THE GANTRY’S JOEL BICKFORD
Meet the man updating Pier One Hotel’s menu.
WE MEET THE NEW CHEF MAKING WAVES AT THE GANTRY, INSIDE SYDNEY’S UPDATED, HARBOURSIDE PIER ONE HOTEL.
After two years connecting with the fresh produce of the Southern Highlands as head chef of acclaimed gastronomical den, Biota Dining in Bowral NSW, Bickford has hit the big smoke and is on a mission to change the way people think about hotel restaurants. GQ: Is it tricky to connect with the produce you use, now you’re based in the city? Joel Bickford: There’s definitely still a connection. Geographically it’s more challenging not being able to go and pick wild berries and mushrooms, but now my days off are filled with trips to the beach with my kids to pick samphire, beach spinach, seablite and saltbush. Connection doesn’t have to be tangible, more just an appreciation of what you’re doing. GQ: Hotel restaurants have never had the best reputation. What sets The Gantry apart? JB: ‘Hotel’ and ‘restaurant’ are two words that have never sat well next to each other in Australia. The trap some fall into is to be everything to everyone – they create large menus that are confused and lack purpose. It’s up to the chef to create a product that is equal or surpasses standalone venues. And that should be the goal of any chef, regardless of location. GQ: So you have free rein?
JB: I was given the brief of ‘blank canvas’. I knew straight away exactly what I wanted to do, and we’ve made some significant changes. We still have plenty to do but I’m treating it like a new restaurant and we’re starting from the ground up. Any good restaurant needs to be fexible and open to change. GQ: What’s your vision at The Gantry? JB: We want to be Sydney’s best dining experience – and we’re taking a simple approach to make that happen. If I can cook for people and make them happy then that’s my job done. Creating food people want to eat, and giving them a place they like and want to return to, is my aim. GQ: What’s your cooking style and ethos?
JB: Anyone that works with food should have the same ethos – to respect, understand, appreciate ingredients and to cook with integrity. I like to mix it up, so people can expect to see light contemporary dishes such as legumes, crab and kohlrabi, or more classical dishes like sweetbreads with hazelnut and salted grapes.
GQ: Is there a standard diner at The Gantry? JB: We have people from all walks of life. By day, mainly tourists and business lunches but the evening sees a mix of pre-theatre, hotel patrons and people who enjoy quality food. We no longer attract people by age, demographic or location – we’re attracting an attitude. And we want people that like good food here to enjoy themselves. GQ: Is our national food scene tracking well?
JB: It’s in good shape, with internationally recognisable chefs such as Martin Benn and Ben Shewry leading the way. Restaurant dining is no longer just about eating – the hunger for knowledge and the need to feel a connection with what’s on the plate is ever-present. As chefs, we’re going back to basics and focusing on quality food and simple techniques. It’s not just our job to present good food, but to keep evolving and testing the boundaries, so we can continue educating guests. thegantry.com.au
“IT’S NOT JUST OUR JOB TO PRESENT GOOD FOOD, BUT TO KEEP EVOLVING AND TESTING THE BOUNDARIES.”