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Head Chef Francesco Gulisano, Dolcettini Patisserie

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Halfway between Dural and Glenorie, my mother lives there, that’s where I grew up. My wife and I bought a townhouse in Baulkham Hills and I have two young girls. One is one and a half, one’s 4, and there’s another boy on the way in June.

I grew up here in Dural, and we grew up on the farm: my whole wider family were all fresh flower growers. My auntie has four big farms out here in Arcadia and Galston. I grew up on the flower farm, and I grew up with my grandparents who are Italian. They always used to grow vegetables; when peas were in season and broad beans and stuff like that.

My grandma used to create dishes with the vegetables. That was very inspiring growing up: you know where the food comes from. I still have this mentality now, when we cook. And I always put good produce and I want to sell what I’d feed my family. Stuff without preservatives, less colour or no colour, very low processed and all from scratch. I’m not a good businessman but I would rather do that than put profit first and compromise health and safety.

I’m big on fermented foods as well, our pastries are produced over 72 hours or three days, we allow flavours to develop, other places usually turn them out in a day, and you can taste the difference. You can still go to places where they make a good croissant, but you will be able to tell the difference when you taste it. It should be a nice clean flavour, with a smooth palate and very light to eat. So, yeah, I’m big on fermented foods.

When we do sourdough, we have a mother culture which we feed every day. You go to a real sourdough place they do the same thing. Other than that, good produce and good food.

We use a lot of lemons, oranges, mandarins and source them locally whenever we can. We also get our vegetables off Martin Boetz, he is a Thai chef, and he’s worked in Hawkesbury and owns a place called Cooks Co-op. We get our vegetables off him and he sources them from Hawkesbury; he’ll go to farms and see what in season and tell me what’s good. We try to use as much as we can from there in this industry. It’s good to have relationships like that.

Francesco is a passionate and hard working pastry chef 

Where does the name come from?

Dolcettini means small sweets in Italian: “dolce” means sweets, “ttini” means small.

Why did you set up in Dural?

There was nothing out in Dural when I was growing up and I thought I wanted to bring something to the Hills. Some part of me said I wanted to work here because I’ve grown up in this area. At the start it was really hard because we didn’t do advertising – it was all through word of mouth. We were isolated, and it was really, really hard for the first year at least. But eventually through word of mouth we got there. I’ve been here for 6 to 7 years now.

Why did you choose to be a pastry chef?

It comes back to the whole beauty of it. One of my main inspirations was having an Italian family, an ethnic family in which our grandparents and our parents love to cook. My mum loved to make cakes and she was a big inspiration as a kid. She makes a kickass chiffon cake with orange zest in it.

Chefs like Peter Gilmore and people who inspire other people helped me discover that passion. I always wanted to do something with food. I think it helped me pass on and try to nurture some young kids with food, I like to see the passion. I like to help kids that are passionate to achieve their goals, whether it be in competitions or helping them in their career. If they say they want to open their own shop one day I say it’s great.

Francesco wants to bring something special for Hills community where he has grown

How many apprentices do you have in store?

We currently have two first year and two second-year apprentices. One apprentice started with me doing bread, he’s going to be in the nationals – he’s going to compete for NSW in September in a competition called Bake skills. His teacher in Newcastle, Dean Gibson, he’s one of Australia’s best chocolatiers and a TAFE teacher, rang me the other day and said this boy is one of the top two and we’ve got our eyes on him to be something special one day.

Actually, before the 2016 Masterchef series finished, Elena Duggan came to do work experience here for two weeks – she was lovely.

What does your job involve and what is the best part of your day?

The best part of the day for a pastry chef is going home! It’s hard, it’s intense. Easily, a week for me is 100 hours. It’s pretty full on. My job is to make sure that the products are as good as it can be, that we have no wastage in the kitchen, make sure the staff is focussed, and make sure that the business is profitable. The best part of the day is winding down and living a normal life. Driving home is my downtime.

It’s also beautiful to see the shop beautifully set up with everything fresh; knowing that the stuff we’re selling is made with good ingredients and that people are getting good products. That’s what I enjoy most.

When do you take holidays?

I haven’t had a holiday for a while – I need a holiday. Time goes so quick, we always have these events. We’re going to do the Smooth Chocolate Festival, we have the Italian festival coming up; we need to produce an extra 4000 or so handmade cannoli shells so we have pretty busy weeks.

For the Smooth Chocolate Festival, the last three weeks have been about making the cannoli shell. I’ve probably done it about 6-7 times just to get the flavour and balance right. We’re going to sell that at the festival with a nice chocolate filling. We’re a patisserie and I like to maintain a high standard.

We’ve been quite successful, hard work, dedication, and passion that’s what the main drives are.

How many kinds of pastries do you have?

We do 13 lines of desserts and then we have a range of our savoury: 4 flans and then probably about 12 different cakes.

We do some basic bread on the weekdays: we do white and spelt. We used to do a wider variety, but we found that the clientele, they ask for white bread or brown bread. So, on the weekends we have more variety. On Sunday we do rye and bran.

What pastry do you recommend and why?

For me, a nice breakfast pastry, whether it be an almond croissant or a fruit Danish is very appealing. Dessert-wise, for me, I still like the simple stuff. My favourite is our dessert called the Handsome Man. I made a cake called the Pretty Woman, it looks beautiful, and everyone said why don’t you make a male version of this cake? So, I made the Handsome Man, and it’s nice. It’s got a great texture, it’s got 65% Origin chocolate in it: it’s beautiful to eat.

I like cannoli, but I wouldn’t be able to eat it every day. I always get my staff to taste when I’m trialling something. As a chef, you get used to certain tastes and you need everyone else’s different palates and opinions. I appreciate their feedback, most of the time it tends to be right.

What do you sell the most of?

Across both stores, we do 2000 cannolis a week. We make mini ones, called petit cannolis, and people order them for parties.

What’s your greatest achievement so far?

My best achievement would be creating Dolcettini into what it’s become. I’ve started this from nothing and it’s still successful. I’ve also won best pastry and best cake at the Fine Food Show.

Some of the finest dessert shots from Dolcettini Instagram page

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I’m very, very big on creating my own stuff. One: I don’t like to follow trends like when they had the macaron and cronut. I don’t believe any good chef would take someone else’s idea and make money on it, I don’t see the value of it. I know people say money-wise and profit-wise it’s not a good idea and you should jump on the train, jump on the bandwagon, so to speak.

I’m very big on getting in the kitchen and playing around with ingredients to make something. To me, there’s more self-gratitude knowing I created the recipe and not taken from someone else. It’s almost a self-respect thing as well. Good chefs are able to create their own thing. Especially now, you can see the chefs who take inspiration from social media and chefs who create their own thing. I can tell by looking at the pictures. I like to be respected for making good stuff.

Where would you be in ten years’ time?

I had the opportunity to open 10 new shops in Westfield, but I knocked it back. It’s not viable, we could be successful, but we could also lose quality especially with products that have no preservatives and are made from scratch.  We made the decision to keep it to two shops and to focus strongly on Castle Hill and stay confined to two shops so that if you go to Castle Towers you get the same quality as what you would get here.

What is your dream and your ultimate goal?

My goals are always to create – I like to see young people become successful. It’s hard because you have to keep them motivated, you need to keep them happy, you need to make sure they enjoy work. We have a mix of mature and young staff: mature stuff are very strong and focused, the young ones I like to train and mould them into something special – it’s hard to hold onto them though.

My ultimate goal would be to have a hardcover patisserie book. I want it to be one of the best pat books in the world. I would like it to have a brown or a dark hardcover book with a gold logo. It’s about finding the time I guess.

Do you have any hobbies?

I used to play soccer, but work took over when I was younger with the apprenticeship. both my brothers are quite good mechanics and we’ve always been into cars. That’s my hobby, I like fast cars.

Other than that family and stuff like that, of course.

Francesco with a happy customer

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