The chefs of RACV
From cooking for royalty to delivering pizzas in the snow, each chef has a story to tell.
Starting out young, in the often brutal environment of yesterday’s restaurant kitchens, these talented chefs have risen to the top, bringing professionalism, hard work, passion and creativity, plus healthy doses of reality and humanity, to their roles at RACV clubs and resorts.
Executive chef, Inverloch Resort
I wanted to be a pilot, then at 15 I started in kitchens washing dishes, and by the time I applied to get into the air force, they knocked me back. Fate stepped in, I guess.
I’ve always been pretty good with attention to detail. I did a lot of fine dining in my early years. I’ve very much been into the creative side, making something out of nothing. It is a form of art – you like to have an experience behind your food, a bit of a story.
I did my apprenticeship under a Michelin-starred French chef. He was a brilliant chef, a nice guy when he was in a good mood, but when he was grumpy we all knew about it. He told me a few times he’d punch me in the nose. You’d try to work out what you’d done wrong and move on.
A lot of chefs I’ve worked with have said: “I hope my kids don’t get into this, it’s too hard.” But I still love it after 20-odd years. Our kids are two and four, and I try to teach them a bit of cooking at home, sit them up at the bench while I’m making stuff. I wouldn’t force them to be chefs, but I wouldn’t deter them either.
Signature dish: Koonwarra lamb rump with parsnip puree, heirloom carrots and puffed quinoa. The lamb rump is sous vide to 61C and then char-grilled to get a perfect medium every time.
Favourite local ingredient: The lamb rump is sourced locally from the Gippsland area as are the heirloom carrots. The heirloom carrots I get from a local fruit and veg co-op in a neighbouring town that only sells local organic produce sourced within a 50-kilometre radius. They specialise in a lot of heirloom and rare varieties of fruit and vegetables that change from week to week with what is available.
Executive chef, Cape Schanck Resort
My dream occupation was a Formula One driver – Michael Schumacher was my hero. Then reality set in.
Doing my apprenticeship under the likes of Raymond Capaldi and George Calombaris in Melbourne fuelled my fire to travel. My formative moment came after I’d been working for a couple of months at The Square in London, a two-Michelin-star restaurant. Someone needed to look after an exclusive function, I put my hand up, something went wrong, and the head chef told me to get out.
I said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ve just come halfway around the world to be here. You’re going to have to do a lot more than just tell me to leave.” That was the day I really committed to the industry. I was there for five years.
I think I’m a fair, reasonable person, but I have very high expectations. I’m always looking to improve what we’re doing. The best thing about my job is seeing people succeed – working with them, seeing the potential in them and helping them grow as a person. You end up making yourself a little bit redundant.
Signature dish: Glazed and stuffed chicken wings with leeks, caramelised shallots and roast chicken consommé. I love that it’s simple ingredients, transformed into a beautiful dish that’s perfectly balanced, rich in flavour and delicious. I first cooked it at The Square, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in London.
Favourite local ingredient: Being on the peninsula we’re so fortunate to have wonderful farmers and growers on our doorstep, like Cape Schanck Olive Estate olive oil, Pure Peninsula Honey and Hawkes Farm potatoes.
Executive chef, City Club
Ever since I was five, I wanted to cook. For hours on end, I’d sit with my Italian Nonna rolling, cutting and pinching pillows of fluffy gnocchi. Combined with a five-hour slow-braised beef ragu, the flavours amazed me. Even at the age of 83 she still cooks the most amazing minestrone and, yes, I still ask her for advice, especially when it comes to rustic northern Italian cooking.
Signature dish: Slow-roasted beef cheeks, caramelised shallots, roasted speck and creamy, melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes.
Favourite local ingredient: I love cheese and what better than a Frenchman who makes French-style cheeses using the very best organic Australian milk? I can say Matthieu Megard from L’Artisan Cheese in Geelong makes cheeses just as good, if not better, than anything that comes from France.
Executive chef, Torquay Resort
From high school I wanted to be a chef – Peter Russell-Clarke was on TV and he looked like he had a lot of fun. Mum was a very good cook. Her mum would make scones every day in a small town in WA, and all the brothers and sisters turned up for afternoon tea.
I grew up in Hobart, left school after year 10, put on my brother’s suit and went looking for a job. Three chefs had taken over an old butcher shop on my paper round and were doing pre-prepared meals for people to take home for dinner. I washed dishes for nothing for a week, then they took me on as a kitchen hand.
A while later a waiter said to me: “Michael, the best thing you can do is finish your apprenticeship, get an airline ticket, and go and learn how to cook.” I spent five years in London over two stints.
Moving to Torquay four years ago, it struck me that you just don’t get the producers in the city that you get here. We hang all our own beef, get a lot of local fish, source garlic. In the city you’re always looking for chefs. Here I’ve got the best team I’ve ever had. Because they love it.
Signature dish: Our aged Kennedy Creek rump steak is hung for five weeks and garnished with silverbeet, baby king brown mushrooms and Alsace bacon, brought together with a rich red wine sauce. If you’re going to order a steak, it should be a good one. Torquay is such a fresh, by-the-sea place, and we need to bring that out in the dining room. Even serving an aged rump steak, it needs to be fresh and lively.
Favourite local ingredient: Olives and olive oil from Manzanillo in Drysdale. They do them naturally, no scary products, and marinate them in their own extra virgin olive oil.
Executive pastry chef, City Club
I used to wash dishes at the local bakery after school when I was about 12. I’d watch the pastry chefs, and get through the dishes as quick as I could and ask if I could give a hand. It was only weighing out stuff, peeling apples, but it was better than dishes. When they offered me an apprenticeship at 15 I left school and never looked back.
Mid-apprenticeship I worked for an old French guy named Louis. I’d be cutting strawberries for tarts, I’d put my knife down and he’d whack me on the back of the head. You were supposed to flick your knife backwards and hold it between your last two fingers so you could still use your thumb and other two fingers to work.
If I’m not in the kitchen I’m usually in the workshop at home building furniture. It stems from being a bit tight – my wife sees something online and says we should get it, I’ll say, “Nah, I can make that!” Most of our furniture I’ve made – coffee table, dining table, wine cabinets.
I’ve got a knack for having an image in my mind and being able to create it, whether it’s with a dessert or a piece of wood.
Signature dish: Pineapple, rosemary and salted caramel eclair. I developed this eclair for the Savour Patissier of the Year competition in 2017, and it took out first place against 23 other creations from pastry chefs from all over the world. I love introducing what could be seen as more “savoury” ingredients into my desserts. I don’t like them to be overly sweet – I like to let the natural flavours and sweetness of the fruits shine. The floral note in the rosemary works so well with beautiful, ripe pineapple.
Favourite local ingredient: These days you can usually find a mango from Mexico in the middle of winter, or a mandarin in the middle of summer, but nothing beats eating these fruits when they’re in season and locally grown.
Executive chef, Healesville Country Club
In primary school, I liked the idea of being a builder, but the draw soon got stronger and stronger to become a chef. My apprenticeship was in a lot of small restaurants in Melbourne in the mid-1980s. It was the wild west back then. I got hung upside down in a meat fridge once – two big chefs grabbed me, flipped me and put the meat hooks through my trousers. The only way you could get down was if someone came and got you, or you somehow took your pants off. I waited.
I worked for six months on a Japanese island called Shodoshima. The first day it took me 20 minutes to find a red capsicum – they call it a paprika. I fell in love with the culture.
My wife’s an avid vegan. If I weren’t in my profession I’d be vegan too.
I’d like to think I’m spiritually balanced, creative, grounded, open-minded. I love the blues – I play a mean Gibson Les Paul guitar, if only in my own mind – and I love samurai swords. I’ve got about 15 of them.
Signature dish: Yarra Valley Grazing Platter. It’s been on the menu for years and is our best seller. I love that it encompasses the look, feel, flavours and textures of the Yarra Valley – loaded with local produce including Buxton trout, Yarra Valley mushrooms, local pork used in the house made terrine, Yarra Valley Persian fetta, house-made tomato relish, chicken liver parfait and so on.
Favourite local ingredient: That would be like picking your favourite child – I love them all – but the Persian fetta from Yarra Valley Dairy is incredible, as is the Buxton Trout.
Executive chef, Noosa Resort
I grew up in Barry, near Cardiff in Wales, and my plan was to be a professional soccer player. I signed with Cardiff City when I was 16, but I broke my leg.
I fell into cooking. Because I was always training for football, I was coming in after meal time so I’d cook for myself. My father couldn’t believe the things I was emptying out of the freezer. I’d just throw it in a pan and come up with some concoction.
In 1998 I joined the Welsh national culinary team, became captain in 2002, and competed successfully at several Culinary Olympics. Six or eight glass kitchens surround an arena of about 1000 seats, and you have five hours to produce a menu from scratch and serve it. Prince Charles became our patron, and over the years we did many royal functions. The royals like very simple food, Prince Charles likes a coddled egg.
Moving to Noosa with the sun and outdoor lifestyle, we’re really glad we came. Both my children are lifesavers now. It’s a long way from Barry.
Signature dish: Salt marsh lamb, Cumberland smoked cheese souffle with celeriac puree and Damson gin sauce. The dish came about when I was trying to join the Welsh Culinary Olympic team, and travelled to Montpellier for what was effectively a working interview. I managed to win the ‘Main course’ section with my dish, secured a place on the team and was with them for 14 years.
Favourite local ingredient: A local farmer grows rainberries and Davidson plums, which have a wonderful flavour, deep colour and are perfect for a variety of different dishes. They remind me very much of that time in France.
Executive chef, Royal Pines Resort
I was brought up in a house full of magazines like Epicurean and Gourmet Traveller, so I never wanted to be anything else. My dad was very food-oriented – not a chef, but president of the wine and food society. His parents owned hotels in England.
We lived in an area with a lot of big fields around us. When I was about eight I’d get up in the morning, beat the Italian housewives to it and go collecting field mushrooms. I’d cook them in milk, thicken them with cornflour and have them on toast for breakfast. I almost cringe now, but they still had those beautiful, earthy flavours.
I’ve brought up two sons (18 and 16); I’m one of the few chefs who can still say they’re happily married after 20-odd years. It can be taxing on your relationships.
We lived on Hayman Island for five years before here, but something I missed living on Hayman was mowing the lawns. I like just being able to mow the lawn and potter in my little herb garden. Real-life stuff.
Signature dish: Mooloolaba prawns in pastry chards with a black garlic aioli and some baby Romaine lettuce. We’ve had a couple of different incarnations, but the prawns are just such a great product to start with. You wrap it in a shitake pastry then they’re flash-fried – who doesn’t like something flash fried? It’s got this crunchy exterior and those unctuous, fleshy prawns. It’s just a really tasty dish which is what it’s all about for us, and it looks quite cool as well.
Favourite local ingredient: We’re getting these little baby Romaine lettuces that are locally grown and marry up beautifully with the prawns.