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.
She’s one of the country’s best chefs and restaurateurs, but Christine’s Manfield’s success is no accident.
“You need to have a really thorough understanding of all aspects of the business, because you can’t just wing it,” she says. “You’ve really got to do your homework.”
As one of the judges of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Awards, Manfield is keen to share her knowledge and experience with young restaurateurs.
“The program is all about educating and nourishing the next generation. And I’m really interested in the people that live and breathe the pressures of the business,” she says.
The Young Restaurateurs program is the only one of its kind in Australia and provides a chance for owners of businesses, who need to have owned and operated their restaurants for at least two years and be under 35 years of age, to get feedback from some of the industry’s leaders.
Applications for this year’s competition close on Monday, April 3.
So, have you got what it takes to be crowned this year’s Young Restaurateur of the Year?
“One of the key things I’m looking for,” Manfield says, “is how effective they are as a leader in their business and what they do to empower and nourish their staff. A good manager has to be able to delegate and to trust their staff. Often they’re hard lessons to learn.”
Check out more of Christine Manfield’s tips and advice on succeeding as a restaurateur and what the judges are looking for…
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.
Wallis Lake Fisherman’s Co-operative by Andy Day & Cam Cansdell
Established in 1947 to become the voice of the local fisherman in the area of Forster Tuncurry and the central receiving depot to handle the daily catch & distribution, the Co-op members today are made up of the children; grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original fisherman.
The cooperative itself stands not to make a profit (and hopefully not a loss!) but to represent the collective will of its members and improve the profitability and welfare of the 50 active and 40 non-active shareholders.
Several years ago the Co-op found itself on its knees in a state of financial disrepair, facing bankruptcy, and fighting to keep shareholders.
70% of the Co-ops activities on the water take place on Wallis Lake itself and its surrounding estuaries and this is where we find ourselves today, observing and absorbing the passion of the Co-op’s Operations Manager Suzie McEnallay, member Danny Elliott and the Co-op Chairman Greg Colby.
Blessed with blue skies and crystal-clear water for the day it’s easy to be lulled into the belief that life’s a breeze here in paradise.
However, like many primary production industries the fishing community faces pressures. Several years ago the Co-op found itself on its knees in a state of financial disrepair, facing bankruptcy, and fighting to keep shareholders.
Droughts affect the Co-op just as badly as agricultural industries inland and on the coast. A lack of rain means a lack of nutrients entering the estuaries, in turn providing less food for the aquatic food chain and reducing fish stocks.
Commercial pressures and compliance with regulations are constantly evolving and can only be properly managed by a collective; “how do we market our 3 ‘U’s (undervalued, under fished, underused species)?”,”how do we best make people aware this is Australian fish, and not imported?” and “how do we do business with Woolworths and not get pressured?”
The most impressive lesson from today was learning not WHAT the challenges were but rather HOW and WHY the community took them head on.
Facing bankruptcy less than a decade ago the Co-op’s board of directors made the bold decision to effectively ‘freeze’ shares, meaning no member could sell their share(s) until 2019. This was a clever solution to secure what capital the co-op had at the time and create an ongoing commitment from their members (a large proportion of whom are now the non-active shareholders having since retired) that the co-op must endure and succeed for the individual shareholders to themselves survive. Beyond that the shareholders effectively bought more shares to build up the Co-ops capital and help it pay off debts. Only a tight community has the courage to band together at such times, and only an extraordinary one has the strength to survive it.
They face the distinct possibility of running out of fisherman over the next 30 years with an average active shareholder age of 54. This is further compounded by a stemming of generational fishing families; the next generation are either told not to or don’t want to become professional fishermen.
young fisher, 18 year old Jack Freeman
With almost no young, skilled fishermen coming through the ranks in the next decade it was vitally important for the Co-op to assist 18 year-old Jack in securing a grant from the Rural Assistance Authority to begin the process of acquiring fishing license endorsements so that they could build up and sustain their shareholder base. The process to obtain a commercial fishing license in NSW is quite a lengthy & intricate process. Even the governments’ own guide to commercial fisheries says that ‘due to the complex nature of the NSW commercial fishing arrangements it is impossible to produce a simple guide that is guaranteed to fully explain all aspects. The law and policies are also subject to change, so anyone who wishes to fully understand all elements of the current arrangements must not rely solely on this guide’.
And by working with the FRDC (Fisheries Research and Development Corporation) the Co-op can more effectively influence, through education and research, the market factors that create the “3 U’s” and can generate a better revenue stream by successfully marketing species like Luderick and Mullet that are in such strong supply in Wallis Lake.
The Wallis Lake Fishermans Co-operative is blessed with a wealth of pristine resources and hard-working, passionate individuals that form a sum greater than all the parts. Their methods and resourcefulness is the key to their success and is something to be admired and imitated by any business willing to create a more collaborative and egalitarian environment for business.
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….Avoca with Cameron Cansdell chef/owner of Bombini restaurant in Avoca.
Where do you go for coffee before work/after work/not at work?
Where have you had the best interstate dining experiences?
Cumulus on Flinders lane in Melbourne is great time and time again. I like to sit at the kitchen bar and order small dishes. They do great charcuterie & oysters. Their wine list is also extensive and with a very interesting selection.
What does the word hospitality mean to you and how has it changed since you started?
It means making customers our priority, looking after their every desire and taking care of them, making sure their expectations are not just met but wowing them. Treating all guests in a warm, friendly and generous manner.
I think the younger people in our industry don’t always see it this way. Sometimes it’s more about themselves and their egos rather than putting customer’s first.
Did you have a mentor?
We had a number of older restaurateurs who had been doing it for a long time as our mentors. We’re an Italian restaurant so it was a lot of the more senior members of the restaurant game such as Armando Percuoco and his wife. And we’re a husband and wife team as well so we looked to them as a way of doing things.
We used to spend a lot of time with them and they were great with advice. As you get going and the business matures you obviously make your own mind up about things but in the beginning they were really inspirational because you go in blind.
A lot of the young restaurateurs that we interview for the Appetite for Excellence program are so green and a bit naïve to the realities of running a business. It’s not all doom and gloom, we try and make it positive but it’s always good to have someone there that has done it before.
What was the goal when you opened and is it different now?
The goal was always to just continue to improve. We always wanted to be really successful at it, we didn’t want to do it just to pay the bills. We wanted to be an example for others in the industry and to create a place where people were proud to work.
That’s something that evolved. When you open it’s really about keeping your head above water. We’re at the stage where we want to give something back and really nurture a new generation. And to hand things on and create more opportunities for the next lot coming through.
Do you have a piece of advice for restaurateurs starting out? Did you have a piece of advice that you’ve carried through?
The previous generation always said: “Work really hard and don’t spend a lot of money.” They drum it into you that it’s going to be hard, it’s long hours but that it was really enjoyable and if you didn’t do it for that reason then it wasn’t worth doing.
In this economic climate, the best advice is to have a plan, having working capital is really important. Having a passion, having ideas and the creativity is great but you really need some money behind you! That’s the reality of it. And be prepared for things you never thought you’d have to pay for like Workers Compensation and strata fees – it’s more than the food and wages. That’s where people come unstuck.
Be a leader who is respectful, motivating and encouraging of staff – firm but fair, and you will get the most out of your team.
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…
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.
Melanda Park by Aaron Ward, George Papaioannou and Kelvin Shaw
From potatoes to pigs, that’s how farmers Matt and Sue Simmons have spent the last 13 years of their lives, on the farm that has been in Sue’s family for almost 100 years. Located in Ebenezer just outside of Sydney, Melanda Park began its life as a citrus farm, before floods; market crashes and ageing orchards gave way to cattle in the latter part of the last century.
In 2003 they started producing certified organic vegetables like potatoes and leafy greens and in keeping with organic farming principles they introduced pigs to the farm as a way to remove the excess waste and vegetables left behind and also to prepare the soil for the next round of planting. It was using these industrious animals to clean up the paddocks that inspired Matt and Sue to actually start breeding free range pigs as well as their organic vegetables.
The pigs are all free range and pasture raised and roam as they please, for 365 days of the year. They’re are able to dig for grubs and potatoes, wallow and interact with other pigs.
The pigs at Melanda Park fatten at a slower rate but have a much more flavoursome meat because of it.
We were fascinated at the speed of which the pigs grow and at the age they’re able to reproduce. After only 4 weeks a sow is able to give birth (farrow), having up to 10 piglets in a litter. The sows have special hutches designed with straw stoppers to farrow in as the 1 or 2kg piglets need to be protected from natural predators like eagles and foxes as well as their mothers.
When we first walked onto the farm I thought it was just about rearing a pig and sending them off to the abattoir but there is so much more. Matt and Sue constantly have to check the soils, check the PH levels, the hydration levels and continually throw seeds to grow grass, not just for the pigs to graze but to keep the neighbours happy with keeping the dust levels down. Having that strong base in a nutrient rich soil is a fundamental part to being able to rear a pig at such a high standard, as Matt and Sue have accomplished.
The Simmons have carved a niche in the industry by rearing suckling pigs, averaging a weight of 15-18kg at just 8 weeks old. Through their care and dedication to free range farming and a superior tasting product they have found their way into the Sydney fine dining restaurant scene. Their passion for what they are doing on the farm really shows in the pigs they produce and constant high standard of the farm they work.
At Melanda Park you can hear the wind coming up the valley, no pig squeals, the occasional barking Maltese terrier, but no stress and a relaxed feel. The open fields and paddocks where the pigs graze or lay in the hutches where they farrowed smell clean, like a farm, grassy green with a scent of manure, whipped up with the wind but an expected aroma of a farm.
We visited Melanda Park as part of the 2016 National Finalists Produce Tour of NSW.