Leading chefs and restaurateurs joined Gourmet Traveller to talk industry challenges,
Chefs and restaurateurs talk industry challenges.
Thirty top chefs and restaurateurs gathered at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde recently for the latest
Gourmet Traveller Food Forum, a discussion of the key issues facing the hospitality scene in Australia. Over lunch created by Vue de Monde executive chef Justin James, culinary powerbrokers and key creatives discussed how the business is changing and what innovations are necessary right now for a restaurant to survive in a crowded and sometimes cut-throat market.
After a meal that included Port Phillip Bay scallops with salted desert lime, duck roasted with leatherwood honey served with truffles and celeriac, and a coffee and dessert buffet that tipped the hat to the forum’s presenting partner, Nespresso,
GT managing editor Pat Nourse led the discussion, assuring everyone that “this isn’t a safe space – there are no holds barred”.
It was quickly established that it’s not the quality of food in Australia that’s a challenge, but how to make businesses viable amid difficulties such as staffing.
Guillaume Brahimi of Bistro Guillaume cited the overwhelmingly positive response by visiting media and industry figures during this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards – but what’s needed, he says, is “more people to come”.
“Melbourne restaurants do really well on the weekends, but early in the week it’s very quiet; to be a truly successful business we need to be full every night,” he said.
So how to encourage people to come out early in the week or more often? Shaun Quade has been trialling the Tock booking system (which sells meals in the same way as theatre tickets) at Lûmé, and suggested charging less for dinner on evenings early in the week or more at peak times.
Alla Wolf-Tasker from Lake House in regional Victoria said becoming part of the community through charity work and by using local producers has been integral to her restaurant’s success, a point seconded by fellow regional chef Matt Stone from the Yarra Valley’s Oakridge.
Mike McEnearney of Sydney restaurant No 1 Bent Street said there should be greater transparency in pricing – including name-checking suppliers – so customers can more readily see where their dollars are going, while Peter Gunn of Ides said he opened his restaurant “starting with the idea of making it viable and then building the menu and the style around that” rather than “starting with a fixed idea”.
One of the components Gunn had to factor in was that people no longer want to work the punishing hours that have been traditional in restaurant kitchens. Aaron Turner of Geelong’s Igni agreed, saying that “we talk a lot about the sustainability of our produce, but we also have to think about the sustainability of our staff”.
Guy Grossi of Grossi Florentino said the question of vocational training needs to be addressed. “We need a clearer career path for those leaving secondary school so the skills shortage we’re experiencing now doesn’t become chronic in 10 years’ time.”
Vue de Monde’s Shannon Bennett said the regulatory system of Work Choices makes it almost impossible for the industry to attract young chefs wanting to start their own business, though Chris Lucas (Kisumé, Chin Chin) says you have to go in with “structural impediments in mind”.
“And I think we’re getting pretty good at it,” he added.
Distress over the recent death of chef Jeremy Strode was palpable in a room full of his friends and colleagues; questions of health and hospitality work and achieving a balance in the lives of chefs and their staff were discussed at length.
Attica’s Ben Shewry, for one, said it’s been “a year of self-reflection” for him, and if the thoughtful and passionate responses in the room are any indication, it’s been the same for everyone. It was encouraging to hear how much attendees care about the industry and those who work in it.
Melbourne’s Vue de Monde. Right, from top: a selection from Nespresso’s coffee and dessert buffet; Port Phillip Bay scallops with salted desert lime; chefs David Moyle, formerly of Franklin, Alberto Fava of Tipo 00, and Martin Benn of Sepia.