There is a culinary feast full of exotic dishes presented before us when I interview the incredibly inspiring and talented Pat Fink, one half of Naked For Satan – a renowned institution in Melbourne’s Fitzroy. Cured kingfish, heirloom tomatoes, oysters, scallops followed by dessert and accompanying drinks dominate the table. The colours and smells are full of rich vibrancy and there is one thing that strongly comes to mind as I sample what’s in front of me: there is so much love in this food…
Pat Fink has been in the world of hospitality since the 80s. You could say she found her calling from a young age. She worked as a waitress throughout her years as a uni student much to the disappointment of her family who couldn’t believe their daughter would resort to what they considered to be demeaning work. But for Pat, there was a love that was instant. Her passion was to serve and feed others. During our time together, what I realised, is that this passion is an innate part of who she is. Pat’s gracious hospitality and generosity is at the heart of the value system that drives the philosophy behind Naked For Satan and what she wants people to experience when they walk through its doors.
In fact, this core principle of generosity has influenced all the projects her and partner Max Fink have developed over the years. For the two of them, Naked For Satan is considered one big family business. Every person who works there is regarded as an important member of their family. It’s simply the way it is for Pat and Max. Our time together is set at their famous rooftop overlooking Melbourne’s pretty skyline just as the sun is about to set. Grab a glass of vino and settle in to the world of Naked For Satan:
What inspired the launch of Naked For Satan?
We had a little break from our last project and travelled through Europe and ended up in Spain, travelling through San Sebastian and Bilbao. That’s where we discovered the pintxos bars. In the old part of the city there’s just streets of bars and people everywhere and the food is like art. Each place has their specialty. It was so inspiring and exciting to experience that. They have an honour system, where you help yourself and when you finish you pay. I loved that and thought no one does that in Melbourne, we’re made to pay upfront. We fell in love with this idea of being able to go and have a drink, have beautiful food. It’s their version of tapas, but it’s called pintxos because there’s a little toothpick in it called the pintxa.
From there we went out to La Rioja and stayed at Marques de Riscal which is a famous Frank Ghery designed hotel. It’s this incredibly modern building, juxtaposed with an old farmhouse and we loved it. The food, the wine, the building, it was amazing. We’d go down the village and we’d explore the vineyards and everywhere we went, it was so rich in produce and wine. It was so inspiring. Then we found out that the Basque country has the highest proportion of Michelin star chefs of any city in the world. We loved what we experienced there and wanted to bring a part of that back to Melbourne. That’s our influence and taking this old building and juxtaposing it to make the traditional and the modern work. We started renovting downstairs, reinstated the lift, renovated an underground cellar, we put so much into this building and this project, with no help from the owner. When he finally acknowledged the lengths we were going to and the passion we had for developing his building, he finally made the effort to contribute and support us in our project. We had to go to council, It took two years to get the permit for upstairs.
What do you think drives that belief in you so much – where does that come from?
To be honest, it’s instinct, it’s just a feeling. Seeing what was here always stayed with us – we had been eyeing off the rooftop for 9 years before we started. Imagine if all this wasn’t here, and we just had a concept, it was something that wouldn’t leave us and every time we came up we just knew this would be perfect…That unshakeable belief is a gut feeling. We have always stuck to our guns to do what we’ve wanted to do and it’s worked for us. If something doesn’t feel right we won’t do it. You know when something feels right, it’s not rational or logical.
How did your vision for Naked influence what you wanted people to experience when they walked through its doors?
We wanted them to experience the same thing we experienced when we walked through the streets of San Sebastian – going up to pay for our food and being told to come back and pay when we’d finished… Everyone in Melbourne thought we were crazy! But it created a party-like atmosphere. We didn’t expect it to be so successful when we first opened. It grew quickly in a short space of time. No-one had done this in Melbourne. And it’s also that sense of giving, that generosty. It’s hospitality, it’s the service industry. You have to give and the public feel that. Max and I really have the belief that it all comes back to you. That belief has always worked for us.
Everything about your business, from the interiors to the food, to the infused vodkas has all been carefully considered. Nothing is by chance. What was the process behind it coming together?
We felt so great being in the environment in San Sebastian and seeing what we saw. From that initial idea we liaised with our business partners that all contributed to bringing this vision to life. It’s considered because we work together with the right people who have been part of other projects with us over the years that it’s just like a labour of love. Everyone’s love and contribution goes into bringing it together. We had a very clear picture of how we wanted it to look. It needed to be comfortable for anyone that walked in. Everything is about warmth and feeling. The aim is to make you feel good. This understanding of what we want to achieve in our projects has come after many years of working together.
What has working in hospitality – managing people, dealing with customers etc, taught you about yourself and how has this come to enhance your passion for hospitality and what you do?
You go through phases. When I was working on the floor a lot, being a bar person, I went through a stage of being very cynical. Then, I realised, after we’d sold one of our businesses and gone away, that my attitude was like that because I was burnt out. It reminded me of how skewed and cynical you can get when you focus only on 10% of the bad things that people do as oppose to focusing on the 90% of the goodness in them. Every time I have a bad experience with someone, I realised it’s not then, it’s me and how I’m dealing with that particular situation. With age, wisdom and hindsight, I’ve learnt to be more wise about people and take a step back, take a breath etc. It’s taken years to get to this point and deal with things the way I do now.
How was it to record the journey of Naked For Satan in the making of the book?
It was an amazing process. I loved it. It was a challenge for the chefs because they had to alter the recipes to make it suitable for the everyday person who would be using it at home.
We tested the recipes at my house and the chefs would give me a hard time about my knife skills! I was torturing them to make the recipes more accessible. There are cookbooks that I love, but I can’t use them. I wanted people to be able to use this confidently, to be able to open any page and create a dish. I made it very difficult for the chefs because we went through everything with a fine toothcomb.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job Pat?
When I walk in and it’s busy like this and customers that know who I am come up to me and say: thank you, what would we do without Naked For Satan, what would we do without you? And when they come in for a special occasion, I can make a fuss, I can send out champagne and cake and make them feel special. That’s the most rewarding part. To be a part of that and that they have made us part of their lives. And then my staff coming up to me and expressing their gratitude at being part of this team. You can’t get better than that, it’s pure job satisfaction. This is more than just a business, I passionately love it – I love feeding people and I love serving people.
To sample your own experience at Naked For Satan, Click HERE
All images via the super talented Margot Fink
Happy Travels, Paula