We spoke to the celebrated ACME chef Mitch Orr about how his formative years in the Parramatta region shaped his trajectory and how the city’s food scene has changed since those early days.
In 2001, when Pendle Hill High School student Mitch Orr began work experience in the kitchen of one of Parramatta’s well-loved institutions, he was yet to realise that he was paving a path toward an esteemed, global culinary career. Standing proudly on George Street, Parramatta, The Albion Hotel marks the spot where Mitch Orr’s gastronomic education originated. Inside the pub’s bistro kitchen, a young Orr became immersed in the fast-paced and competitive hospitality world – a world in which he would someday find much success. And, it didn’t take long for The Albion’s team to recognise it had a talented future chef in its kitchen. Orr was employed as a kitchen hand and, soon after, as a fully-fledged apprentice.
“The Albion was a busy and fun place to work as a young kid. It taught me a lot about time management, pushing on, and people skills,” says Orr.
This experience was Orr’s entry point into life as a chef, but, as he tells us, it was also the people and culture of the region that helped characterise his now distinct cooking style. So much so that Parramatta Lanes festival has named Orr as its 2018 ambassador.
“I'm proud to have grown up in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Growing up in that hub of multiculturalism has really helped shape who I am and how I cook. And now it's nice to be able to shine a light on how much the food scene has grown and evolved in Parramatta.”
Orr casts his thoughts back, nearly 17 years, to his early involvement in the region’s dining landscape. “The food scene wasn’t great back then. But then, that could easily be attributed to my own lack of knowledge and understanding as well. Starting out, as a teen, I really had no idea what was good food, and what wasn’t,” he says.
It seems that now both Orr’s knowledge and Parramatta’s food offerings have changed dramatically. As the head chef at prominent Rushcutters Bay dining destination ACME, Orr draws on his knowledge of melding cultures and cuisines to create Italian dishes with an Asian-inspired twist. Before taking on this role, Orr kept busy in the kitchens of Pilu at Freshwater, Sydney’s Sepia Restaurant and Duke Bistro and, most notably, acclaimed Italian chef Massimo Bottura’s Modena-based restaurant Osteria Francescana – listed by Forbes among The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2018.
With the perspective gained from his highlight-filled career, Orr has noticed a significant growth in Parramatta’s food locales. “The food scene has really started to grow and evolve over the last couple of years. You're starting to notice places like Messina open up in the suburbs; there's really a captive market now. I think over the next few years we'll start to see more ‘big name’ chefs make the move out of the inner city to places like Parramatta.”
Mitch Orr’s Favourite Parramatta Eats
In the company of the venerated chef, we had to ask where Orr heads for a fix of local cuisine when he’s back in Parramatta. “When I come back to Parramatta, I hit up Pho Pasteur for a soup, and drop by Honey Restaurant or Aria Persian. Exploring Wigram Street in Harris Park is also great – it has some of the best Indian cuisine. I also think Courtney's Brasserie is a real Sydney institution and deserves recognition.”