Pizza Perfection at Bocca

Image source: Photographer Megan Gill

A restaurant kitchen is like a symphony orchestra. One where shouts of “yes chef”, mix with the clanging of pots and pans over open flames culminating with a single clap of the executive chef’s hands signalling that another dish is ready. John Caruso meets Bocca Italian maestro Harry Lilai.  

Restaurant kitchens have traditionally been hidden from diners with waiters making grand entrances through swinging doors with porthole windows. 

For Bocca Italian Executive Chef and co-owner Harry Lilai, it’s all about the performance, feedback and being open.

Bocca’s kitchen is about as open as you can get and provides diners with ringside seats for a finely-tuned food symphony.

“I love the interaction with people and seeing the response from our customers when our dishes go out from the kitchen,” he said. 

“It’s a real Italian thing for me, feeding someone and witnessing that pleasure is rewarding. It’s also about having confidence in what we do and allowing people to see that, that’s one of the reasons I designed the open kitchen.” 

From the outside looking in, there’s an element of chaos however look closer, and you’ll see the kitchen is running like a well-oiled machine.

With 30-plus years of experience in different kitchens, Harry says an open kitchen actually calms you down. 

“Closed kitchens back in the day were madhouses, just crazy,” he said. “When it’s all on display it helps convey that passion, skill and love of food, and people are amazed by it. 

“An open kitchen is like being on stage – it’s managed and directed and that’s exactly what it’s like; it’s an orchestra.”

The Lilai name is Albanian, from Harry’s dad however cultural and culinary influences are directly credited to his Calabrese mum.

“My parents’ marriage was arranged in Australia and we grew up with strong Italian influences,” he said. “Everybody was speaking Italian and eating Italian; we would make sauces, prosciutto, sausages and home-made wine in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

“We were surrounded by Yugoslavians, Croatians, Greeks, and Lebanese – it was a great melting pot and I loved it!” 

Harry said his passion, interest and education about food came from helping his mum as the youngest of seven kids.

“I always ended up in the kitchen grating cheese, stuffing cannelloni and rolling polpette,” he said. “I never thought of it as work. Dad was really strict so getting a job was an escape and my colleagues were the same age so we were growing up and learning and partying together. I love creating opportunities for people to have the same experience, to discover their passion and be part of a team.”  

A lot of the chart-topping hits from Harry’s finely-tuned orchestra at Bocca start in the key of ‘dough’!       

While chefs never reveal their secrets, Harry has created an at-home recipe for readers to try.

 “The pizzas at the restaurant are a little more complicated with a slower ferment, a mix of two different types of flour that have higher and lower proteins to give the dough more elasticity while still maintaining a nice chew; and the pizza base is ‘live’ meaning it’s an ongoing affair because things like humidity and temperature can all impact the outcome. 

“This is a basic recipe however it really is something that you should do by feel.” 

A stone-based Moretti electric oven  produces the pizza perfections at Bocca.

There are a lot of ingredients that deliver a stand-out dining experience including service, atmosphere and the quality of the food itself. If you happen to witness a performance by a team of passionate professionals led by a master ‘conductor’ then the experience is heightened to another level all together.

Do yourself a favour, next time you book at Bocca Italian, especially if it’s a small group, ask for the bench at the kitchen and grab yourself front row tickets to a five-star performance.



  • 1.7kg ‘OO’ Pizza Flour, W: 280-330 reading
  • 1 litre water
  • 50g fine sea salt
  • 3g fresh yeast


  1. Weigh out all ingredients.
  2. Using a dough mixer, mix together the water and salt.
  3. Start the dough mixer and then add 20% of the flour and mix.
  4. Mix for 5 minutes, then add the yeast.Gradually add the remainder of the flour and allow to combine.
  5. Once the dough has combined and seems smooth, stop the mixer; remove the dough and put aside to rest, covered with a cloth. Total mixing time, approximately 20 minutes. Final dough temperature, 23-25°C.
  6. Allow the dough the rest for 2 hours, covered well.
  7. Portion into desired dough size and round each piece into dough balls.
  8. Place the balls into a sealed container, allow them to rest and prove naturally at room temperature no warmer than 16-18°C for 8-12 hours.
  9. When ready for use, hand stretch the dough and top with your desired ingredients. Buon appetito!!


Discover Harry’s story on our Everyone Has A Story: Conversations from the Sunshine Coast and Noosa Podcast. Free on all podcast platforms, including Spotify.

About the Author /

[email protected]

After 30 years in radio, John now runs the Conversations IN Noosa podcast and in between being our writer, sanity checker, accounts manager, event MC, and delivery boy; he spends time with his first love, recording a daily Drive program for regional radio from home (often in his pyjamas); and presenting Saturday mornings on Hot 91.1. He has previously worked for FoxFM Melbourne, Triple M Brisbane and SeaFM, as well as managing and presenting on ABC Sunshine Coast.

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