How did you start out?
I was a late apprentice, because everyone that I knew said ‘don’t be a chef’. So I stayed and did my VCE in case I didn’t want to be a chef. I was on my way becoming a builder but during smoko I was always reading recipes and chefs’ books while the other guys were talking about footy and I thought to myself ‘what am I doing? Just become a chef for God’s sake!’ I’ve also been really lucky along the way as all of my bosses have been really good. I have worked with some really supportive bosses who have guided me and taken the time to help get to where I am today. It’s been an easy career to progress in.
When did you start competing?
I was exposed to cooking competitions when I was 20 through AUSTAFE. I won a Gold medal straight away and that’s how I became addicted [to competing]. So any opportunity that I could dive into I just did, any competition I’d just sign up for.
When did you decide to enter Bocuse d’Or?
At 25 I went to France and saw Bocuse d’Or and thought ‘wouldn’t that be amazing to do?’ When I came back I heard the selection was on and entered without any idea what I was getting into. I failed miserably, though I got to the nationals. I had only practised it twice, I didn’t know my commis chef which makes it difficult. I was unprepared through lack of understanding. I thought I would build up the courage to do it again, but figured it would take at least 10 years to get over the trauma [of losing]. I wasn’t really looking at it but saw the selections this year and it wouldn’t go out of my mind. I couldn’t come up with a reason or excuse why not to do it. Even if I didn’t win it would guide me to when I’m 35 or 40. And then I ended up winning, which was amazing.
What do you gain from competing?
Competing gives me confidence in my professional life. I understood at a young age that if you put yourself out of your comfort zone you will grow. When you compete you have to be aware of your surroundings and how you operate. We talk about mise en place in the kitchen. It’s all about structure. Everything has to be in place, the floor has to be clean, the benches have to be clean. It’s about workflow structure, it’s almost like military discipline. I noticed at a young age that every single top restaurant in the world, the one thing they had in common was that they were clean. And that structure is what it takes to win a gold medal.
How important is having the right commis chef?
It’s such a key part being in synch with your commis. It’s like a dance. We need to move around one another gracefully and that takes shave that time down. We got it down to 45 minutes faster than we needed to be, which I thought would be perfect as on the day you have judges asking questions, and nerves and if something happens we have that time to recover. On the actual day we were so focused we ended up an hour and a half ahead!
Where do you get your inspiration?
My cooking style is very relaxed. The food should be executed with a lot of discipline, restraint and thought, but I like to present it in a very relaxed manner. I am lucky as I have a farm [where I work] for me to use. So anything I want they can grow. I also live in one of the most beautiful places. There are rock pools where I spear fish. I live 10 minutes from the bay where the scallops come from. There are mushrooms galore, wild asparagus, it’s just insane the produce, and that’s where my inspiration comes from.
Tell us about your winning platter?
It was inspired by the forest floor. We used recycled timber inlaid with magnets that could float 300g objects. Beetroots have a lot of iron in, so I thought how cool would it be to float beetroot? I went foraging and got tea tree bark, and lichens, moss and sea shells and made tiles to hide the magnets. Inside the beetroot was braised beef terrine. The beetroots were glazed in a blackberry juice, covered in Elysium flowers and oxalis. It was all about what was around us. I wanted to be bold and bring it out on wood instead of the usual mirror or glass. I only got the finished board a week before the event so it was stressful not knowing if it would work as I didn’t have a back-up plan. I was also freaking out that the beetroots would go flying around the room. But everything worked just the way it was meant to.
How are you feeling post win?
I’m pretty lucky to have come in at this point because all these great chefs like Scott Picket, George Calombaris, Tom Milligan and all these other guys have started to create a buzz in Australia. This year was the first time they did the Bocuse d’Or in front of a live audience at Foodservice Australia and there was a lot of hype and exposure so I am confident we will get a lot more support. The US has $1.7 million for their budget and Australia has about $250k. We are only going to see better results as we get more exposure, and more people support and back it and create that hype the European countries and US have. Bocuse d’Or is huge but here no-one really knows what it is.