Cam O’Keefe opened CENTRA in Geelong in 2015, serving up rustic Italian cuisine with a focus on seasonality and locally sourced produce. Housed in an impressively converted 19th-century pub, there’s also an adjoining bar and a courtyard.“Mixing features of the old space with more fresh, contemporary elements, we have created a space that has the feel of a ‘modern urban-ruin’,” Cam says.
While Cam enjoyed working for others, he always knew he would one day branch out on his own. Running his restaurant in a semi-regional city, he strives to deliver a dining experience to rival those found in Melbourne or Sydney. “I truly believe it shouldn’t matter where people are in our country, there should always be fantastic hospitality experiences available,” he says.
Cam is a hands-on restaurateur who aspires for continual improvement and rejects the notion that owning and managing a restaurant is a status symbol. “To me, a restaurateur should be willing to carry out any task that any member of the team might need to perform,” he says. “Long hours and busy services might remain the norm, but the passion and true love of offering honest, unpretentious hospitality are what drives me.”
It’s not the first time Cam has caught the eye of our judges; in 2010, he was a state finalist in the Young Waiter of the Year. So what would it mean to him to be named Young Restaurateur of the Year just seven years later? “It isn’t just about receiving a great accolade,” Cam says. “I feel it will be equally as important for my development and journey in becoming a true restaurateur.”
Follow Cam on Instagram @centrahotel