In The Kitchen With Ryan O’Shannessy // PARA THIRROUL
If Ryan O’Shannessy had asked his 13-year-old self whether he would expect to be Head Chef of a popular restaurant in the Illawarra and building a burgeoning food business 25+ years later, the answer would probably have been a big yeah nah.
But that’s probably because 13-year-old Ryan was up to his elbows in pots and pans working as a kitchen hand in a pub in Launceston.
“I grew up in the Shire but moved to Tasmania when my Dad got a job with Boags Brewery. I was pretty bored, so Dad told me to get a job,” Ryan says.
“So I did, and I’ve been in the kitchen ever since.”
Ryan is Head Chef at Pará in Thirroul, a favourite with locals and visitors who are fans of the Mediterranean flavours and the share plate concept this place does so well.
“Alex, who owns Pará has given me full rein with the kitchen and menu. The only thing he wanted to make sure stayed was the share style approach to everything we do,” says Ryan.
“He says when he thinks about having a meal, it’s all about sharing and bringing people together which is what we do here at Pará.”
Ryan is also the founder of a local business called Flametree Foods, with a range of fresh pastas, smoked vegetables, slow roasted tomatoes, vegan cheeses, butters and yoghurts, and more – all made by Ryan.
“We supply our products to a number of local restaurants like The Swallowed Anchor in Wollongong and The Garden in Berry,” says Ryan.
“We’ve also just started a new arm of the business called Asteria where we’ll be selling direct to the public through stores like Flame Tree Co-op in Thirroul.”
1 :: Okay, so let’s start at the beginning. What happened in between Launceston and Thirroul?
I moved back to Sydney when I was 16 and started as a kitchen hand in a restaurant called Elio on Norton Street in Leichhardt. The Head Chef there, Helen, was 27 when she got her first Chef’s Hat and believed in making everything from scratch and by hand. She was mind blowingly good and I learnt a lot from her.
From there I worked in some more restaurants in Sydney before moving to London at the age of 24. I worked in some pretty high-end restaurants there but got burnt out because of the hours and the travel involved. I moved to Spain for a while and worked in tapas restaurants which I really enjoyed. The food I create at Pará is heavily influenced by my time in Spain.
I’ve also worked in restaurants in Melbourne, the Blue Mountains and Bogota in Colombia.
2 :: So, what brought you to the Illawarra?
I used to surf here when I was a kid, then when I was living in Sydney I’d come to the Illawarra with a bunch of mates to surf. I always had in the back of my mind that I’d buy something in Austi up on the escarpment but by the time I had saved enough for a deposit for a house, Austi was a bit out of my price range!
My brother and his family lives in Primbie, so I started looking around there and eventually bought a place in Cringila.
3 :: Cool, so let’s talk food. Pará isn’t a vegetarian restaurant but there are a lot of vegetable dishes on the menu. Why’s that?
I’m a meat eater, but I think sometimes meat and protein dishes dominate menus. It’s nice to give vegetables more of a front seat and surprise people with how flavoursome and tasty they can be.
There are a lot of successful restaurants that are moving to plant based now, which is great to see.
I was thinking about taking this dish I’m sharing with you guys, the whole roasted cauliflower, off the menu but when I floated that idea past the floor staff they were pretty adamant that it stay because it’s so popular.
4 :: And how did the interest in fermenting start?
When I was the Pastry Chef at MoVida in Sydney, all of us were reading The Art Of Fermenting. We were pretty much fermenting anything we could get our hands on. I was already starting to make my own yoghurts and cheeses and then experimented with making nut milk to create a dessert I was working on. It took off for me from there.
5 :: So, what’s next for you? You sound pretty busy!
Yep, I spend half my time on making products for Flametree Foods and the other half is running the kitchen here at Pará Fridays through to Sundays. We’ve bounced back from COVID really well and fill the restaurant for most lunch and dinner services.
And I’ll keep experimenting with fermentation, creating new products for Flametree Foods and hopefully get the consumer arm of the business up and running so more locals can order or buy fresh pastas, smoked and slow roasted vegetables, vegan cheeses like the smoked almond ricotta I created, yoghurts, butters (I’m working on a sunflower seed butter at the moment) and whatever else I come up with.
Awesome – thanks Ryan! And guys if you want to bring a little bit of Pará home to your own kitchen, have a look at this recipe Ryan has shared with us below. Super easy [although our whole roasted cauliflower never looks as pretty as Ryan’s!] and delicious. Love it!
Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Cashew Milk Yoghurt, Buckwheat and Pomegranate
This takes about an hour to put together and will serve 2 people.
For the cauliflower:
1 head cauliflower (500g -1 kg )
25g fresh turmeric
3 tablespoons murray river pink salt, divided
100ml good quality olive oil, such as morella grove
For the buckwheat:
150g buckwheat kernels
300ml cold water
Seeds of one pomegranate
4 sprigs of mint, picked leaves only
½ bunch of chives
200g cashew milk yoghurt
100g pistachio kernels, toasted
For the cauliflower
- Preheat your oven to 215 C, with the oven rack in the centre.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, crush turmeric in a mortar and pestle or with the back of your knife and add to the water with 2 tablespoons of the salt.
- Trim the outer leaves of the cauliflower, the smaller tender leaves can be left on, remove the stem with a sharp knife making sure that the cauliflower can sit level.
- Add cauliflower to pot and return to the boil, place a heat proof ceramic plate on top of the cauliflower to make sure it stays submerged.
- Cook for 10-15 minutes or until a knife inserted into the cauliflower meets no resistance.
- Using a spider gently lift the cauliflower from the water and allow it to drain well.
- Place cauliflower stem side down on a lined baking tray allow to stand for 5- 10 minutes.
- With a clean pastry brush apply a generous coating of olive oil evenly over the whole cauliflower. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of salt over the cauliflower and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, add buckwheat and cold water.
- Place pan on the stove and bring to the boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and place a lid on the pan.
- Cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
- Fluff grains with a fork to separate, add a drizzle of olive oil and a pick of salt.
- While the cauliflower and buckwheat are cooking, begin to prepare the garnishes.
- Deseed the pomegranate by cutting the top off with a sharp knife, using a paring knife and being very careful not to cut your fingers, slice the pomegranate skin vertically into segments.
- You should now be able to pull the segments apart and remove the seeds without damaging them. Set aside.
- Finely chop the mint leaves, the best way to do this is to gently roll the leaves into a cylinder and slice them finely. You want to cut the mint a few times as possible, to prevent damaging the herbs. Once the mint is finely sliced aka chiffonade, set aside.
- Finely chop the chives. Set aside.
- Gently break the pistachio kernels with back of your knife, the pieces should be quite large.
- Spread the cashew milk yoghurt evenly on the plate, sprinkle chives, mint, pomegranate seeds and buckwheat evenly over the yoghurt.
- Remove cauliflower from the oven and place on top of yoghurt and garnishes.
- Drizzle with any remaining olive oil and serve immediately.
You’ll be popular with the fam bam and friends if you whip this up!