Talented young Chef Josh Niland owns Saint Peter, an acclaimed seafood restaurant in Sydney’s cosmopolitan Paddington. He has been pushing the boundaries of seafood cooking with a nose-to-tail philosophy using uncommon species. Sharing his approach to cooking as a chef and restaurateur, Niland chats with Carolina Holzmeister about our produce, the restaurant scene in Sydney and the evolution of Australian cuisine.
“[I don’t want to] overcomplicate food. I know that food cost is rising, produce and labour are also expensive, and if you can minimise your labour by two fewer components on the dish then you would probably do that. We all want to own our restaurants for many years to come; we don’t want to be a one-year wonder.”
CH: As the owner and head chef of Saint Peter, what is your favourite Aussie seafood?
Chef JN: It is hard to articulate any one type of seafood that I really like more than another. We are very fortunate in Australia to have our hands on many great species. Since the beginning when we opened the restaurant, we use so much Ballina Spanner Crab. The Spanner Crab is something that we get live in our restaurant every second day – it’s a fantastic produce. We love cooking it and our customers love eating it. The Spanner Crab is the only item that we can’t take off our menu, as it became one of the staples of the menu at Saint Peter restaurant from very early on.
CH: How would you define our current restaurant scene in Sydney?
Chef JN: We are really very fortunate in Sydney, where every restaurant at the moment is sitting in the middle market, where we have got accessible cuisine that we can walk-in to any day of the week, for any occasion. At Saint Peter, you could come twice a week for your fish dinner or you could come here once a month for a special occasion if you want to. It just depends on how you want to use the restaurant. And there are other restaurants like LP’s Quality Meats located in Chippendale and Est. in Sydney’s CBD that have a similar approach. They buy such a high-quality product and the chefs who work at these restaurants are so highly skilled that they are able to produce a menu that can service any occasion. I think that what makes the restaurant scene in Sydney so exciting right now, and Australia so exciting right now, because Melbourne has always been the middle market.
Approach to food
CH: As a young and successful chef, what is your approach to food and the philosophy behind your cooking?
Chef JN: As a 29-year-old restaurateur, similar to Chef Victor Liong’s work (head chef at Melbourne’s restaurant Lee Ho Fook), we are both trying to show our stakes as well-trained chefs, we come out of very good restaurants and we are trying to make sure that we can service any occasion, trying to keep to really simple, not overcomplicating food. I know that food cost is rising, produce and labour are also expensive, and if you can minimise your labour by two fewer components on the dish then you would probably do that. We all want to own our restaurants for many years to come; we don’t want to be a one-year wonder.
Evolution of our cuisine
CH: Tell me how you view the evolution of Australian cuisine?
Chef JN: I think that a lot of chefs around my age would say that at the time when we started it was all French, there was always a European-based cuisine that we were following. The aspiration of young chefs was to make it to Europe and travel and work in London and Paris. I got to work at the Fat Duck and that was an amazing experience that was very particular. I went there for a certain reason, which was to work with people that were so intensively focused on doing something different and that opens your mind to think differently about food. We wanted to start championing Australian produce, we wanted to use local produce within 50 kilometres from our businesses, and we wanted to celebrate the people that are working so hard to grow our produce. It’s very hard to find perfect and beautiful fish every day of the week, but at Saint Peter, we are getting close to finding that relationship with the producers. By doing something so basic, which is cooking a beautiful piece of fish, and plating it with vegetables from the Blue Mountains or South coast of Australia, all of a sudden we are cooking Australian cuisine and we are having fun.
Josh Niland heads to The Incinerator, opens new Paddington restaurant (20 March 2018). Good Food. Retrieved from https://www.goodfood.com.au/eat-out/news/josh-niland-to-serve-an-allenglish-menu-at-his-new-paddington-restaurant-20160610-gpg29h