David Kapay has taken les­sons learnt in the world’s best kitchens to cre­ate the ideal work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for staff at his fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ment in Wodonga.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents -

David Kapay has taken les­sons learnt in the world’s best kitchens to cre­ate the ideal work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for staff at his fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ment in Wodonga.

SEATED at a ta­ble in David Kapay’s Wodonga restau­rant Miss Amelie, the chef passes over his phone to show me a pho­to­graph of a dish he has cre­ated for a de­gus­ta­tion cel­e­brat­ing the restau­rant’s first an­niver­sary. The menu de­scribes it mod­estly as “span­ner crab, cu­cum­ber, ap­ple and white radish” but what I see is sub­lime – a so­phis­ti­cated dish put to­gether with con­sid­er­able thought to colour, com­po­si­tion and vis­ual ap­peal.

While the David Kapay of to­day, now in his mid-thir­ties, demon­strates a philo­soph­i­cal un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of food and fine din­ing, he’s frank about his ca­reer path be­ing driven solely by be­ing a kid want­ing to drop out of school. David was born in Mel­bourne but from the age of 10, his fam­ily lived in Wodonga, where he led the life of a typ­i­cal coun­try teenager and played foot­ball for the Wodonga Bull­dogs.

His par­ents wouldn’t let him leave school un­less he got a job, and so through friends, he landed a po­si­tion at Wodonga’s Café Grove where he com­pleted his ap­pren­tice­ship and “made a lot of foc­ca­cias”. The next big step was to take up a po­si­tion as head chef of New Al­bury Ho­tel (and Paddy’s Ir­ish Bar) mak­ing fish and chips and burg­ers.

“I ran that for a cou­ple of years - a young, naïve chef who thinks he knows it all but doesn’t know any­thing,” he said.

“It wasn’t un­til I went over­seas and landed some pretty good jobs in some pretty good kitchens that I truly be­came a chef.”

David was to have a rude awak­en­ing, shaken out of his “lit­tle town syn­drome” where he had been a big fish in a small pond. The head chef at Paddy’s found out that not ev­ery­thing went into the fryer. On his first day in a top Lon­don restau­rant, with a box of ar­ti­chokes in front of him, he didn’t know what they were, let alone what to do with them. It’s a story he tells of­ten. “It was a big time re­al­ity check,” he laughs. “It’s im­proved a lot now but in those days, back in 2005, I had never re­ally cooked with dif­fer­ent veg­eta­bles or un­der­stood how these in­cred­i­ble fresh herbs add flavour and tex­ture to things. It was a real eye opener for me - you leave the coun­try with this big, hot-shot re­sume and think you’ll get a job eas­ily, and I did, but I went back to the bot­tom of the kitchen.”

David’s “slid­ing doors” mo­ment came when he was on a plane bound for Lon­don and found him­self seated next to the man­ager of Jamie Oliver’s Fif­teen restau­rant. He had bro­ken up with a girl­friend and was head­ing over to Eng­land to travel and “have a good time with the boys for a year”, but the two blokes got talk­ing. “It was fate - that mo­ment changed my life,” he said. “I had an in­ter­view a cou­ple of days later, had a trial, and the rest is his­tory - so that time in my life was meant to be.”

His first po­si­tion was as a Demi Chef de Par­tie, sec­ond bot­tom of the lad­der, and he spent a year on larder in the cold sec­tion, be­fore re­al­is­ing if he wanted to do this prop­erly he needed to put his head down and get to work.

“I al­most did two ap­pren­tice­ships - a make-be­lieve one and a real one,” he said.

David spent four years at Fif­teen, a restau­rant which was first opened by Jamie Oliver in 2002 as a way of giv­ing un­em­ployed young peo­ple an in­tro­duc­tion and train­ing in the in­dus­try. He de­scribes work­ing at the fam­ily-ori­en­tated restau­rant as “the best place ever” and says it was “an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence” work­ing with the best in the in­dus­try. >>

words Anita Mcpher­son pho­tos Marc Bongers

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