What made you become a chef? I did really well at science at school and for a long time thought I would end up being a scientist. When I was growing up my neighbour was a bit of a rock star chef. I ended up doing work experience for him at school and that’s when my focused really changed. I always loved food, having cooked from a young age with my mum and my grandmother. And my dad was a foodie and a very good cook. My mum cooked all our meals from scratch, we wouldn’t see a fish finger or anything processed.
Culinary philosophy? Keep food simple and handle it as little as possible. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. Know your food sources and keep it seasonal. Keep interested, keep passionate and keep learning. And always remember that customers want value for money.
Food heroes? Raymond Blanc. He’s a rock star, he’s my hero. By far the most passionate knowledgeable chef with the best palate that I have ever had the good fortune to work with. [Also] Lee Parsons. I worked with him in Canada. His eye for detail and his knowledge is incredible. Warren Geraghty taught me everything I needed to know about managing a kitchen properly including admin and financial management. He was tough to work for but his work ethic was second to none.
Is there a difference in mindset between a pastry chef and head chef? Absolutely. Pastry chefs make the best head chefs. They are tidy, efficient, they are like scientists. Everything is weighed down to the gram. A great friend of mine is Colin Bedford, whom I worked with in Canada when he was a pastry chef. He is now a Grand Chef Cuisine for Relais Chateaux and executive chef of The Fearrington House in America. I believe his pastry chef precision has much to do with his current success.
Worst moment in the kitchen ever? The famous venison incident at L’Escargot. In a nutshell I only cooked two but I needed three. It was the last two I had and I had already carved them. I can tell you the date and time it happened, but I am over it now. Enough said.
Have you ever been ‘screamed’ at by another chef? Daily. I look back now and I loved every minute. But times have changed and kitchens don’t operate like that anymore.
Working for Marco Pierre White in a nutshell? Brutal, frightening, fun, ridiculous hours with lots of pressure. An amazing team with great camaraderie. We were a band of brothers and I have friends for life from this time. It’s been my springboard and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Why are UK celeb chefs so feisty? It was fashionable to be that angry dominant psychopath. For years English chefs were looked upon as inferior to their French neighbours. They had a lot to prove. Then came Marco who was the godfather of English chefs. They called him the ‘enfant terrible’ in France, he had three Michelin stars at age 33. From him came the likes of Gordon Ramsay. But there’s a changing of the guard with the new generation of English chefs like Tom Kerridge and Simon Rogan.
What local ingredients excite you here in Australia? We are currently using a lot of foraged sea succulents. We pick our own warrigal greens (Botany Bay spinach) from the 230 acre Elements of Byron property. The local Dorper Lamb from the farm down the road is fantastic.
Best culinary advice you’ve ever been given? Keep learning. Spend your money on eating out. Read books.
Does Australian fine dining match the exacting standards of the UK/Europe? Absolutely it does. The food scene here is fantastic. There are so many facets to fine dining. It’s not all white tablecloths and crystal glasses. There are restaurants in London with Michelin stars serving fried chicken. As soon as you hear the words ‘Michelin star’ you think it’s exclusive and expensive. But it’s about respect for ingredients, where it’s from and how it’s prepared. That’s fine dining. And one of the most important (and hardest) things in fine dining is consistency.