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Adam Shuns Rules to become Chef of the Year

26 April 2023

Adam Rees grew up making fancy toasties and pizzas from whatever was in the fridge. Years later, he’s the WA Good Food Guide Chef of the Year – still experimenting with flavour near the beach at Madalena’s.

No rules. That’s Adam Rees’ main rule in the kitchen at Madalena’s Bar in South Fremantle, and it might be the secret ingredient that saw the 28 year-old named WA's best chef this year.

Adam Rees, Head Chef at Madalena's Bar in Fremantle

Above: Adam Rees, Head Chef at Madalena’s Bar in South Fremantle.

‘I’ll pair flavours together that many chefs wouldn’t.’

Think Asian herbs in classic French dishes, or vegetables in dessert. It might sound weird, but it results in simple but interesting food that brings people back time and again to Madalena’s, the relaxed Mediterranean bar and restaurant near South Beach that Adam co-pilots with brother Joel (the business brains) and his wife Danielle Christina de Almeida.

Hand-picked, fresh

Adam, who cut his teeth at Frasers, The Witch’s Cauldron and the Naked Fig before honing his craft in Melbourne, has a deep regard for ingredients. It is doubtless part of what earned him 2023's top accolade (and indeed, Young Chef of the Year in 2019).

Seafood is a Madalena’s staple, but not just any seafood. Adam (who once named nannygai as his spirit animal) sources only whole fish, mostly line-caught by small family fishing enterprises. Dhufish and Spanish mackerel are current favourites.

Augusta bass groper dry aging at Madalena's Bar in Fremantle

Above: Augusta bass groper dry aging at Madalena's Bar in Fremantle (via

The restaurant’s vegetable garden – tended by Adam and a slew of volunteers from the restaurant staff – is the secret weapon that brings freshness and zing to his dishes. The plantings tend toward the unusual and hard-to-find. Red streak mizuna, lemon myrtle, sorrel, lemon grass, bay leaves and edible flowers are on high rotation. Curry leaves might come from the church garden up the road. Everything is hand-picked fresh before service.

‘I think what’s made my cooking style mine is all the travel I’ve done.’

Ironically, Adam's decidedly ‘local’ approach has its roots in worldwide wandering, ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in France, South America, Europe and Asia, eating as much as possible.’

That eating (and deconstructing dishes in his head) spanned everything from super fine dining to street food. Where he’s landed is at a boteca style eatery that offers something in between: casual, well executed, simple food.

So, what gives Madalena's its X-factor?

Madalena's Bar in Fremantle

Above: Autumn light filters into Madalena's Bar (upstairs) in Fremantle

‘We try and encapsulate the vibe of sitting at a restaurant in Rome or a great little bar in South America,’ says Adam, who hints at tweaking the new upstairs space this year to give it a personality of its own.

Add a sprinkling of Vietnam and Thailand – and Adam’s unwillingness to skimp on detail – and you’re a step closer to defining the X-factor that sees people basking in the alfresco vibe at Madalena’s all year round.