Homegrown chef loves local produce

Stanthorpe born chef John Speranza.

By Tania Phillips

From his dad’s fruit shop on the highway to restaurants in Brisbane, Mexico and Canada, John Speranza has been on quite the culinary journey which has now, as he hits 30, led him back to where it all began in Stanthorpe.

The talented and sought-after International chef will be in action for the first time at the Apple and Grape paddock to plate demonstrations this year appearing on the Monday “Truffle Day” imparting hints and tips on how to get the most out of small amounts of the locally grown delicacy.

It is something he is more than happy to do as part of his plan to help the region continue it’s culinary evolution.

Chef John was raised and trained in Stanthorpe at the Queensland College of wine Tourism.

He went on to travel extensively through Mexico and Asia. He also worked in many notable North American restaurants. After returning to Brisbane he headed up kitchens such as The Survey Co, Happyboy and Malt Dining.

His approach to food, combines his Italian heritage with a mixture of Asian and South American flavours and techniques. Most recently he has turned his attention to his own pop-up passion project, ‘Josie’s’ alongside his partner Amy Harker.

The pair look to open their first venue in 2024, in the meantime John has been back where he started his culinary journey training as a kitchen hand in his early teens the Queensland College of Wine Tourism (QCWT). He is back there helping to teach the next generation while he and Amy work towards opening their own restaurant on the Granite Belt.

John said he was looking forward to being part of the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival this year.

“I’ve probably been working in hospitality about 18 years I started when I was 13, down in Stanthorpe we have the Queensland College of Wine Tourism and through the high school I was able to do my work experience and from work experience I got a casual job in front of house and then they had opportunity for a kitchen hand position,” he said. I started as a kitchen hand and then a school-based apprentice, I finished school and finished my apprenticeship, they made me the junior sous chef for a while.”

From there he moved to Brisbane where he worked for a few years, back packing around Europe and then later in Central and South America before working in Canada in some nice Top 100 Canadian restaurants before heading back to Brisbane as a head chef and executive chef.

“After a few years I took a break and me and my partner Amy Harker, who was the restaurant manager for Malt Dining where I was the executive chef,” he said.

“She worked in various other venues but we started a pop-up restaurant brand called Josies and did a few events in Brisbane and then we got an opportunity to come to Stanthorpe. We did an eight week residency restaurant take over. It was great coming back to my home town, we were able to use local producers and local farmers. We ended up relocating here over the past 10 months.

“I went back, I’m consulting for the QCWT at the moment. Trying to do some more pop-up events and eventually hopefully open up our own brick and mortar restaurant down here in Stanthorpe.”

He said it’s been great to come home after all of his experiences.

“Being a nationally recognized chef in the industry I’m hopefully trying to put my own mark on the Australian Hospitality scene but also lend my name and use the Granite Belt’s name in a mutually beneficial way.

“I think it’s a shame the Granite Belt isn’t a more highly regarded region and tourism hotspot in comparison to some of the other regions in Australia and I think the thing that we lack is just a bigger hospitality presence. Just better venues, better food using local produce.

“We’ve got amazing producers doing fruit and vege and grassfed beef and organic pork and everything from vinegar to truffles to local cheesemakers. But I think a lot of people don’t realise how prolific it is because we just haven’t had the calibre of restaurants to showcase it. So that’s what we are hoping to do – open one restaurant and go from there. If we can build a bit more or a hospitality brand for the town.

“For us the more good restaurants that open in the Granite Belt the better. The more there is for people to do, the more the tourism sector can handle. For us it’s not about competition its about community.”