Prince of pasta, Australian chef Mitchell Orr, loves Asian food

Among the 10 dishes chef Mitchell Orr (above) served at a guest cooking stint in Singapore recently were Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk and Baloney Sandwich.
Among the 10 dishes chef Mitchell Orr (above) served at a guest cooking stint in Singapore recently were Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk and Baloney Sandwich.PHOTO: ACME
Among the 10 dishes chef Mitchell Orr served at a guest cooking stint in Singapore recently were Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk (above) and Baloney Sandwich.
Among the 10 dishes chef Mitchell Orr served at a guest cooking stint in Singapore recently were Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk (above) and Baloney Sandwich.PHOTO: NIKKI TO
Among the 10 dishes chef Mitchell Orr served at a guest cooking stint in Singapore recently were Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk and Baloney Sandwich (above).
Among the 10 dishes chef Mitchell Orr served at a guest cooking stint in Singapore recently were Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk and Baloney Sandwich (above).PHOTO: NIKKI TO

Chef Mitchell Orr uses the Italian staple as a canvas to showcase flavours that are linked to his love for eating in Sydney's Chinatown

A cooking stint at a world-renowned fine-dining restaurant is usually a career springboard for most chefs.

But Australian chef Mitchell Orr chose to buck the trend.

After a three-month internship in 2010 at the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy - the restaurant is ranked first on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list - he realised that working in fine-dining restaurants was not his cup of tea.

The 32-year-old says: "Working there made me realise that I want to work in fun and casual places. I didn't want to be in such a tough and hierarchical environment where everyone is stressed. I love cooking, but I also love sitting on my couch or playing golf. I want balance in my life."

His free-spirited and innovative cooking style can be seen at his two-year-old pasta restaurant, Acme, in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney, which received the One Chef Hat accolade from The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide this year. The highest rating is three hats. Acme was also named Time Out Sydney's Restaurant of the Year last year.

The restaurant has four co-owners, including Orr.

At Acme, he uses pasta as a blank canvas to showcase eclectic multicultural flavours that are linked to his food memories or his love for Asian food in "loud and buzzy eateries in Sydney's Chinatown".

He enjoys "flipping up" classic flavours in pasta, such as scorching chillies to inject fermented sweetness to pasta with black garlic, which he says tastes like mee goreng.

Another of Acme's popular dishes, Macaroni, Pig's Head, Egg Yolk, is inspired by the Filipino dish, sisig (pig's head), which he first tried in New York City. He interprets the dish as a pasta with pork and eggs and jazzes it up with vinegar and soya sauce.

This was one of the 10 dishes he presented in a two-day guest cooking stint at Mediterranean restaurant Maggie Joan's Dining & Bar in Amoy Street, which ended last Saturday. Other dishes among the 10 included a Baloney sandwich, which has mortadella nestled in potato bread, bucatini with shiitake mushrooms and burnt scallions, and Jatz crackers slathered with sour cream, dill and cured trout.

Instead of offering pasta as a full-course dish like in Italian restaurants, he prefers to serve it in small communal-style Chinese bowls. He says: "This is the way I like to eat when I am in Chinatown. All the dishes have to arrive at the table together and everyone can dig in, have fun and interact with one another."

His love for Asian food is not surprising given that he grew up eating it.

He would frequent his Filipino neighbours' home for meals and was fascinated by their food culture. He fell in love with foods such as chicken adobo, green mangoes and steamed white rice.

In high school, he took up food technology classes as an "interesting and practical way" of not hitting the books. It also helped that these classes gave him free lunches and that he was "the only guy surrounded by girls", he says.

His parents, who were not into cooking, gave him free rein in the kitchen and sometimes, he would skip classes for pasta cook-outs at home with his friends while The Sopranos played on television.

After completing vocational school at 17, he worked in restaurants across Australia. It was at Italian restaurants such as Pilu at Freshwater that his love for cooking Italian food blossomed and he soon earned the nickname "Prince of Pasta" in the Sydney restaurant circle.

The bachelor's appetite for Asian food is insatiable and on his recent maiden trip to Singapore, he ate at 12 eateries in a span of about four days.

Places he visited included Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Food Centre, zichar restaurant JB Ah Meng in Geylang and the one-Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane. His Instagram account documents the foods he ate here, including char kway teow, satay and white pepper crab.

His favourite dish from this trip? Barbecued chicken wings from Ah Hwee BBQ in East Coast Lagoon Food Village.

"These are one of the top three chicken wings I have eaten in the world," he gushes. "The chicken wings were smoky, glistening and juicy, and eating them with chilli sauce and calamansi took it to a new level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Prince of pasta loves Asian food'. Print Edition | Subscribe