Written by Dominic Rolfe.
Not so long ago, if the f-bomb wasn’t being hurled around a restaurant kitchen by a red-faced, glowering head chef stalking the burners, something wasn’t right. The bigger the ego, the better the nosh, so the story went. But times have changed. And for legendary Australian chef and restaurateur, Guy Grossi, it’s for the better.
“What we noticed in this year’s entrants is that there’s a lot more humility and that’s been changing over the years,” says Grossi who has been a judge with the Electrolux Australian Young Chef program 9 years. “I think early on it was fashionable to be a bit cocky. But this year we had a lot of young contestants who, while they weren’t lacking in confidence, were certainly more humble. They’ve picked up on the whole concept of hospitality.”
For Grossi, the evolution of a domineering, chef-driven restaurant into a gentler, more holistic approach to the profession is a positive shift. “It’s not just about being in the kitchen these days,” he says, “it’s all about kindness and I think the young guys are starting to understand that their work doesn’t just stop at the kitchen doors.”
This extra dimension is something the Appetite for excellence program aims to give all the entrants, especially the seven national finalists. They, along with the young waiter and young restaurateur national finalists, undertake a 6 day-long produce tour after they are tested in interviews and cook-offs. “A chef needs to be well-rounded,” says Grossi, “it’s not just about cooking recipes. There’s a consideration to the planet, to the guests and to a front of house team that needs connectivity. If there’s a disparity, then your food will never shine.”
This year the food being created by the finalists not only shone, it also seriously surprised the judges with how remarkable it was. “We got restaurant style food and beyond,” says Grossi, “The pool is getting bigger and the quality is getting stronger, which is a nice problem to have.”
The food itself has also changed. Gone is the phase of hyper-refined food that had had every known piece of technology thrown at it. “Food was being produced within an inch of its life,” says Grossi, “whereas these days young chefs are being more considerate with technology, using it to improve their product rather than for the sake of it. And that’s a great step.”
But the food aside, Grossi believes that the program is not only a chance to gain some early recognition but it’s also a great opportunity for young people to network with the calibre of people and chefs that they wouldn’t otherwise meet. Which, in turn, is beneficial not only to themselves but to the industry as a whole.
“I believe we’re got an amazing network of chefs in Australia who do associate and where people aren’t afraid of sharing knowledge – it’s something that’s become fashionable and that’s all about evolving as an industry. More people are realising that it’s not just about being competitive in a small marketplace like your city or across Australia, it’s about being competitive globally.”