2018.
His passion for seafood and authentic southern Italian cuisine, though, made him a serious contender for the crown. He remained true to his cooking roots and finished in the top 12.
Ortado and fellow 2018 MasterChef contestant Hoda Kobeissi will be conducting cooking demonstrations at Sunday’s inaugural Lake Macquarie Food & Wine Festival at Speers Point Park. The pair hit it off while filming the popular television series and remain firm friends today.
The family-friendly festival runs from 11am to 6pm and coincides with the Lake Mac Big Weekend and round two of the 2018 Offshore Superboat Championships. There will be rides, a sideshow alley, more than 80 food and market stalls, music, wine and craft beer tastings, a licensed drinking area and cooking demonstrations.
Ortado grew up in the Italian province of Bacoli, Naples, and learnt to cook at the age of five. He would watch his Nonna, Lucia, work her magic, following her around the kitchen as she prepared meals for the family. Each day his Nonna would ask him what he wanted for lunch and dinner and Ortado routinely requested pasta with cannellini beans and fresh mussels. He did not grow up with fancy food – it was all about fresh ingredients and comfort dining.
“Food means family and love to me,” he told Food & Wine. “My Nonna’s food would bring all the family around the table every Sunday. There would be at least 20 people, with lunch starting at 2pm and finishing at 7pm, eating non-stop. The talk and laughter around the table was amazing and some of the best memories of my life.”
Ortado loves to cook seafood – any kind – preferably on the barbecue and eat it with just a squeeze of lemon juice and olive oil. It is a southern Italian sense of simplicity he is keen to share.
“Southern Italian food is classic Italian food. It is like the national food of the Italian people,” he explained.
“Southern Italian food is the authentic Italian food for me, rustic and simple. Our life is a reflection of the way we eat. I didn’t want my life to change because of MasterChef, and it hasn’t. But it has opened the door to a wide variety of cuisines which I never knew how to cook before the show. My knowledge about food has grown because of the show and I am so grateful.”
Ortado is also humble. Since the show ended in late July he has been busy with pop-up dinners and cooking demonstrations and says there are “some exciting projects coming up in the future”. He hopes to one day open his own cafe and restaurant which is relaxed by day and which transforms into a fine dining experience at night. He says he wants “the feel” to reflect that of his childhood – when you step inside, you feel like you have arrived home.
Ortado and Kobeissi will present an entree masterclass on October 14 from 11.30am to 12.30pm at Speers Point Park, followed by a mains masterclass with Ortado from 1.30pm to 2.30pm, and a dessert masterclass with Kobeissi from 3pm to 4pm.