Tastes like home: Limone in Griffith
Award-winning chef Luke Piccolo will make you feel like you’re part of his large, exuberant Italian-Australian family when you dine at his Limone restaurant in Griffith.
Tastes like home
Tastes like home
Meet Luke and the Piccolo family, go behind the scenes at Limone and learn the secret of his award-winning pigeon and polenta.
While his friends were playing video games or riding bikes, six-year-old Luke Piccolo was learning how to cook. Each weekday, after school, young Luke would walk to his nonna’s house. “She would always be picking stuff out of her garden,” he recalls, “and we’d make food. That’s how we’d spend the afternoons.”
Today, Luke is one of NSW’s most successful young chefs, with an acclaimed restaurant, Limone, in his home town of Griffith, plus national awards under his belt. Back then, however, he was simply a loving grandson from a close-knit Italian-Australian family who needed to be watched over while his parents worked.
“We used to go out the back and pick the fresh zucchini flowers,” he says. “Do a really simple flour batter and then pan-fry them in some oil. You serve that with a bit of salad and a slice of lemon, and it changes your life.”
To this day, he cooks zucchini flowers the traditional way and serves them at Limone, where they are a seasonal favourite. They’re just one of the dishes that will make you feel like you’re being welcomed into Luke’s extended family.
Luke opened the restaurant in 2016 after successful stints working in Sydney and Italy. He learnt a great deal during those years away, but always knew he would return to rural Griffith. Here he has direct access to some of the most extraordinary produce Australia has to offer, much of it grown by his friends and neighbours; and he can draw inspiration and knowledge from the town’s large Italian-Australian community.
“At certain times of the year, the town gets really busy with these cultural traditions,” he says. “In January, everybody is preserving tomatoes. In winter, there’s a lot of salami making.”
Then there’s the Piccolo Family Farm, where Luke and his two siblings grew up. Their parents bought the run-down one-hectare block when Luke was an infant. “My family pretty much built it from the ground up, which I think is pretty special,” he says.
Today, the Piccolos grow citrus, vegetables and herbs on the farm and maintain a small vineyard. When you dine on the fresh produce and drink the wine at Limone, you’ll really feel like you’re part of something special.
The family came from humble beginnings – all four grandparents arrived from Italy after WWII – which meant Luke and his siblings were expected to pitch in and take care of each other. “We grew up with a lot of freedom but we also grew up working,” he says.
Luke continued to cook with his nonna throughout his childhood. After attending TAFE in Wagga Wagga, he moved to Sydney, where he soon entered a cooking competition run by the Council of Italian Restaurants. “I cooked pigeon and polenta, which was something my nonna used to cook,” he says. “I replicated that dish and refined it a little bit.”
Luke sourced the pigeons from his hometown. “My nonna actually handled them, cured them, and sent them up on a little Rex plane,” he says. “And I won the competition.” The judges were wowed by Luke’s butter-infused polenta; his tender pigeon, cooked on the bone to preserve its juiciness; and his rich sauce, made using offal from the bird. The dish remains in his repertoire.
“We call it a peasant dish,” he explains. “It was a tradition that was carried on from when [my family] lived in Italy. It was such a normal thing to have birds and game and smaller animals that were quite easy to keep at your property.”
Luke returned to Griffith about five years later, after working at the Michelin-starred restaurant S’Apposentu on Sardinia. He describes the early days of Limone as an adventure. “We were working out of a double-door fridge for the first year because I couldn’t afford a cool room,” he says. “So every day was rearranging that fridge just so we could fit all the ingredients in.”
Today, foodies travel from all over the country to experience a slice of Italy in regional NSW. In 2019, Luke won the Appetite for Excellence Young Restaurateur of the Year award, and business has boomed.
But the restaurant remains a family affair. Each week, Luke’s nonna drops in and bakes her traditional Italian apple pie. “It takes her about half a day to make, and it’s all done by hand: she doesn’t have a recipe,” he says. “It’s something that I don’t even try and make, because I can’t make it the way she does.”
The pie has become a Limone staple. “Our customers know that it enters our cake cabinet on a Friday morning, and then by that afternoon, it’s gone,” Luke says. “It’s funny because it’s such a simple thing,” he continues. “You can count the ingredients on one hand, but when you eat it, it’s phenomenal.”