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The man behind the best brew in Adelaide, Jonny Pisanelli

By Aimee Knight

Jonny Pisanelli says he’s “only as good as his last cup of coffee” – the last cup he’s sold, that is. He’s referring to the strict standard of quality control at his specialty café Abbots and Kinney. But with a daily wake-up time of 2.30am, he enjoys plenty of the brew too.

It’s this consuming passion for top-notch coffee that’s helped Jonny grow from humble food cart beginnings to running his own brick and mortar patisserie, and supplying a dozen other Adelaide cafés with the freshest pastries this side of Naples. Cream always rises to the top.

“For me, it’s about using the best ingredients you can,” Jonny says. “That’s my drive, to source the best ingredients at a reasonable price for our customers.”

When it comes to core ingredients, Jonny likes to go straight to the source.

“For flour we deal directly with a farmer in the Flinders Ranges, which is pretty cool. Our milk comes from the Fleurieu Peninsula, so we’re on the phone to the dairy on the regular. They’re really great people. Their milk is the best for the coffee that we want to make. It carries the coffee.

“We need raw ingredients that are consistent. That makes our job a bit easier. Then the onus is on us.”

Largely self-taught, Jonny honed his caffeinated craft by competing in coffee competitions and working alongside a local roaster.

“It’s not like you go to university and get a degree. Coffee is like wine, in a sense. It’s up to the individual. I was lucky that I was introduced to a really great roaster who let me spend as long as I wanted at the roastery, tasting coffees.

“Being able to work next to the roaster, who knows the profile of the coffee and what the characteristics are, helps you train your palate. Then once you build up that confidence, you can take that coffee and get the best out of it.

“Every day the coffee is different. If you ever say that you’ve stopped learning, that’s when you’re in a bit of strife. It’s the barista’s job to take the coffee in those given conditions and still make something that a customer says, ‘That’s really yummy’. That’s a skill.”

Amid the daily duties of running a thriving pastry empire, Jonny still makes time to get on the handles. You’ll find him behind the coffee machine at 78 Pirie Street most mornings.

“I think it’s important because a lot of customers come for that interaction,” he says. “They might be in an office all day and they might not get that interaction at work. It’s great to have a chat while you’re making their coffee, and have your own coffee.

“At the end of the day, your customers are the best indication of whether you’re doing the right thing.”

Jonny was born and bred in South Australia, but his croissants and philosophies have been equally influenced by his time spent overseas. At Abbots and Kinney, he aims to re-create the European culinary experience “in Adelaide, for Adelaideans”.

“I lived in Italy when I was 17, 18. That’s where I started to realise there’s a real culture for good pastries and good food.

“There’s a very famous Italian pastry called sfogliatelle. You’d go into the shop, explain what you wanted, and they’d make you wait because they were constantly baking throughout the day. Where my family is from [in Naples] is about an hour away [from the sfogliatelle bakery]. I remember sitting on the train with these pastries on my lap, hot, the entire trip home. We had them for lunch and they were still warm.

“That Neapolitan experience, you’ll only get in Naples, because it’s everything: the streets that you’re on and the people that are there. But the smell, the feel of something hot and fresh, and knowing how it made me feel – I want to give that feeling to other people.

“Food definitely has a link to good memories. It might mean a honeymoon overseas, or remind you of your grandmother, or that smell you wake up to in the morning when you sleep at an aunty’s house. It makes me happy, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I give this to people who might not have experienced it?’”

Back home, Jonny relives la dolce vita at Adelaide institutions such as Amalfi Pizzeria Ristorante and Nano Café. “They’ve stuck to their guns, they do what they know, and they do it really well,” he says of the latter. Along with a slice of pizza Napolitano, Nano’s simplicity and consistency are his favourite takeaways, and something of an influence on Abbots and Kinney.

“Every day, I want to improve something. Even if it’s good, it can always be better. I’m really excited about the future of the shop.”

Jonny has recently refreshed the menu at his boutique CBD spot, with new items such as the Granoel Gallagher joining old favourites including the Barry Croquer. Touches such as these give Abbots and Kinney it’s “little stamp of individuality”, Jonny says.

“We’ve just got a new head chef on board who’s as driven about food as I am about pastries. We’ve got a great dynamic out the front to support that. We have a great rapport with our customers.”

The best part is, Jonny isn’t looking to leave Adelaide any time soon.

“I only had the confidence to do a brick and mortar place because of the people of Adelaide, who supported my pop-up and my farmers market stall. If they weren’t supporting me, I wouldn’t have opened here. So we need to make sure that before we look at taking on the world, our customers here have got the best that we can give.

“We have the best living in Adelaide, being so close to the beach and the city and the wine regions. If you’ve lived here, you’ll know why it’s easy to stay.”

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Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are at Adelaide Airport.

 

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