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Vince Garreffa – The man behind Mondos

This article was written by Kell Rowe, in the style of Scoop Magazine, for her ‘Produce Media Photoimages’ class, part of the Diploma of Photoimaging course at Central Institute of Technology, Perth, November 2010.

This is the article’s first publication and it is © Kell Rowe 2011, All rights reserved. If you would like to feature it or publish it, please email me.

What makes Perth the wonderful, vibrant melting pot that it is, isn’t just the people who were born here or who flock here from all over the world to spend their holidays, it’s the people who have emigrated here, choosing Perth over all the other places they could have settled down in, and immersing themselves into the community around them.

One of our most vibrant local characters is Inglewood butcher, Vince Garreffa of Mondo Di Carne who came to Perth with his family from Italy when he was just five. His personality and love for life combined with his vocal passions for family, Perth and good food, make him a delight to spend time with. He truly has an infectious, optimistic vibe that rubs off on all around him.

The local businessman, dubbed a celebrity butcher and ‘Prince of Flesh’ by the media (badges he is more than happy to wear), can often be seen chatting with his customers in the surroundings of Mondo’s Beaufort Street premises where they have been located for a good twelve years.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Vince for about twenty years, since I was a child growing up in Midland. As my parents ran their own small business and would come into town to run their errands, the old Mondo’s complex on Great Northern Hwy became a regular haunt where my siblings and I were treated by our parents to after school milkshakes, coffee and beautiful pastries courtesy of Mario in the cafe and the patisserie next door, run by Vince’s sister and her family (now of Mondo Nougat in the Swan Valley).

Whilst other children my age were saving their pocket money for toys and bikes, my money was being spent developing my love of food – buying Italian sausages, small goods and delicacies such as quail, rabbit pie and quality cuts of meat from ‘Uncle Vince’ and the butchers out the back of the cafe. Christmas was always celebrated with a Mondos turkey, complete with veal, mushroom and pinenut stuffing and my love of gourmet food and the finer things in life was born – much to the dismay of future boyfriends who soon learnt I was never going to appreciate their mothers casseroles or a budget cuts barbecue.

Lured here this warm Saturday morning by my interest in the spring markets (held for the last six years in the courtyard behind the retail shop from 8am – 12.30pm each Saturday between September and December) and the alluring aroma of the freshly roasted lamb sandwiches served by staff member Andrew Gaglia and team out the front, I settle down to talk to Vince about the man behind Mondos.

He has returned just a few days earlier from a trip to Panzano, a village in Tuscany, to participate in the World Butchers’ Conference. Participants raised money for a childrens’ hospital whilst enjoying the company of Dario Cecchini, who in Garreffa’s own words is “One of the most famous and gregarious butchers in the world”. During the event, all of the attending butchers had an opportunity to present their speciality to the public. “So,” I ask Vince. “What did you take?”

The answer is Kangaroo served simply chargrilled on a barbecue with salt and pepper, which he tells me was a huge hit as everyone was dying to try it.

“People get too complicated with recipes” Garreffa laments. “Why on earth would you take something that God made and put anything more than salt and pepper on it? At the end of the day that’s all it needs. It’s the Mediterranean approach.” Natural additives such as simple herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice are also suggested.

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It’s around this time that my stomach moves into overdrive with all the talk of beautiful meat and fresh food. To my delight, Mena Samios makes a welcome interruption to our conversation by bringing us piping hot Essenza coffees and warm buttered New Norcia rolls. Delicious!

I turn Vince’s attention to his passion for Western Australia with the comment that to many young people who were born here, Perth can seem very isolated (the Lonely Planet website refers to us as being ‘the world’s most remote capital city’) and many look for a means to escape. For those like myself who don’t have a great interest in mining, sport or raising a family, as much as I enjoy trips to the south-west and our stunning displays of native flora, it can sometimes seem like there isn’t much to hold our interest. I query the appeal to those who choose to settle here of all the other places in the world.

I may have touched a nerve, as Garreffa, fuelled with enthusiasm (and no doubt that wonderful coffee) launches into a passionate discussion about my hometown.

“I wish people could learn from what I’ve experienced” he tells me, going on to explain that having travelled the world, he honestly believes it’s the best place on earth. “As much as I love Italy, as much as I love France or America or any of the places I’ve been to” (including elsewhere in Australia) “I wouldn’t give Perth up for anything”.

“There’s an Italian song, which talks of sometimes having to leave paradise, looking for paradise, before you actually realise you left it.”

I reflect a moment on this as I’m the holder of two expired 10 year passports (UK and Australian) without a single stamp in them. I haven’t left the country since I was twelve, something that certainly needs moving up the priority list as I enter the next phase of my life. I believe our remoteness (and therefore the cost of travel) certainly adds to that wanting to go looking for paradise. This very well may be the best place on earth, it’s just the lack of being anywhere else to compare it to.

But back to Vince.

“You only have to go overseas to see the congestion all around you. In some countries you have to hire a deckchair on a beach for a few thousand dollars a season. We can go to a beach here in Australia and sometimes we have a hundred yards to ourselves and don’t have to pay anything!”

“When you’re used to driving in Europe and you come and drive here, the excitement for tourists to drive on big open roads, to drive 4wds on sandy beaches …there’s tourists that would pay $1000 a day for that stuff. We take it for granted. There’s space here! This is paradise! Stop thinking paradise is boring. “

“If you really want to enjoy life, you must surround yourself with positive thoughts and positive people. Try to savour the nectar of the good things that happen to you.”

“I wake up and I’m so excited about something that’s happening, a new adventure, a function that I’m doing for somebody” He pauses to sip his coffee. “I’m just excited that I’m going to do a party and be part of somebody’s celebration.”

It’s good advice from the Father of four and Grandfather of three who has something special to celebrate himself in the next year, his sixtieth birthday. During our interview he makes frequent reference to his family and wife, Anne, whom he courted whilst working second jobs at restaurants with her during his butcher apprenticeship. No doubt this event, like so many in the thirty or so years before it, will be celebrated in style with wonderful food, friends and family at their 200 acre natural beachfront hideaway to the south of Perth.

Catering for functions is large part of the company’s operations throughout the year, alongside their retail and wholesale outlets, the spring markets and their immensely popular cooking school.

At the time of our interview, Christmas is on the horizon. Garreffa explains that every Christmas there are many products on the Mondos menu that simply aren’t seen elsewhere. The one he draws attention to (alongside the suckling pig, preservative free ham and bacon, rolled lamb and White Rocks veal products) is “The Quintet”. Mondos have been making this product (with only slight variations) since I was small and I yearn for a time when I have enough guests to warrant the investment. Putting the “Turducken” to shame, “The Quintet” features cherries inside a quail, inside a spatchcock, inside a chicken, inside a duck, inside a turkey with all the spare gaps filled with veal, mushroom and pinenut stuffing. The good news is they are available to custom order during the year too.

Another product sparking my interest is veal bacon. I’m told it tastes like bacon, due to the cure applied to it, but satisfies the requirements of those that may not be able to eat pork due to religious reasons.

For the man himself, Christmas festivities may include goat or suckling pig, his Croatian wife may prefer a crispy skinned pork rack and loads of fresh salads, depending on the heat. Dessert comes by way of his sister and her talented family of pastry chefs. But food aside, the real festivity is the gathering of his ever extending family.

By now, the courtyard is absolutely buzzing. Garreffa explains that the desire for a place for people to meet, eat and enjoy each others company was the motivation behind setting up the markets. Space, shade, electricity and ice is all provided free of charge (as is promotion), allowing stallholders to get on with selling their wares and enjoying the atmosphere (which I notice is about to get even more vibrant as a quartet of clarinetists set up under the supervision of music organiser Alex Millier).

Mark Sanford is one of the regular stallholders, arriving each Saturday with white boxes laden with his organically grown heirloom vegetables. I was already aware of the fact that carrots were bred to be orange for the Dutch Royal family. He fills in the gaps for me telling me that on request by the Royal House of Orange for an orange vegetable, they were produced in 1660 by creating a hybrid . He sells purple, white, orange and yellow carrots and tells me they all taste like carrot although many customers confuse his white carrots with parsnips. I take some pictures of his multicoloured beetroots, which he tells me won’t bleed juice, even if chucked in the pot together.

Jenny Brandsma used to be in healthcare before she had her family. Today she’s selling homemade biscuits, puddings and strawberries so red and juicy I just want to stick my head in the bowl.

The markets aren’t limited to fresh produce either, stalls selling homemade cards, accessories and cut flowers sit alongside gluten free cakes, Greek sweets prepared by sisters Kia and Carisse Antonas, and both sweet and savoury preserves, such as the chilli pickles and preserves on offer from Helen Humphries.

Outside of the courtyard, Tony is busy sharpening knives both for the shop and market customers. Half of the proceeds from the knife sharpening goes to the not-for-profit crisis care organisation, Lifeline. Last year over $1600 was raised from this service alone. Donation tins are also scattered around the marketplace.

After 46 years in the butchering game, and over 30 for Mondos, what does the future hold for both Vince Garreffa and Mondo Di Carne?

Son Robert is out in Osborne Park running the wholesale division, and Vince would like to see him take it to the next level without letting it grow too much. A chain of stores isn’t part of the plan, he loves the idea of having just the one retail and one wholesale outlet that bring so many people together. He also adds he’d be absolutely delighted if his granddaughters were to take a serious role when they grow up (he already has the three and a half year old pegged out as the new CEO!).

Personally he would like to continue working until the day he dies, but with a little more holidaying and travel. He tells me of an event currently in negotiations, that would be the pinnacle of his whole sixty years. I’m incredibly impressed by its magnitude, but promise to leave the revelation to the autobiography he will inevitably release.

“We just enjoy every day, we have our trials and tribulations and in life – it’s all about getting over the lows. Enjoy the highs, struggle through the lows and never give up.”


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3 thoughts on “Vince Garreffa – The man behind Mondos

  1. Pingback: Blackcurrant goes to market – Save the date. | Blackcurrant Photography

  2. Pingback: 12 months of Blackcurrant. Farewell 2011. « Blackcurrant Photography – Perth, Australia. Fine art, creative portraiture, nature photography & Australian gifts.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Vince Garreffa – The man behind Mondos « Blackcurrant Photography – Perth, Western Australia. Blog, portraiture, gifts, souvenirs and fine art photography. -- Topsy.com

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