After a lifetime in the industry, the Victorian Restaurant of the Year winner talks about consistency, excellence and being true to yourself
I was born in the industry. My parents had a little café in a bar in a humble, very small village. But I had a pretty rough childhood. I left home when I was 11 years old. But all I could think was I wanted to help my father in the kitchen. When I was 18 I trained at a hotel in Nice. I became a professional at a young age.
Here there can be a mentality, ‘open it, sell it’. My view is totally different. I met my wife when I was 18 years old and 40 years we are together. My wife works every day with me. We’ve worked together all around the world. We always wanted something together. We always wanted a fine dining restaurant. Our four children work with me as well. That’s the secret of being united and successful.
What really opened my eyes was when I was 19 years old. I went to ask for a position at L’Oustau de Baumaniere one of the top restaurants in France. I went straight to the kitchen to ask for work. They said ‘we get 50 letters of application a week’. I said ‘I’m not leaving until you give me a job’. He liked my guts. So it was confirmation that if you want something, you get it.
Of course being a chef is long hours and you’re not very social because you don’t have the time. But you will never be out of work. If you want to work in other countries you have this wonderful opportunity.
We stayed in France until I was 22 years old. Then we went to Brazil for three years. It was an absolutely fabulous experience. Then we went to Madrid, then back to Paris.
“You have to be very consistent. You need to keep your staff. The kitchen takes six months to learn. If you can’t have people for three to four years your consistency suffers.” Jacques Reymond,
After Paris, we took over my parents’ establishment for five years. But they had different ideas to me. They wanted to keep it how it had run for decades. In Australia we opened our first restaurant in 1985. It was really exciting. It was very humble. We stayed for five years. Then we had the opportunity meet Bruce Matteo. We were in our own establishment three months later. I’m always very grateful to Mr and Mrs Matteo. We made a gentleman’s agreement. Just a handshake.
To establish a restaurant in Australia, America, Fiji, it’s exactly the same rules. Don’t be stupid by investing too much. Be realistic. Be a very hard worker. And be smart with your figures—you have to have an understanding of this.
You have to be very consistent. You need to keep your staff. The kitchen takes six months to learn. If you can’t have people for three to four years your consistency suffers.
I’ve got 45 staff. We work as a united team, very similar to a family—no shouting, no insults, no bad manners. We have fun. We go out together. We communicate. There is not one department that is more important.
We get better every year, I believe that very strongly. We get better staff, we get more technique, more equipment that lets us be innovative, more creative, get more excited about our profession. There is nothing worse than monotony.
I don’t read books or go to other restaurants to get new ideas. That is a big mistake. Why copy? It’s not you. If you copy you will never be innovative and you won’t be successful. We do our own style of cuisine. Trends don’t last and we have a lasting restaurant.
Our inspiration comes from new products, new equipment, new techniques. Cooking is about taste and flavour, the emotion people give us. There’s not one night when guests don’t come to the kitchen personally to thank us.
Now my two sons want to go into business together. That’s fantastic. They have good ideas, we’re very happy for them to do that. They don’t need me to tell them anything beyond ‘be careful’. ‘Start small, humble’, ‘work the two of you’. ‘If you’re very successful after a couple of years, consider a bigger venue’. My peers, the ones who are still here today, work as hard as when they were starting out. There is no secret in the industry.
Awards do mean a lot. It is what drives me. It is high recognition for what we do. We don’t take them for granted.