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How Cabrini makes mouths water for hospital food

Date: 29/03/2017

Robert Castellani, head chef at Cabrini Malvern, has impressive provenance: his CV reads like the entries for Melbourne’s best restaurant guides and includes fine dining establishment, past and present, such as Fanny’s (where he cut his teeth as an apprentice), Stephanie’s (where he honed his skills), Florentino in Bourke Street and Donovan’s, where he was head chef from 1998 to 2013.

Food culture is part of Robert’s blood line – his family were rice farmers in northern Italy before they came to Australia in the 1960s. Little Roberto watched his family grow and cook their own vegetables and make its own wines and salamis. Life revolved around fresh food, lovingly prepared.

Aged 14, Robert worked in his uncle’s pizza shop where he eventually graduated from painting pizza tins with oil to preparing his first pizza. Initially, he did not see a career in food as his future, so he left the family business for university and studied languages. Unfulfilled by this, he found himself back in a restaurant, which drew him to a chef apprenticeship at Fanny’s. The rest of Robert’s career is written in the multiple restaurant awards and rave reviews of food prepared in kitchens he ruled.

In 2015, Robert was ready for change. He had begun to tire of the “bells and whistles of restaurant food” and wanted to return to cooking fresh food, simply prepared, food that nourishes, comforts and sustains. Naturally the challenges are different from those of a fine dining restaurant, but Robert is up for the task. “Here the food must be ‘safe’ and fit for purpose, which means that people who are ill, or compromised in some way, have special needs that we must fill precisely,” he says. “The food we prepare must also be restorative and delicious.”

Robert says the pressures of the hospital environment differ from that of the restaurant world.

“I must liaise with chefs, suppliers, dieticians and speech pathologists, manage risk and finance – and of course patients – all the while hearing those met calls [messages broadcast over the hospital PA].

“When I arrived at the hospital I was lucky to have two outstanding chefs already on staff: Sous Chef Robbie Binedell and Chef Tournant Nash Cheddee are highly trained professional chefs both with award-winning restaurant experience – we have fitted together seamlessly and share a vision of how food should be served.

“One of the reasons that Cabrini attracted me was that since day one, it has believed that fresh food makes people well. Our food is cooked on the day and within a short time the patient is enjoying it. Fresh has always been my mantra and it is Cabrini’s too.”

Robert and the team regularly review the menu, replacing things that have not proven popular or that are no longer in season. Seasonality is important. In keeping with Cabrini’s policy of procuring food within the local area, Robert buys fresh produce from greengrocers on Glenferrie Road in Malvern and meat from a St Kilda butcher, so whatever is in season travels almost directly from producer to plate.

“Cabrini Malvern management wants to produce the best food for our patients and that makes the work so much easier,” says Robert. “Our goal is to constantly improve our services, food choices and produce – our staff enjoy the challenge and see merit in the work.”

And with the change in season comes a change in menu – patients with an upcoming stay at Cabrini will be able to choose from our all-day dining menu with options including:

  • Focaccia of grilled mushrooms, goat’s cheese and rocket lettuce with pesto mayonnaise
  • Pumpkin and cauliflower salad with yoghurt dressing
  • Ocean trout with basil mousse, potato mash, steamed vegetables and herb cream sauce
  • Baked salmon and dill in puff pastry with rice and lemon dill cream sauce
  • Vietnamese chicken salad with Asian dressing
  • Roast lamb, potato mash, roast vegetables, mint sauce and gravy
  • Spinach and ricotta cannelloni with Napoli sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese

And for something sweet to finish, desserts include:

  • Chocolate mousse cake
  • Red wine poached pear
  • Rhubarb and apple crumble
  • Date and cinnamon brulee
  • Vanilla creamed rice with cinnamon spiced sugar