Q: What first sparked your love of food and cooking?
A: My mum has always been a baker and I always cooked with her, making scones and shortbread and things like that and I really enjoyed it. But I fell into the industry quite accidentally. I was at school, helping out as a kitchenhand at the local pub. I was offered a full-time job and instead of pursuing my scholarship in science I decided this is what I wanted to do — so I took it! Since then I have worked at Basque (Chapel St) and Cavalli (St Kilda) before launching with The Fawkner in October 2004.
Q: How do you feel cuisine and cooking have changed in Australia over the years?
A: With the buzz about gourmet home cooking and all the cooking TV shows and magazines around these days, it is hard to make anything really special anymore. The gap between home-cooked food and restaurant food used to be so vast. Restaurant meals were so highly revered. But now everyone is getting on the fresh market shopping bandwagon to create fantastically fresh, well-presented meals at home. Chefs have to constantly be on the ball, creating new sensations and styles to keep in front of the popular trends. Also, home kitchen appliances are now as technologically advanced as they used to be only in the industry, like the Italian-made Whirlpool cooktop I used at the home show for my soufflé demonstration.
Q: What is the one item in your kitchen you can’t live without?
A: Professionally, I can’t live without my favourite knife and a great cooktop. Personally, I am a messy chef. In general, a dishwasher is indispensable, so I don’t have to do all the cleaning up.
Q: How do you get fresh ideas to apply to your cooking?
A: Working with food every day, I am constantly thinking about it and experimenting with different ingredients. All day I think
“what if I put this with this? Would that taste good?” I also get a lot of inspiration from the range of fresh produce available at the local market — always so many different choices
Q: What does your present position involve and what do you love about it?
A: I am head chef and I don’t have a second chef so all the menu planning is up to me. I am responsible for the whole kitchen and do the majority of the cooking, though I have chefs and kitchenhands to assist me. I love the freedom to be able to set my own menu. Instead of entrees I offer 18 hors d’oeuvres and 12 mini desserts in place of a few regular desserts. It gives me more scope to play around with. I love variety and am constantly trying new things. We make everything from scratch, too — from bread, pasta and pastry to ice-cream.
Mini Zucchini and Gruyere Soufflés
3 zucchinis, grated
60g plain flour
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
½ cup Gruyere, grated
Cook zucchini in 20g of the butter and drain off. Melt the remaining butter with the flour to form a roux. Add the warmed milk and cook until thick. Add the zucchini and cheeses. Allow to cool slightly and add egg yolks, then fold through stiff egg whites. Bake in a water bath for 15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.