At 25, Buddha Lo has already accomplished a lot. Currently the Head Chef at Fitzroy North’s iconic restaurant Matteo’s, he placed his roots in the kitchen under the watch of his Dad at their family restaurant in Port Douglas. Now with a host of awards under his hat, this is one young gun worth keeping your eyes on.
This year, he also takes on a slightly different role, as one of the masterchefs and judges of the Fonterra ‘Proud to be a Chef’ competition. We sat down with Buddha before service to chat about his day job, Yum Cha, and why he loves living in Collingwood.
Tell us a bit about your cooking background?
I never got to see my parents when I was little, as they were always working. I wanted to see them more often so I started working at their restaurant when I was about eight, helping them run food and doing odd jobs. To me, it wasn’t really a job; I thought it was fun.
I remember once watching my Dad flipping an omelette in the kitchen, he asked me to come and make one with him. I suppose that’s where it all started. Even though he warned me against cooking as a career because of the long hours and hard work, I genuinely wanted to do it.
How has your upbringing influenced your cooking style?
I’ve been around Chinese food all my life, so it’s definitely a strong point in my cooking.
You’ve travelled and worked over the world. Give us some of your highlights.
Naples, and Southern Italy in general, is the most amazing region for produce. Everything is so simple and people just have this natural ability with food.
I’ve been lucky enough to work under some amazing chefs in Melbourne and overseas, climbing the ranks from apprentice to Head Chef at Raymond Capaldi’s restaurant Hare & Grace. I was fortunate to win the Gordon Ramsey Excellence Award in 2014, and to work under him at his flagship restaurant Gordon Ramsey when I lived in London. I also worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant Petrus while I was overseas.
This year you are involved in Fonterra’s Proud to be a Chef Competition. What does your role involve?
Essentially I’m a mentor for the participants and will be giving them a few hints about how to embark on their cooking career. I’ll be hosting a dinner and a series of cooking masterclasses. The program is all about recognising the dedication of young chefs and leaders in the industry. I was lucky enough to be the runner up when I entered when I was 19, so it’s nice to be able to give back.
You’ve accomplished a lot for such a young chef. What’s the key to staying focused?
I know that there’s a lot more I can accomplish, and I’m constantly trying to push the boundaries and ride the cycle of learning, from the bottom to the top and around again. I suppose I’m just taking my youth and running with it, and I love what I do.
Congratulations on retaining Matteo’s The Age Good Food Guide Two Chef Hats during your first year as Head Chef. What makes dining at Matteo’s so special?
Matteo’s is an old-school institution with a new flair. The dining room is quite contemporary, but the service is traditional and formal. The food is modern but unlike many new restaurants, it’s not designed to share. Every meal is complete and doesn’t need tampering with.
Locals Know Best Questions
Where’s the best place to go for a casual meal in Melbourne?
Lazerpig, or Westlake Yum Cha. I’d pretty much always say yum cha actually.
You’re a Collingwood local. What do you love about the area?
I’m only 5 minutes away from work. Collingwood is a booming neighbourhood; there’s always something going on and lots of places to eat. I’ve got great produce at my doorstep; Ocean Made Seafood is the best place for fish as they supply direct to restaurants, so it’s super fresh.
You want to show your out-of-town friends the best time in Melbourne, where do you take them for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
If I were really trying to impress, it’d be yum cha for breakfast. Vue de Monde for lunch and the view and Attica for dinner.
Where in Australia could you spend a month’s salary in one hit?
Where in Victoria would you escape to for the weekend (if you ever had one off)?
I’d like to go to Mildura and go to Stefano’s for lunch – apparently the food is amazing. I’d get some oranges while I’m there.
Rapid Fire Questions
What’s your solitary food?
Fried rice, or my Dad’s pork omelette.
What’s your signature dish?
At the moment everyone loves the fresh sashimi plate.
Coffee with milk or straight up black?
Sweet or Savoury?
What do you love most about food?
That you get to eat it!
What food trend are you a sucker for?
I know it’s not really a trend, but luxury fine dining. It’s so nice going to places that take such care with what they do.
Favourite overseas food destination?
What profession other than yours would you like to do?
I’d like to be a DJ
Which three people, alive or dead, would you invite to your dinner party?
My Dad, Paul Bocuse and Jiro Ono
Buddha is one of the masterchefs and judges in the Fonterra Proud to be a Chef competition. Applications for the next round of apprentice chefs close November 13.
Words by Allyse Wafer