award winning chef, Jake Kellie’s new beginnings

Australian Young chef

written by Dominic Rolf

Late last year, a message from Burnt Ends owner and chef, Dave Pynt, pinged into Jake Kellie’s inbox. It was an offer to work at Pynt’s restaurant in Singapore. Kellie had met Pynt a week earlier on a four-day swing through Singapore the restaurant he’s taken to Number 14 in Asia (and Number 70 in the world). “I replied asking Dave what sort of job he was offering,” says Kellie, “And when he told me it was the head chef job, I was like, ‘Whoa, are you serious?’ I couldn’t believe the opportunity. I spoke to a few people whose opinion I respect, then jumped at it.”

Spotting and then grasping an opportunity is something that has underpinned Kellie’s rise as one of the country’s talented young chefs. From leaping into an apprenticeship at ARIA in Sydney as a 17-year old to stints at London’s two Michelin-starred The Ledbury and The Fat Duck, which was then top restaurant in the world, the Electrolux Australian Young Chef of the Year 2015 (he came second in 2014), Kellie’s CV is marked by a powerful urge to push himself.

“To be ready for the next step, whatever it is, you just have to have the passion and the will to succeed”

 

“To be ready for the next step, whatever it is, you just have to have the passion and the will to succeed,” says Kellie, who was also was nominated for The Age’s Good Food Young Chef of the Year 2015, “I really wanted to be good at what I did. Even when you’re waking up tired, when the clock starts ticking, you feel the pressure to perform and that’s why I keep doing it.”

“Coming to Burnt Ends means dealing with a new style of cooking but I’m really ambitious and am excited to do new food,” says Kellie, “And having someone like Dave beside me and mentoring me along the way made this the perfect next step.”

Beyond the big name restaurants, Kellie honed his craft at some of the best local restaurants in Melbourne, from being head chef at Fitzroy’s The Commoner and then at Estelle in Northcote. He was most recently the founding head chef at The Lakeside Mill in Pakenham. Each job has seen him refine and develop how he approaches the next stage of his career. “When I came back from London, for example, I was beginning to look for places I could create my own food,” he says, “The Commoner was an awesome space – not too big and not too small. It enabled me to get a gauge on things and how I could design food.”

young chef, waiter & restaurateur 2017 applications are open. Why not apply?

The Lakeside Mill took it one step further. “After going back to the pans at Estelle, the Lakeside Mill was an opportunity that fitted with my ethos – local produce, locally-driven, using local farms and a tasting menu based on ingredients in a 10km radius,” says Kellie, “Opening a restaurant from scratch was full on. We did some crazy things and it was a massive learning curve.”

But being afraid of change is not something that Kellie would ever entertain. “You can’t prepare yourself for the unknowns,” he says, “You just have to keep learning, and seek out places that have good management behind the front of house and the business itself.”

Kellie also believes that taking opportunities beyond the kitchen and then building from them has been key to his success. He’s been on Masterchef Australia, continues to stage to learn not only cooking techniques but also management styles and practices  “While I was doing all this outside stuff, I knew that I wanted to turn it into something,” he says, “There’s nothing worse than getting on a roll and then not evolving. I wanted to turn it into something.”

For Kellie, recognising and grasping that net big break is helped by having people around that you trust. “I have some close people who care for what I do such as Scott Pickett (at Estelle) and Alla Wolf-Tasker (at Lake House),” says Kellie, “They’ve been a massive influence on what I do. They’re the two people I can rely on and talk to about anything.”

And winning the Electrolux Australian Young Chef of the Year was another boost for Kellie’s ability to tap the best brains in the industry. “I wanted to win it because it’s such a prestigious award,” he says, “it challenges you, and helps to make you think about where you want to be. But for me, I think the networking that the program brings is really important. It opens you up to good cooks and good people who want to help you as much as they can.”

Now, with Dave Pynt by his side, he’s ready to soak up the knowledge of someone else who has carved his own successful niche. “I just want to learn and feed off what Dave knows,” he says, “But I’ve got the drive to succeed. It’s easy to say something, it’s harder to do it. But if you’ve got the will in you and you can do it, that’s what is the most important thing.”

She swirls, she slurps, she serves!

by Dominic Rolfe

 

Leanne Altmann perched on her hotel balcony in Tournon-sur-Rhône and gazed up at the hill of Hermitage. It was 2002 and still a few months before torrential rain would turn the vintage into one of the most forgettable of recent times. But at this moment, Altmann is mid-epiphany. Not only has she just twigged that the village smells like chocolate because Valrhona (“valley of Rhône – ha!” she laughs) is just around the corner but the divinity of terroir has just swept over her. “I saw the setting sun, where it left shadows, the exact appellation of Hermitage and the idea of French wine being of a place rather than a style,” she says, “and it really hit home that it’s because of the geographic features of that region.”

Altmann’s moment of clarity did more than help spirit her to a higher vinous plane. It taught the 2008 Electrolux Young Waiter of the Year the value of going to the source, of learning by doing. “I realised how much understanding you get from looking at something like the hill of Hermitage,” she says, “You can’t learn that properly from books. It was the same with the EAFE experience in a whole restaurant sense.”

Altmann is the wine buyer responsible for the list at Andrew McConnell’s pumping Melbourne restaurant, Supernormal and his latest venture butcher and wine merchant Meatsmith. Her Twitter description reads: “She swirls! She slurps! She serves!” It’s a long way from the moment she stumbled onto the EAFE site and was gripped by a program specifically targeting waiters. “I thought ‘wow, there’s some recognition for being a waiter’,” she says. “and I know it’s a bit harder to get that recognition in the media because what we do it a bit more intangible. But to be honest some of the best dining experiences I’ve had have been created by the people serving me. It’s not just about the food for me, it’s about the atmosphere and service.”

Altmann grew up in Adelaide and finished her Level 4 Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma in wines and spirits in early 2015. She has been working in hospitality since she was 15, eventually deciding that her job as a waiter at the Hyatt Adelaide’s fine dining restaurant was more interesting than her business degree. From there she took a job at the National Wine Centre, won the 2001 Daniel Pontifex scholarship and moved to the big, bustling Adelaide restaurant, Cibo, where they made her sommelier. “They really taught me how to run a restaurant,” she says, “and gave me great guidance especially the importance of keeping a great culture at work.”

There followed a stint in the Barossa (Altmann and her partner still ship in bacon from their favourite Barossa butcher) and a job at Gordon Ramsay’s three Michelin star restaurant in Chelsea. “Working there highlighted that next step of professionalism that service allowed,” she says, “the tight culture and attention to detail in the business. It was marvellous … but my visa ran out!”

It was when she returned home, that she entered the EAFE program. “I liked the idea of the questions, how I was exploring my own personal philosophy in the industry,” she says, “and I hadn’t really expected to hear back from them.” But she did and while she admits to being nervous when chosen as one of the finalists on the produce tour. “I thought it would be really competitive,” she says, “but we had a great group and it ended up being like a school trip. The only problem was seeing blokes pulling uni (sea urchin) straight out of the ocean and having some. It’s the best I’ve ever had and I always end up comparing all other uni to those! Some of the chefs that have opened restaurants still use the suppliers they met on the tour.”

Mixing with the other applicants, visiting and listening to suppliers and being in the company of the well-respected judges took her back to that balcony in the Rhône Valley. She was learning by immersion. It also gave her a professional nudge. “The program definitely pushed more and gave me a new focus on my career,” she says, “when you have the opportunity to see how dynamic the Australian restaurant scene can be, it’s an exciting place to learn and grow as a young waiter.”

Follow Leanne on twitter @LeaAlt

Hot new restaurant to open in 2016

Jake Kellie, our Electrolux Australian Young Chef 2015 has joined The Lakeside Mill in Pakenham, just outside Melbourne. Due to open in mid February, Jake has been working hard over the last few months to get the kitchen team, equipment and menu ready.  It’s been a busy 12 months for Jake, being named ‘Electrolux Australian Young Chef of the year’; announced as a finalist in The Age Young chef award and one of the delicious. next generation chefs. At just 26, this will be his second head chef role and we had a chat with him about his love of hospitality and why he joined the Lakeside.

Q: What drew you to The Lakeside Mill?  What attracted me is the abundance of  local produce available in the area. From great potato and asparagus farms to beef, pig and cheese producers all on my doorstop. Having these wonderful producers allows me to highlight their produce on the menu, feeding locals and visitors. There is also a great team to work with both in the kitchen and on the floor. The role I have at the Lakeside is a great move for me. This is my second head chef role, but my first in a regional area. It’s been great to be able to have a say in the kitchen build, sourcing the plates, kitchen equipment and hiring the entire brigade of 11 chefs. There is alot more responsibility on a broader scale with a venue that is going to be open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But it’s something I’m really enjoying and we are looking forward to opening next month.

Q: What does hospitality mean to you? As I’ve grown in my career, so has the meaning of hospitality. It can start out as a job, but as your passion for your career grows and grows, your determination to succeed becomes a big part of it which in turn has given me the opportunity to create my own menu for people to enjoy. Hospitality to me means giving the customer an experience of your restaurant from the first moment they walk into the dining room to the time they walk out. It’s not only about the food, it’s the ability to go above and beyond their expectations.

Q: Who is you mentor and what was one piece of advice that you still use today? Brett Graham has inspired me a lot in my career. He taught me to treat all customers as a guest in your home, seasonal cooking including how to get the maximum flavour out of your vegetables; and great cooking techniques. Probably the best piece of advice that I still use today would be to taste everything so you know that it’s right. If it’s not dont serve it.

Q: What do you think has helped you most as a chef and what advice would you give to young chefs? What has helped me is focus and determination to succeed every day. But a big part for me are the teams I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Working with great people throughout my career has really influenced me and I wouldn’t be where I am now. If there was a small piece of advice I could say to young chefs starting out, or just completing their apprenticeship, it would be stay focused listen to your mentors and work with a good team because you can’t do it all by yourself.

George Tomlin’s trip of a lifetime

as part of his prize, George Tomlin has an incredible trip visiting several regions in Italy – put together by Sanpellegrino, Electrolux & Appetite. From visiting Italy’s international culinary school ALMA to learn more about Italian cuisine, staging with Michelin star chef Giancarlo Morelli & sampling the delights at Parma to seeing the intricacies of how kitchen equipment is made.

thursday 01 october

travelling from Venice to Pordenone by train was just over an hour. All to my left in the distance were what I found out later to be the start of The Alps on the border of Austria. In front of the alps were lots of vineyards – the view couldn’t have been more perfect. Arriving into Pordenone, Electrolux chef Maximillian Zedelmeier showed me around the streets stopping for an Aperol spritz before heading to dinner. A perfect evening eating & drinking like a local with great hosts.

 

friday 02 october – day 1

Untitled design

today was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to see first hand how Electrolux approach innovation. It was pretty impressive seeing their showroom which included a large Molteni Range Cooker which apparently is worth more than a Lamborghini….

It was eye opening as they produce more or less every component onsite and alot is handmade with a strong focus on being sustainable and low energy. It’s all so advanced, I didn’t know you could get ovens to do the things that these ovens do – such as controlling the humidity inside the ovens.

After checking out the equipment, I had the chance to test run some of it with Chefs Maximilian [Zedelmeier] and Mauricio [Bottega]. Throwing on a chefs jacket & apron – the first in a while – they showed me around their kitchen where we cooked lunch, talked ingredients & tested out the equipment. It was great to be able to get in the kitchen after not being in one for a few weeks.

To be honest, I was curious to visit the factory to see how the equipment we use everyday is created, but had no idea how interesting it really is! It was an incredible experience, run by brilliant people and I have learnt alot from the visit. Now… to find a wine bar to digest all of that information!

saturday 03 october – day 2

Venice is beautiful. Incredible architecture and just so different to anything I’ve ever seen before. I found a small enoteca that looked slightly annoyed with my non-existent Italian so I had an amazing lunch there. Eating and drinking lots of local food and wine. I’m becoming obsessed with a local dish called Baccala it’s basically salted cod usually with polenta or on bread.

 

sunday 04 october – day 3

travel is very unique here in Venice…  Today I  caught the water bus through Venice from San Marco Piazza to Santa Lucia train station to reach my next destination, Colorno.

Colorno is a small. There is an old palace which just happens to house the ALMA – the international culinary institute in Italy.  Luckily, I’m also staying here for the next few days in ALMA’s accommodation. They kindly placed a big basket of food just in case I got hungry, which is definitely not been an issue since arriving in Italy.

 

monday 05 october – day 4

Today started at 8am with Diana – my ALMA host – giving me a guided tour through the school and grounds. And it’s impressive!  There is so much to explore here, laboratories, cellar, training kitchens, demo kitchens, correspondence worldwide and what they teach is at a very high level. The school was set up 12 years ago with Gualtiero Marchesi as the main chef behind it. He’s written a lot of books and although some might not agree he is seen as one of the founders of modern Italian cuisine.

After the tour I did some basic Italian pastry work with Fulvio Vailati, including Rum Baba, Tiramisu and Fruit Crostata followed by lunch. There is one main kitchen that is huge where the classes take turn in feeding everyone every day for lunch. They use all the leftover food from the classes so very little is actually wasted. The ‘leftovers’ are well thought out banquet dishes – so it’s a fantastic staff meal.

The afternoon consisted of wine training in the cellar. And what a training session! For this I had a couple of sommeliers and a translator Myriam Caccavelli who was brilliant. I learnt about the basics of wine, how they grow and harvest in Italy as well as how many variables there are and how much it differs even in the same regions.

A great day!

 

 

Penny Grant – Raising the bar

written by Lilani Goonesena

At 21, Penny Grant was one of the youngest waiter finalists in the 2008 program. She was then working at ISIS Brasserie (later Ortiga) in Brisbane, but had just accepted a junior sommelier role at Circa, The Prince in Melbourne.

“The program definitely helped me to better understand the industry, and to network. The industry in Brisbane back then, six years ago, wasn’t as developed as it is now, so I gained a lot out of it.”

Penny says it’s interesting to see so many sommeliers as part of the program. “Since I entered in 2008, four of us have grown in our careers to become somms and senior management and that’s really exciting.”

Having grown up on a vineyard, Penny always knew she wanted to work in wine.

“My family had a couple of wineries in Bendigo so we grew up on the farm, picking and crushing. My mum has also always worked in wine on cellar doors and such, so wine has all been around me – a family trait I guess,” she says.

Penny worked at Circa for about eight months. With a team of five sommeliers and a 1600-bin wine list, it was a serious education and she learned a lot.

“When Circa closed for renovations [in late 2009], they moved me to Taxi Dining Room, where I met sommelier Lincoln Riley who became the biggest inspiration and mentor in my life.”

Lincoln, the 2008 Judy Hirst Australian Sommelier of the Year, moved to three venues within four years and Penny followed. “I stayed with him as his assistant through Taxi, Gordon Ramsey’s Maze, and Stokehouse,” she says.

“Linc was always there, and always pushed me to go a bit further. He was one of the kindest and strongest mentors; he taught me everything I know. He sent me to tastings, wineries, and over to Italy as well,” Penny explains.

Then, in late 2013, an opportunity beckoned to return home to Brisbane.

“My partner Jake [Nicolson, Australian Young Chef 2008] who I met on the program and worked with at Circa, was offered Executive Chef at Black Bird Bar & Grill in Brisbane. I then applied for the sommelier job.”

The opulently designed Black Bird on the riverside is part of the Ghanem Group and opened in February 2014.

Penny then spent a long six months painstakingly developing Black Bird’s 250-bin wine list. Mainly Australian, familiar labels such as Tyrells and Yalumba rub along with many smaller wineries including Lincoln Riley’s Foster e Rocco. There’s also a nod to Penny’s favourite Italian varietals. The list is carefully designed to complement the “heritage Australian” cuisine.

“I’m really conscious of making sure that the list is a good representation of vintage, variety and region. I also make sure that Jake’s food pairs with everything on the wine list and everything has a place,” says Penny. “It took a long time to create, about six months, and we developed and collaborated everything together. We are still developing and changing things – this is one of the hardest things but also the most fun.”

Penny’s ethos of hard work is the hallmark of her success, and her dedication pays off.

In 2014, Penny was awarded the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide’s Champagne Pol Roger Sommelier of the Year, while Black Bird received Drinks List of the Year. She was also selected as a finalist in the 2014 Lorenzo Galli Wine Scholarship, from hundreds of applicants. She had also been a finalist in 2010.

“Don’t be afraid of hard work to get to where you want to be,” Penny advises industry newcomers. “Always say yes to every opportunity. The industry is hard; long hours with sometimes smaller pay perhaps but it’s a really rewarding industry. Be the person who says yes to any bit of hard work and that kind of commitment will always go far.”

For now, Penny is enthusiastic in her role as Black Bird’s sommelier and the Ghanem Group Wine Manager. “This is an exciting time and we hope to expand and open more venues. And it’s nice to come home to Brisbane, we’re very happy here.”