Peter Doyle – tasting success

Written by Dominic Rolfe

It’s unlikely Peter Doyle will forget his first moments as a chef. If he ever does, all he needs to do is peer down at his index finger. When the new apprentice landed a job at the Argyle Tavern in 1972, after shopping himself around for two weeks, his head chef told him to cut the carrots. Doyle had a brand new French knife but no idea about slicing veggies. He stood the carrot vertically and began. “The knife went straight through the carrot into my finger,” says Doyle, “I got this huge gash just below the nail. They squirted a bit of powder on it, wrapped it in a bandage and said carry on. It took six months to heal because it should have been stitched and instead just flapped around for ages.”

Sydney diners should be grateful that the perfect u-shaped scar he still bears didn’t kill his career before it had even begun. “It was a really busy and super basic menu,” says Doyle, “it only had roast pork, roast chicken, roast beef, that sort of thing. But the four or five guys I started with were professional and really friendly – I was taken with the job straight away.”

Looking back on over four decades in the business, Doyle, who is Executive Head chef at the lauded Sydney restaurant, est., says it’s hard to explain that when he began most menus consisted of “pretty much the same 25 dishes. Nothing had moved for 30 years.”

Not that Doyle had an inkling of the historical stasis – the boy from Cronulla barely knew what “a la carte” meant. “I didn’t have a grandmother that I’d learnt from, I didn’t really cook growing up,” he says, “but then I started reading books like Mastering The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and that opened my eyes to a big wide world of cooking.”

As it turned out, the callow chef and keen surfer, was hitting the water at exactly the right time. “I was lucky to have started in the sort of dark ages,” says Doyle, “Towards the end of my apprenticeship, nouvelle cuisine happened. It really was an exciting time, when the first revolution of product became evident.”

After 18 months at the Argyle Tavern, stints at the Macquarie Inn and the Newport Arms, and trips through Africa, France and Europe, Doyle landed at Chanterelle, where he would hone his classical techniques. Six months later, he left to open Turrets in the Castlereagh Hotel with his wife Beverley. “We did lunch for 20 people every day,” he says, “I worked in the kitchen, Beverley worked out front – it was amazing.”

Unlike the expensive fit outs that attend most new openings these days, Doyle took over the lease for $1500 and was dead broke. “I had to borrow $300 from my Dad to go to Paddy’s Markets and buy the first day’s ingredients,” he laughs. “It was a great learning curve and it really taught us the basics of business. Mind you, it’s never been that good since as you banked nearly fifty percent of the takings each week. The margins are a lot slimmer these days!”

At Turrets and, subsequently, Reflections in Palm Beach, Le Trianon and Cicada in Potts Point and Celsius, Doyle relished the opportunity to show his individuality. “I think our whole era of young chefs wanted to own restaurants because they wanted to express what they thought a modern good restaurant was,” he says, “All of sudden you’re on your own and you have to shape up a menu. But you’re reading and absorbing a lot of things so you sort of knew what you wanted to do … and you just hope it was right!”

Even though Doyle’s notions of having a career that would allow him to surf in the morning were swiftly quashed, maintaining balance in his work and life has always been important. “Almost every day, you wonder if it’s all a bit crazy,” he says, “And while some people think it’s a badge of honour to work 100 hours a week, I just say, ’OK, come and see me in five years!’ You’ve got to keep a balance.”

These days the glories of owning his own restaurant are more than ten years behind him (“My day off is more relaxing now!”) but that joy of being in a big kitchen still fires his passion. “What drives the industry is the energy, the creativity and the imagination of the people doing it,” says Doyle, “It’s great being in the kitchen surrounded by young people. The camaraderie in the kitchen is the same as it ever was.”

as featured in May 2015 Voyeur magazine

AUSTRALIA’S YOUNG CULINARY TALENT SHORTLISTED 2015

After a month of reviewing the young, up & coming culinary talent across Australia, we can reveal the results.  These young restaurateurs, waiters & chefs national finalists have a series of interviews & skills testing with some of Australia’s hospitality heavyweights. Judges such as Christine Manfield, Danielle Gjestland, David Thompson, Duncan Welgemoed, James Viles, Luke Mangan, Mark Best & Simon Denton to name but a few. Follow their progress on our website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feed.

Electrolux Australian Young Restaurateur National Finalists

click on the headline to see their profiles

Bianca Welsh: Stillwater Restaurant & Black Cow Bistro, Tasmania
Chris Thornton: Restaurant Mason, New South Wales
Dan Moss: Terroir Auburn, South Australia
Joel Best: Bondi’s Best, New South Wales
Kim Galea: Pitchfork Restaurant, Queensland

Electrolux Australian young waiter state finalists

Brooke Adey: Bentley Restaurant & Bar, New South Wales
Courtney Nichols: The Balfour Kitchen, Queensland
Elizabeth Thomas: Supernormal, Victoria
Jessica Thorley: Biota Dining,New South Wales
Louise NaimoEstelle Bistro, Victoria
Nikki FriedliAfricola, South Australia
Robert LuoOscillate Wildly, New South Wales

Electrolux Australian young chef finalists

Aaron Starling: Bistro Guillaume,Victoria
Ben McShane: Kiyomi, Queensland
Jake Kellie: Estelle Bistro, Victoria
Jordan McLeod: Set Piece, New South Wales
Joshua Gregory: Biota Dining, New South Wales
Khahn Nguyen: Mr Wong, New South Wales
Matt  Binney: Merricote, Victoria

hop to it

written by Dominic Rolfe

It began with a bag of bloody red meat thudding onto the Bayswater Brasserie’s kitchen bench back in 1995. Jared Ingersoll, the restaurant’s head chef had eaten kangaroo before – “it was a cracking meat,” he recalls – but he couldn’t figure out why most Australians seemed so squeamish about it. “I’d mention kangaroo to people and they’d have this physical twitch,” he says. It seemed to him that nobody apart from the Indigenous population and the Chinese ate kangaroo. He was determined to see how it would play out on a menu.

The first warning signs didn’t come from the diners or his team of chefs. They came from the bloke delivering the meat. “It wasn’t a secret,” says Ingersoll, “The suppliers said it was nice but there are problems of consistency.” Despite the cautionary advice, the first piece of kangaroo meat he cooked from that bag was a triumph. He put it on the menu, marinated in garlic and thyme. “Then we started sending it out,” he says, “The first piece was tough and terrible and from then on we got nothing but complaints.”

Twenty years on, Ingersoll, is standing over another slab of kangaroo on a bench. This time the suppliers – Paroo Premium Kangaroo – are far from dubious. They’re excited. As is Ingersoll. They’re cooking up four species of kangaroo to show just how far the meat has come. “Back then, no one really cared about kangaroo meat because there wasn’t any money in it,” says Ingersoll, “and it was a pain in the backside for abattoirs. But the lightbulb moment for me was going on a shoot with Paroo, following the process and seeing the level of care and the intense level of scrutiny and transparency in their processes. In all my years as a chef, I’ve not seen anything like it.”

Paroo is the high end range of kangaroo from Macro Meats, and is the only premium grade kangaroo meat in Australia. Last year it won the Delicious. Produce Award for Outstanding Innovation. Over the past five years, Ray Borda from Paroo has seen the amount of kangaroo meat sold increase by around 400%, though off a small base and Macro Meats sells kangaroo in over 3200 supermarkets across Australia. Josh Evans from Nordic Food Lab) has been on a Paroo shoot as has Ingersoll and Attica chef, Ben Shewry, among others. ARIA recently put it on their menu for the first time and Curtis Stone rang to say he wants it in his US restaurants.

But at the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence masterclass, it’s not the increase in numbers and restaurant attention that has the assembled chefs and service staff talking. It’s the remarkable taste difference in the four species (see image below) and the explanation for why kangaroo meat has been so inconsistent. “In the past, you never knew what species of kangaroo you were getting, how old they were, what gender and the conditions they were harvested in,” says Borda. “with Paroo, we only take specific species from selected areas, they have to be between 1700-2000 days old and only males. They’re bled and hung properly and never taken from drought conditions. It took us years of research to get the consistency but we needed that if we were ever going to be serious about delivering the best meat possible.”

Choosing the species was a result of looking at their unique flavour profiles. The meat of the red kangaroo is juicier, more succulent and less gamey than the eastern or western grey kangaroos, which also have a more intense, fragrant and mineral flavours. Borda explains that it’s due to their different eating and social habits. Red kangaroos have a higher moisture content because they eat more young green grass and they’re the most nomadic – they’ll search out water. The greys by contrast are more territorial and prefer the bush vegetation.

As a result, the reds are favoured locally while the greys skew strongly to the export market. “I do talks all over the place,” says Borda, “and when I tell people about the differences in the species they look at me and say, ‘Of course, why didn’t I ever think that matters?’ It’s like someone switching the light on.”

Of course, Paroo isn’t the first to understand the premium nature of some of the 58 kangaroo species, the red kangaroo in particular. “We engage a lot with our indigenous friends and we learn off them,”says Borda, “they like the tail of the red roo and the size they prefer is the size of the Paroo roo. They’re hell fussy about red roo tail, you can’t put one over them!”

The Indigenous people Paroo spoke to also reinforced the decision to only take males. “The old fashioned way was to shoot them all,”says Borda, “the males and females Its not ethical. The final crunch came when the Indigenous people told us that they don’t believe you should kill an animal unless you’re willing to consume it.”

For Ingersoll, it all means that he can use kangaroo without feeling skittish every time he serves it. “The only thing that controls my menus is the product,” he says. “If you’re getting four kilos of say back strap and some is good and some is bad, you don’t use it. With Paroo, it allows you to explore the product and push it a bit further.”

These days you don’t have to look far to find restaurants serving tartare kangaroo, sliders with pulled kangaroo shoulder and Ingersoll has been taste testing slow-cooked kangaroo ribs. It’s casting aside the traditional notion that kangaroo can only be served rare. “I’ve mucked around braising forequarters and ribs,” he says, “and even though it’s incredibly lean, it still has that connective tissue and the collagens and you can get the sticky, rich reductions that people resonate with.”

Ingersoll, who’s really excited about working with Kangaroo in his next project “Butcher and the Farmer” opening in the Rozelle tram sheds towards the end of the year. He believes that seeing kangaroo on a menu is becoming less and less unusual. “We’re starting to break through with it,” he says, admitting the challenge is “selling a kilo of wild, beautiful game kangaroo mince when you’re competing against a kilo of other animal mince that has been factory farmed.”

But the chef has been in the vanguard of change before and sees parallels with a shift to eating more kangaroo. “The more often it’s used and talked about the more it becomes normal,” he says, “In 2002, I started to using the words, ‘local, sustainable, seasonal’ on the menu and everyone though I was a freak hippie chef pushing agendas around but you keep using that language and after a while other people start talking about it and they begin to expect to see it on the menu. It’s the same for kangaroo – it’s all about education.”

Paroo Kangaroo

Danielle Gjestland, following your passion

written by Dominic Rolfe

A couple of years ago, Danielle Gjestland stood watching her father and husband argue about how the trench on their new farm should be dug. When they reached the point of refusing to talk to each other, the sinewy blonde hitched a trailer to the car, hired a trench-digger having never used heavy machinery before and returned to rip up the soil herself under the stunned gaze of her family.

But while her determination had finally got some dirt moving for the farm they were using to grow produce for her Noosa-based restaurant, Wasabi, Gjestland then encountered a second, more intractable problem – her pale skin was being scorched by the Queensland sun. Unable to hop off the machine mid-dig to grab some sunscreen, she was forced to improvise. “With the water in my bottle,” says Gjestland, “I made a puddle of mud and then covered myself in mud to stop myself getting sunburnt. When I came in from the paddock, I was covered neck-to-toe in red clay. But it worked beautifully!”

Gjestland’s story is one of doggedness married with an occasionally  unconventional approach. “I might get myself into some strange situations,” she says, “but I’m determined to get out of them myself. And you need a little bit of madness to make it work. Last night I was planting by the light of three moon lanterns. It’s a brilliant idea. For my next big project, no way am I doing it in the middle of the day!”

From humble beginnings in 2003, Wasabi, where Gjestland still works six days a week in addition to her time at the farm, has now earned two chefs hats in the Queensland Good Food Guide for two years running and was named best regional restaurant in that guide in 2014. It was also the number one restaurant in Queensland on The Australian’s Hot 50 List where the judges wrote that it was “Surely Australia’s best Japanese food.” She has also had finalists in both the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence young waiter and young chef of the year.

Gjestland wasn’t a restaurateur when she started the restaurant, and she wasn’t a farmer when she started the farm. This is, however, a story of following one’s passion. “If you love doing it enough, it’ll work out,” she says before adding with a laugh, “well, that’s what’s meant to happen right? Even when people are looking at you with one eyebrow raised!”

At school, where she met two Japanese exchange students, Gjestland developed an interest in Japan and Japanese food culture, and began studying Japanese externally. After school, she studied hospitality and tourism management, landed a job on the front desk of luxury Mayfair hotel, Claridges and returned to Sunshine Beach with an idea to open a Japanese restaurant.

So, at just 24 years of age, she dove headlong into the deep end. “It might be the arrogance of youth but I did think I could open a restaurant focusing solely on a culture that not’s my own! It worked out in the end but without the combination of a lot of hard work, grit, determination and luck, it could so easily not have. I am a little bit of the mind that I’m going to do this and that’s what’s going to happen.”

That determination was tested early on when they’d taken the lease on an abandoned restaurant. Enlisting her family and friends, they scrubbed the place from top to toe, wire racks, cool rooms, the lot. Then tradies arrived to sand back the terracotta tiles. “I came back to find the entire place, every crack, every corner, coated with terracotta dust,” she says. “I only had a week and a half till opening. It was an awful moment. If someone had filled my head with everything I know now and then said, ‘Now decide if you want to open up a restaurant’, I’d just say, ‘really, is it going to be that hard’? But it’s all been totally worth it.”

In over a decade they’ve gone from having to explain what wasabi is and that sashimi shouldn’t be sent back to the kitchen for searing, to clients asking where the tuna belly comes from. And now the kitchen is able to use produce grown at the farm to give new experiences to diners, from species of ginger where the stem is eaten before it emerges to fresh daikon radishes. “You couldn’t buy the leaves here so we planted them,” says Gjestland, “And the flavour that you get from this really dainty little purple daikon flower are really peppery and pack a really big punch, almost a wasabi heat. So then I pick them all and take it into the kitchen and say try that.”

And while the farm has caused Gjestland to wonder more than once what the hell she’s undertaken, it is at least a place where she can continue to express her determination and personal touch of madness. “Recently, I squeezed myself down through the top of an old tank that needed repairing in the middle to the day,” she says, “The patching stuff that Dad gave me, I’m sure made me high. Then as I’m climbing out, my husband took a photo where all you can see is an arm emerging covered in green slime with a diamond ring glinting in the sunshine. He reckons that sums me up perfectly!”

There have been opportunities to expand, to translate Wasabi into the big city scene. But Gjestland is mostly unmoved. “I’m the kind of person who likes to chip away and refine something,” she says. “I’ve had offers to do something bigger and it’s really exciting when you’re looking at sites but at the end of it all, what do I want? I want a 12-seater restaurant. I want to get smaller not bigger. I don’t have ambitions of grandeur, with more stuff and more people. I just want to make what we do a bit better each day.”