It’s a cold winter’s afternoon in Lorne, Victoria. We’re perched window-side at the newest restaurant in town, MoVida Lorne, with a glass of wine in hand as we nibble on Spanish tapas. Frank Camorra’s voice can be heard in the background, as he preps his kitchen for the evening service ahead.
For almost 20-years, Camorra has been heralded as the forefather of Spanish cuisine in Melbourne – a recognition he is extremely proud of.
The MoVida chef and owner was born in Barcelona and spent his first five years in Córdoba, Andalusia, the hometown of his parents. It’s in Córdoba that he reflects on the fond food memories that he still carries today.
“I remember going to the mountain ranges of Córdoba with my parents on the back of a scooter. We would go to the top of the mountain to set up a small fire cooking quail as we watched the view of the city below,” reflects Frank Camorra.
“Or joining in with the community as they gathered in the city centre to cook these lamb skewers that are a delicacy of the region. The community would come together to cook for each other which was just great.”
Today, Camorra is a revered and celebrated chef thanks to his influence on Spanish cuisine in the way of MoVida, which introduced a fun, casual and experiential dining destination that was refreshingly new.
“Spanish cuisine in Australia in the early 2000s was not done well at all. What was on offer was very much aimed at tourists with no real thought put into the dishes. There’s a repertoire and regionality to Spanish food that is as extensive as French or Italian or European food,” says Camorra.
“At the time, high-end restaurants in Melbourne were very structured, staged and serious. Bringing that fun element to food in Melbourne with MoVida was the best thing we have done, hands down. Making it accessible and enjoyable to people is what we have always aimed to do.”
Camorra grew up in Corio, Geelong and spent his youth collecting clams in the bay, searching for crabs and octopus on the Surf Coast and watching his parents make their own chorizo or cure their own olives in the family kitchen.
“There was a tight Spanish community in Geelong so we all leaned on one another when we arrived [from Spain],” says Camorra.
“We shared food and ideas and the knowledge of Spanish cuisine, so food was definitely a big part of my life growing up, for sure.”
Starting his cooking apprenticeship in 1993 in Lorne at the once-famed local hangout, The Arab, Camorra worked his way up the ranks, taking on many roles as a kitchen hand, waiter, manager, cook and chef.
But it wasn’t until a move to Melbourne working under the likes of Guy Grossi that his love for cooking excelled.
“What I realised from working with different sorts of chefs over the years is that if you took things seriously and were committed and had a love for cooking, then there was a real opportunity to go far in this industry,” explains Camorra.
“My time working for Guy [Grossi] at Cafe Grossi, Pietro’s and Florentino’s was a steep learning curve. Guy was really a mentor to me. The way that he looked at Italian food and the way that he presented it to the customer was exciting and new and I wanted to do the same thing with Spanish food: represent it the way it should be.”
It was this realisation that set Camorra on his path to success. Leaving Melbourne for Spain, he immersed himself in Spanish culture for two years, learning all there is to know about its ingredients, traditional dishes and how best to represent its cuisine in Australia.
“I worked in Córdoba and the Pyrenees and travelled to the different regions of Spain, which each represented completely different food. I really learnt as much as I could, which I could bring back to Melbourne,” says Camorra.
“Spanish chefs always used to tell me, ‘you have to learn the cannon first.’ What they meant was that I had to learn the basics before modernising a dish; before playing around with it.”
Come 2002, MoVida was born, representing Camorra’s love affair with Spanish cuisine. Located down Hosier Lane – one of Melbourne’s eclectic laneways – the hole-in-the-wall location was reminiscent of the backstreets of Madrid.
Above all, MoVida marked the beginning of an evolution of Spanish food in Australia.
“I never understood why Spanish food never translated here in Australia, as Italian and French food did,” says Camorra.
“I didn’t just want to bring a taste of Spain to Melbourne; I wanted to bring the whole experience. In Spain, there isn’t just good food but the style of the restaurant and the type of service and the way people ate; the casualness of it all really attracted me.”
More than just introducing Spanish cuisine to Melburnians, MoVida popularised the casualness of sharing a meal at the bar; a style of eating that Melbourne is now synonymous for.
“It was hard to convince people to eat at the bar when we first opened MoVida. But once they did, they loved it. They loved the interaction with the front of house staff and it became a really unique dining experience,” says Camorra.
“MoVida took that element of shared plates and elevated it to another level. We use fantastic ingredients and produce to create lovely technical food, coupled with the professional and knowledgable service of our staff.”
Today, MoVida is one of Melbourne’s stalwart dining destinations. It was hailed as the best Spanish restaurant in the country by Australian Gourmet Traveller at one point, and has since cemented its footprint into the fabric of Australia’s respected gastronomical scene.
A sea change
Following in the footsteps of its bigger city locations – MoVida Melbourne, Aqui, Next Door and Bar Tini – comes MoVida Lorne: a casual, no-fuss eatery that is inspired by a ‘Chiringuito’ – a Spanish word for a small beach shack.
What you’ll find, however, is the same MoVida DNA but with a simplified dining approach.
“MoVida Lorne has been received really well here in Lorne and it’s exactly where it should be: simple, accessible and comfortable. It’s the type of food you want to eat when you’re on holiday,” says Camorra.
“We designed it to be casual and comfortable. We want diners to feel like they can come in bathers during the day or maybe put a shirt on for the evening. It’s simple food, a casual atmosphere and a pop-in pop-out sort of place.”
As you enter its doors, a long tapas bar dominates the centre of the restaurant. Behind it, an open kitchen allows diners to revel in the theatrics of an evening service. To your right, tables bathed in natural light with panoramic views of the bay. To your left, a providore with some of Camorra’s favourite Spanish foods (think Jamón ibérico, Spanish Paprika and tinned anchovies).
The fit-out is designed by Philippa Johnson and architect Casey Tydens, who has ensured a casual, warm and comfortable dining space is immediately apparent.
At the helm of the kitchen is Kane Voukon, who brings his expertise as head chef of Aqui to MoVida Lorne. On the menu, you can find the same iconic dishes that have forever populated the menu at MoVida: ‘Anchoa’ hand-filleted Cantabrian artisan anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet; ‘Croqueta’ with Jerusalem artichoke and manchego cheese; ‘Pulpo’ grilled octopus and kipfler potato skewer with pil-pil; and ‘Almejas’ with Cloudy Bay diamond clams and chorizo with apple cider.
“Our menu at MoVida Lorne represents the dishes we have always done quite well. Take the Anchoa, for example, that’s one dish that has been with us since the start. I’m very proud of that dish because it shows people what an anchovy can be,” says Camorra.
“The Croquet is another dish I’m hard on my chefs for. It takes time but it’s an essential Spanish tapas. If you order croquet anywhere and it’s not luscious and soft and gooey inside, leave!”
One of the highlights of Camorra’s MoVida Lorne is the freshness of its produce; a blessing thanks to the proximity to local fishermen and producers in the area.
Camorra goes directly to a local fisherman by the name of Warren for most of his seafood, who provides all of the octopus, gummy shark and crayfish that can be found on the menu.
“Seafood is prominent on our menu. We especially use Apollo Bay octopus and gummy shark, among other types of fish from the area. It’s not a huge variety but we’re giving people the opportunity to come into our restaurant to have seafood that is caught fresh, daily,” says Camorra.
“What I love about working with Frank is that he is interested in using all different parts of the fish I catch, like using the bones for stock. A lot of great seafood dishes are created from a fresh stock,” adds fisherman Warren.
“People want fresh produce, I see it every day. They want to know that their seafood has been caught nearby. To get something like that is a great experience in my eyes.”
After spending the afternoon with Frank Camorra and his team at MoVida Lorne, the chef leaves us with parting words of advice when delving into the intricacies of Spanish cuisine.
“When cooking a seafood paella, never use chorizo. It’s just a no-no,” laughs Camorra.
To book a table at MoVida Lorne, visit the website here