Richard Ptacnik – Head Chef, OTTO Sydney

For close to two decades, Richard Ptacnik has been the culinary maestro behind the scenes at OTTO Sydney, an iconic establishment in the heart of the harbour city. A veteran in the local restaurant scene, Ptacnik crafts a modern Italian menu that pays homage to classical traditions while embracing contemporary vitality. In a candid conversation, we delved into Ptacnik’s culinary journey, his menu philosophy, and his insights into the ever-evolving dining landscape.

Ptacnik’s culinary odyssey commenced at the age of 15 when he immersed himself in the world of food through a sponsorship. His culinary predilections took him across Europe, with stints in Czech Republic, Germany, and Switzerland, before finding his way to Australia. OTTO became a pivotal chapter, where he ascended from a sponsorship to the esteemed role of Head Chef in a mere five years.
Reflecting on the rigours of the kitchen, Ptacnik acknowledges, “Cooking can look easy but, in reality, it takes a lot of hard work, research, and long hours.” This ethos forms the foundation of his culinary approach, emphasising resilience, continuous learning, and a cohesive team spirit.

From the outset, Ptacnik championed flavour as the linchpin of his culinary philosophy. He sources the freshest, responsibly-produced ingredients and, when it comes to beef, looks for depth—be it age, brine, or smokiness—to accentuate its natural essence. In the realm of beef, Ptacnik leans towards grain-finished or grain-fed varieties, citing their nuanced flavour profiles and versatility in cooking techniques.

As the leader of the esteemed OTTO team, Ptacnik draws inspiration from classic culinary principles, immersing himself in literature, exploring diverse dining establishments, and embarking on culinary journeys globally. Despite his international exposure, Ptacnik holds Australian beef in the highest regard, stating, “Australian beef is right up there with the best in the world. Maybe only second to Japan, continuously producing some of the most premium beef on the planet.”

When asked about his preferred cut, Ptacnik favours the chuck tail flat for its high marble score, elevated fat content, remarkable flavour profile, and affordability. His culinary finesse shines through when using woodfire or chargrills, highlighting the unique impact of fire on meat. “You just can’t replicate it”.

Preserving the allure of OTTO’s iconic menu requires a delicate balance with seasonality and foresight. Ptacnik introduces new, exciting produce with changing seasons, emphasising sustainability and ethical sourcing. His meticulous approach involves a collaborative process, ensuring each dish earns its place on the menu through tastings, tests, and team approvals.

In tune with the evolving gastronomic landscape, Ptacnik observes emerging trends, including the resurgence of woodfire ovens, the advocacy for local produce, a commitment to sustainable practices, and a shift towards set courses. He champions the latter as “the perfect seasonal combination of food, perfectly matched with wonderful wines.”

Ptacnik extends his culinary accolades to JBS and Andrews Meat Industries, highlighting the enduring partnership that ensures a seamless supply of top-tier ingredients to OTTO. “You’re only as good as the produce you work with, so it’s crucial that we get the best of the best and a consistent supply to enable the team to do what they do,” he affirms.

In the dynamic realm of the restaurant scene, where trends flux and diners flock (or don’t), Ptacnik’s mission remains unwavering: to etch his legacy through longevity, consistency, and reliability. In his own words, it’s about delivering “fresh, simple, tasty food. Good service too, obviously, and people looking for hospitality, recognition and personal attention.” This is the daily commitment of Ptacnik and his dedicated team at OTTO Sydney—a commitment to providing an unparalleled experience where patrons return, assured by the promise of exceptional service, impeccable cuisine, and, let’s face it, a pretty unbeatable location.