Your career and passion for food continues to grow with you recently joining the Three Blue Ducks latest venture in Rosebery. Looking back on the past few years have there been any standout highlights?
The Ducks certainly took a leap of faith in hiring me soon after Masterchef, and I’ve been working hard in the kitchen pushing my own boundaries, and proving to not only them, but also myself, that I’ve got what it takes to run a kitchen. They’ve also been supportive in allowing me my freedom, so I’ve been able to explore a host of things – I set up a production company and have had the tough job of travelling to food meccas (Mexico, Spain & Portugal) and creating web and tv series with my best mate. Switching from TV to web has been a great learning curve and we’ve been pushing out simple, good-looking content. But I’m so stoked to be part of the Ducks now and having signed a 10 year lease on the place in Rosebery, they’re stuck with me!
What is it that continually motivates you in your career as a chef?
I’ve always been a sponge for knowledge, and it’s worked in my favour that I’m able to pick up new things or observe how other chefs do what they do, and it sticks. In this industry that’s something that will set you ahead- being able to evolve and continually learn. That in itself is a huge motivation – I’m excited by growing my skills and pushing my talents not only in the kitchen but on the business side of things, too. I guess you’re always trying to reach this target that’s constantly moving and is just out of reach. It excites me.
Your 2014 trip to Mexico with your good mate and fellow Masterchef contestant Ben Milbourne was documented through a Web Series for Old El Paso. How do Mexicans eat differently from Australians? Is there an ingredient you’d love to see Australians using more?
This is one of those tough jobs I mentioned earlier. The biggest difference is that in Mexico there’s a celebration of the everyday meal. The kitchen is the absolute hub of the house, and everyone gathers around the table at meal times. If something’s not discussed at the table, it’s not worth discussing. Perhaps Australia has relaxed on this custom over the past couple of decades. Tradition is strong in Mexico, with age-old ingredients still highlights of meals, and family recipes passed on from generation to generation.
Having said that it’s great to see Australia’s food culture shifting to celebrate our local and native products – like the saltbush and the bush tomato. Turns out the Bush Tucker Man was on to something!
The food industry and café scene is booming, with foodies taking on a new role in the marketing of their favourite cafes and restaurants on social media. Why do you think food has become such a phenomenon in this way?
I saw a series called ‘Cooked’ and they were talking about the same thing – saying the fascination with food and foodies has never been higher, yet individuals are cooking less than they ever have before. First of all the visual element of food means it’s a no brainer to work perfectly on social media. Instagram for example, allows anyone anywhere to be able to share either what their eating or what their cooking – both with differing levels of success. It’s like the custom of sitting down and sharing a meal has just shifted online, where you see something you love and you can still literally share it with your nearest and dearest, or your hundreds of followers.
Your food philosophy centres on the power of flavour. How can you maximise flavour in a favourite home-cooked meal?
I can’t emphasise enough how good, fresh produce is a game changer. In Portugal the food can often be quite simple. For example, I was served a bowl of lightly salted cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, and it packed more flavour than a fancy 8-ingredient salad. The trick – freshly picked, vine ripened tomatoes. We just need to be a little more savvier with what we buy and where from, and if you pick the right ingredients you’ll notice the difference immediately.
Sometimes preparing foods can seem onerous in the face of conveniently ordering online or picking up takeaway. Looking to the future, how do you hope people envision and consume food?
I’m comforted to see more and more options for at-home meals that allow the consumer to use actual quality ingredients to cook a meal in no time. This type of convenience meals are the way to go. Grocery delivery is becoming more popular too, and this takes out a lot of the time and stress that can go with having to go to the supermarket. This will only get simpler, faster and more convenient. As long as people still recognise the need for moderation and balance then I’ll be happy.
You launched the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence People’s Choice Award to recognise the talent of young people in hospitality. Why do you think it is important to cultivate support for young chefs and waiters wanting to make it in the food industry?
It’s a super tough industry out there, and for every individual that gets recognised there’s probably 300 other young guns slogging it out in the kitchen that don’t. But having programs like the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence means that there’s conversations happening – online and offline – and there’s something to strive for outside of the workplace. It shines a light on the hard work that gets done in both front and back of house, and it allows people to reward and support those that they admire. What’s great this year is that the people can now show their support by voting for their favourite Young Chefs and Young Waiters at www.appetiteforexcellence.com/peoples-choice-award-voting/
Who have you looked to in your career for inspiration and mentorship?
Darryn and Mark at the Ducks have been amazing and will continue to be my inspiration and mentors for a long time to come. Other sources have come from all over – we met some legendary cooks and chefs in Masterchef who I continually refer to, but then there’s also inspiration in day-to-day people you meet. It might be a home-cook in Mexico, or a mushroom farmer in Spain, who are so passionate about what their doing that they can’t help to influence how you cook and what your approach to food and ingredients are.
Having started your career in the food industry on Masterchef, 2012 you are familiar with transforming a passion into a livelihood. What are the ingredients a young chef needs to make their career aspirations become a reality?
Be hungry (for food and for knowledge), make connections, and keep on experimenting.
Favourite flavour combination is…
Seafood and lemon
A meal you wish you could eat again…
It’s a toss-up between Kylie Kwong’s Pork Buns from Billy Kwongs, and an epic large corned beef stack with mustard and pickles that I had in Grand Central Markets in LA.
Cooking or eating…
Nope, too hard. Both.
Top three toppings on a pizza….
Jamon, the best melty cheese you can afford, oregano.
No meal is complete without…
Family or friends to share it with. Although a matching lager doesn’t go astray either.