FOOD FO­RUM

Lead­ing chefs and restau­ra­teurs joined Gourmet Trav­eller to talk in­dus­try chal­lenges,

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - OCT - writes MICHAEL HARDEN.

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.

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