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The Catalan cook

Watch our exclusive video interview with Javier Codina.

Javier Codina is Spanish. And a little Italian. A little Italian in the sense that he’s chef and co-owner of Gianni in Brisbane, which is predominantly Italian, but he’s all Spanish. Catalonian to be exact.

And, there’s no one better to show us what Catalan cuisine is all about, in particular the home-style food he grew up with.

Codina landed in Australia hungry for a new culture and challenge after working as head chef for the Chewton Glen Hotel in Hampshire. His first stop was Hayman Island, where he met business partner Gianni Greghini. Together they’ve opened Gianni in Brisbane, Gianni Events at Portside in Hamilton and the latest, a tapas-style bar in Portside, Gusto da Gianni [read our first look review in the GT food blog]. Even though he plans to stay put at Gianni, the new tapas bar is an opportunity to get back to his roots and produce food closer to his heart and homeland of Barcelona. Once a week the restaurant focuses on Spanish rice dishes, such as the fisherman’s rice he’s cooked for us here, and paella. And, once a year, he’ll be hosting his own calçotada (a traditional feast based around wood-barbecued calçots, which are similar to spring onions), with traditional accoutrement in tow – imported Spanish tiles and a jamónero at the bar for slicing Spanish jamón.

You’ve never met someone more excited about an allium. “Of course produce here isn’t the same as in Spain,” says Codina. “It’s quite challenging to get the product and you’re not going to find it on your doorstep like in Europe. There are more inconsistencies here so it’s hard work and a lot of time goes into sourcing the right produce for the restaurant.”

“Catalans are a little different from other Spaniards in most things, not just food,” says Javier. “We like to keep things to ourselves, to keep our culture alive for future generations.” Friends and family are a must when it comes to Catalan food; Javier believes Spanish food and culture don’t exist without good people around you.

Most of Codina’s own influence stems from his parents: “When you grow up with something you take it for granted and when you step away, you notice it missing. Just the smell of burning wood brings back memories of my father putting calçots onto the barbecue."

“But I took the bull by the horns,” he states. “Now I’m just flying through the sky and hopefully, I’ll land on my feet.” That seems pretty Spanish.

Gianni, 12 Edward St, Brisbane, (07) 3221 7655, giannisrestaurant.com.

WORDS LISA FEATHERBY PHOTOGRAPHY BEN DEARNLEY

This article appeared in the October 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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