Sylvia Yamanaka-Mead

Service, Please!
by Sylvia Yamanaka-Mead

I wrote recently that to work in hospitality is to commune with humanity. I started my own voyage of discovery into the world of food and drink at 15, working at a take-away joint that produced vast quantities of roast potatoes topped with various sauces that arrived in squishy, vac-packed bags, looking (at best) undesirable. I spent many hours turning spuds in ovens with long tongs, keeping the bain-marie at a heat just shy of nuclear, and deeply inhaling the smell of coffee while delicately brushing the grinder clean each night. With frayed paintbrush in hand I conducted a thorough archaeological survey of the machine at the end of my shift, coaxing recalcitrant grains out of the inner mechanism, ensuring it was clean for the next day. At the ripe old age of 16 I discovered I was being underpaid by my Potato employers and promptly lodged an action with Fair Work, which I won, and was thrilled when my cheque arrived in the post. I’m not sure what my parents thought at the time but I did go on to study law, surprise surprise…

After holding the glorious mantle of potato roaster my career took me to nightclubs, restaurants, cocktail bars and, much later, to consultancy and brand representation. Somewhere along the way hospitality stopped simply being a way to pay the bills – the work, the hours, the extremities of the industry, got under my skin and refused to leave me alone (like bar rot). Hospitality became my life, my purpose; my venues became my home, and my co-workers my family.

Working late nights gives a new perspective on the world, literally. To catch a tram home at 6:00AM while commuters travel into the city to start their day blurs and makes fuzzy many of the daily conventions we usually don’t notice. A glass of champagne at brunch has a different feel when you’re still out from the previous night, just hitting your stride after finishing a shift at 3:00AM. Dinner for breakfast, brunch for afternoon tea and sleeping while the sun is shining become normal, you develop a kinship with bats and night-prowling neighbourhood cats.

I first understood that I was good at hospitality when I receive a $50.00 tip from a guest. The customer, a man in his fifties, had ordered a Corona that had a wedge of lime poking out of the neck of the bottle. I saw the waiter walking towards the man to deliver the beer and knew that the guest would push the lime into the bottle himself before drinking. I arrived just a moment after the beer had been put on a coaster in front of him and gave him a napkin to wipe the inevitable lime juice from his hand after the ceremonial plunging of the lime wedge. The guest was genuinely amazed that I had anticipated his need of a napkin, he was moved that someone saw him as an important person in the midst of competing interests and the humming activity of a busy restaurant and worthy of this small, life-affirming gesture.

Ever since this moment, for more than 10 years, I’ve been working hard in this industry to help guests and colleagues feel this way – to be looked after, to feel special and cared for. It is one of my greatest joys to have been in the service of others, and to the industry that means so much to me, for so many years.

Sylvia is a freelance writer based in Melbourne and has worked in the hospitality industry for over 15 years. Along with a passion for and well-developed knowledge of spirits, natural wine and slow food, Sylvia is also an accomplished student of sustainability and environmental practices within the industry and wider world. On her days off Sylvia also trained in Law and political science achieving a Bachelor of Laws/International Relations (La Trobe University) and a Masters of Laws (Monash University). You can find her on Instagram @sylv_in_space

Kylie Millar

Exploring has always been something I do….
By Kylie Millar

 After her appearance on Masterchef in 2012, Kylie ventured out of the TV kitchen and into the world of fine dining, establishing a career by working with many brilliant chefs around the world. Her CV features the kitchens of Melbourne’s Burch & Purchese and Attica as well as Mugaritz in Spain. She is currently cooking at Blue Hill Stone Barns in upstate New York under renowned chef Dan Barber.

As a kid I used to take off, down in the paddocks of mum and dads’ property on the outskirts of Sydney and find ‘things’ to amuse myself with - clay from the dam, fishing for guppies or walking around feeding the cows.

As I got older, travelling was the next option. The usual Aussie adventure to the UK and Europe. My explorations then went another step further…actually living and working abroad…and not to make it easy for myself the first time around, I went to a country where I didn’t speak the language. Crazy!

What’s the draw card in these ventures…experiencing the unfamiliar. Although incredibly challenging the majority of the time, for me, this is the best form of learning. In the culinary setting, it dares you to source and work with the local produce, learn traditional and innovative techniques and even expand your thoughts and ideas of what is possible.

Each experience builds into your foundation…whether it be a cultural element like the Spanish vigour for their produce and culinary prowess, tapas and paella doesn’t even scratch the surface of this country’s full love and history of gastronomy. Or a concept that challenges the norm…an idea to work with breeders and farmers in growing food that tastes good from the seed level, then utilising the whole crops- stems, leaves, roots and flowers in inspiring ways. Even just talking with a trader at the local farmers’ market, having that connection with someone who is knowledgeable about their product which informs and inspires.

I have been very fortunate with my explorations and travelling to meet some very inspiring people who have challenged, helped and mentored me in my career. Incredibly the majority being women who I consider to be close friends.

Connect with Kylie via her website www.kyliemillar.com.au or on Instagram @kyliemillar

Julie Davaine | Merivale Group

Generation Z guiding the future of Hospitality
By Julie Davaine

Julie is a general manager with Sydney’s Merivale Group looking after venues Fred’s, Charlie Parker’s, The Paddington and The Chicken Shop. She was recently announced as this years recipient of the Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship.

I have been working with Merivale now for the past 10 years, and I am amazed to see the change in the work ethic of the new generation. Generation Z is definitely not lazy, unfocused or difficult. However, they are more than ever all about balance and self-development.

Hospitality is a passion, and passion very often means hard work. We go above and beyond at all times, pushing ourselves to our limits, and we give give give…But to do that efficiently, we need first to look after ourselves. We need to be happy, confident, engaged and supported. And I believe generation Z understand that so well. They are just as committed to the work as we are, however they know their limits and they know it requires the right amount of recovery, relaxation time, and other extracurricular focuses.

I am amazed by all our new generation 18 to 22-year-old employees, who join our team and respond with a great outcome to positive reinforcement. They want to learn as much as they want to feel valued and heard, and this in turn leads to better performance. Work life balance is not actually a challenge for them because it is a non-negotiable from the get-go. It is challenging the way we work, and we need to cater to that.

I really believe the future of hospitality will get on board with other industries, by removing the stigma of the impossible long term healthy hospitality careers: working crazy hours, yelling and shouting, huge amounts of pressure, no flexibility, not possible if you have a family etc… We are seeing more coaching, guiding, inspiring and supporting in the hospitality industry. Wellbeing is more than ever the centre of our attention and how we glue our teams together with strong purpose.

I was very lucky to recently win the 2019 Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship supported by Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. My project and my passion is how can we keep women in their hospitality career while having children too. So many amazing hospitality women I know have left the restaurant or bar industry after having a family. Not because they’d had “enough”, but more because they weren’t able to juggle both and make it work.

As a 34-year-old woman, I am hoping one day to build a family of my own and still remain doing what I love. I don’t want to be parked in an office or change career paths. Hospitality and guest experience is what keeps me driven and what I am passionate about.

This amazing prize allows me to do an internship in three restaurants anywhere in the world so I can research and understand best practice when it comes to balancing work and family in hospitality. I will then be able to work for a year with a hospitality mentor once I return to Australia.

I am hoping to visit places that will inspire me to find new working ways and flexibility, for a better work life balance and pioneering the future of the industry.

 

Barbara Sweeney | Food & Words

It’s rare to come across cooks who are not into books …
by Barbara Sweeney

The Food & Words writers’ festival is all about Australian food stories and the people who write them. Telling our food stories is important if we are to understand who we are and where we came from, says the creator of the event Barbara Sweeney.

I learned to cook from books and even though I’ve cooked and worked alongside some great chefs around the world and learned something from each and every one of them, it’s books I turn to for inspiration, education and clarification.

Everything about books provides me with deep and abiding pleasure. Buying, savouring, and holding them – even admiring the way they look on the bookshelf or in the inevitable stack on the kitchen windowsill ­– is a thrill.

Reading about food cannot be done in isolation. You must touch food and appreciate, at a sensory and intuitive level, the richness of it all. The delicate, papery cinnamon stick, slippery wet fish, cool weight and heft of meat, light-as-air, fragile sweetbreads, crisp nashi pear and soft, yielding pawpaw. You must also taste, taste, taste.

Having someone cooking alongside you, showing you how to stir, knead and roll; when to take the custard off the heat, the roast out of the oven and sugar off the boil; where to make the incision and place the dough to rise is all part of the cook’s rite of passage. I’ve lost count of the number of cookbook authors who credit their love of food and cooking to their mother or grandmother, learning to bake at their mother’s elbow or sitting on grandma’s lap. It’s a cosy and beguiling picture: but not one that I recognise.

It wasn’t that we didn’t eat well in my family home, but with nine sitting down for dinner every day preparation was perfunctory. Shopping was in bulk. Cakes were cooked from packet cake mixes. Cordial was Kool-Aid. Speed was of the essence.

So I learned about food and cooking and later, dining and gastronomy, from books. First, there was Time Life’s Foods of the World series (Dad had taken out a subscription). These beautifully photographed books – what else would you expect from Time? – covered 27 countries and regions. They were published between 1968 and 1971 and some of the most enduring names in American food writing, including Craig Claiborne (long-time food editor and restaurant critic for The New York Times), James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher worked on the series.

From these books I made Portuguese custards tarts, Austrian sour cream pound cake, Mexican guacamole and mole, oeufs en gelée (don’t ask), and have even followed instructions for the perfect cup of English tea (warm the pot, one teaspoon loose tea leaves per person, steep for five minutes, stir, serve).

More books followed as my self-directed tutelage continued. Larousse Gastronomique revealed the secrets to stock, consommé and an excellent crème brulee. Recipes for a Small Planet was my mandatory teenage vegetarian phase bible. Arto der Haroutunian, a British-Armenian restaurateur and writer, introduced me to the flavours of the Middle East and Africa. I’d never travelled to either country, but reading about these cultures opened up something in me, a curiosity about the world and an eagerness to drink it in.

Was it any wonder then, that I’d wake with a start one night with the bright, bold idea to start a food writers’ festival? There had to be, I reasoned, others who shared my love of books and reading food stories. Deep down I knew I would find them, because once you ask a cook about cooking, after they’ve acknowledged their mum, their granny, and the first chef they apprenticed with, they’ll spin a yarn about their favourite book.

You can read about Barbara’s Food & Words’ event on her website foodandwords.com.au this year’s festival is on 14 September in Sydney. Barbara writes about food for various newspapers and magazines and also whips up intelligent online content for small food producers. You can contact her at hello@barbarasweeney.com.au

Cat Clarke | Tully State High School

Building relationships through food
by Cat Clarke

Cat is a Food technology and Hospitality teacher at Tully State High School in Far North Queensland. For a recent event she helped her students to run a bush foods stall in conjunction with the Girringun Aboriginal Cooperation.

Through the window, I can see that the rain has started to ease at last, after weeks of drenching weather. Within me too, I feel a sense of ease, knowing that what we accomplished at the recent World Rafting Championships was our own little triumph – bringing delicious, authentic Bush Foods to a swarm of hungry international guests and enthusiastic locals.

Now in my third year at Tully State High School, I have formed lasting friendships with the members of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation. Jirrbal woman and teacher aide, Tonya Grant, who shares her knowledge on plants and their stories with me, introduced me. Tonya and I have been working together for over two years. My other strong learning relationships are with my beautiful friends, Daniel Beeron senior supervisor, Aunty Jean Thaiday senior elder and Sandra Leo supervisor 2IC whom all work at the Girringun Nursery.

As an educator delivering Hospitality to this generation of teenagers, I find that sparking an excitement about food and the opportunities it can open up for them can be challenging within the restrictions of the classroom. It is paramount for me to be true to the country that I am standing on, learning about local foods and their history, the changing seasons, and absorbing the stories shared with me. In turn and with permission, I can pass these on to my students in my classroom.

In 2018, my students and I, in partnership with Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, hosted two Deadly Bush Food Dinners for the community, where we showcased dishes using our local native ingredients with the imparted knowledge and support of Girringun members. We presented dishes such as macadamia and ricotta stuffed chicken, baked in candlenut leaf and served on mashed potato and taro, finished with delicious Burdekin Plum chutney. A dessert of milk chocolate delice cake with Red River cherry jam and fresh coconut was immensely popular. In fact, both dinners quickly sold out – there was a palpable hunger for food of this origin.

It was from these dinners that we designed a new menu for the rafting stall, street foods such as lamb and pork sliders with Burdekin chutney and lemon Aioli, and kangaroo and ginger leaf ragout pappardelle that matched appetites on rainy nights. Version three of our Deadly Bush Food Dinner is planned for August 29, 2019.

Now our journey with the relationships we have developed through food and education has lead us to designing a Girringun Bush to Plate program, based on Stephanie Alexander’s kitchen garden program, to engage students in an authentic, connected learning space. Students will learn the science behind particular Bush ingredients while working closely with our Girringun Nursery staff and rangers, developing recipes in the kitchen and working on community engagement. In this way, I hope to nurture both their work skills and the passion for food that fills my days.

If you are keen to connect with Cat and exchange stories about working with students and/or indigenous communities you are welcome to email her at catclarke334@gmail.com

Sandy Melgalvis | Common Ground Project

Getting your hands dirty
by Sandy Melgalvis

Sandy is the head chef at the soon to be open Common Ground Project in Freshwater Creek south of Geelong. She has previously worked at Top Paddock as head chef and in the kitchens of Red Door Corner Store and Ladro.

I’m excited to introduce the Common Ground Project a social enterprise café and farm that uses bio dynamic and regenerative farming practices. All of our proceeds are being donated to sustainable agriculture and mental health in hospitality.

Our core values are underpinned by sustainability; therefore, we are working with numerous local farms and producers. Common Ground Project is starting with extremely damaged and depleted soil that we will need to give back to for quite some time before we start taking from it - but that is all a part of the regenerative story.

Our goal is to educate not only other chefs but our customers and their children on the significance of knowing where your food comes from. This starts with the soil our produce is grown in - then to making more ethical and planet conscious decisions.

We are living in a day and age where too many people are being criticized for not taking enough action around planet conscious decisions, when in fact every effort made small or large should be commended. This is what we want to focus on, the positive steps we all make every day.

Each day on the farm is started with meditation and then a gratitude exercise. This encourages the team to start their day by focusing on something positive.

Mental health has become so prominent in an industry fraught with high pressure, long hours and unfair pay. The Mulberry group have done a great job of giving us the space to create a safe, healthy, balanced and mindful environment for not only the staff but the hospitality industry as a whole.

Access to the farm will be through subscriptions and to start will be available to a small number of venues that can provide their staff with access to the land and the farmers knowledge. Their staff – predominantly chefs - will spend a day a week getting their hands in the dirt and learning about bio dynamic and regenerative farming practices. The venue will also receive weekly veggie boxes.

I can’t wait to share this project with everyone.

If you would like to connect with Sandy to know more about the project, send her an email at sandy@commongroundproject.com.au

Kim Galea | Pitchfork Restaurant

Attempting to live the dream…
by Kim Galea

Kim Galea is co-owner of Pitchfork Restaurant at Peregian Beach & Fior di Latte Gelataria in Mooloolaba, with husband Craig Galea. When not churning gelato at the wharf, she is running her two boys to and from soccer fields on the Sunshine Coast and enjoying great food and wine with friends!

We all have a vision of what our future will look like, for us it was some land, just big enough to have a veggie patch and raise some animals along with children.

We purchased land on the Sunshine Coast and then packed up our van and travelled around Australia working for several years.

On the way home one of our stops was Maggie Beers’ farm shop in South Australia,

Now this is the dream! , a beautiful spring fed dam, guinea fowl, ducks all just cruising around,

I had found what I imagined our life to be like

Fast forward to moving back home and the creation of this dream,

Spring fed dam … Council declined application after application, and after a long process we could not go further with it

Veggie garden… Not enough sun, move to another spot , bugs and grubs eating prized possessions and a whole watermelon patch destroyed by one possum! (Happy to say we now have a thriving garden after trial and error)

Animals… every spare moment is spent, making fences, building sheds, pens,

Then pulling these down and starting again as they were in the wrong spot, or made incorrectly or the dog keeps getting out!

The balancing act of running businesses, kid’s school & sports and constant maintenance on the “dream” can be a bit much at times , But the joy of eating what you created outweighs it every time.

Every family has a different approach to explaining where food comes from to kids,

We have not really put much thought into it, they have followed our conversations and watched what we do so it comes natural to them to know how the cycle works for us

We have two new piglets, Oscar and Archie what would you like to call them?

Oscar: I’ll call mine… Bacon

Archie: Then I’ll call mine Sausage!

So they do know how it all happens and what those delicious pigs will turn into!

A few awkward conversations, when neighbours and friends come over for a BBQ and ask what happened to our duck? , ‘We ate that last night’ states Oscar,.

Although we still have a bit of work to do, our youngest Archie is not 100% sure what a Beef is!

And then one day,

Getting breakfasts ready and the house is silent, I look at the window and no joke there are two guinea fowl cruising around on the lawn.

I take a moment and realise ‘holy crap! I am literally living the dream’.

Then the loud noise of the kids waking and thundering down the stairs like a heard of elephants, brings me back to reality.

I take one last look outside, just in time to see the dog chasing the two guinea fowl down the driveway and banishing them back to where they came from.

Oh well, we almost had it all!

If you are keen to connect with Kim and exchange stories about running regional restaurants you are welcome to email her at kim@pitchforkrestaurant.com.au

Maria Kabal | Anada

Why is offal off the menu? Maria Kabal wants chefs to open diners' minds

Estonia-born Maria Kabal, head chef at Melbourne's Añada, is an offal aficionado. Across Europe, she says, no part of the animal is off-limits, but in Australia people turn their noses up. Kabal wants chefs everywhere to respect the beast by not throwing away any part of it.

When I first moved to Melbourne from the UK five years ago, I was taken aback by the vibrancy of its restaurants and their colourful, eclectic and imaginative food.

But it took me a couple of years to notice – mainly because living in London had burnt such a gaping hole into my wallet that I couldn’t afford to eat out much – that even though very European in their tastes, Australians prefer only the more palatable of the European foods. No matter how inventive a menu, offal rarely features here. But why not?

From my observations over the years, there seems to be a significant age gap between those who will and won't come near the entrails of an animal, regardless of how, or by which chef, it's cooked. It’s almost as if a whole generation at one point collectively decided to only eat primary cuts of meat, and so from then on no one touched the other bits. Thus the stigma that offal was offensive grew.

With the latest generation of chefs, I have started to see offal back on menus. Fico in Hobart shows diners just how exquisite lambs brains are; Sydney's Saint Peter has diners fawning over eyeballs; and animals are being cooked whole more and more around the country.

At the moment when you see offal on a menu, it’s usually wrapped in cute little packages as a ruse to coerce the unassuming diner to try something they otherwise wouldn’t – a trick we use at Añada with our crumbed sweetbread nuggets. More often than not, diners are pleasantly surprised, but many still require some convincing. I am proud to say that I have managed to change a few minds in my time, and while perhaps I haven’t quite aroused a common lust for duck hearts, my duty as a chef is to encourage the open mind.

The way I see it, since mankind is determined to walk the path of inevitable global catastrophe, we might as well make the most of the meat we are consuming while we have easy access to wonderful produce. The fact that something had to die for our pleasure means that eating and enjoying it, nose-to-tail, is the least we can do to pay their respects. Offal, if prepared correctly, can be extremely pleasurable and delicious. So as chefs and meat-preparers, it's our collective moral responsibility to put offal on the menu.

This article was first published in Foodservice magazine’s March 2019 issue.