Courage of conviction
Turning ex-criminals into chefs isn’t easy, writes Geoff Shearer
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.