Meet the lady behind the flavours at Rosa Bar - Chef Romi
When it comes to eating out, if your dining decisions are based around being taken on a cultural journey, and transported somewhere you’ve never been before, then there is one such Newcastle restaurant that does this beautifully.
Lambton's quiet achiever Rosa Bar, launched by Maree and Murray Ruse in 2020, has not surprisingly, built itself a very loyal and regular clientele, mostly locals keen to keep Rosa all to themselves. Word has, however spread with much of the chat attributed to the kitchen powerhouse that is Chef Ramona Barboza.
Speaking to us with the help of Spanish translator Elizabeth Losurdo talks us through her work and life story. From Paraguay to the Canary islands, Morocco, France, Lake Macquarie and now Newcastle, Romi’s cultural journey is a fascinating one and reflective of the vibrant and flavoursome menu that she has crafted at Rosa Bar.
Born and raised in Paraguay, it was here her love of cooking began with Romi being taken under the wing of the Culinary Arts Institute Director, Gladis Esmilces de Chrutti in Villa Elisa where Romi was living at the time. Gladis gave Romi lessons for 12 months instilling not only all those essential cooking skills but a whole lot more,
“That’s where my love of cooking began, Gladis also gave me my first certificate.” (Romi laughs).
At aged 13 Romi left her hometown of General Elizardo Aquino for Argentina and continued to work as a nanny until she was 19. When the family she was working for decided to relocate to the Canary Islands Romi followed, and it was here in the Spanish Islands that Romi’s food story really begins.
“Whilst I was a nanny I also worked in a small bar, and then a year later I started studying so I could become a better chef and apply for a better position.”
“I loved the Canary Islands, and I studied for 3 ½ years at a cooking school where I learnt different types of cooking methods and anything that had to do with gastronomy.”
“As a part of the cooking school I had to do a practicum in another country. I originally wanted to go to France but I couldn’t because my son was only seven at the time so I went to Morocco instead, and did my practicum at the Sofitel in Rabat.”
“It was only meant to be for 3 months but I ended up staying on for a whole year. I loved the culture, the people of Morocco are very open, and it was a great learning experience.”
“The hotel had more of a French influence, but outside in the markets I liked to experience the Arab street food, the sardines, lamb, and couscous. There was also a lot of soups that I really loved and the pastries and breads were beautiful.”
“I learnt a lot from my time there and the menu at Rosa reflects a lot of what I experienced.”
Following her 12 months in Morocco, Romi returned to the Canary Islands where she opened her own cafe, before moving onto Paris for a year where she worked in an Iberian restaurant. It was here that Romi learnt about the very traditional style of Spanish cooking that is Iberian food.
From Paris Romi returned to the Canary Islands for a further two years, before relocating to Belmont in Lake Macquarie to be closer to her family. For Lake Macquarie locals you may remember Isle of Canary which Romi explains had a similar menu style to Rosa. Open for three years it was here that Romi established her reputation as a chef in Newcastle, yet when Covid hit Romi had to make the tough decision to close the doors.
Not one to sit still though, thanks to the help of her son, Romi started applying for jobs and as they say, the rest is history.
“My son helped me look for chef jobs, I didn’t have a resume so I just started sending messages. One of them was to Cargo Espresso Bar in Redhead and Maree got back to me saying there was a position available.”
It didn’t take long for Romi to go about changing the cafe menu, adding her mix of Spanish and Latin American flavours into the menu before moving into Cargo's sister restaurant, Rosa, full-time in 2020.
When asked if Romi now has a cuisine of preference Romi explains,
“I have worked with Spanish food for almost 17 years, I love it but Latin America is now my favourite style of food to work with.” evidenced by Rosa’s new summer menu.
Doing her best to stay true to the authentic cultural flavours, Romi explained at times she can be waiting up to a month for certain ingredients to come from Sydney or even longer if they are coming from Latin America,
“If they don’t arrive we take that dish off the menu as there are some ingredients you can’t replace.”
Looking at Rosa’s menu it’s easy to see that seafood is a favourite with Ceviche being Romi's most loved ingredient.
“I love to work with seafood, there is so much variety with what you can do with it, but Ceviche is probably my favourite type of seafood. You can make about 20 different types of Ceviche, it’s possible to have a restaurant that is dedicated solely to Ceviche.” (Romi laughs)
Rosa's menu brings a mix of Spanish and Latin American flavours, but regardless of the dish Romi likes to keep as true to the flavour as possible and is always striving to make it better,
“I love working at Rosa Bar as I am free to cook pretty much what I like, with the flavours I want to cook with, the best quality ingredients and I value those things a lot.”