What was your first job?
I used to work in a Chinese restaurant in my hometown of Collie in Western Australia, chopping veg with a massive cleaver when I was about 14. I worked every Saturday morning and was paid in fried rice. I went on to be an apprentice chef at a hotel in the nearby city of Bunbury a couple of years later.
What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
I love to make a sandwich with crisps. It has to be made with soft, sliced white bread, loads of butter on each slice and as many salt and vinegar crisps as you can get between the slices, squish it down and you’re away.
What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
It’s hard to call but I reckon it has to have been El Bulli. It was magical from start to finish. A fairly close second would be the French Laundry in Napa Valley.
What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Dave Chang, he seems to have a no nonsense approach and it appears to work out pretty well. I get the impression he doesn’t try to conform to industry stereotypes or fads, he just does his thing and it kicks ass.
If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I can’t even imagine. I always wanted to write, record and play more music so, I’d probably be a hungry musician, probably very hungry.
What is your biggest regret?
When I took up my apprenticeship as a chef I stopped racing triathlon and running. I raced at national level in Australia a couple of times and loved it. I couldn’t manage the long hours as well as the training so I chose to cut out the racing.
Pet hate in the kitchen?
Chefs who ‘wash’ their tasting/serving spoons in filthy pots of water – try drinking it at the end of your shift then remember that you’ve been subjecting that dirty water on your diners all shift – gross. Buy more spoons, use clean ones.
What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
‘That lobster was the best thing to ever pass my lips’ that was Lily Allen and I didn’t know what to make of it. The next time I saw her she asked if I’d received her phone number and I said ahhh, yeah but I’d thrown it in the bin because after that comment, I thought it was a wind up from one of the waiters.
What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Baked char sui pork puffs – my kids and I are obsessed with them.
Describe your cooking style in three words
In your face.
Most overrated food?
Smashed avocado on toast – okay, it tastes pretty good but, the name is widely overused and as far as smashing food goes. It’s also often overpriced.
Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Chefs wording and punctuating their own menus.
What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
I’m proud to say it was from the late, great AA Gill. I can wear it, at least I made it onto his radar.
If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
I immediately started to think of somebody famous, but, I’ve cooked for dozens of celebs over the years and whilst that’s fun, cooking for somebody who doesn’t get to have fancy restaurant meals would probably give me the most joy. Don’t know who it would be – anyone who doesn’t get to eat out much I guess.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
I’d say that working your way up the ladder in the restaurant world is really hard work, it’s relentless and not very glamorous, for the most part. If you’re going to get involved then go in hard and give it your best, the buzz of a successful restaurant is infectious and well worth the hard yards.
Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
The sink - try running a kitchen without one. I’ve rocked up to catering events in galleries where there isn’t one and you soon realise that the humble sink is the thing you take for granted most.
What do you cook at home on your days off?
BBQ – as much as possible!
What’s your earliest food memory?
My mum’s pavlova – she was our local area pav champion (not an official title). Whatever was going on, she’d bake a massive pavlova; if I was lucky there’d be some left for me to sneak before breakfast the next day.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Try again next year. I did, I won gold! (apprentice of the year competitions).
What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
I don’t know if I was facing death or not, but I felt as if I was. I was travelling between NYC and London on a red-eye and the turbulence could only be described as violent. People were thrown around, it was horrific and in my head I secretly said goodbye my family and friends.
Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
I love going to gigs and concerts. London has the best gig scene, even bands that have been broken up for years still play shows here.
Tipple of choice?
Very plain lager. I’m thinking of getting into White Russians again soon after watching the Big Lebowski for the millionth time.
What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Large trolley of dim sum (including the pork puffs); steak and chips with café de Paris butter; raspberry brulee. If this really is my last dinner I might want some petit fours as well.