What was the driving force behind opening Fish Dining?
We wanted to open a flagship seafood restaurant for the Central Coast with a menu that is seasonally driven and dishes which reflect the Australian climate. We might have a beautiful warm fish pie or a Spanish seafood stew in winter and then in summer the menu will lend itself to more grilled seafood dishes using fresh salsas. The entire menu is driven by Australian seafood; we’re not using anything that’s imported and we’re sourcing some of the best seafood Australia has to offer. In saying that, we’re using local seafood and there is a lot of seafood in New South Wales but that’s not the entire picture that we’re trying to paint here. We have such great seafood all around Australia so it’s important for us to use it all. We might get mud crabs from the Northern Territory or Cone Bay Barramundi from Western Australia, salmon roe from Yarra Valley and kingfish from South Australia.
Was it easier opening a restaurant the third time around?
It’s a lot easier because we have incredible support and networks. At Bombini we have incredible staff there, so we have a good foundation which we can build upon. It was different the first time around because we had fresh staff and Hayley and I were doing a lot of it ourselves. We had support from family and friends but now we’re set up in a way where we have a good network of contacts so we can get things moving a lot quicker and more efficiently.
How has the Central Coast’s dining scene evolved over recent years?
I’ve been here since 2007 and since then there’s now so many more great venues here on the Coast. Back then if you wanted to go for an incredible night out to a great restaurant, you had to go to the city. For us opening Bombini, then Bombini Woodfired Pizza and now Fish Dining we’ve filled some of those gaps. Ultimately, these are the sorts of restaurants we want to dine at. That’s sort of our inclination of thinking – what do we feel would sit on the Central Coast really well and what does the Coast need to make it a reasonable dining destination – that’s our driving force in doing this.
Did winning the 2016 Electrolux Young Restaurateur of the Year drive you to open Fish Dining?
It was an incredible achievement, it was a lot of hard work and I was up against some incredible competition. Hayley and I, we had a [restaurant] name before I started the competition to open other venues on the coast. I think winning the Electrolux Young Restaurateur gave us more drive in setting our goals and to make them come into fruition a lot quicker. If anything I think it reinforced our values as business leaders on the Coast and what we are able to do. It wasn’t a driving force but it definitely gave us incredible support networks to make us do more, quicker.
More venues in the pipeline?
Yeah, definitely. For us, it’s about creating a network of businesses that can support young individuals and couples who want to establish themselves on the Central Coast instead of moving to Sydney but also creating places that can help people grow in the industry as well. They’re the two driving forces for us to open more venues. And we want to help other people who are opening venues on the Coast to make it a great regional dining destination of Australia. Without the help of all our great customers and employees we’re unable to do it. Hayley and I can’t just open these venues; we need all these people to come along on the journey.]]>
What inspired you to choose a culinary career?
I have always cooked since I could walk. I was always in the kitchen with mum baking and cooking dinner together. From then on I have never been able to stay away from the kitchen.
What did you learn from your experience on the TV show My Kitchen Rules?
My brother and I decided to go on My Kitchen Rules (MKR) in 2015 (aired 2016). It was really his idea. He knew I loved cooking so thought it would be awesome for me. He didn’t really expect to see himself there but it ended up that way and I’m glad it did. MKR definitely exposed me to the pressure side of cooking which was good because I learnt how to deal with stress while cooking. I think there was a lot of personal development that happens while doing things like MKR. You become confident in your abilities as they’re tested all the time but also you learn how to pick up skills really quickly.
Have your recent wins cemented your decision to become a chef?
I think my decision to become a chef was written in my DNA. I was always going to work with food. I just had to finish school first! My wins this year have really encouraged me to keep working hard at learning new things and bettering myself. Competition really forces you to be creative but also refines you as a chef. You have to work quickly and cleanly to be any good at comp.
Tell me about your experience in the Bocuse d’Or Australian selection earlier this year and working alongside Michael Cole?
The Bocuse d’Or has been such an incredible experience so far. I have learnt so much from Michael and am continually inspired and encouraged by him. It’s been an amazing opportunity for learning skills and thought processes that you would never dream of learning in a normal apprenticeship. I am so thankful for Michael’s patience with me.
What will the preparation for the Bocuse d’Or Asia-Pacific Selection involve?
Michael and myself will work very closely together to develop our platter for the selections. It will be a lot of late nights and a lot of hard work but hopefully we will be able to come up with something wonderful. The next couple of months will mean intense training for the both of us.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years I hope to have travelled, cooking all over the world and start to develop my own style of cooking. I really would like to open up my own restaurant in the future so hopefully in five years I will have made some progress towards that goal. I really want to work in top kitchens all over the world so I am planning a lot of stages for after the Bocuse d’Or.]]>
I have definitely witnessed more of a focus on flavours across the globe. From this you will start to see single origin coffees in more and more cafes with tasting notes designed for the customer to enhance their coffee experience and look for flavours they might not usually associate with coffee!
The other trend emerging is the quality of café food is dramatically improving: it’s not enough now to serve great coffee and the standard café menu – menus are becoming more adventurous and the plating of food in some cafes is nearly to hat restaurant standard.
How does the average Australian coffee connoisseur compare to say a European one?
Australia are definitely known for their high quality coffee and coffee art. Aussie coffee connoisseurs are well practiced in knowing a great cup from an average cup – they are generally very knowledgeable! As people travel more frequently and further afield you can see this quality trickle back into Europe. More and more places within the UK especially are serving flat whites – a typically Australasian style!
What do you think is the next big market change in the way we like our coffee?
The change already in place is piccolos will continue to grow in popularity as consumers review their milk intake and demand for alternative milks will increase – soy, almond, lactose free, cashew, coconut and there will be others!
What are some of the differences between international markets and how they like their coffee?
Coffee culture in the UK, especially London, is starting to take shape with an influx of new independent cafes opening in the last three to four years. Having said that I’m not sure coffee will ever overtake tea as the hot beverage of choice but it is gaining popularity! The US continues to be filter coffee focussed in most states, quite often in huge cups by Aussie standards (think double the size of your usual large coffee here!) apart from a few cities where espresso culture is really taking shape like Seattle, Portland and parts of New York and Los Angeles. Some major cities in Asia are starting to see huge growth in espresso based coffees like Shanghai, Seoul and Singapore with some great new cafés opening in recent years.]]>
What led you to a wine-making career in Thailand?
I started as a cellar hand, vineyard operator. Back then one needed to either have finished an apprenticeship as vintner/wine technician/cellar hand, or do a one-year internship in a winery to be accepted by the university of oenology and viticulture in Geisenheim, Germany. I started studying in 1999.
I wanted to do something creative, that does not bind me to an office for eight hours [a day] and that is not purely crunching numbers or staring at a computer. I always loved nature and good food, and I had tasted wines early with my father during dinner and I liked the smell and taste of it. So I started a long internship after school just to see if I liked it and I fell in love with the work.
How does growing wine in Thailand differ to temperate climates?
It is extreme wine making and viticulture. Very little did we learn and know during university about tropical viticulture. They first vineyards were only planted in 1982 in Thailand. We have shorter daylight periods, we have daily temperatures above 30C, sometimes above 40C. We don’t have four seasons, just hot, hotter, hottest and we have a dry and rainy season.
What challenges do you face growing wine in a monsoon climate?
Dry season starts at the end of October and ends at the beginning of April. Rainy season is pretty much the rest of the year. We won’t get grapes during rainy season but this cycle is important to prepare the plant for the dry season. At the end of October when dry season starts we do a long pruning of four to five buds to get fruit canes that bear fruits. From day of pruning to harvest it takes in tropics roughly 120 days so we usually harvest in February/March. During rainy season we collect rain water in our artificial ponds to use this water for irrigation during dry season.
During the rainy season, we only do the vegetative cycle, no crop. If we were to do two harvests a year we would stress the plants a lot so the two cycle/one crop concept works well for us. We want quality not quantity.
What wine varieties do you produce at Monsoon Valley?
We have tested hundreds of varietals in the past years. The varietals that perform best in tropical [climates] are still Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Dornfelder and Muscat.
What is your favourite type of wine and what Thai dishes would you pair it with?
I go by phases. Generally for hot climates I prefer whites and roses or light reds. I am a fan of our Colombard which is the perfect match for spicy seafood salads and fish dishes. Our White Shiraz is lovely with phad Thai and red curries. We do two barrique cuvées, white and red, which we match with Western food and non-spicy food since too tannic wines and too alcoholic wines usually don’t match well with spicy food.]]>
Are you more scientist than chef?
I am a combination of a pastry chef, artist and scientist. There is certainly an element of science that I use and I love that aspect of patisserie. Understanding ingredients and knowing how they complement each other and react with one another is a fundamental principle of this craft.
Why is the art of patisserie so much harder than regular cooking?
I don’t believe it is harder, it is just more precise. They are two very different jobs. In patisserie, you can specialise in chocolate pastry, wedding cakes, doughnuts, desserts (and more) or you can be an all-rounder. I also think there is an element of creativity that you don’t always see in cuisine. The pastry industry is constantly changing and evolving, so you must be able to adapt very quickly and you can’t be afraid to push the boundaries.
The two MasterChef contestants both stumbled with your three fruits creation – did you set the bar too high and what were they doing wrong?
The bar is meant to be high, it is the MasterChef finale after all. I think they both did an amazing job considering the challenge. There are techniques in those recipes that a lot of pastry chefs have never attempted. When devising the challenge, I originally started with four fruits, but I think that would have tipped them over the edge! They weren’t doing anything wrong specifically – it was a hard task and time wasn’t on their side. I’m really excited to see what the future holds for both.
What was the first sweet creation you made?
The first sweet creation I ever made was a chocolate cake that I baked with my best friend at the time. We were around eight years old and instead of using a cup of flour, we added a cup of bi-carb soda, which resulted in a cake that exploded and a strained relationship with her mother. Luckily, I persisted!
Describe your relationship with chocolate?
I absolutely love chocolate and that’s what inspired me to open Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School. Chocolate is such a versatile ingredient to work with and the opportunities for creativity are endless. Teaching people who attend my classes brings such a sense of satisfaction and I find real joy in showing them how to work with chocolate and the types of products they can create from it.
What’s your favorite chocolate flavour pairing?
There are so many exciting and unexpected flavour combinations however I love classic flavours with chocolate such as cream, vanilla, raspberry, hazelnut, caramel and passionfruit.
Master Kirsten’s ‘Three fruits’ recipe for yourself here.]]>
I always have a passion for food. When I jumped into my career, I asked what are the most sophisticated and difficult dishes to prepare and everyone said French, so here I am.
What are quintessentially French dishes?
The most important thing is making stock or jus from scratch. It makes the biggest difference. It’s all about the sauce. There is an old French saying ‘the sauce can save the meat’. Our Bourguignon sauce is a big seller – red wine, reduced down, add jus and butter, mirepoix (diced) veggies and fried lardons (pork rasher). Full of flavours.
Duck cassoulet is a lunchtime best seller in the winter. It’s a rich sauce mixed with pork fat, lardons, sausages and other duck fats, white beans, and twice cooked confit duck legs.
Ingredients you can’t you live without?
The French say there are three key ingredients you can’t live without – butter, butter and butter. Cheese is also one of the key ingredients. Our onion soup is a big seller, as we use Gruyere cheese on our croutons.
What would you never have on the menu?
Burgers and pasta. They sell well but if we put them on the menu we are no longer a French restaurant.
I studied for a year at Le Cordon Bleu Australia. It was the perfect way for me to taste a little bit of French cooking. Also chef Rob Hodgson. He’s English but but he taught me the A-Z of French cuisine.]]>
Culinary philosophy? Keep food simple and handle it as little as possible. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. Know your food sources and keep it seasonal. Keep interested, keep passionate and keep learning. And always remember that customers want value for money.
Food heroes? Raymond Blanc. He’s a rock star, he’s my hero. By far the most passionate knowledgeable chef with the best palate that I have ever had the good fortune to work with. [Also] Lee Parsons. I worked with him in Canada. His eye for detail and his knowledge is incredible. Warren Geraghty taught me everything I needed to know about managing a kitchen properly including admin and financial management. He was tough to work for but his work ethic was second to none.
Is there a difference in mindset between a pastry chef and head chef? Absolutely. Pastry chefs make the best head chefs. They are tidy, efficient, they are like scientists. Everything is weighed down to the gram. A great friend of mine is Colin Bedford, whom I worked with in Canada when he was a pastry chef. He is now a Grand Chef Cuisine for Relais Chateaux and executive chef of The Fearrington House in America. I believe his pastry chef precision has much to do with his current success.
Worst moment in the kitchen ever? The famous venison incident at L’Escargot. In a nutshell I only cooked two but I needed three. It was the last two I had and I had already carved them. I can tell you the date and time it happened, but I am over it now. Enough said.
Have you ever been ‘screamed’ at by another chef? Daily. I look back now and I loved every minute. But times have changed and kitchens don’t operate like that anymore.
Working for Marco Pierre White in a nutshell? Brutal, frightening, fun, ridiculous hours with lots of pressure. An amazing team with great camaraderie. We were a band of brothers and I have friends for life from this time. It’s been my springboard and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Why are UK celeb chefs so feisty? It was fashionable to be that angry dominant psychopath. For years English chefs were looked upon as inferior to their French neighbours. They had a lot to prove. Then came Marco who was the godfather of English chefs. They called him the ‘enfant terrible’ in France, he had three Michelin stars at age 33. From him came the likes of Gordon Ramsay. But there’s a changing of the guard with the new generation of English chefs like Tom Kerridge and Simon Rogan.
What local ingredients excite you here in Australia? We are currently using a lot of foraged sea succulents. We pick our own warrigal greens (Botany Bay spinach) from the 230 acre Elements of Byron property. The local Dorper Lamb from the farm down the road is fantastic.
Best culinary advice you’ve ever been given? Keep learning. Spend your money on eating out. Read books.
Does Australian fine dining match the exacting standards of the UK/Europe? Absolutely it does. The food scene here is fantastic. There are so many facets to fine dining. It’s not all white tablecloths and crystal glasses. There are restaurants in London with Michelin stars serving fried chicken. As soon as you hear the words ‘Michelin star’ you think it’s exclusive and expensive. But it’s about respect for ingredients, where it’s from and how it’s prepared. That’s fine dining. And one of the most important (and hardest) things in fine dining is consistency.]]>