Be passionate about the job, stick with a good employer and show your individuality. That’s the advice for young chefs from industry veteran Peter Gilmore.
“For me, cooking is a great creative outlet. It always has been something that I’m incredibly passionate about. I love the idea of being able to create something that gives people joy,” says Gilmore.
Alongside passion, ambitious young chefs should also avoid switching jobs too often.
“You probably get more out of a job if you actually stick with an employer,” says Gilmore. “Once you find someone you’re really happy with, spend some time there and you’re going to get the most out of it. Otherwise, I think you’ll find that you just get put on larder everywhere you go.”
As one of the judges of the Appetite for Excellence Awards, Gilmore says he is looking to see some individuality from this year’s entrants.
“A sense of not just following the latest trends, but actually reaching deep into their own backgrounds to create something that is meaningful for them, and then have that translated into something that is special for us [judges] to experience,” he says.
The Appetite for Excellence Young Chef program has evolved into the country’s most respected awards program for young talent.
I became a chef because I like eating, it’s as simple as that. I sort of fell into cooking as university didn’t appeal and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But I really enjoyed being in the kitchen so it all started with making pizza in a local restaurant in Perth. My passion for cooking really started probably at Tetsuya’s when you see the level & skill that you can achieve. You really get driven by the people around you, the environment to produce top quality food. When you’re doing good things, you become proud and passionate about what you are doing.
A piece advice for a younger version of yourself?
Eat more, work harder and read a lot more. I thought I worked relatively hard but the fact is the more time you spend in a kitchen or in a restaurant the more you learn and the more you see. You don’t learn or see those things by not being in a kitchen or a restaurant
Some advice for young chefs?
If you are staging, to read books about philosophy or cook books about where they go into details about what they thought about, what they like what they did in their spare time it gives you an insight into the way they thought about and approached food. if you’re reading this books you’re going to get a lot more about how to structure the way you want your restaurant or run your kitchen or the food that you want to create.
Why did you become involved and what are you looking for as a judge this year?
It’s important to give back to the [hospitality] community and the next generation of people that might want to open restaurants. What really excited me about last year was the chefs really wanted to be there and show of the skills that they had.
This year at the national & final cook off, I’m looking for young chefs that have drive, motivation, knowledge, skills and a good attitude. Not necessarily fine dining skills, but knowing what to do with different produce.
Some tips for the chefs?
Calm down, take a bit of time to plan & think about what you want to produce & what you need to produce and then do it better than anyone else.
A highlight of the national finalists produce tour through NSW this year was having the opportunity to cook for the fisher community of Wallis Lake at a pop up restaurant at the Forster Tuncurry race track. The young chefs chose from that morning’s catch thanks to the Wallis Lake Fisherman’s Co-Op. Below is the recipe for the Wallis Lake Bonito the team of young chef Zack Furst; young waiter Morgan Golledge & young restaurateur Dave Parker put together for the dinner. Morgan recommends matching, ‘I would go an Italian white blend like Occhipinti Bianco. Something with texture but still great acidity and slight oxidative nuttiness. If you can get your hands on that it’s a winner otherwise Brash Higgins Zibbibo or anything premium with skin contact, depth and driving acid’.
Ingredients – serves 4
1 x whole bonito – you can ask your fish monger to gut & scale if you prefer
1 x cucumber
1 bunch tarragon
2 x garlic cloves
50mls olive oil
200ml sweet chardonnay vinegar
Flaked salt to taste
For the Bonito
* Wash and gut bonito
* Fillet bonito, then remove ribs and then slice down the spine separating the top fillet and belly.
* Finally carve out the pin bones wipe dry and sit in a stainless steel deep tray.
For the Finishing Salad
* With 50g shallots slice super fine and place in steel bowl. * Then julienne the cucumber * Fold through shallots and dress with a small amount of olive oil and salt
For the warm pickle
* Slice 50g of the shallots and the 2 garlic cloves thinly, * Place in a medium size pot and cover with sweet Chardonnay vinegar and 100mls of water. * Bring to a slow simmer, add tarragon, olive oil and allow to steep for 45 minutes. * Season with salt and a small amount of sugar.
* Bring the warm pickle to a simmer then pour over bonito. * Allow the bonito to steep for 20 minutes. * Remove fillets onto paper towel. * Finally place fillets neatly in the centre of desired dish * Then cover fish in the fresh finishing salad * Add some flaked salt and serve with lemon slices.
Ever wondered where those in the biz head to for great eating and drinking? We’re often asked so we asked our #youngexcellence for the lowdown and the insider’s guide to eating/drinking….Sydney with Aaron Ward, sous chef at sixpenny, Stanmore.
Favourite places for breakfast and brunch?
Four ate Five in Surry Hills. It’s a busy little cafe on Crown Street. The salmon bagel is delicious and something I usually order. St Jude in Redfern is just around the corner from my house so it’s easy for a quick breakfast, the avocado smash with poached eggs is something light and delicious. Bourke St Bakery, Surry Hills – again just around the corner, if you miss the lines of the early morning rush it’s a great place to get a pastry or a tart.
Favourite restaurants in your home state for special occasions?
LuMi in Pyrmont. I love spending a Sunday night at LuMi, watching the sun set over the harbour is magic. The food is always delicious and the staff are amazing. Ester in Chippendale. If I ever have a Sunday day off I love going to Ester for lunch, I can sit there all afternoon with a couple of wines and graze on the food they cook. It really is delicious. LP’s Quality Meats in Chippendale. I usually go to LP’s with a few friends, this way we get to try more of the food. I have never walked out of LP’s hungry as there’s always dishes on the menu I want to eat.
Best bars to head to after work and on your days off?
Shady Pines in Darlinghurst. Walking downstairs into Shady Pines is like walking into another world. I go here for a few late night drinks, their style there is nowhere like it in Sydney. The Dolphin Hotel in Surry hills. After the new refurbish of the Dolphin I have been a few times already, it’s a good place for a beer or a wine and some delicious Italian food. Salisbury Hotel in Stanmore. This is the local pub near Sixpenny, so we will usually head down the road for a beer after work.
Where do you go for fresh, seasonal produce and market bargains?
I go to the Flemington Markets in Sydney every week for our fruit and vegetables. It is a good way to see what produce is coming in to season and what is at its peak. Also it is good way to meet the producers and the farmers that grow the fruits and vegetables and get an insider’s view on how they are produced and where they come from.
Where have you had the best interstate dining experiences?
I visited the Hunter Valley a few weeks ago and dined at Muse Restaurant, it was one of the best experiences I have had. The dining room is beautiful and the food is just as good. The staff made me feel welcome as if I was part of their family. To have a restaurant like Muse only 2 hours outside of Sydney the valley is a must visit.
These days it’s not enough for young chefs to just be designing delectable dishes on a daily basis they’re putting their talents into other avenues specifically the tools of their trades… We’ve seen chefs input into the designing of kitchens in new venues, choosing the crockery and tableware to the music that’s played during service. Some chefs are taking it even one step further in their quest for total creative control and making their own plates and knives. Mal Meiers is one such chef and is making his own plates for his food & wine pop-ups and charity dinners. The results are fairly spectacular… But we’ll let you be the judge!
What inspired you to start making your own plates?
Initially I started making plates because I wanted to be able to create the plate I put a dish I created on.
How did you get involved with the pottery communities in Melbourne and Sydney?
I started by searching for wheel throwing courses in my local area, which lead me to do a six week course at Northcote pottery. I discovered the space was set up perfectly to practice after the initial course.
After relocating to Sydney I again searched and came across Claypool, an amazing group of experienced ceramicists in Botany. A handful of potters decided to create a space that would act as a community of like-minded creative people as much as a space due to the lack of one in Sydney.
A lot of chefs are turning their hands to creating & producing ‘tools of their trade’ why do you think this is? What are the benefits?
I think that as a chef because it allows you the opportunity to have multiple passions due to the multitude of artisan paths within a career. For some chefs it may be gardening, bread, making knives or making plates.
I think the benefits are you can have more creative freedom in some aspects, for me with my plates, I can create something for myself no one else will have. Or it allows me create something for a specific purpose like my Food + Wine pop-ups and Beyondblue charity dinners.
Where are you using the plates?
Towards the end of 2016 I made plates to use at Food for Thought, the two charity dinners I organised that took place in November 2016 to raise funds for beyondblue, (Mal raised over $19,000 for beyondblue in 2016). I also use the plates for my business the Food + Wine pop up which takes up 3-4 week residences in various locations.
Do you have a signature style?
Style? I would say more of a quirk. Yes I like making organic shaped plates so I shape my plates around different fruits and vegetables. You can take the chef out of the kitchen but not the kitchen out of the chef!
Any monumental disasters from when you started out?
Biggest disaster would probably be when I had a glaze that shrunk at a different rate to the clay I was using for a particular effect and I had to make about 120 avocado ramekins for my friends at Persillade in Melbourne to give them the 20 they wanted.
Living back in Sydney, you’ve been visiting Claypool to make your plates? What do they do and how did you get involved?
It’s just an amazing environment they are very helpful, supportive. As a business it’s more of a community. Everything is there and you meet a wide variety of potters all with different styles and everyone is open to sharing.
Any plans to take bespoke orders or are you more interested in producing for yourself?
To be honest I’m still figuring it out, I’ve only been doing a couple of years. It’s also a labour of love and I’m currently committing most of my time to Bennelong and Food for Thought besides I am so busy at the moment, I wouldn’t be have the time to fulfill orders anyway.
Interested in spinning the wheel? Mal recommends the following;
As a 20-something year old young chef Josh Niland entered into our Electrolux Australian Young Chef in 2013, cooking his way to Highly Commended.
At the time Josh was working as head chef at Fish Face Sydney. Fast forward 3 years, after a stint as head chef at the now closed Cafe Nice in Sydney; Josh along with his wife Julie have opened their own restaurant, Saint Peter in Paddington.
Named for the patron saint of fisherman, Saint Peter features Australian sustainably sourced seafood. On a rare day off from the restaurant Josh kindly took the time to catch up with us and spills the beans on what it was like opening his own place; the process of dry-ageing fish and his particular fascination with ‘fish & bits’.
What was opening your first restaurant like?
Nothing like opening anyone else’s that’s for sure! It’s been really exhausting but we are extremely proud of what we have been able to produce so far. Paddington locals along with friends & family have all been very supportive and it’s wonderful to be seeing familiar faces returning each week. Our staff are amazing and have made the whole process less stressful then I thought it was going to be.
What do you think has been the biggest hurdle?
Biggest hurdle has been discovering the ‘hidden joys’ of a heritage Paddington terrace, the continuing small issues that arise in the beginning were tricky and required a lot of patience.
Do you have 3 pieces of advice for someone who is thinking of opening their own venue?
Don’t spend too much money on the fit out or be smart about the choices you make and consider every purchase.
Stay off Gumtree for important equipment purchases.
Make time to go and say thank you and hello to your customers and the same to your staff/ look after staff during those first gnarly weeks.
Your focus is primarily on fish specifically the overlooked and under-utilised parts like offal. Have you always been interested in using ‘fish bits’ and why?
Since I was about 19 or 20 I’ve been fascinated that the yield from a fish is so poor and the loss is so high. Fish is so expensive and the shelf life is so slim so if that isn’t motivation for a chef to think out of the box then I’m not sure what is! Having worked in restaurants that sell a lot of fish, I began to keep all the bits.
The obvious method to start with was burying the fish roe from all of the different fish in salt, allowing them to harden then using them as a seasoning. Since then it has been a constant ambition to come up with delicious & different ways of cooking or serving these bits. From pan fried fish livers & parsley on toast, smoked fish heart, salt & vinegar fish scales, poached & rolled head, puffed swim bladders to aged and marinated milt served back with the fish that it came from.
I’m also aware that as Australians we aren’t overly keen on eating ‘fish guts’ but I hope to at least get them to try it!
Can you tell us about the process behind dry ageing fish and how you came about this?
In Japan and even locally in good sushi bars, there are chefs ageing mackerel & tuna and many other fish to heighten the flavour characteristic & texture of the fish.
We start by buying a perfect fish that is wonderful and firm, no imperfections and dry. We process the fish being sure it is thoroughly clean and again kept dry. We then place a butcher’s hook at the tail end and hang in our fish cabinet. Every day we wipe the fish with paper towel to remove any possible surface moisture. Come day 8/9 we remove the fish from the cabinet and place on the second rail we have in the cool room that is in the room with the fan blowing, we allow the fish to hang for another full day and allow the exterior to really dry out. Then it’s just a matter of application, raw/cooked .
We are fortunate to have had a fish cabinet custom made for us that allows us to hold fish between 0 & 1 degrees Celsius. This allows us to hold most fish (depending on the type) for up to 15/16 days. It takes quite a bit of trial and error to find the ‘sweet spot’ of different species but slowly we are getting very good results. In particular the albacore we have on our menu is hung & aged whole for 7 days in our static cabinet and then brought out to our main cool room area to hang for a further 2 days with the assistance of the cool room fan to dry further. By doing this we have found the fish tastes more savoury and the texture is far firmer than it was as a ‘fresh fish’.
My main reason for wanting to do this is mainly to extend what is usually a very small window of time to use fish and try to really hone in on what a particular fish species really tastes like so that we can pair it better with garnishes and wine.
Do you get the fish in whole and clean it? At Saint Peter we buy everything in guts in, scales on & head on. We then dry process the fish, we go to great lengths to be sure that our fish is well maintained and looked after.
What does dry ageing do to the flavour of the fish?
We’ve noticed that in oily fish like Spanish mackerel, albacore & wild kingfish that the unique flavour qualities of the fish begin to become more defined after approx 4-5 days. After 9-10 days the flavour is really promoted and it is like cooking and eating a totally different product.
For example the wild kingfish when fresh tastes wonderful and clean and has a mild acidity to it that tastes like fresh lemon juice. The idea then was to push it to a point (6 days) where the fish had a distinct acidity to it that it made your mouth water, the skin was dry – making it extremely crisp when cooked & with a firmer texture.
Can you serve it raw?
Yes definitely we have served 9 day aged raw wild kingfish with great feedback, the only thing to be conscious of is the red muscle oxidising giving the appearance a less then perfect look. This is maintained by constant love & care.
How do you train your FOH staff on the processes of cooking & ageing your dishes?
We ensure that we all taste the fish that we serve each day and discuss the length of time potentially that it may have been aged and why we wanted to do that then why we decided to pair it with a certain vegetable or sauce.
As the menu is changed every service our FOH staff have a very important roll to play at Saint Peter. Ensuring that the customers are fully briefed on what they are getting if they have any additional offal coming with their dish or if it is aged and then what best wine to pair it with.
What are three pieces of advice you can give about seafood that people may not know?
Never wash fish under water – use plenty of paper towel when cleaning up a whole fish to be sure it’s thoroughly cleaned before storing or cooking.
Never wrap fish or any seafood in cling wrap as this will cause the protein to sweat and it will deteriorate very quickly – invest in go between!
In my opinion avoid flexible fish knives and go for a long slender hard no flex knife, you’ll achieve better more consistent results when cutting whole fish.
Thanks to Josh, Julie and their team for taking time out of their busy schedule and for allowing Appetite to film behind the scenes… Keep an eye out on our website for more of Josh’s how to dry age fish in the coming weeks…
A few weeks ago two of our alumni young chefs, Aaron Ward & Troy Crisante along with our project director Phee Gardner were invited to spend a week with the Hayden Reynolds Tiwi College Project. The Tiwi College Project seeks to improve the well being of the Tiwi Island youth by providing educational opportunities at Tiwi College, ‘We seek to create opportunities, which provide pathways for positive social change’. This is achieved by harnessing the profile and influence of positive role models across the fields of sport, entertainment and by a cross section of corporate executives who are keen to share experiences and opportunities that will enhance social change.
Aaron and Troy shared their cooking skills & food knowledge with the college students and home carers, attended classes with the students, assisting them with their literacy skills and cooked up a BBQ of marinated buffalo skewers and pepper crust steaks (you can get their recipes here).. We put together a clip of their time at the Tiwi Islands Project – thanks to all of the students and the Tiwi Islands Community along with the Hayden Reynolds Tiwi College Project for welcoming and hosting us!
Heading back on our tiny plane we asked Aaron about his experiences at the Tiwi College Project and some background into the project.
What is the Tiwi College Project and what do you think they’re trying to achieve?
The college is trying to improve the lifestyles of the Tiwi people by providing the Life Skills program, where the kids are taught to cook, clean and respect the other people around them. These skills can then be taken back into the communities to help lifestyles of those back home.
The college is trying to create job opportunities for the kids once they graduate from the college. Some of the kids are going into apprenticeships at the college in the garden program and going to the fishing lodges to work as guides on the fishing charters.
Why did you want to go to the Tiwi College Project?
Going to the Tiwi Islands and visiting the Tiwi College Project was such a great opportunity for me. I wanted to see what the project was about, how the college operated, and how the kids lived their day-to-day lives. Also being able to give back to the community by sharing my cooking skills and recipes was an experience I couldn’t say no to.
How as a chef do you think you can help implement change to help young kids in the Tiwi community?
As a chef I think it is important to teach the kids in the Tiwi community about different foods and give them a better knowledge base of foods they can cook. After talking to the kids, food is a big part of their culture as it brings the families and communities together. I hope that by teaching them some new techniques and sharing some new recipes it can help them to make healthier choices along the way.
What did you learn about the Tiwi community at the college?
I learnt how much knowledge the Tiwi people have of the land they live on. They know how and when the best time to hunt is; where to find the best catch and the best ways to track and capture the animal. And the ways they fish to catch turtle, stingray and dugong in the most successful way. They were also able to explain which trees can be used for medicine if sick and which trees can help to cook their food.
What was the highlight of the trip?
The highlight of the trip for me would have to be working with the kids in class and cooking for them.
We had the opportunity to sit in on a reading class and help the kids practice their reading skills. To see the joy on their faces when they accomplished reading a book with no help was amazing.
On the final morning at Tiwi College Project we cooked breakfast at one of the homes. It was a privilege to cook for the 13 girls and their house carers. We received plenty of thank you letters from the girls so I’m pretty sure they enjoyed it
What have you learnt from this experience?
Before going to the Tiwi Islands I didn’t really know much about the project. Having experienced first-hand what the project is trying to achieve it is a great initiative to help the kids of the island improve the way they live and help them with their life skills in the future.
What have you taken away from the visit?
This was a great experience for me and one I will not forget. Working with the children, the families and the dedicated staff that make it all happen is truly inspirational. Giving something back by cooking food for the homes and helping the kids with their reading and literature was a great experience.
During their time on the island, young chefs Aaron Ward & Troy Crisante cooked some of their secret recipes for the Tiwi College Project, and shared these recipes along with some of their chef’s secrets with the college. The marinades are perfect for a BBQ at home.
Buffalo Marinade by Troy Crisante
Prep time: 20 mins + time for marinating
Serves: up to 1kg of buffalo meat
250ml soy sauce
50ml oyster sauce
2 x oranges (zest & juiced)
4 x cloves garlic
1 x knob garlic (medium size)
1/2 bunch coriander – leaves and stem
2 tbsp sesame seeds
Mince garlic and ginger and then wash & chop coriander stems included.
Zest the orange into 1 cm strips then juice. Mix all ingredients into a bowl and whisk.
Place your meat in the marinade and marinate for a minimum of 4 hours.
Can be used for lamb and beef also.
Using orange in your marinade is great for those tougher cuts of meat as it helps with the breakdown of the meat, leaving it nice and tender after marinating overnight.
Marinate overnight for the best result!
Pepper Steak Crust by Aaron Ward
Prep time: 20 minutes + marinating time
Serves: 14 x steaks
3tsp ground pepper
2tsp garlic minced
1 x lemon (zest)
½ cup veg oil
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl & place meat in bowl.
Massage rub mix into sides of meat and cover.
Refrigerate for 4 hours before cooking or leave overnight and cook the next day!
Marinate overnight for the best result!
Can also be used with chicken lamb, buffalo and pork!
What does the word hospitality mean to you and how has it changed since you started?
Hospitality is about maintaining standards and providing a place where customers enjoy themselves surrounded by pleasant experiences – food, wine and service, atmosphere, the whole experience.
Hospitality is always evolving and that keeps it interesting. Keeping up the pace, keeping up to date with what’s going on demands a lot of people in the industry. But so does maintaining standards. You might have bistro French cuisine that has pretty much stayed the same for decades but it takes a lot of effort to keep the standard of that food at a high level.
Did you have a mentor?
Not really. I started cooking in the dark ages in Australia, when nothing had changed in a long time. It’s hard to explain now but back then there was little focus on produce and everyone was cooking the same menu items. Then, at the end of my apprenticeship, the nouvelle cuisine era arrived, ushering in a whole new world of cuisine which has remained exciting ever since. This movement also allowed other cuisines like Italian and Asian to bloom.
In the early days, I worked with a few good chefs that drilled into you that you needed to work fast, you needed to work hard and you had to absorb all the basics of cooking. But once you’d done that, for that new era you had to be searching out new ideas yourself.
There was a sort of good side to not having a mentor. No-one told you how to make all the basics such as puff pastry. While it takes much longer to learn by yourself, once you learn from scratch, it’s in there forever.
What was the goal when you opened and is it different now?
When I started out, I had no real idea. But I did know that I wanted to have a restaurant one day and express what I liked to cook and what was up to date, not just another plate of Oysters Kilpatrick. It was a lot easier back then to start out without making a huge capital investment like today. It was exciting, all-consuming and draining at the same time.
Do you have a piece of advice for current chefs starting out? Did you have a piece of advice that you’ve carried through?
I probably should have looked more at the business. Because you’re a chef, you’re focussing on the food and restaurant rather than the business. And in the end, it all comes down to business. Today, what I’d say to young chefs and restaurateurs starting out is “Remember, at the end of the day, it’s a business.”
It’s also really important that you have a work/life balance. The hospitality industry has long, anti-social hours and if you enjoy that aspect of it, that’s fine. But it does get draining so people need to find a life balance. Don’t overdo it because people get consumed by it. People think it’s a badge of honour to say you’ve worked 80 or 90 hours a week but you have to have a life as well. It’s important for the whole industry because you don’t want a lot of good people burning out and leaving the industry.