Meet Our New Head of Catering – Damien Rooney

This term we welcomed Damien Rooney, to the College in the role of Catering Manager. We interviewed Damien to find out more about him. He has also generously shared his favourite recipe with us.

My role here at Santa Maria as Catering Manager is to oversee all requested functions, food preparation, hygiene standards, seasonal menus, goods receiving, food safety standards, temperature control, budgets, rosters, food cost and all boarding catering, basically anything food related or anything required by the school to keep standards great.

Before Santa Maria, I ran two cafes for a private owner, Cioccolato Espresso in Applecross and Hylin in West Leederville. My role was similar, except a lot of our trade and food was recognised through social media as they were very on-trend cafes. I was responsible for similar job roles to Santa Maria, just more inclined to be social-media aware.

I am interested in all cuisines, especially on-trend foods and healthy but delicious eating. I am looking forward to implementing my food ideas into Santa Maria and believe we can change the perception of school food in people’s minds – eat food like no one’s watching!

New healthy food ideas are definitely in the plan with some fresh salads (Japanese chicken salad, quinoa brown rice avocado salad with teriyaki chicken, health bowls and nourish bowls) and a lot of new ideas in the hot food section. There will be less pre-bought in products and more healthy choices, as I strongly believe that is the way we should go. The snacks and drinks will become a lot more varied offering greater choice.

Sustainability is a major focus for me, we already have a food wastage program in place but we can do better. We only use biodegradable serving dishes in the café and plan to do a lot more. I also work closely with the College gardeners using our waste coffee beans on our newly planted herb garden in boarding. We strongly urge staff and students to use keep cups and apply a 10% discount on warmed beverages when doing so.

Damien has kindly shared his favourite recipe below.


1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 kilo lamb shoulder excess fat trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup good red wine
1 cup low-sodium beef stock
2 x 400 gm cans crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
8–10 sprigs fresh thyme
Optional: ¼ cup heavy cream
Serve with gnocchi or pasta of choice grated parmesan, fresh basil or parsley for garnish

  1. Brown the lamb: Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed Dutch pan over medium-high heat. Using paper towel, pat the lamb as dry as possible, then season generously with 1 teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper. Working in batches as needed, add the lamb to the Dutch oven. Cook the lamb until deeply browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan – it prevents browning! Transfer the lamb to a plate and set aside. At this point, preheat the oven to 160c.
  2. Cook the aromatics: Reduce the heat under the Dutch oven to medium. Add the onion, carrots and celery, seasoning with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are softened and deeply caramelised, about 10-12 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add in the tomato paste, stirring to combine, and cook for another minute or two to caramelise.
  3. Deglaze: Slowly pour the red wine into the Dutch oven, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits that have formed at the bottom of the pot – that’s where all the flavour is! Let the red wine reduce by about half (this happens quickly!), then pour in the beef stock, crushed tomatoes, and the herbs. I like to use kitchen twine to tie the herbs into a little bundle for easy removal. Return the lamb to the Dutch oven.
  4. Braise: Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven to braise at 160c for 2-2 ½ hours. When it’s ready, the lamb should shred very easily. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Remove the herbs, then shred the lamb – it’ll be tender enough that you should be able to shred it right in the ragu by using the back of a wooden spoon. Stir to combine. At this point, you can serve, set aside, or even freeze for later use.
  5. Serve: Bring a pot of salty water to a boil and cook the gnocchi or pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, as the gnocchi boils, finish the ragu. Add the ragu to a small skillet over medium-high heat, about ½ cup ragu per serving. Drizzle in some heavy cream, about 1 tablespoon per serving. Stir to combine, then add in the cooked gnocchi or pasta. Toss to combine, then let cook for 1-2 minutes for everything to come together. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated parmesan & fresh herbs, as desired. Enjoy!


Lamb: When it comes to buying lamb, it’s so important to choose Australian lamb, vs imported. It’s not only fresher but buying Australian also supports the local farmers across the country who are committed to the quality & welfare of their animals. Be sure to ask your butcher where they source their lamb or check out the Australian Lamb Board’s website for more details.

Red wine helps to add so much richness to this braised lamb ragu! No need to break the bank here, but use a drinkable medium-bodied dry red wine. A good Chianti is always my go-to!

Slow cooker: This braised lamb ragu recipe is slow cooker-friendly, though I have a strong preference for braising it as written. Braising pulls out so much more flavour! If braising doesn’t fit in your schedule, slow cooking will work, but be sure to try the braised version at some point! To slow cook, sear the lamb and cook the aromatics according to steps 1-2 of recipe directions. Transfer everything to a slow cooker with all remaining listed ingredients, tomato paste through herbs. Slow cook on low heat for 8-10 hours, until the lamb shreds easily. Serve according to step 5 of recipe directions.



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