Fresh take

Not con­tent with ev­ery­day cook­ing, Rus­sell Molina is tak­ing food to the next level

The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Bites -

When Rus­sell Molina was study­ing en­gi­neer­ing at univer­sity, a ca­reer in the food in­dus­try was prob­a­bly the fur­thest thing from his mind.

But a ca­sual job as a kitchen hand to pay for his stud­ies un­earthed a pas­sion for the world of cook­ery. Now the ex­ec­u­tive chef of Vivo bar and grill at Palm Cove, Rus­sell says he has never re­gret­ted his de­ci­sion to drop his stud­ies in favour of an ap­pren­tice­ship.

“I had my par­ents and other peo­ple telling me don’t make your hobby your job,” he says.

“I still haven’t looked back and I still en­joy it to­day.”

Rus­sell puts his love of cook­ing down to cre­ativ­ity, cus­tomer feed­back and be­ing able to “con­stantly learn and evolve”.

He com­pleted his ap­pren­tice­ship at Jupiter’s Casino on the Gold Coast and worked his way up the food chain at a num­ber of ma­jor ho­tels in Perth and Dar­win be­fore tak­ing up a head chef role at a bou­tique restau­rant at Her­vey Bay. He says the re­turn to a small restau­rant was ground­ing.

“From ho­tels you get caught up in the pro­duc­tion side of things and the man­age­ment side of things so this bou­tique restau­rant was great for me be­cause it got me back to food,” he says. “As the chef, you could go out and talk to peo­ple and re­ally work out what they wanted.”

Rus­sell was drawn to Cairns in 2006 to work at the Cairns In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel as sous chef garde manger, but a year later the kitchens of Vivo were call­ing.

“There was a lot I thought I could do here and it was a bit of a chal­lenge,” he says.

“I looked at the kitchen and thought there was a lot I could im­prove on. And the lo­ca­tion was fan­tas­tic. In ho­tels you are ba­si­cally in a base­ment look­ing at four walls and here I get to see the ocean ev­ery day.”

Putting more fo­cus on beau­ti­ful fresh pro­duce was Rus­sell’s first move at Vivo.

“They were do­ing a lot more tra­di­tional Ital­ian be­fore and I fresh­ened it up,” he says.

“There are now hints of Asian cui­sine. I don’t like to use the term mod­ern Aus­tralian cui­sine be­cause it’s used very loosely, but I use a lot of sur­pris­ing in­gre­di­ents as com­bi­na­tions. Ex­per­i­ment­ing keeps me in­ter­ested. The fact is it (the food in­dus­try) is al­ways chang­ing and you have peo­ple who you can look to­wards for in­spi­ra­tion.”

As for specials, they are Rus­sell’s time to shine and the ex­ec­u­tive chef says many of his more suc­cess­ful trial runs end up on the menu. One ex­am­ple of this is his tuna carpac­cio, us­ing yel­low fin tuna with straw­berry and ginger jelly, fried egglpant, mi­cro herbs and fly­ing fish roe.

“It’s a very sim­ple dish us­ing good pro­duce, but the com­bi­na­tion works. With specials, I def­i­nitely change them a lot for a few rea­sons be­cause if there’s some pro­duce I get that’s very good I will im­ple­ment it and I like to ex­per­i­ment a lot.”

As well as try­ing in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tions in the kitchen, Rus­sell is dab­bling in tak­ing food tech­nol­ogy to the next level. He says world-fa­mous chef Fer­ran Adria’s revo­lu­tion­ary new recipes are his in­spi­ra­tion.

“He (Fer­ran) closes the restau­rant El Bulli for six months of the year so he can learn about the chem­i­cal side of the food,” Rus­sell says.

“It’s pretty im­pres­sive be­cause it’s so dif­fer­ent and there are lim­ited places in Aus­tralia that are ac­tu­ally do­ing it.”

Al­though Rus­sell de­scribes Fer­ran’s tech­niques as us­ing chem­i­cals to do such things as so­lid­ify food on the out­side and liq­uefy its cen­tre, he says the chem­i­cals are a harm­less deriva­tive of food. “It’s some­thing I’m hop­ing to play with in the next few months,” he says.

“I think the trends will come back and go tra­di­tional again but it’s more about bring­ing some­thing that peo­ple haven’t seen be­fore.”

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