Creative director of Art Gallery Restaurant at the Art Gallery of South Australia, and named a Lifetime Achiever by R&CA in 2006.
“I am driven, but not as driven as other people. There should be a balance with the work that you love and your home life. If you are involved in food, you are a great believer in the personal and private pleasures.
“The study of gastronomy—not food—is one of the most fundamental of all the studies you can do on human beings. It’s about morality, politics and sociology. I’m obsessed by acquiring knowledge in everything. So with food, I do a lot of private reading, but not recipes. The world does not need another cookbook. The more cookbooks you have, the less people actually cook at home.
“I like to read about what we eat, why we eat it, how it’s developed, and how changing fashions in what we eat or in restaurant food reflect the changing habits and beliefs in our society. Our interest in food reflects how we behave. You know, the current thing about grazing—wanting to be seen in restaurants—is an incredibly deep subject.
“In business, like everyone, I’m driven by the desire to be admired. But the more fundamental thing that drives me is the need to keep the ship afloat. It’s a huge responsibility to run this thing, and be responsible for the lives of the team that you’re with. I make sure my team is happy, that they are getting a decent living that allows them to have a private life, and that they are as fascinated by the whole process of ‘restauration’ as I am.
“The first greeting of a client is absolutely crucial. You ensure the client understands how the system works in your restaurant so they feel relaxed. I learned that from how I’ve been treated in restaurants. I hate being fussed over, but I love to be looked after.
“Restaurateur is a lovely word because it says that your aim is to restore people’s spirits. We have restaurateurs here, but we don’t have a long tradition of it. I have to say it—America leads. I don’t think the food is good but the service is fantastic.
“You must listen to your clients—what they want and need—but you should also trust that you actually know how things work, sometimes better than they do. And you need to gently lead them to what you know is going to work, so that in the end, you’re both happy.
“You must always do the best you can do. I think quality is something that you’ve got to live with all through your life—never sell yourself short. It’s a real shame that people save good olive oil, butter or mangoes for special occasions when they have guests. Your body—and your family—deserves the best as well.
“We have fabulous produce here but I just wish we were able to buy at different levels. For example, in France you can buy a $10, $20 or $60 chook. It’s your choice for what fits the occasion. Once again, with vegetables—it’s a shame that we worry too much about size and perfection of the skin, rather than the flavour.
“Chefs have to love food, and have a love of the earth and to be inquisitive. Success is if they keep coming back. I think you can feel success in a place when everything’s gelling—the team, the kitchen and the front are all pulling together. And you just have a sense in the room that guests are happy.
“When we do a function at the Art Gallery—we do big events well, we’re bending over backwards to give à la carte quality food to a large group. That’s because we just don’t know how to cut corners. And I think that goes into the golden rule about business. The show must go on. That it’s got to work for everybody on the team.”