In 2010 I took my Sky Business program – Switzer – to Shanghai to cover the World Expo. David Speers was to look at the political aspects and I planned to do my show for four nights recording what we Aussies were doing to strut our stuff on the global stage. But there was a problem and it was my planning!
I presumed we would have people, business leaders, national heroes, exhibition stands, etc. but I was wrong! We had an exhibition of who we are, what we did and some of our outstanding characteristics and characters but no real people!
So who was I going to interview there? That’s where Guy Grossi came to my rescue and it has created a long-standing connection between Peter Switzer the interviewer and Guy, the interview subject!
Yep, thankfully, the Victorian Government led by one of then-Premier Steve Brack’s business ministers had brought a delegation of outstanding state businesses and, as a consequence, the Switzer program and its desperate host were saved!
And that’s when I was introduced to the many talents of Guy Grossi, who hosted one of the nights in Shanghai, entitled Put Victoria on Your Plate, with some of the state’s best food and beverage producers put on show to the Chinese.
Of course, Guy is a judge on Seven’s My Kitchen Rules, has hosted SBS foodie TV shows and has written numerous books. My favourite is his beautiful red book Love Italy.
This week, I put Guy under the Switzer Q&A deconstruction grill to understand his secret success recipe. Here’s what came from that experience:
Q. Describe your businesses to us Guy?
We have three businesses that currently operate in Melbourne – Florentino, Merchant and Ombra Salumi Bar. They are all distinctively different in style but at the core of each is our Italian heritage and quality produce that is treated with respect. We are lucky that within our venues we can cater for all kinds of experiences and occasions, which may vary from the most casual glass of wine after work to a full dining experience for an occasion.
Q. Is this the dream you always had or has it developed beyond your wildest dreams? If so, how did that happen?
I always dreamed to own the Florentino. It was the Italian icon of Melbourne so as a young chef it was always a goal. Things often don't turn out as planned or as you dreamed but that's how life goes and we always take the opportunities as they come.
Q. How did you wind up in the restaurant game? Was it always your destiny?
My father was a chef and my mother was a great cook. Home for us growing up always involved food. Family time was around the dinner table or around the kitchen bench making pasta or cleaning vegetables we'd picked out of the garden. I toyed with other career ideas growing up but I think it was always going to be restaurants and cooking. It was in my blood.
Q. Who was your greatest influence and why? What did he/she teach you that has given you your competitive edge?
I have to say my parents. My father taught me not only how to cook, but a work ethic, respect and determination. His courage to come to Australia to start a new life and give his family better opportunities was a big influence on me. My mother taught me how to make delicious food and that something tasty can be made out of the simplest ingredients.
Q. What was your greatest mistake in business or life that has taught you an enduring lesson, which also explains your success?
I can fall in love with a project but it may not always make the most business sense. I have learned over the years to be objective about business and not romantic. I am always passionate about every project I’m involved in but now I make sure I get the objectives right first.
Q. What was the smartest thing you did – an innovation, a hire, a marketing strategy, etc. – that explains a lot of your success?
Surrounding myself with good people and combining my efforts with others. I have found that one plus one can often equal four when we combine our experience and resources. In some projects I have been able to introduce a partner that has been able to achieve this with me.
Q. Have you always thought of yourself as a leader or did the realisation suddenly come to you? And describe what kind of leader you are, or aspire to be?
When I was young I just went about doing what I was doing but as you get older and you have more business, you realise that people are looking to you for advice and leadership. I have a great team around me that help me to lead each other as a group. I like to lead by bringing everyone together and using a team mentality. We are all here to help each other, if one goes down, the others go down.
Q. Have you benefited from the age of the celebrity chef and if so, how?
Celebrity chef is a big term at the moment. I think it's an interesting one that people entering the industry need to be wary of. It's an awfully hard way to become a celebrity. It does help you show and introduce what you do to people, which is good and it helps the industry in the sense, and so people become more interested in food and their expectations rise as a consequence. It forces us to be better as an industry.
Q. What are the plans for the future for Guy Grossi – chef and businessman?
I always have my eyes open for opportunities both in Melbourne and abroad. It's just a matter of what's right and when. There are a few things in the pipeline, I have a book being translated in China, which is great.
Q. What are the plans for Guy Grossi, the great human being?
I'm doing a bit of travel later in the year, which is really exciting. I love going to new places and drawing inspiration from new experiences. I'm also going to travel to complete research for a fellowship I am doing on hospitality education in Australia, which I am very thrilled about.
Q. Tell us about your family and how they have influenced you in the past, now and in the future.
Our family has influenced us greatly. Obviously, culturally, they have imparted their Italian heritage on us, which is strong and which we are proud of. Family and food do go hand in hand. Food brings us together both in work and in life. If we are not eating together, we are working together around food and sometimes when we eat together we talk about working around food. The family is very much involved in the business now and it's great that we have each other to rely on.