Tell us a little bit about yourself & how you started in the industry?
I’m originally from a small town in Northern England called Barnsley in South Yorkshire. My parents divorced when I was young, and I grew up living above a pub with my Dad. He worked at many pubs including Fosters UK, eventually owning a few pubs himself along the way. I wasn’t very academic at school but played soccer to a high level until I was 16 before left school to start pouring beers. At 18, I decided to start a university course in Hotel Catering Management (which I hated) but my tutor, John Stevenson, saw something in me and pushed me into being a Sous Chef in a London restaurant for a few weeks. I was supposed to do one week front of house and another in the kitchen. At the time, I hated cooking so this sounded like a nightmare but I was put straight into the kitchen and loved it. One day, I was pulled into the office by the General Manager and Head Chef. I was thinking "what I have done?!", but they offered me a job and I just couldn’t say no. I immediately moved from Barnsley to London and started my kitchen career which then lead me to Scotland and onto Australia by 2000.
I got my first job in Melbourne at Vue De Monde as Sous Chef. Following that, I opened my first restaurant at 24 years old, quickly earning a Chef’s Hat. I then moved into the Head Chef role at Circa Prince and then onto opening Pope Joan in Brunswick. For the last few years, I’ve been working with Montalto, Four Pillars Gin and launching my own products and cookbooks.
What made you make the move down under to Melbourne?
I worked at a Michelin-star restaurant in Edinburgh when I was 20 years old, working 120 hours, 6 days a week. I burnt the candle at both ends and needed a break. Mike (my first Head Chef) said ‘Go to Ibiza and lose yourself for 2 weeks’ but I wanted more. I headed to France for 6 weeks - travelling around the wine regions – then Paris, Rome and onto Australia where I naturally fell in love with it and stayed. When I arrived, I had no plan – the world was my oyster! I ate at The Latin, The Mask of China, Flower Drum and Langton’s. I didn’t want to start straight away in a kitchen, so I bartended a few nightclubs and my love for the city and Midori Illusion Shakers came about – Google it!
Since you’re a best-selling author of three cookbooks, what would your last ever meal be?
I do love to dine out, but it would have to be a classic Shepard’s Pie, a fresh lettuce leaf salad with a nice dressing and an endless amount of booze - rosé, gin, beer (a bit more beer!), whiskey, ouzo, you name it!
How did you become the ‘Culinary Captain’ of Montalto?
I was contacted by Heidi Williams, the CEO, in 2020. Heidi invited me to consult on some lockdown activations they were working on at the time, along with some event concepts they were planning for post-lockdown. When I came down to the property and walked through those front doors, I instantly fell in love - I felt an immediate and deep connection to the estate and the water that surrounds it. I could see the incredible opportunities immediately - everything from building teams and, most importantly, adding my philosophy of "fun with a purpose”. I also knew I could enthusiastically introduce my sustainability ethos: ‘If you can’t have fun in life doing what you stand for, why do it?. I felt that I could be a part of something really meaningful - to create and drive change, and build momentum. I took on the role as ‘Culinary Director’ as I didn’t want to head back into the kitchen but reimagined it as ‘Culinary Captain’ - inspired to run my team using the ideologies of the captain of football team. I wanted to create and foster an environment where my team could learn and grow.
Do you have any exciting plans in the work for Montalto?
Coming out of lockdown, we have a lot of plans and a lot to achieve - which is definitely a journey. One of my biggest motivators is for people to know what Montalto really stands for – we’re a small business who make small quantities of incredible, award-winning wines. My motto is ‘wine, estate, food’ – the wine drives the estate and food. Mid-year, I am moving into a Creative Director role, focusing on the estate as a whole, and the winemakers. I have a few very exciting plans for the not-too-distant future, watch this space!
What’s a day in the life look like for you?
I wake up at 5:45am and make a tea or coffee. As soon as my whistling kettle starts, my younger son Jay always runs out for a chat or to play cards. Finn, my oldest, then joins us and starts to read a book, and my wife will get up shortly after. I’ll get changed and drive down to Red Hill while I listen to ABC News. I meet the team for a debrief of the day, and head into the office to do some admin work. If it’s a weekend, I will come and help with service - floating in between both kitchens as lunch service begins. I also like to check-in on the chickens and see what’s growing seasonally. If it’s passed 3pm and I haven’t had a glass of rosé yet, I’m generally upset, so by 4pm I always make sure I have at least one glass. I then tidy up and set up the next day’s tasks for the team. I try to head out for a drink or dinner after work (somewhere local on the Mornington Peninsula) with Montalto’s Operations Director Luke Gooley before calling it a night.
What are you wearing when not in a kitchen apron or chef’s hat?
I’m always in jeans. I usually pair it with a cool t-shirt or daggy jumper. Growing up, I loved wearing Caterpillars, Kickers or Campers - specifically that high-top combat-style boot. I like my shoes to be the main focus alongside a pair of funky socks.
What’s your go-to weekend outfit?
Usually t-shirt, slacks, a nice jacket, and a pair of boots!
One pair of Wild Rhinos you can’t get off?
I would say Creswick as I love a high-top casual shoe.
QUICK FIRE ROUND:
Early bird or Night Owl? Both
Favourite dish? Yumcha
Red or White Wine? Rosé by the gallon!
Go-to destination? Sri Lanka – Most diverse country of food and humans
Introvert or Extrovert? Extrovert