NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST
Lessons learned well make for fun kitchens and happy marriages of flavour in Melbourne chef Scott Pickett’s always-popular venues.
Even after almost three decades behind the pans, and with a clutch of revered restaurants in Melbourne, Scott Pickett still becomes anxious when his toughest critic is in the house: his 12-year-old son, Harrison. The eldest of his three children is an aspiring food reviewer who has dined at ESP, Pickett’s Northcote fine-diner, on three occasions. “His only condition is that he doesn’t want to know what he’s eating,” says Pickett, in reference to kid-challenging fare such as duck, venison and wallaby. “We only tell him after the fact.”
Though he spent several years toiling in Michelin-starred restaurants, Pickett is not one of those tortured chefs. He is affable, obliging and nurturing, a country boy from a small town in South Australia who ascended to the top of his profession with resolve. He surrounds himself with talented individuals, including head chefs Stephen Nairn at ESP and Stuart McVeigh at Saint Crispin, and acts as a “floating gun for hire”. When Pickett was coming up the ranks, chef Phil Howard at The Square in London was deeply influential. “He taught me that you can be a gentleman, have fun in the kitchen and explore a marriage of flavours on the plate,” he says.
That devotion to piquancy is evident in the recipes on these pages, too. Pickett describes them as an ode to springtime produce, warm weather (“As the Spanish know, chilled soups are a great idea.”) and pure nostalgia. The slow-cooked lamb is an adaptation of a beloved dish his grandmother used to make.
Pickett is preparing to open his fifth venture, a fire-fuelled brasserie in South Yarra, early next year, yet he still finds time to cook for his kids on weekends. Isn’t he tempted to pick up all the fixings at his own deli at the Queen Vic Market? “I find it therapeutic,” he says. “I enjoy the process of doing it myself.”