Simply Complex

Image source: Photographer Megan Gill Portrait

Although one of the newest kids on the block, Maroochydore’s Market Bistro is full of seasoned specialists in all areas of operations. Deb Caruso grills Head Chef Harry Lilai.

How/Why did you become a chef?

To me cooking was easy, I kind of fell into it. I was 16 and finished year 11 but school wasn’t for me. I enrolled in a Tafe cookery course thinking I’d get Dad off my back and have a free feed! The funny thing was that it was very easy, I really shone in the kitchen. We were a big Italian family so I think it’s just part of my culture – although for me it was all about the eating side of it. Being in the kitchen was fun, crazy chefs, yelling, drinking, partying, I just loved it. I loved the whole buzz and it turned out I was good at it, cooking that is.

What do you love about being a chef?

The freedom of being yourself and not being tied down to a corporate life. It’s real and it keeps everybody real – the hours, the tension, the fights, the laughs. Working with young people is a highlight, it keeps the energy going.
The thing about being a chef is that you’re always learning, sometimes I
feel like I’ve just started in the industry.
You continuously tweak the same dishes all the time, it never ends. Moving to the Sunshine Coast, I’m experimenting with ingredients, such as seafood, that I’ve never worked with before. That is magic, it keeps the spark going.

What are your career highlights?

I teamed up with Ian Curley (French Saloon) and we were running a great couple of restaurants in Melbourne and they were all getting great reviews. I was getting my name out there as part of the Melbourne crew, so my career was kicking right off. Things really took off when I took on Cecconi’s, a high-end restaurant at Crown Casino in Melbourne. It took us three years to get our heads around it and get the numbers right but we scored one and two hats and it just took off like a rocket. We used to have the politicians down one side of the restaurant, the public in the middle; and gangsters on the other side! I was a partner in that for a decade and set up more restaurants in Melbourne and Hong Kong. It gave me insight into what it takes to run successful restaurants.

What is your approach to food?

My approach to food is simplicity with complex backings. There is a lot of thought that goes into food to make it look simple, but there is also a lot of depth. That comes from experience and while it may look and taste simple, it can be quite complex. From having the perfect stock to making sure the skin is prepared properly. It involves all the senses – sight, touch, feel and so on. I’m going back to basics and French training to take a fresh look at old recipes.

What do you love about local produce?

I’ve been hitting a lot of markets, talking to local growers, which is really exciting. It ignites the spark for cookery again. Talking to other chefs such as Tony Kelly (co-owner of Market Bistro) has introduced me to many local producers such as Fraser Isle Spanner Crab. I’m loving the local seafood, it’s so different to Melbourne.

Do you cook at home?

Here and there but my wife Michelle does all the cooking. We keep it very simple at home. If we have people over then yes, we’ll make roast or schnitzel or I’ll spend all day making pasta; but it’s Michelle’s kitchen.

Who is your inspiration?

I really admire Australian chefs and I find inspiration with my own chefs in the kitchen, bouncing ideas off each other, bantering; that’s what I love.

Any advice for young chefs?

Stay focused, push on, don’t get caught up with chasing media; focus on your cooking and don’t push up on the ranks too fast. Take your time, it’s easy to get caught up but practice, take things home and get to know your ingredients and what to do with them.

Who would you love to cook for?

I love music and playing guitar is my hobby so it would be The Rolling Stones.

What is your favourite dish to cook?

I always go back to pasta. Pasta is what drives me. Anything from straight pasta to filled pasta, I love it all. I love working with fresh produce, especially fish – but pasta is where my heart lays.

What’s the key to cooking good pasta?

Patience and feel, knowing when to stop, knowing when it’s sticking, when to use more flour. Simple, but complex.

What is your favourite kitchen tool?

Absolutely my pasta maker. I’ve had it for 20 years. It’s been serviced a few times but yeah that’s the machine.

What is your favourite ingredient?

Flour. But also olive oil, butt05er and salt – can’t live without them, they are the start of a good dish.

For extra tasty bits including Harry’s vision for Market Bistro and what he is like in the kitchen, visit our website


About the Author /

[email protected]

Deb has 25+ years' experience providing strategic communications and brand reputation advice to clients in the government, business and not-for-profit clients. She is passionate about Noosa and is an active member of her community, providing PR to Slow Food Noosa and other clients. Her passion lies in working with small businesses to help them succeed. She is planning to release the Tastes of Noosa cookbook with Matt Golinski in 2019.

Post a Comment

Want more? Subscribe!

Get the latest news delivered fresh to your inbox!

Want to list your business?

Contact us to find out how! Contact us

SAVE THE DATE! 9 December, 9am-3pm @stevensstreetgallery for their Christmas Market!

Discover 20+ makers showcasing unique art, ceramics, jewellery, and more from the region`s finest artisans.

Shop local and creative this Christmas for the perfect gifts. Don`t miss free workshops and entertaining programs.

Every purchase supports local artists and boosts the creative community. A festive day trip awaits, filled with creative spirit!

Join @headspacemaroochydore for a powerful workshop - Work on Your Worries

Is anxiety holding you back? Let`s break free! If negative thoughts are on repeat or decision-making feels like a challenge, this workshop is your game-changer. Hosted by the amazing headspace GP, Dr. Amanda.

When: Monday, December 11th, 2-4pm
Where: YouConnect Hub (Warehouse) @ headspace Maroochydore

Ready to reframe those thoughts and conquer anxiety? Register now via the link in the bio or call 5409 4900 and kick those worries to the curb!

Get ready to time-travel through art history @caloundraregionalgallery ! From 8 December, 2023, to 21 January, 2024, join the ultimate print party curated by Kyoji Takizawa from the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts!

Dive into the wild world of ten artists who flipped the script on contemporary art using prints in the 1970s!

Thanks to the magic of the Japan Foundation, Sydney, and the Consulate-General of Japan, Brisbane, this show is an art extravaganza you won`t want to miss!

Time to rediscover prints and redefine your art journey! (link in bio)

Get ready for a festive double feature at @eumundimarkets !

Friday 8 December - Christmas Night Market from 4-8pm! Immerse yourself in the holiday magic with dazzling lights, festive treats, and a FREE climbing wall for the kiddos!

Then, on Saturday 9 December at 9am, join for a Saturday Market day like no other! Join the Christmas Card Workshop – a merry morning of creativity, crafts, and spreading holiday cheer!

Mark your calendars for a weekend of joy and jolly vibes!

Get ready to jingle all the way at the 59th Annual Peregian Beach Carols – the Coast`s OG carolling extravaganza on Wednesday 20 December.

This year, the dynamic trio of @peregianfamilyandfriends , @thevillageperegianbeach and @peregiansurfclub are teaming up to make your holiday season merry and bright in Peregian Park!

What`s on the festive menu?
- Live beats and carol classics by local bands, solo stars, and dynamic duos
- Foodie delights and artisan stalls to snag those last-minute Christmas goodies
- Kid-friendly fun, including face painting for the little elves
- A special sky-diving Santa soaring onto the beach (around 6pm, weather ready!)
- And hold onto your reindeer hats for a surprise grand finale at 8pm!

To unwrap all this awesomeness, just throw in a jolly $15 per family – covering EVERYTHING, from tunes to the main man himself, Santa!

Let`s make it a Peregian party to remember – see you there! (link in bio for tickets)

Sleigh bells are ringing! Have you booked your spot yet?

Join us @coolumbeer on Thursday, 7 December, as the @coolum_business_and_tourism community jingle and mingle to celebrate the merriest time of the year!

Let`s wrap up the year with a dash of holiday cheer and join your Coolum Business and Tourism community for an unforgettable evening, marking the official start of the silly season!

Secure your ticket now for a holly, jolly time by clicking the link in our bio!

Date: Thursday, 7 December, 2023
Time: 5:30pm - 8:00pm
Location: Coolum Beer Co. | Unit 1, 2 Junction Drive, Coolum Beach QLD 4573

Tickets: Members $35.00 | Non-Members $45.00