2 minutes with Alanna Sapwell
Occupation: head chef
Restaurant: Saint Peter
Tell us about your career as a chef where has it taken you so far?
I made the decision to become a chef when I was six years old, hence I was pretty keen to get into the kitchen. I started my apprenticeship while still finishing school. Coming from a small country town I was also eager to go exploring, so upon the completion of my apprenticeship at The River House in Noosa under David Rayner, I headed to Italy where I became sous of La Decima Musa in Florence. While it may sound clichéd, Rayner's place ingrained the importance of using the best quality local produce - changing the menu daily - and I found Italy shared this ethos. After Italy came Japan, as head chef of Morino, before heading home to take on head chef at Maison De Provence where I had the opportunity to work alongside owner and sugar wizard Eric Pernod.
At 24, I started working at Urbane in Brisbane. It was a monster of a pastry section with four restaurants running out of it - Urbane, The Euro, Sub Urbane and The Laneway. After working my way up I became the head pastry chef. I then headed pastry again at Aquitaine, then Gerard's before taking a sous chef job at GOMA. It was at my time at Aquitaine that I started working on a personal project, Drinks With Chefs.
I find myself more at home at the smaller restaurants where I can be more hands on. The camaraderie you establish in those tight teams, there's nothing quite like it. You feed off each other, encourage each other to push beyond expectations and have the environment to make everything from scratch.
Moments you are most proud of?
When the people you train go off to do great things.
I see that you a Queensland girl, what brought you to Sydney?
A few years back I was in the Top 10 young chefs in Australia for Appetite for Excellence. It was there I met my current boss, Josh. We shared very similar food philosophies and have been exchanging recipes ever since. When opening up his restaurant he asked if I would be sous and offered me an opportunity not only to refine my fish skills to a whole new level, but teach me nuts and bolts of how to run a restaurant so I can open up something of my own.
Tell us about Saint Peter, where you're cooking at the moment?
Saint Peter is a 'fish only restaurant' and with our menu changing daily we get to showcase the best of Australian sustainably sourced seafood. With a nose to scale philosophy, it's not unusual to find a lot of fish offal on the menu from liver, swim bladder, roe, milt and scales which we're continually finding different applications for and I'm thoroughly enjoying playing with. We've also got a custom-made static fridge which allows us to dry age our fish which is enhanced with the way we process the fish on site - never washing our fish instead wiping everything dry and clean so you will get adistinct flavour of what that fish should taste like, which is pretty special.
We then pair it with a vegetable that complements it best. We're lucky to have three farmers for veg, mostly based in the Blue Mountains so there’s no other option but to work seasonally. Lately that’s proved quite challenging with 40 degree heat at the farm - ruining most of the crops. But it’s up to us as the chef to become more creative, resourceful and to support these farmers in these difficult times. The food itself is like the restaurant. Very approachable, there's no covering up, no hiding, simple and skilful…most importantly, it’s darned tasty.
What's your Drinks With Chefs initiative that you started? Drinks With Chefs is a hospo only event– where hospitality professionals mentor one another; hastening the inevitable rise of great chefs. With major TV
influences giving an unrealistic outlook for the next gen of chefs, I want to show that it’s not a quick climb to the top, and ideally give credit to the success stories and the realism behind what it has taken to get there
At the end of the day it’s a just a great opportunity to collaborate with your neighbouring restaurants, have a beer and a chuckle. There's a load of great clips on YouTube of what the nights entail. We'll be doing our first Drinks With Chefs in Sydney this year which is pretty exciting.
Late night supper in Sydney, where do you go?
Big Popas for cheese, baller drinks and tunes. Golden Century for the 2 a.m. feast -pipis, trotter and jellyfish (not on menu but just ask) and fried bread always hits the spot.
You can follow Alanna on Instagram @alannasapwell and to check out what Drinks With Chefs is all about watch this cool little vid https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gSmK864fzyA