Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • Chef McDivitt declares that Australian cuisine, in his opinion, is influenced by our local produce together with the sense of refinement of French cuisine. ‘It has a little influence from French cuisine; this is how we refine our own produce, [with the influence of] the techniques from France.’ In the western world, the classic French cuisine will probably be the most influential style of cooking in the global fine-dining scene. French gastronomy can be defined beyond its traditional recipes, techniques and produce. It also encompasses the multi-course food presentation, the food and wine pairing, the appropriate tableware and table setting and the attentive service. The Australian contemporary cuisine scene has incorporated many elements of the gastronomic French traditions, which appear certain to remain an essential reference for the future of menu planning in Australian contemporary restaurants.

  • According to recent data, unemployment in Australia reached 13.3 per cent of the youth population. Despite this figure, it is hard to recruit trained and talented kitchen and front of house staff in the restaurant business. One of the reasons is that in Australia our hospitality jobs are not perceived as a long-term career path, unlike many European countries where hospitality, including food service, has long been an established career.

  • In Australia, many qualified and experienced hospitality staff are originally from overseas, immigrating to the country with the 457 visa. Due to the recent 457 visa crackdown by the Australian government, the availability of chefs and kitchen staff has tightened considerably, and employers are now using desperate measures to overcome the current shortage of experienced chefs. ‘Finding chefs is pretty hard at the moment. We have been relying on old chefs who used to work for us, ex-chefs who still cook part-time, and other chefs who come in on their days off to help us out. So that’s how we have been running the business for the last five weeks. We have to get rid of the new visa [referring to the changes brought by the 457 visa], as the government didn’t really think [about] how it would affect us,’ reveals Chef McDivitt.’

  • McDivitt shares some insights about his personal path to become a talented chef: ‘I think my food was [originally] more complex, now I’ve stripped back a little bit. You can’t learn it from others, as it is your own personal journey. Because every chef wants to show his/her passion on the plate, some chefs are too passionate. They think they need all the elements, but do they actually really need it? Is it complementing the flavours or is he/she putting it there to look good? It has to make sense to the dish ultimately. It has to come full circle, that is the role of each flavour. It has to have a story why it’s there, and it has to go with what else is on the plate. And then you can taste each flavour, and [if you get it right] this intensifies as you eat,’ acknowledges Chef McDivitt. Editor’s note: a little is sometimes more, and refined cooking requires the understanding of perfect balance and intensity of flavours.

Chef Leigh McDivitt of Sydney’s Banksia Bistro is interviewed by Dane Richards from Aussie Cuisine at the Mise en Place Sydney 2017.

“Finding chefs is pretty hard at the moment. We have been relying on old chefs who used to work for us, ex-chefs who still cook part-time, and other chefs who come in on their days off to help us out. So that’s how we have been running the business for the last 5 weeks.”

Staff shortage

DR: Firstly, congratulations on the success of Banksia Bistro!

Chef LM: Cheers, thank you.

DR: I have a question about Banksia [restaurant]. I heard that you had a lot of trouble recruiting chefs; can you tell us more about that?

Chef LM: Finding chefs is pretty hard at the moment. We have been relying on old chefs who used to work for us, ex-chefs who still cook part-time, and other chefs who come in on their days off to help us out. So that’s how we have been running the business for the last 5 weeks.

DR: It is amazing the number of covers you have at Banksia, so how many covers are you doing in a week?

Chef LM: We are doing over 1000, but we do on average 250 a night. Seven nights a week.

Australian cuisine

DR: What are your thoughts on what Australian cuisine is?

Chef LM: It is our culture from where we grew up, from what our parents used to cook. And it is all the produce that has been growing in each different area. It has a little influence from French cuisine; this is how we refine our own produce, the techniques from France. That is basically how I feel that Australian cuisine is going now, it is finding its own feet.

Restaurant

DR: If you have friends from overseas coming to visit you, where would you recommend they go to eat out in Sydney to find Australian cuisine? What restaurant would have a dish that would represent the Australian cuisine well?

Chef LM: I’ve recently gone to Saint Peter, so I would recommend it as an Australian seafood restaurant. Australia came from a French cooking background but is now doing Australian cuisine. My favourite is Quay, which I think is a great example of Australian cuisine to me. With Chef Peter Doyle, then I would recommend est. for a nice lunch or dinner in the city.

Future

DR: Where do you think that Australian cuisine is heading?

Chef LM: One thing that I found about it is that we don’t talk about our own food a lot. We always talk about the other chefs’ food. They are the ones we get inspiration from, because we are a very young country in the food scene, but we have an amazing produce, which a lot of Australian chefs are slowing tucking into, like native berries, native flowers, like many vegetables we’ve not really heard of, or most of the time cooked before, some chefs are doing that way, which is really good. When I was working at Three Weeds, I think my food was more complex, now I’ve stripped back a little bit. Each chef goes on a special journey. From when we were first cooking to how we are cooking now is totally different, I am a totally different type of chef now. You can’t learn it from others, as it is your own personal journey. Because every chef wants to show his/her passion on the plate, some chefs are too passionate, and if they are not told to pull back, they put too much on the plate. They think they need all the elements, but do they actually really need it? Is it complementing the flavours and is he/she putting it there to look good? It has to make sense to the dish ultimately. It has to come full circle, that is the role of each flavour. It has to have a story why it’s there, and it has to go with what else is on the plate. And then you can taste each flavour, and intensifies as you eat.

DR: I wish you good luck with the master class Industry Insights this afternoon, I hope we get some answers out of it. It is a burning vexing question in the industry.

Chef LM: We have to get rid of the new visa [referring to the changes brought by the 457 visa crackdown], as the government didn’t really think how it would affect us. They [the government] said sous-chefs, but we don’t need sous-chefs or heard-chefs, we just need workers.

Image:

Ngo, C. (2 July 2017). Celebrity chef Colin Fassnidge and business partner Clayton Ries take over Mac hotel bistro. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved on https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/liverpool-leader/celebrity-chef-colin-fassnidge-and-business-partner-clayton-ries-take-over-mac-hotel-bistro/news-story/cf72041a39bde5a40a059c44d37d4943