From the owner and chef of the twice-hatted Bistro Officina restaurant in Bowral comes a new cookbook using only fire as fuel: Farm to Flame: Cooking without rules in the Bistro Officina kitchen.
Featuring 70 recipes across the 230-page hardcover publication, Farm to Flame is a homage to Coccia’s Italian heritage – growing up in Naples amongst a family of farmers, cheese makers, fisherman and cooks – and of recreating these roots in the Southern Highlands town of Bowral he now calls home.
“The idea for the book is simple,” says Coccia. “It’s about my journey, my family, my farmers and my food. It’s also somewhere to tell stories, share recipes and help people understand what I’m trying to do in my restaurant.”
Inside the ivy-covered walls of Bistro Officina, Coccia’s bold, fire-fuelled cooking has attracted acclaim on Australia’s culinary landscape, described as “very in the here-and-now, even when it’s nostalgic, serving ‘left-overs’ as if they were luxuries” by Good Food and “finding elegance in perfect produce, touched only by wood smoke, fire and charcoal embers” by Delicious Australia.
Charred, smoked and wood-roasted – Farm to Flame’s recipes alternate between signature restaurant dishes like smoked eel macarons, grilled gnocchi and beef rib lollipops, to meals shared with family and friends like leftover Sunday lunch pasta bake or beach-fired South Coast lobster.
As chronicled in the cookbook, Coccia’s unique culinary style comes from reconnecting with his roots after 16 years spent working his way through some of Europe and Australia’s finest kitchens, including Quay, Otto, Ormeggio and Biota Dining.
In 2016, Coccia left his position as head chef at Biota Dining and, with his wife Alexandra, began the journey of building Bistro Officina – converting the bottom-floor of an old Highlands hotel and drawing on the abundant Southern Highlands region to fill the kitchen.
“At home, nature and the traditions of food were always respected,” explains Coccia. “Food didn’t come to us on a truck or in a packet. The seasons changed, and we ate what we grew, always cooked over fire.”
“In Bowral, I could feel something change, a familiar calmness I missed. I was in nature, surrounded by forests, hills, farms, and animals. Déjà vu. It was like home,” he said.
“I realised I was no longer cooking with the passion of a true chef. It was a science, a world of clean steel, flat stovetops, precise temperatures, recipes, consistency, control, and rules. No more rules.”
Farm to Flame is also a uniquely Southern Highlands book – an amalgam of local collaborators including independent Quicksand Food publisher Stefan Posthuma, veteran lens-man Ashley Mackevicius and artist and illustrator Thomas Bucich.
The book also pays tribute to Coccia’s network of local producers – including Red-Leaf Farm, Moonacres Farm and Pecora Dairy – with whom he has forged intimate relationships based on a mutual respect for food, produce and the environment.
The result is a celebration of nature, of community, and of finding ones’ home.
“Nicola is one of those chefs that puts emotion into his cooking, which is passed onto the customer when they eat his food,” says chef and owner of Ormeggio, Alessandro Pavoni. “He cooks by feel, with his instincts and his heart. I think that’s the sign of a true chef.”