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Alex Keene, Via Alta Willoughby

“I’m the Head Chef and co-owner at Via Alta. When we heard this place was for sale two years ago, my business partners and I jumped at it. Willoughby was a bit of a surprise for all of us. I didn’t know it very well beforehand but now I absolutely love it. The people here aren’t rushed; it’s such a nice little pocket of the North Shore. I hope we’re contributing to the resurgence here – all our customers are talking about it. We’ve recently completed a renovation in the restaurant and our café, Via Alta Espresso, is a recent addition too. And there are a lot of possibilities we are exploring in the space. Wouldn’t a little wine bar be great? I previously worked at Ormeggio for 4 years and during that time I appeared on MasterChef. I had no idea until the day that I was actually the contestant – I thought our Head Chef Alessandro Pavoni would be doing the cooking. But all the lights were on me that day. People still recognise me from the show so I’d have to say it gave my career a boost. Plus it was just so much fun. I’ve loved cooking since I was a child. My dad owned a nursery at Kellyville and I grew up appreciating plants and the importance of feeding people. I average at least 80 hours a week here at the restaurant, but at the end of the day it’s all worth it.”

(Photo: Kirsten Delaney)