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Friday, April 23, 2010

Interview: Ten Questions with Ashley Hughes, Alio + Win Two Tickets to a Pasta-Making Masterclass

Tracey and Ashley Hughes with their father

Some people know, from a very early age, exactly what they want to do in life.

Ashley Hughes was one of them. At age 15, he left school determined to become a chef, commencing an apprenticeship with Greg Doyle and Steve Hodges from Pier and completing it at Bennelong restaurant with Janni Kyritsis and Gay Bilson.

In 1996 Ashley left Sydney to work overseas, collecting stints at L'Escargot (Marco Pierre White), River Cafe (Rose Gray), Zafferano (Giorgio Locatelli) and La Cinzanella (the Locatelli family's one-star Michelin restaurant in Milan). He returned to Sydney in 1999 and in the following year, when he was only 23, he and his sister Tracey opened their first restaurant, Alio, offering dishes from the south of Italy.

This year Alio will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. Grab Your Fork asked Ashley ten questions to find out more...

Don't forget to scroll down for details on an exclusive Freebie Friday competition for readers.

Ten Questions with Ashley Hughes, Head Chef and Owner, Alio

1. What food makes you think of your childhood?

Dad cooking barbecues, Mum's roast dinners with baked vegetables and homemade gravy. These always evokes memories of my childhood. Whenever we had a roast, my Dad and my older brothers would always finish it with gravy sandwiches!

2. What first drew you into becoming a chef?

Food has been a big part of my life right since childhood. My aunt had a restaurant for over 30 years. My sister Tracey and I spent many a night in the kitchen just watching the chefs cook - our parents would have to pull us out of the kitchen to join the family at the table.

Ashley Hughes, left, with his sister Tracey, front,
and his older brothers and father

3. You’ve worked in kitchens with Greg Doyle, Janni Kryistis, Gay Bilson, Marco Pierre White, Rose Gray, Jamie Oliver and Giorgio Locatelli. Who has been your biggest influence and why?

Rose Gray of the River Café. She changed the way I thought about food, and taught me to respect it. Her food philosophy starts from when, where and how the food is grown and extends right up to how you cook it. She definitely changed my career for the better! But then I've been lucky to work with many great chefs - they have all undoubtedly contributed to making me the chef I am today.

4. At age 23, you opened your own restaurant Alio, fronting as both head chef and co-owner. What were some of the biggest lessons you learnt about running a restaurant in the early years?

One of the biggest challenges was being one of the youngest staff members! There's also a huge difference between working incredibly long hours for someone else, and working long hours for yourself. When you get home, or on your day off, you can never really switch off. You're always on call - especially when alarms go off in the middle of the night or if the restaurant suddenly becomes unexpectedly busy. In that sense, I definitely had more responsibility than the average 23-year-old.

5. Why did you choose the name Alio?

When we were deciding on names, there were five business partners - two English and three Australian. We decided on Alio because it was a twist on an authentically Italian word (Aglio - meaning garlic), and it was also short and easy to remember. In some ways, it represents our product - an Italian foundation but with something a bit unique and different added to the mix. To us, naming a restaurant was like naming a child - you can spell it how ever you want. Today Alio is a brand that represents us and the ten years we have spent building the restaurant.

6. What do you know or think about food blogs? Have you noticed more people taking photos of their dinner?

I am always happy for people to photograph and review my food as I'm proud of what we put on a plate! I think food blogging is fantastic - food and gastronomy is constantly increasing in popularity and blogging is a great grass roots contribution to the foodie movement.

As long as a food blogger has the attitude of coming to dine out and enjoy the experience we are all off to a good start. When people come in to primarily critique the experience and pick holes they often find themselves looking for faults instead of being constructive with their outlook. There is an art to food writing and critiquing - there has to be a balance and mutual respect between restauranteurs and food bloggers.

Ashley and Tracey Hughes as kids

7. Tell us about your biggest cooking disaster. Go on, the bigger, the better!

Given the styles of kitchen and chefs I have worked with, not a lot of cooking or food disasters come to mind. Usually it's more a case of equipment failure. In saying that, I have seen an apprentice strain a stock down the sink whilst reserving the bones!

A few weeks ago, after prepping all day and putting my sauces and pasta into a fridge, we took our staff break then came in to find the fridge thermostat stuck on minus 20 - all the food was frozen! The only thing to do was have all hands on deck to re-make half a day of my work in an hour.

But saving the best for last - at the River Café in London, I used my tea towel to brush the excess flour off the top off an electric pasta machine. The rollers grabbed the tea towel and proceeded to burn out the motor of the machine. That was a certified disaster and it's safe to say I will not do that again.

8. What’s the secret to good pasta?

Alio! Love, care and attention to detail when making it. Use good quality ingredients like organic free range eggs, good flour and so on. Lots of practice helps, too!

Ashley and Tracey Hughes today

9. How has Alio changed over the past ten years, and what are you hoping to do in the future?

My food has gone from being a representation of great chefs that have influenced me, and evolving to something uniquely my own. I suppose it's similar to an artist being influenced by an art movement, and then creating a movement in his own right. I feel a lot more of 'me' is represented in the menu today, and I'm proud of this.

10. What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time? And more importantly, what do you eat?

Golf, golf and some more golf! After that, dinner with my wife. I tend to eat simple and healthy food. I enjoy predominantly Italian-inspired food, or the simplicity and freshness of good Japanese, BUT I always sway back to Italian.

To celebrate ten years of Alio, Ashley will be running a series of pasta-making masterclasses and Grab Your Fork has a pair of tickets to give away to one lucky reader. Oh yes it's Freebie Friday!


Two tickets to an exclusive pasta-making masterclass with Ashley Hughes on Sunday June 27, 9.30am-1.00pm at Alio in Surry Hills, Sydney.

The class will include a hands-on lesson on how to make potato gnocchi and pumpkin ravioli from scratch. You will also watch Ashley make his signature rotolo and risotto dishes before ending the course with a relaxed sit-down banquet-style lunch featuring all of the day's creations.


All you have to do is fulfil the requirements below:
  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell us: what's your favourite pasta dish and why?

  2. And then send an email to grabyourforkfreebiefriday@yahoo.com.au with the subject heading "Pasta" and include your full name and a copy of your published comment from this post.

The winning entry will be decided on honesty, creativity or entertainment value. Don't be shy! You gotta be in it to win it! Readers may submit one entry per day as long as each answer is different.

The Alio Pasta-Making Masterclass competition closes on Saturday 29 May 2010 at 5.30pm AEST. The winner will be announced on Grab Your Fork on Monday 31 May 2010.

>> More Grab Your Fork competitions to enter:
39 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 4/23/2010 12:01:00 am


  • At 4/23/2010 8:39 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My favourite is spaghetti bolognese. It is a pasta dish that is well known by everyone whether Italian or not! Each person I meet has their own version with their own secret ingredient or special tip to making it delicious. I like to add chilli powder in mine to make a spicier sauce, a stock cube or a teaspoon of vegemite in mine to bring out more flavour. Some people add lots of red wine, and some people hide lots of vegetables in the sauce so they can convince their kids to eat it! Either way, I love these dish as it evokes so many memories of my childhood and special times with friends and family. Just make sure the pasta is al dente!

    Jocelyn Santosa

  • At 4/23/2010 9:21 am, Anonymous The Extra said…

    I can tell you my least favourite pasta dish - Fusilli Jerry. It tastes of nothing!

  • At 4/23/2010 9:34 am, Anonymous PastaUsedByDate said…

    I love the thickness and tactile sexiness of a good Pappardelle. It's fettuccine to the power of 5.
    Pappardelle looks so enticing, coated with a burnt butter sauce, flavoured with sage and dusted lovingly with grated Pecorino. Or better yet, topped with shaved Romano that slowly melts into the dish. And finally, freshly ground black pepper - preferably offered by a beautiful, longhaired, smouldering eyed Italian waitress wielding an oversized grinder.
    Sorry - have to stop now. I am at work.

  • At 4/23/2010 10:32 am, Blogger Oanh said…

    My fave pasta dish is ravioli. You can put anything inside the ravioli and all the excitement is inside the pocket. I like to keep the sauce minimal.

    At the moment, its duck, ginger and star anise ravioli in a butter and sage reduced sauce. Mmmm

  • At 4/23/2010 10:33 am, Anonymous jR said…

    Lamb Ragu Parpadelle~

    The combination of silky and luxurious pasta and the intense infusion of flavours in the slow cooked ragu is hard to beat. ^^

  • At 4/23/2010 10:36 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow, where do I start? I love the simplest of pasta dishes, actually who am I kidding I love all of them!! I would be thinking of aglio olio or even just the most al dente penne tossed with great olive oil, the most delicious parmigiano reggiano and sprinklings of seasalt and freshly ground black pepper... mmmm... it's just perfection on a plate, quality ingredients, simplicity, and you get to actually taste the pasta itself! It's something I go back to over and over again from when I first started cooking to now. It's my comfort food.

  • At 4/23/2010 11:08 am, Blogger EvilHayama said…

    My favourite pasta is my trusty Bacon Basil Pasta. It's not the fanciest or the tastiest, but it's the first meal I learned to cook by heart, and it's still one that I can go back to with nostalgia.

  • At 4/23/2010 12:02 pm, Anonymous Tina said…

    Thanks for the new insight into Alio :)

    My fave would be a fresh pappardelle with a hearty ragu of beef.

    Although a spaghetti carbonara is ultimate confort food... :P

  • At 4/23/2010 12:57 pm, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    I recently learned a new trick instead of making a typical spag bol, I roll the mince up into meatball with breadcrumb egg, fry then stew in the tomato sauce... it seriously "jazz" up the good old pasta dish.

  • At 4/23/2010 1:14 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love all pasta, but if I had to pick my favourite would have to be penne with eggplant in a basil tomato sauce made from scratch, chunks of mozarella stirred in before it is served. Why this one in particular? Because when I made this, my father, who hates cheese and doesnt think much about italian food at all, looked up and told me that it was actually not bad. He helped himself to more, despite my mom setting down his favourite Chinese dishes onto the table.

    It was so nommy, too. ;]

  • At 4/23/2010 1:27 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ohh very interesting interview. I have still yet to try Alio and learning more about the chef makes me wanna go even more!

  • At 4/23/2010 1:27 pm, Blogger Marcin said…

    My favourite pasta dish is fettucine carbonara. Especially with some silky fresh homemade fettucine. Quick, easy and delicious - and includes bacon (or prosciutto depending on budget) - can't go wrong!

  • At 4/25/2010 10:02 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    My favourite pasta would have to be gnocchi al ragu. It's hard to find good gnocchi in the stores because they just taste rubbery; the best ones are hands down the homemade ones. I would love to learn how to make gnocchi from Ashley so I could impress my (italian) boyfriend's family one day - they are the ultimate critics!

  • At 4/25/2010 1:45 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great interview as alawys. My favourite pasta has to be fettucine cabonara. Love the simplicity of the dish and yet the taste is so moreish. However, it's not easy to make it right. I have never made fresh pasta and it's a skill that I am very interested in mastering.

  • At 4/25/2010 6:34 pm, Blogger Dee said…

    My favourite is tortellini. It is so creamy and delicious with its sauce and creaminess. The canteen in high school actually had the best tortellini because the canteen lady made the pasta fresh and it was the most delicious ever because of the sauce. It's been more cheesy nowadays but still my fav.

  • At 4/26/2010 12:41 am, Anonymous Alison said…

    My favourite pasta dish would have to be the simple yet delicious broccoli sauteed in garlic with rigatoni and lashings of good parmesan. Or maybe cannelloni. Or it could be my homemade pesto. Or linguine vongole... one of the above!

  • At 4/26/2010 3:07 pm, Anonymous Wendy said…

    My favouite would have to be pumpkin ravioli with sage and brown butter sauce. So many good flavours!

  • At 4/26/2010 8:53 pm, Blogger Gaz said…

    I love the simplicity of Italian dishes where the quality of the ingredients just shine. My favourite is a fantastic dish of spaghetti with a wonderfully light tomato sauce that I had in a small restaurant on Burano, one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon. That was it, just tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. I've spent years since then trying to find something that good. I'm still looking...

  • At 4/27/2010 10:03 am, Blogger LenLen said…

    Pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with butter and sage sauce. Did a cooking class with cucina italiana and it was one of the dishes that I still make regularly.

  • At 4/30/2010 11:17 am, Anonymous NADZ said…

    I have Italian next door neighbours. They are an old couple with grown kids and plenty of grandkids, the lady is a typical nona (bless her). When we first moved in we made an tradional lebanese BBQ and invited them along. As a thank u she made us a canneloni. My god it was to die for. Everytime I eat at an italian restaurant and they have canelloni on the menu i try it but it some how never measures up. I would have to say that cannelloni is my absolute fav. Yet i have to say my second fav is a good calzone.

  • At 4/30/2010 6:10 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I ate at a restraunt up the coast and they served spaghetti with some chorizo, semidried tomatoes, olives, parmesan, artichokes and baby spinach. I made it at home for my family, it's sooo easy and they loved it. Excellent sunday night dinner.

  • At 5/02/2010 7:23 am, Anonymous bertcolombi said…

    Lasagne - like my partner, both are beefy, saucy, between fresh sheets, Italian Fantasies? no, mouth-watering treats!

  • At 5/04/2010 4:45 am, Anonymous C Acosta said…

    My homemade Arabiata Sauce makes for delicious Penne, is it strange of my own cooking i can't get enough.
    I have love for food that helps create a yearning spice, though at times perfection can be tough.

  • At 5/10/2010 10:45 am, Blogger Lilia said…

    My favourite pasta dish is Gnocchi Boscaiola. It was my first Italian dish aside from Spaghetti Bolognaise. My friend's boyfriend recommended that to me and I was having it in a small Italian Restaurant in Wollongong. It was a freshly made pasta and sauce which I never had before and it set my tongue wagging around. Back there, I did not know if Italian food can be so delicious and make me want to dance (literally).I was disappointed when I bought the supermarket version and it could not make me dance, though I made the homemade delicious sauce. Then from Masterchef, Matt Moran's version of gnocchi which I tried, make me happy again as it is a different version of gnocchi which gave me a resistance which I never had before. There must be lots of interesting pasta version out there, especially in Alio :)

  • At 5/10/2010 12:56 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I asked my parnter and he said,


    Its meaty, herby, cheesy, creamy all at the same time. How can you not love it?

    Why? Are you cooking it for me? :)

    I hope we win as my partner is a great cook and I would love to learn and cook it with him under the guidance of Ashley.

    Cheers Allan J :)

  • At 5/10/2010 5:04 pm, Anonymous franko said…

    Francis said...
    My favourite is any pasta that lets you know just from the smell and then the look in regards to the preparation and then to gaze on what is placed before you.

    A quick look, another hit of smell through the nostrils and then we begin our culinary delight to judge whether our sense of smell or the beautiful scene that is before us is indeed worthy of our tastebuds. "dig in and enjoy"

  • At 5/10/2010 9:27 pm, Anonymous Andrea said…

    I love duck ragu with papardelle as I do not have the patience to cook the duck for hours. I just adore the width of the papardelle and how the ragu sauce coats the pasta. I love it so simply that I do not add any parmesan or black pepper on the top.

    when eating the dish, I scoop up the duck before I start eating the pasta left in the bowl.

  • At 5/19/2010 7:15 am, Anonymous Laura said…

    A spaghetti marinara does it for me,
    Fresh and tasty from the sea.
    The texture coupled with the flavour;
    It’s a dish to really savour!

  • At 5/20/2010 9:39 am, Blogger dorrie said…

    As a child pasta broccoli was always yuk. I would hear my mum say mangia, mangia. Now as an adult orecchiette with broccoli, anchovies and garlic I just can’t get enough. It's now music to my ears.

  • At 5/20/2010 7:11 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    My favourite has to be spaghetti and meatballs in a rich tomato based sauce, topped with some cracked pepper and basil.

    The ultimate comfort food :D

  • At 5/21/2010 1:21 pm, Anonymous Jane Pahl said…

    Gnocchi with a tomato sauce, dash of cream, chilli, pinenuts and english spinach. I serve this up to my husband and I am guaranteed to watch whatever I want on Telly that night, even when the footy is on!

  • At 5/26/2010 12:32 pm, Anonymous Jo said…

    For our first Valentine's Day together, my boyfriend (now husband) booked a table at a locally known restaurant for dinner. It was a set menu and I was a little hesitant as to what would come out of the kitchen in this hectically busy full house. Now five years later, I can't for the life of me remember what gifts we bought one another that day, what I was wearing or any part of our conversation, but i can remember the most amazing caramelised pumpkin ravioli with a sage butter sauce which I devoured for my entree. I have been trying to recreate that dish for the last five years but am still nowhere closer to capturing those flavours which still make me salivate whenever it comes to mind. A good pasta is moorish and filling, a great pasta is a truely memorable experience.

  • At 5/26/2010 9:05 pm, Anonymous Megan said…

    Spicy Lentil Ragu with farfelle- I didn't grow up in a family that valued food as anything other than fuel. When I first got together with my partner he decided that showing me how amazing food could be was going to be his mission. His mission was complicated by the fact that I'm vegetarian but he wasn't deterred (much). The first dish that he made me that opened my eyes to how amazing food could be was his lentil ragu- with perfectly salted pasta. It's still one of my favourites.

  • At 5/27/2010 6:33 pm, Blogger PrettyPeony said…

    Spaghetti Carbonara made with guanciale (pork cheek). It is my favourite because it is so quick and simple, and lets the quality of the pasta shine. The purity of this dish means that there is room for error though - pasta must be perfectly al dente and the guanciale has to be de-salted properly. I have made it many times and have refined the recipe just the way I like it now.

  • At 5/27/2010 10:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My favourite pasta dish has always been pumpkin ravioli, the really large hand made ones, with a light sage and butter sauce. Such a beautiful comfort food. But of course it just isn't the same without a quality bottle of wine to enjoy with it. Absolutely divine.

  • At 5/29/2010 9:15 am, Blogger Carole said…

    I love Lasagne. The combination of a rich tomato meat sauce along with the cheese sauce is delicious. I always have one in the freezer. So good to have a totally prepared meal that will feed many.

  • At 5/29/2010 1:18 pm, Anonymous kate said…

    Pumpkin Gnocchi
    Homegrown pumpkin, wheat from the farm, made with love, set to charm!

  • At 5/29/2010 8:37 pm, Anonymous Deb said…

    I just love lasagna it the best, layer arfter layer of goodness no other pasta dish even gets close !

  • At 6/04/2010 3:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love all pasta, but the last time I visited Alio I had the linguine with king prawns. My god, what a dish. Silky pasta that set off the plump crunchy prawns perfectly. That's my favourite pasta now. In fact I'm planning to order it when I catch up with a friend tonight (4 June) at Alio. I'm salivating just thinking about it.


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