Abbey (aged 22) sat down with Open House to share her insights from the trip, her inspiration and what lays ahead.
Your trip was extensive, what were the standouts?
A highlight of the trip for me was definitely chef Carroll, (Charles Carroll, executive chef at River Oaks Country Club in Houston Texas – home of the Ryder Cup, US Open, US Senior Open and PGA Championship) who treated us like queens and went over and above to make sure we saw everything culinary in Houston! They set up great work experience at Pass and Provisions where Mahlet and I helped prep the menu and plate-up during service. Houston had by far the best food in my opinion; the Mexican influence in their cuisine is sensational. The whole team at River Oaks Country Club made us feel so welcome and it was a real privilege to work with them.
What was your overall impression of food in the US?
I loved the food in Houston the most as it was unique from everywhere else and their seafood especially was a highlight. We went a few times to a place called Esteban in Monterey, which was part of our hotel and by far the best food with beautiful octopus, calamari and pulled pork empanadas that won’t be easily forgotten! The cost of food is cheaper when dinning out but once you include the (expected) tip it’s pretty much the same. The only larger- than-humanly-possible-to-finish-meal we had was at Bistro Jeanty in the Nappa Valley otherwise they were on par with Australian portion standards.
Do you think travel is important to be a well-rounded chef?
Absolutely. It enables you to work in other kitchens, try new techniques, taste new flavours and bring all the best bits from your experiences home with you. As a chef you’re forever learning and it’s important to broaden your knowledge and meet new people to learn from.
You did some wine tasting in the Nappa Valley, how was it?
The wine tasting at Inglenook was sensational, the staff were very passionate and the winery had a very interesting history. We also dined at an old school French Restaurant called Bistro Jeanty – typically American – we had giant servings which none of us could finish, but it was amazing food!
How did your work experience at pebble beach resort go?
Monterey golf course and resort Pebble Beach Spanish Bay was great and a completely different experience to River Oaks. We worked across two of their three restaurants and were lucky enough to get involved with one of their in-house cooking competitions where members of the club get paired with a professional chef in a cook-off, an interesting twist for a culinary comp.
Do you ever switch off when dining out or are you constantly looking for inspiration and new ideas?
I’m constantly looking for new ideas and finding inspiration. It’s always fun once you’ve had an amazing meal to try and work out how they did it, or what was in it. My partner is also a chef, and we are always dissecting everything and bouncing ideas off each other for new recipes.
What’s next on the horizon?
Mahlet and I are competing in the Nestlé Golden Chef’s Hat Award again and I’m feeling excited about the challenge this year, but quite nervous too. Having won I feel there’s added pressure to do well and succeed. The skills and techniques I witnessed whilst in North America will definitely have an impact on the final dishes we decide to go with. There’s a few garnishing techniques and some interesting dessert plate-ups you can expect to see!
First thing you cooked when you got home?
Beautifully aged rib eye on the bone smoked for four hours using the best spice rub ever from Killen’s (ranked #2 barbecue destination in America) all the way from Texas.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’d have my own hatchery and sell free-range eggs.