Life“ per­fect en­vi­ron­ment ”

is all about tak­ing the good and bad, bring­ing it all to­gether and cre­at­ing the

North East Living Magazine - - News - DAVID KAPAY

“There was a lot of love and emo­tion - great char­ac­ters, good peo­ple and to this day they are some of the best peo­ple you could work for or with,” he said.

“I was away from home for the first time, out of the coun­try for the first time and work­ing some se­ri­ous hours, but I was in a kitchen with Jamie Oliver. It was pretty sur­real and life-chang­ing.”

While there was a lot to learn, he was also af­forded in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties, such as be­ing sent on all-ex­penses-paid trips to source pro­duce; tast­ing fine wines, meet­ing olive oil pro­duc­ers and see­ing real Moz­zarella be­ing made. Some­times they’d even get to go out and help Jamie Oliver on his farm where he was film­ing.

“It did a lot for every­body - not just for the un­der­priv­i­leged kids but for the staff - it was a spe­cial place,” said David.

“I grew up over there in a sense – I was in my early 20s and I got a real grasp of what life is all about.”

David was hav­ing the time of his life and on a high, but af­ter four years it was all about to come crash­ing down. He wanted to get some ex­pe­ri­ence at Miche­lin Star level and left Fif­teen for a chance to work at Maze un­der part­ners Gor­don Ram­say and Ja­son Ather­ton - and it was a kitchen night­mare.

“It was hor­ri­ble - a com­plete con­trast in work­ing en­vi­ron­ments,” he said.

“It was a com­plete back­flip on ev­ery­thing I’d done in the first chap­ter of my over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence - ev­ery­one was out to put ev­ery­one down, there was ver­bal and phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment - it was hor­ren­dous. But I wanted to do Miche­lin star - I wanted to come home with Jamie Oliver and Gor­don Ram­say on my re­sume.”

David lasted a year at Maze. He ad­mits to ring­ing up his mum and cry­ing on the phone every night, hav­ing given up what was an in­cred­i­ble lifestyle only to be plunged into mis­ery.

“But these are the choices you make and ev­ery­thing hap­pens in life for a rea­son,” he said.

“And I learnt a lot about the men­tal­ity of chefs at the high­est level - I learnt more in that short time than four years with Jamie - about dis­ci­pline and struc­ture.”

David said at Miche­lin star level, the kitchen ran with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion and any­thing less than per­fec­tion was un­ac­cept­able. Ju­nior em­ploy­ees were pushed to ca­pac­ity and the pres­sure was con­stant and in­tense, while David says those who man­aged to ad­vance up the line were “brain­washed” into an es­tab­lished and ac­cepted cul­ture of abuse and bul­ly­ing. There was scream­ing, yelling and even punch­ing and he worked from 7am un­til 1am, with no breaks, food or water.

“I felt sick for a year - I’d wake up in the morn­ing anx­ious - I didn’t want to go,” he said.

The ex­pe­ri­ence may have left him a lit­tle scarred, but it also left him de­ter­mined to make a dif­fer­ence, and he re­turned to Mel­bourne know­ing he could han­dle just about any­thing.

“Life is all about tak­ing the good and bad, bring­ing it all to­gether and cre­at­ing the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “You take what you need from the ex­pe­ri­ence.” He spent some time at a num­ber of prom­i­nent Mel­bourne venues, but was un­set­tled and strug­gling to come to terms with life in Aus­tralia af­ter all the ex­cite­ment of his over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence.

It didn’t help that he was alone, while his then girl­friend Sally was spend­ing three years study­ing on the Gold Coast.

Sally and David had known each other as teenagers in Wodonga, but it wasn’t un­til she hol­i­dayed in Lon­don and made con­tact with him there, that a re­la­tion­ship be­gan to de­velop. She re­turned to spend the fi­nal year in Lon­don with him and they re­turned to Mel­bourne to­gether – mar­ry­ing four years ago.

Over time David re­alised he no longer wanted to work for some­one else and was ready to go it alone and cre­ate his own destiny. Hav­ing made friends with the own­ers of Wodonga’s Broadgauge, a restau­rant lo­cated in the for­mer sta­tion precinct, he de­cided to step up when they an­nounced they were ready to move on, and turn it into his own.

The time was right for the cou­ple, who had added daugh­ters Annabel and Ivy to the fam­ily, to trade in their “run down” two bed­room apart­ment in bay­side Mel­bourne for a con­sid­er­ably more sub­stan­tial house and gar­den in Wodonga.

“I had the op­por­tu­nity to live the dream of open­ing my own restau­rant,” said David.

“I’d al­ways wanted to do it but not in Mel­bourne - there’s too much com­pe­ti­tion and the cost of liv­ing is too high – and you get to an age where you are ready to reap the re­wards of fam­ily life and have a com­fort­able lifestyle.”

And it seems Wodonga grew up with him, the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict be­ing re­vi­talised and turned into a re­gional cap­i­tal with all new as­sets and in­fra­struc­ture in­clud­ing the multi-mil­lion dol­lar Junc­tion Place de­vel­op­ment. A new shop­ping com­plex has opened, a cinema cen­tre and ho­tel with 90 rooms is on the way and the city has longer term plans to turn nearby bar­ren land into a broader busi­ness precinct with res­i­den­tial apart­ments.

David said he be­lieves he got in at the right time, be­com­ing part of a bustling en­ter­tain­ment precinct with a va­ri­ety of venues and its own sense of com­mu­nity that is be­com­ing pop­u­lar with both lo­cals and tourists. He has also seen Aus­tralian cui­sine evolve, par­tic­u­larly in coun­try towns, where new chefs have ar­rived and are in­tro­duc­ing a much more so­phis­ti­cated and in­ter­na­tional ap­proach to their of­fer­ing.

At Miss Amelie, David has drawn on his ex­pe­ri­ence in some of the best restau­rants in Lon­don and Mel­bourne to cre­ate some­thing en­tirely new that’s all his own, in­cor­po­rat­ing Euro­pean style and us­ing mod­ern tech­niques.

“I guess that was my niche - it was the food di­rec­tion that brought me to Miss Amelie - but I had to keep in mind the clien­tele I was go­ing to serve,” he said.

“I didn’t want it to be too tricky or to have a menu rid­dled with words din­ers don’t un­der­stand - that was im­por­tant to me - and I had to get it right from the word go.”

He is par­tic­u­lar and a per­fec­tion­ist - pas­sion­ate about pre­sen­ta­tion and ex­plor­ing a range of tex­tures on each plate, while pro­vid­ing cus­tomers with im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice in a pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment.

“That’s my style and that’s my di­rec­tion - I’m a mas­sive be­liever that peo­ple eat with their eyes - but you need to back that up with flavour as well,” he said. >>

Sally took on the in­te­rior de­sign chal­lenge, metic­u­lously con­sid­er­ing the decor and each fit­ting to cre­ate their sig­na­ture space, en­joy­ing the way it is now il­lu­mi­nated by the gen­tle pink glow of the restau­rant’s soft neon sign. They set­tled on the name Miss Amelie be­cause they thought it was fun and sexy. It was also the name of a woman the cou­ple met on a train while trav­el­ling in Europe. The art­work for their “brand” was cre­ated ex­clu­sively by Cana­dian artist Jenny Liz Rome.

“She was wel­com­ing and help­ful to us while we were trav­el­ling and her char­ac­ter­is­tics are what we wanted in our restau­rant,” said David.

In the open kitchen a close-knit team is deep in con­cen­tra­tion, painstak­ingly cre­at­ing and test­ing each com­po­nent of a dish, but David says they’re also hav­ing a good time and en­joy­ing what they do. A sign on the wall in the room out the back says “work like it’s your own busi­ness” and that’s the way the team op­er­ates, un­der­stand­ing that what­ever suc­cess they achieve, they achieve to­gether.

“I had some world class men­tors and chefs and it made me the per­son I am to­day, and that’s the legacy I get to pass down to the chefs work­ing for me now in Wodonga,” said David.

“I’m the com­plete op­po­site to an au­to­cratic-style boss - I trav­elled around the world in search of the per­fect work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and I cre­ated it here at home.”

David said it’s a fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­one works to­gether and re­spects each other and where young peo­ple start­ing out in hos­pi­tal­ity can learn skills they once had to leave the coun­try to ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s im­por­tant for young peo­ple to have di­rec­tion, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity as well as a sense of own­er­ship and be­long­ing,” he said.

“I’m try­ing to cre­ate an in­sti­tu­tion at Miss Amelie where peo­ple can come and learn - and they don’t want to leave.”

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