Food News

Exit interview: Jaci and Monty Koludrovic on leaving Icebergs Dining Room & Bar (and no, they’re not opening their own restaurant)

The Sydney chef power-couple on departing the hospitality group they’ve loved for six years, pivotal moments with pipis, and their big move up north.
Monty and Jaci Koludrovic.

Monty and Jaci Koludrovic.

Yvonne C Lam

The Koludrovics are moving out. After almost six years leading the kitchens at Sydney’s Icebergs Dining Room & Bar and The Dolphin Hotel, husband-and-wife team Monty (executive chef) and Jaci (executive pastry chef) Koludrovic are packing up their Sydney lives and moving their family to the Byron Bay region.

Are they opening their own restaurant up north? It’s a firm no. It’s a time for new adventures they say, a time to hang out with Monty’s “kooky family” with a short detour to Jaci’s clan in Lord Howe Island. A cookbook though? That’s a maybe…

Ahead of their move north and the Monty’s Last Supper event at The Dolphin Hotel, the Koludrovics reflect on their time at the restaurant group, the dishes they’re most proud of, and unexpectedly inspirational quotes from Johnny Depp.

You’ve both been at Icebergs since 2014. How does it feel to be leaving a restaurant group that you’ve been involved with for such a long time?

Monty: I was at Bécasse for six years, and it’s coming up to six years here too. I don’t know why it ended like that.

Jaci: It’s the six-year itch.

M: We can’t quite make the seven.

J: Far too much.

M: The Bécasse Westfield venture didn’t work out [the restaurant closed in 2012] but we were about to have a family, so it was a decision we were going to make anyway.

But previously I’ve left jobs to get a better job. I didn’t do an apprenticeship, so working in one kitchen gave me the tools to progress to another – I’d stay in each place for about one-and-a-half to two years.

This is the first time where I’m leaving a job where I’m really happy: there’s freedom of expression, lots of prestige and an inherent reputation that gives incredible leverage to what you do. Plus you rock up to work overlooking Bondi.

All the people are so good. And hearing talk about replacing me and who that would be, it makes you think – fuck, maybe I do want to stay. But like I said to Maurice [Terzini, owner of Icebergs] when I first explained my decision, he wouldn’t have got to where he was only making easy decisions.

How has Icebergs changed?

M: I think when we started, Icebergs had lost its way on the food front. Did the food match how incredible the building was? Probably not.

The first few months were a punish. It was loaded with the pressures of the 12 years prior in the Robert Marchetti and Karen Martini days, and the special place it holds for so many people. But you’re not going to go in there and just cook someone else’s food. The brief early was “don’t change anything… change everything.”

We were reviewed by Gourmet Traveller a few months later. It was a good review, but not excellent. It reinforced that we weren’t quite on the right track.

Maurice Terzini (centre) with son Sylvester (left) and Monty Koludrovic in 2014.

(Photo: Rob Shaw)

What was the lightbulb moment when you realised you what direction you wanted to take Icebergs?

M: I got rid of all Asian ingredients from the kitchen. I felt like we needed clarity, and we were working with some confusing fusion-y things. But I remember wanting to make an XO sauce with prosciutto, capers and dried seafood. As I was making it, one of our chefs, who comes from Puglia, his face just lit up – his grandmother would make a similar sauce from dried and preserved seafood.

We would say, “We’re cooking food that Nonna would recognise, but never cook herself.” So the result was gnocchi with Italian XO and pipis – it was a pivotal moment that convinced Maurice that he’d made the right decision.

Gnocchi with spicy pipi sauce and wild herbs

Gnocchi with spicy pipi sauce and wild herbs.

(Photo: Chris Court)

That tiramisù for two has become a fixture on the Icebergs menu. How did that come about?

J: Our ideas often come together. I’ll refine the recipes, Monty will retouch the plating – he’s got a real eye for that. We’re a good team.

M: The tiramisù for two started with me thinking: let’s do a tiramisù, but let’s make it a treasure hunt, and have the joy of surprise: that’s jelly, that’s frozen, that’s syrupy and crunchy.

J: Someone ate two of them in one sitting. That blew me away. They had four tiramisùs, essentially.

The tiramisù for two.

What will you miss the most about Icebergs?

J: Maurice makes it feel like an Icebergs family, and there are lots of mums and dads who work here. As people who are raising a family, you feel like the work works around you. I’ll miss that.

M: The kids will remember Uncle Maurice and his funny old car. They grew up at Icebergs.

J: They used to come in when they were little. You’d see these two little blonde kids with Batman face-paint pop their heads over the bench asking for “Ice, ice, ice”. Ice was their word for sorbet.

What won’t you miss?

J: Trying to find parking in Bondi.

You announced your departure from the Icebergs group in October. Had you been thinking about this decision for some time?

M: Part of Jaci always wanted to resign. [laughs]

J: Well, Monty was always telling me I need to step back more – I still do service, I’m still rostered on for shifts, and if I don’t turn up there’s no one there to run the section. So Monty’s always be at me to step back and be more of a manager.

M: Also because I know you like doing the other stuff, like contributing recipes and all that. One day we’re going to have to do a cookbook.

A cookbook?

J: I don’t know if anyone would buy it. Would people be interested in it?

M: But that’s not why you do books, is it? My mum’s being trying to write a novel for my whole existence, and for her, it’s about it being good, and being proud of it and the process.

I’m not saying we’re in talks or anything, but one day we’re going to have to do it. The problem is that it’ll be a cheesy power-couple, dairy-free, gluten-free sort-of thing.

J: Our kids have intolerances, and when they were younger, it was super noticeable.

M: The little one had these chemical meltdowns that you could set a watch to, and he would trash the room for 14 minutes and at the end be really remorseful and clean up.

How will you celebrate you last day with Icebergs?

M: We’re leaving just when the hospitality business is approaching the busy summer period – people can’t take too much time to wave us off.

J: Someone was talking about going to yum cha on a Monday at 11pm, and I was like, “I’m doing a double shift the next day.”

M: One of the plus sides of leaving the way we are is that we’re on good terms with everyone. So hopefully when we go and fuck up our adventure, there’s something for us to do here. There’s no negative side to our story.

I watched a Johnny Depp movie the other day, and his character talks about how it’s not enough to exist, you’ve got to live. And as you go through the anxiety and elation around your impending adventure, hearing something like that makes you go: alright, that’s right.

Monty’s Last Supper is at The Dolphin Hotel, Wine Room, Sun 1 Dec 5pm-10pm.

The event features snacks by Clayton Wells, Dan Hong, The Venezuelans, O Tama Carey and Mat Lindsay, and drinks by The OG Melt Crew and Harkham Wines.

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