HAVING turned 69 last week, Carmelo Cardamone is still driven by his passion for authentic Italian fare. The head chef at Wodonga restaurant Italy on a Plate recently finished work at 4am on Saturday restocking handmade pasta and sauces ready for Saturday night's dinner service. "Then I cooked for 80 people on my own that Saturday night," he said. "I'm probably working 110 hours a week at the moment to keep up!" Together with his partner Pierina DeGrazia (front of house), Cardamone travels from their Myrtleford home six days a week to service their restaurant. He said he had struggled to attract two apprentice chefs over recent weeks, citing the coronavirus crisis and government policy as hurdles. Italy on a Plate didn't qualify for the JobKeeper payment as it only opened late last year. "I've been cooking for 80 people on my own and I really need another two in the kitchen," Cardamone said. "I'm going to have to reduce my bookings to 55 soon. "You've got to have passionate people working alongside you. "With the past, you can build a future. "We need a couple of passionate staff; if they're working only for the money, that is never going to happen." Having moved to Australia as a 16-year-old, Cardamone opened Wangaratta's first pizza bar when he couldn't get work in his field as a motor mechanic. Later he worked under legendary chef Pietro Grossi (Guy Grossi's father) and at Melbourne dining icon, Tolarno, with the Massoni family. "I'm lucky enough to have worked with some big names," Cardamone said. "I've done everything from wash dishes to manage international hotels." IN OTHER FOODIE NEWS: Having operated Italy on a Plate at Milawa until reforming in Wodonga two years later, Cardamone said he already had a loyal following on the border for his handmade fare. He said people would travel from as far as Griffith to Milawa for his popular Seafood Marinara dish. "Everything is made on the premises; we only use Australian seafood," he said. Cardamone said his clientele was split evenly between Wodonga and Albury. After news of the border closure early last week, Italy on a Plate lost 80 diners from Albury over two days. Cardamone said they would unlikely survive a second shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic. "There's a 50 per cent chance we wouldn't reopen," Cardamone said. "We're very grateful we've had an understanding landlord who didn't charge us rent while we were closed for dining." Italy on a Plate offers a large selection of Italian wines and French Champagne. Details: Italy on a Plate, 1 Thomas Mitchell Drive, Wodonga Phone: (02) 6024 1788 Our COVID-19 news articles relating to public health and safety are free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.