Courage of con­vic­tion

Turn­ing ex-crim­i­nals into chefs isn’t easy, writes Geoff Shearer

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

HE CON­SID­ERS ha­rass­ing his wait­ers at his venues in Mel­bourne as sport. But Euro­pean ex­ec­u­tive chef Ian Cur­ley didn’t even have time for that when it came to ‘‘ polic­ing’’ a dozen ex-crim­i­nals in Queens­land for Con­vic­tion Kitchen.

The hard task of teach­ing some life skills to the re­cently in­car­cer­ated was com­pounded by pro­duc­ing a top-flight menu.

‘‘ It wasn’t the smartest thing to give our­selves a hard menu,’’ says Cur­ley, tak­ing a quick break at the Bris­bane bistro that has been con­verted for the show. ‘‘ It means I’m hav­ing to work harder in the kitchen.’’

The se­ries sets out to see how well the dozen ex-crim­i­nals — put for­ward by Queens­land Cor­rec­tive Ser­vice from lists of those who have been in jail for non-vi­o­lent crimes — deal with at­tempts to re-en­ter the work­force.

‘‘ I’mtry­ing to get them work ready, I’mnot a psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­lor,’’ Cur­ley says.

The show took English-born Cur­ley back to his early days, when he served time in a de­ten­tion cen­tre for what he de­scribes as ‘‘ street vi­o­lence’’.

‘‘ The thing that up­set me most was that my poor mother came to visit me the day af­ter Box­ing Day— and I was in South Wales, which was about a four-hour drive — and she had to drive all the way there and all the way back. Be­cause of what I’d done,’’ he says.

‘‘ They tried not to put me in a proper jail, be­cause I was young. Over there they used to put you into what was more like a mil­i­tary camp. You had to get up in the morn­ing, fold your clothes, then you had to go down and shower and shave. I wasn’t even shav­ing by that stage, so I was stand­ing there pre­tend­ing to shave with the back of a big ra­zor.’’

While the ex­pe­ri­ence gave him em­pa­thy for what the ex-crims on Con­vic­tion Kitchen have been through, Cur­ley says there is a one big dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now — drugs.

‘‘ I was lucky that drugs were not so preva­lent then,’’ he says. ‘‘ When you talk to the guys in Con­vic­tion, so of­ten it all comes back to drugs.’’

But the ex-crims with whom he’s worked have sur­prised him with their po­ten­tial.

‘‘ And even when we gave them their first pay packet, they were so re­lieved. They don’t want to sponge off the Gov­ern­ment — they want to stand on their own two feet,’’ he says. Con­vic­tion Kitchen, Chan­nel 7, Tues­day, 9.30pm

Trans­form­ers: Con­vic­tion Kitchen’s restau­rant man­ager Lisa Parker, ex­ec­u­tive chef Ian Cur­ley and sous chef Jean-Vi­tal Syverin.

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