Peter Sullivan’s front of house stories

written by Dominic Rolfe.

It’s Valentine’s Day at ARIA almost a decade ago and a dapper gentleman is treating his glamorous partner to a romantic lunch. The restaurant’s best waiter moves skillfully about the floor, taking time to chat to the pair and deliver their orders. Later that evening, during the dinner service full of loved-up couples, the waiter spots the same dapper gentleman from lunch. Wandering over, he says, “Great to see you again, how was your lunch today?” Only then, does he realise that the woman dining with him is not the same woman from the earlier lunch.

“It was quickly obvious,”says Peter Sullivan, co-owner of ARIA and Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Young Restaurateur judge, “that the gentleman had come in with his mistress earlier and then with his wife for dinner. It’s funny now, but it soured the night a little bit at the time. You don’t really know where to go from there and the waiter didn’t get much of a tip from them that night!”

Running the high-profile, two-hatted restaurant overlooking the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge has brought plenty of amusing moments over the years. Like the time he brought Jennifer Aniston and her entourage up into the restaurant via the goods lift and through the screaming throng in the kitchen to avoid the paparazzi. “Suddenly, mid-shout, all these chefs were doing double takes. There are plenty of other funny moments …but many of them aren’t fit for print!”

Sullivan and his business partner Matt Moran have built an empire through their MorSul partnership, including North Bondi Fish, CHISWICK in Woollahra, CHISWICK at the Gallery, ARIA in both Sydney and Brisbane and the newly refurbished Opera Bar. Their well-told story began when they met working at the small La Belle Helene restaurant in Roseville in Sydney’s north. It was Sullivan’s first manager role. “It was a pretty small restaurant so on the busiest night it would be myself, three staff and 50 diners,”he says. “On Mondays it’d be me serving 20 people. But I liked the responsibility and ownership of it. I’d get in at 1pm, vacuum and get the entire place set up including cleaning the toilets – you did everything and that wasn’t a bad thing. The food was amazing and the guys in the kitchen had been there since 7am so I owed it to them to really put in as well.”

While it was his first restaurant manager role, Sullivan started his hospitality career at a lowly two-star hotel on the Pacific Highway while he studied at catering college. He soon moved down the road to a hotel in Artarmon and did stints in the kitchen, on the floor, at the bar, in functions and even as a porter. “I moved around as required,”he says, “which was good for learning.”

Learning and moving seem to be constants for Sullivan. After an 18 month search with Moran, they settled on a lease at the Paddington Inn in 1991 and started their own adventure. “We didn’t really think about it, we just went ahead and did it,”he says. “There was a bit of risk because we borrowed quite a lot of money and we only had a lease for a month! We backed ourselves and while you never know what will happen, you just try to learn as you go.”

They did everything themselves – brought and arranged the flowers, went to the markets, paid the wages. After a month, they were pretty happy with what they had done. Until they realised that apart from the staff, nothing had been paid – including the rent. “We were basically going broke very slowly,”says Sullivan. “Back then, we knew how to run a restaurant, but not a business. We had to stop, rethink it and do it properly. That was a pretty important moment for us because we could have been just another victim.”

At its heart, running a small business for Sullivan is all about problem solving. “If you’re not solving problems every day,”he says, “then you probably shouldn’t be running your own business. And the bigger the business, the more problems you have.”

While he has never come close to quitting the industry, he does recognise that all things maintain a certain flux. And coping with that is key to being successful. “My big thing is that everything goes through cycles,”says Sullivan, “and part of that is that it’s not the best that survive, it’s the ones that can adapt the quickest. That’s very important.”

In the past, a restaurant would be first glimpsed either by peering intently through its windows or in the restaurant review pages of the paper. With the proliferation of social media, that has been spun on its head. “Facebook, Twitter and Instagram mean it’s more about engagement before you get to the venue,”says Sullivan, “And then you throw in chefs becoming big personalities, and that engagement has really started long before a person comes in to dine.”

That need to constantly engage has its downsides though. “I get my balance out a bit,”says Sullivan, “I’ve fallen into the trap of sometimes letting my life be run by mobile phones and email. Throw in a lot of obsessive compulsion and it makes for a very wife- and family-unfriendly mix! But I fall into that trap because it’s a very personal business.”

MorSul (Moran and Sullivan) is the restaurant and catering group owned and operated by Peter Sullivan and Matt Moran.

Entries for Australian Young Waiter are open until 12 April 2015

Opening a Restaurant and then making it work by James Viles

At the heart of good restaurants is the person who had the passion and determination to create their vision. This is a story of a restaurateurs’ journey about why he opened his business, what happened when he did (the good, the bad and now the success) and where he sources his produce from. James Viles of Biota Dining, now runs a successful restaurant and rooms in Bowral, NSW.

 

Entries for Australian young chef, waiter and restaurateur are open until 12 April 2015

Biota Dining

a: 18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral NSW 2576

t: +61 (0)2 4862 2005  

e: info@biotadining.com

 

Challenge Yourself

The Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program allows you to test yourself against the industry’s best up-and-coming talent.

Coasting along isn’t going to get you anywhere in your career.

The Appetite for Excellence program encourages you to explore different ideas, skills and produce and see how you stack up against your contemporaries. Are you up for the challenge? Here’s how the program can help you:

Define your career goals
Just taking the time to fill out the application form can really help you focus on where you want to go in your career and how you’d like to get there.

“The application process pushes you to define what your values are and who you are personally and professionally,” says Katrina Birchmeier, Garagiste, Young Restaurateur 2012.

“Be organised! Initially, the application doesn’t look overly time consuming. If you’re serious about entering you need to have given your answers some thought, and it does take a lot of time.” says Lauren Spyrou, Bistro Guillaume & young waiter of the year national finalist 2014

Step outside your comfort zone
Taking part in a cook-off or being quizzed on your food and wine knowledge may sound a little scary, but it’s probably fear of failure that’s holding you back.

If you’ve ever pushed yourself to get to the next level, you’ll know that you can produce some pretty impressive results when you really challenge yourself.

And we aim to create a supportive environment for you to do just that.

“Being exposed to high calibre mentors helped me realise that what they achieved was not because they were superhuman, but because they worked hard and were well trained and I too could achieve this,” says Massimo Mele, Young Chef National Finalist 2005.

Explore your creativity
If you’re a young chef, the program gives all you opportunity to explore your creative side by developing your own menu according to your own food philosophy.

National finalists then take part in a cook-off to prepare and produce a three-course menu to present to the judges.

“You need to create a seasonal menu and I think that’s a good thing for young chefs to be able to do, rather than just follow the head chef,” says Soren Lascelles, Young Chef 2010.

So what are you waiting for? Enter! Applications close on Sunday 12 April @ 11.59pm

To hear what past young chefs and waiters think about their involvement see/hear the below inside story;

Henschke – we’ll drink to that

Henschke is a name entwined with Australian wine history. Proudly entrenched in the history of their region and craft, fifth generation winemaker Stephen Henschke and his wife, renowned viticulturist Prue are at the helm. They invited our young waiters, Breanna Lawler, Brooke Adey and Gerald Ryan to spend two days with them at their property. Breanna, Brooke and Gerald got the chance to grill Stephen with some of their own questions. It’s a great insight into one of Australia’s iconic winemakers, what he loves drinking, his thoughts on low alcohol wine and more;

Q1. Who influenced you in the world of wine?  

Primarily my grandfather Paul Alfred and my father Cyril Henschke.  Later on, Professor Helmut Becker at Geisenheim Institute, winemaker Gerry Sissing, wine legend Len Evans, winemakers Jim Irvine and Max Schubert and wine merchant Arch Baker.

Q2. Having been a producer at the forefront of organic and biodynamic viticulture for some time, do you have many vineyards/ viticulturists/ winemakers who approach you for your expertise? What advice do you give?

Surprisingly few have approached us, as there are organisations such as Biodynamic Agriculture Australia to provide advice. Prue, however often shares her knowledge with the many groups she is involved with, such as the Eden Valley Biodynamic Group and the Adelaide Hills Viticultural Group. Her meticulous viticultural management and aspirations for a long-term healthy environment recently won her an award at the 2014 Adelaide Hills Wine Show for recognition of service to the region. She also won the South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA) Environmental Excellence Award in the small to medium business category in 2011.

Q3. What new varietals are you excited about being introduced in SA; what’s well suited to the region? 

Grüner Veltliner in the cool climate Adelaide Hills, and in the more continental Eden Valley; Grenache Gris, Cinsault, Counoise, Clairette, and Carignan.

Q4. Are you planting any new international varieties?

We have recently planted Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Graciano and Barbera, with some exciting results.

 Q5. What wine styles/regions, in Australia and overseas, really excite you most at the moment?

Ribera del Duero in Spain, Piedmont Süd Tyrol in Italy, and Rheingau in Germany. These regions are the homes of their native varieties that make truly wonderful wines.

Q6. Do the public’s drinking habits affect the style and volume of wines you produce? 

Yes, we respond to consumer insights and interests, for example the current trends of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling. The revival of interest in Riesling in particular is exiting for us as it’s a historic variety for Henschke and a variety we love to make and drink too.

Q7. What do you think about creating lower alcohol wines and this trend?

It would be better to fix climate change first and then the whole world will have a better chance!

Q8. You have recently opened a restaurant at Adelaide Oval. Are there any plans for another fine diner or is Hill of Grace Restaurant the one for now?

No other plans. We are proud of the new Hill of Grace Restaurant; the ‘five star’ association is positive for wine and food and they are presenting our wines with style.

Q9. With the general quality of wine production worldwide being at an all time high, what steps are you taking to remain at the forefront of Australian wine? As a leading Australian producer are you feeling any pressure to change anything, or is it business as usual?

We are always innovating and improving. It is all about the vineyard, with our mantra being ‘Exceptional wines from outstanding vineyards’. Our wines are handcrafted by a dedicated family with a long-standing heritage and great pioneering spirit.

Q10. Being a family run business, have there been times when you considered branching out and taking on partners?

No

Q11. We have heard you speak before about winemaking happening in the vineyard, not the winery. How do you manage the unpredictable weather that we can sometimes expect and its impact on your land / vines? 

You are forced to take it on the chin like all farmers do! Sustainable farming principles help us to be as prepared as possible, but when you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, all you can do is get on with it.

Q12. With changing climatic conditions every year, where do you see Henschke in 20 years? 

We would like climate change to be fixed by then. At Henschke we aim to live within the natural landscape rather than on top of it.

Like to know a little more about the Henschke’s? See the below clip or read our article, Henschke – we’ll drink to that!

Ocean Trout, Toasted Barley, Nasturtium & Yoghurt

Recipe by Josh Niland

Josh has worked in the kitchens of Glass Brasserie, The Fat Duck, Est. Restaurant, The Woods Restaurant & Grain Bar and was head chef at Fish Face. He believes as a chef, that chefs provide nourishment and pleasure by cooking delicious food. His approach to food and cooking is to cook with humility, producing simple Australian food with the produce and guest in mind. Here he shares one of his recipes with us.

Preparation time: 60 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Skills needed: Medium
Serves: 4

 
Toasted Barley

Ingredients

250g pearl barley
1L water
1 bunch chives finely cut
1 lemon, zest and juice
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
Murray river pink Salt to taste

Method

Add pearl barley to a large wide based pan, making sure that it is evenly spread across the bottom of the pan in one layer to ensure all the grains are individually toasted. Over a medium heat toast the grain until a deep even brown colour making sure not to burn it.

Once completely toasted add the water and gently simmer until tender, approximately 25 minutes. Once cooked the water that the barley has cooked in should have been all absorbed. Remove from heat, drain any residual liquid and add lemon juice, zest, olive oil and season to taste and mix together thoroughly.

Allow to cool. Just before serving add finely cut chives and adjust seasoning.

 
Nasturtium Pistou*
This recipe will last for 3 days if stored in the fridge. Serve warm

Ingredients

200g large washed & picked nasturtium leaves, If unavailable use flat leaf parsley
1L water
100g salt for cooking leaves
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Murray river pink salt to taste

Method

Place a medium pot of water on high heat and bring to the boil. Add approximately 100g of salt to a litre of water for the blanching. Before adding the picked leaves to the water, prepare a bowl of iced water with a colander fitted inside for refreshing, so that the leaves don’t overcook and retain their green colour.

Blanch in boiling water for 20-30 seconds, remove immediately and add to iced water to cool.  Once completely cold, remove and ring dry the leaves in a tea towel or paper towel. Transfer to a chopping board and finely chop through the nasturtium. Add this to a mortar & pestle along with salt and black pepper to taste.

Begin to pound leaves, after a minute, start adding olive oil in a thin stream until fully incorporated. Adjust seasoning and set aside.

 
Yoghurt Sauce
This can be made 1hr prior to serving and is best disposed of 2-3hrs later

Ingredients

350g good quality, thick natural cow’s milk yoghurt
250ml water or fish stock if available
180g unsalted butter, cubed and cold
Murray river pink Salt to taste

Method

Place a sieve lined with a clean chux cloth or muslin/cheesecloth over a bowl, and then add the yoghurt. This is commonly known as hanging.

Make sure that the cloth covers the top of the yoghurt and then cover with glad wrap and place in fridge. This process ideally would be done overnight, but in this case an hour or two will suffice with a firm weight such as a can of tinned tomatoes placed on top of the sieve forcing the whey out.

In a medium saucepan add the stock/water to the yoghurt and whisk until combined. This will be the consistency of pouring cream. When thoroughly combined, turn the stove on to a low to medium heat and begin whisking mixture until warm, around 40 degrees.

Start adding small cubes of the cold butter into the yoghurt, being sure that the yoghurt doesn’t get too hot. Continue whisking after each addition of butter as this will ensure the sauce doesn’t split or become grainy. Once all the butter is fully emulsified, season with salt.

Over a bowl with a plastic scraper push the mixture through a fine sieve to create a velvety consistency. Set aside somewhere warm and cover with cling film making sure that it is touching the mixture to avoid a skin forming.

When you are ready to cook the fish to serve your dish, warm up the yoghurt gently on a low heat being careful not to burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.

 
Garnishes

Ingredients

12 small nasturtium leaves picked & washed. If unavailable use a few smaller parsley leaves
12 pickled nasturtium capers*. You can substitute with a small quantity of freshly grated horseradish to taste
4 wedges fennel, grilled
4 large grilled nasturtium leaves. If unavailable substitute with large spinach leaves.
4 tiny leeks, blanched. If unavailable use a large leek that has been quartered and sheets removed.
1L water
100g salt
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Murray river pink Salt to taste

Method
For the vegetable garnishes start by placing a medium saucepan on a high heat with 1L water and 100g salt, bring to a boil.

For the fennel, cut the bulb into ¼ or ⅛ depending on the size. Blanch for approx 2-3mins or until tender. Set aside when cooked on a plate lined with paper towel.

Trim the ends of the leeks neatly and blanch in the same boiling water for approx 90 seconds. Transfer to the same plate as fennel and keep warm until plating.

To grill the fennel and large nasturtium leaves, brush each piece with a little olive oil and season with pink salt. Place a medium dry frypan on a high heat and grill the fennel cut side down for approx 2mins on each side until evenly golden brown. Transfer back to plate with leeks.

Place oiled nasturtium leaves into the hot pan and allow to become crispy and golden, approx 20 seconds. Keep all garnishes together on a plate and keep warm until putting the dish together.

 
Ocean Trout

Ingredients

1 side fresh ocean trout, pin boned and scaled (ask your local fishmonger to prepare the fish for you)
10g plain flour
80ml clarified butter*
Murray river pink Salt to taste preferred

Method

Lay the trout on a board with the belly closest to you. Using a very sharp knife, remove the belly of the trout. With the loin of the trout remaining, cut 180-190g portions. Once they are cut, double-check each portion for any small pin bones.

To cook the trout, place 2 medium size non-stick fry pans on a medium heat. Dust the ocean trout fillets with a little flour to remove any surface moisture from the skin. Add clarified butter to both pans to just cover the base. Allow clarified butter to come up to temperature, then add trout fillets, 2 in each pan being sure that the fish aren’t touching.

Using a square of baking paper, cover the top of the fish and place a pan or saucepan on top to weigh the fish down. Cook the trout with the weight for approximately 5-6 minutes or until the top of the fish is slightly warm but still rare to the touch.

Spoon some of the hot clarified butter onto the top of the fillet. Then once you are happy with the crispness of the skin, turn the fish with a fish flip away from yourself, being sure not to splash yourself with the butter. After 10 seconds on the underside, remove to a wire rack on top of tray to catch drips and allow to rest for 2 minutes skin side up. Season the skin with Murray River pink salt and serve immediately.

 
To Assemble
Start by spooning the previously prepared warm yogurt sauce into the centre of the plate, spreading it evenly into a neat circle. Then on the right of that circle but still central to the plate, place your crisp trout fillet. At the top of the circle next to the fish, place the grilled wedge of fennel.

Spoon on nasturtium pistou in between fennel and fish.

For the barley vinaigrette, adjust seasoning then spoon some over the bottom left hand edge of the fish trailing off to the bottom left hand circle of sauce.

Drape leek over the fish, fennel and barley. Add crisp grilled nasturtium leaves as well as the smaller rounds of nasturtium. Wipe plates before serving.

 
Chefs tips
*The nasturtium capers are a small berry found on the nasturtium plant.

*Clarified butter can be made up to 3 weeks in advance by putting the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Melt gently. Skim off all the froth from the surface. You will then see a clear yellow layer on top of a milky layer. Carefully pour the clear fat into a bowl or jug, leaving the milky residue in the pan. Discard the milky residue or use as a substitute for buttermilk in some recipes. It can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks.

*Pistou is a condiment traditionally made from fresh basil, crushed with garlic and olive oil. you can substitute many fresh green leaves/herbs to make your own.

*You can use the belly of the trout for another dish such as sashimi, or salted for trout rillettes. The belly carries a lot of flavour, but is thin in comparison to the rest of the trout. So to eliminate the risk of overcooking this part remove it and make the most of it in another recipe.

*Weighing the fish down with a saucepan/pan when cooking will help the fish cook evenly and give you the best possible chance of an even crisp skin. Be mindful though that softer fish like ocean trout and salmon require a lighter weight as they can squash and spoil under a heavy saucepan or pot.

*When preparing any fish, try to avoid the use of any liquid or ice coming into contact with the flesh or skin as this will rapidly decrease the shelf life of the fish. Store between 1-3 degrees in the fridge and keep fish covered to avoid drying out.

Paddock to plate: tasting Tasmania

There are produce tours, and then there is our annual produce tour. Each year we take our young chefs, waiters and restaurateurs to visit a different region to meet and learn from incredible producers, farmers, harvesters and growers. Like to know more?

See our short documentary from the 2014 produce tour through the eyes of our young guns. Join them on their journey to discover the passion, integrity and innovation behind Tasmania’s incredible produce & producers including Cameron Oysters, Cloudy Bay Homestead Lamb, Huon Aquaculture, Pyengana Diary, and Mount Gnomon Farm with its rare Wessex Saddleback pigs. If you’re flying this January & February 2015 you can check out the clip aboard all Virgin Australia domestic flights.

We would like to thank our partners who provide this educational produce tour; Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Legendairy, Rare Medium Journal and Porkstar.

connecting young talent

The Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program gives you the opportunity to network with industry leaders, producers and peers.

Got the skills, but lack the contacts? We put you in touch with industry professionals who are as passionate as you are. Here’s how the program can help you build those all-important contacts:

Network with industry icons
Electrolux Appetite for Excellence is supported by some of Australia’s most talented chefs, restaurateurs and industry gurus. The program allows you to display your skills and receive feedback, encouragement and the inspiration to succeed.

“The Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program has been one of the greatest experiences of my life so far,” says James Audas, Young Waiter 2012. “It has opened so many doors and acts as a wonderful networking opportunity, connecting young talent to some of the most important people within the hospitality industry.”

Meet producers and suppliers
National finalists get to take part in a hands-on food and wine tour in one of Australia’s most renowned regions. You’ll meet winemakers, farmers, growers, producers and harvesters of dairy, horticulture, meat and seafood. The aim is to give you a greater knowledge of farming practices and produce so you can become an expert when it comes to sourcing.

Connect with your peers
You’ll also meet young guns like you and share experiences, ideas, advice and trends. “It’s a massive opportunity to meet, not only key players in the industry, but to actually spend time with your peers,” says Richard Ousby, young chef 2011. We encourage young finalists to get to know each other during a casual dinner, while the week-long produce tour is both informative and lots of fun. Many participants walk away with lifelong connections (as well as a couch to crash on in every state!).

Raise your profile
Ever Googled yourself? Go on, admit it (or try it now). Getting your name out there can help kick-start your career, so building your profile is an important part of our program. Not only will you gain local and national publicity, we’ll also arm you with the tools to promote yourself and expand your network of contacts.

“You’re not going to be an overnight sensation. It’s about doing the hard yards, doing your apprenticeship, working for good people and building up your skills,” says Peter Gilmore, Young Chef National Judge. “The Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program is an extension of this: building a network between front and back of house, strengthening the two as a functioning team.”

“The feedback from the judges is invaluable and the recognition received from becoming a finalist can really propel your career,” says Andrew McConnell.

So what are you waiting for? Enter here now. Applications close Sunday April 12

australian oysters guide

Aphrodisiac or not, oysters have a history linked to pleasure, whether it be the association derived from myth, or, simply from eating them. In Roman times they were bought by their weight in gold. Casanova considered them to be a potent aphrodisiac who ate a dozen every night to assist him in his adventures. In Australia oysters were first coveted by Aborigines, then by European settlers who had exhausted native oyster beds by the mid 1800’s and oyster farming began. One reason is not only were oysters used for their meat, but also their shells which were burnt at a very high temperature to make lime for mortar. Oyster farming is the oldest aquaculture industry in Australia. Prior to farming, oysters were dredged or collected from their natural beds until the stocks were depleted – in some cases completely for both their meat and lime. There are three main species of oysters farmed in Australia; Sydney Rock Oysters, Pacific Oysters and Angasi or Flat Oysters which are similar to Belon Oysters.

Sydney Rock Oyster rock oyster article

Where:
native to Australia, cultivated since the late 1800’s. Grown from south east Queensland, along the New South Wales coast and in Western Australia.
Taste:
A soft oyster of rich savoury flavour with subtle mineral and herbaceous finish. Just like the Pacific oyster there are many taste and texture variations.
Season:
Peak in late spring through to autumn with availability all year across Qld, NSW and WA.
Did you know:
Rock oysters can take up to 4 years to reach maturity. They can live out of water and remain in prime condition for up to 2 weeks if kept out of direct sunlight and in a cool, moist condition. The best method for storage is in a hessian sack.

Pacific Oyster pacfic oyster article

Where:
Introduced from Japan in the 1940’s and the most common in Australia. Grown in southern Australian waters of South Australia and Tasmania, and in some New South Wales estuaries.
Taste:
From Tas and NSW – A firm oyster with a refreshing salty, sweet ocean burst and subtle herbaceous flavour. From SA – A firm oyster with a refreshing sweet ocean burst and pleasant saltiness. Many variation between regions and even between growers!
Season:
Peak in winter and spring with availability all year across NSW, Tas and SA.
Did you know:
pacific oysters are the most common oyster in the world and take between 18 – 24 months to reach maturity.

Angasi (or flat) Oysters flat-angasi-oyster-article

Where:
Native to Australia but frown in small quantities around the Australian coastline.
Taste:
a firm oyster of full bodied flavour with subtle mineral and herbaceous finish.
Season:
peak in autumn and winter with availability all year across NSW, Tas and SA.

Some of the information about each oyster is courtesy of FRDC. Interested in expert and interesting information about Australian seafood? Head to fishfiles