The head of Merivale’s new bistro Felix on trusting yourself, your suppliers, your staff, and the weather
I wanted to be a chef growing up, but first I tried nursing. It wasn’t me. Then I went and did my first day at Atlas. On that day I cleaned five kilograms of mussels, roasted two kilograms of capsicums, and made the Chez Panisse baked ricotta cheesecake. I’ve never looked back—I couldn’t believe how much fun it was.
That said, you have to love what you do, because that’s the whole job. There aren’t that many financial rewards. Fortunately, I love what I do.
I’ve had a lot of good work experiences. I’ve always worked with nice people. I tried the high-pressure angry place once and I didn’t last long.
I did a year as a pastry chef at Rockpool and learned a lot. I worked at the Opera House Concourse—a fourth year apprentice calling service for 300 people! It was fun. I don’t know how I did it. Then at MG Garage I spent four and a half years as second chef. That was the food I loved doing—the most inspiring food I’d done. Then I was a private chef in the Hampdens, shopping in the morning at the farm stalls.
I try not to be swayed by trends. You’ll succeed doing what you’re meant to do well. And trust the weather—if it’s a cold day put on a soup.
I love getting market reports and taking them to suppliers. Have a good relationship with your suppliers. Developing relationships with suppliers takes time. The ones I’ve got now are very good.
Justin Hemmes took me to New York to do research for the new bistro Felix and we went to see Balthazar. Now I know I can do a good duck confit, equal with that. It’s reassuring to be unafraid of trusting my judgement and instincts. The Hemmes and I have a good relationship. They trust me. They don’t tell me at all what to do. At Merivale we run our restaurants as if we own the business. I’m responsible for managing the food costs, the labour costs. Ash Street felt like my restaurant. Now it’s Felix. They tell me what their inspirations are and I put in what I want to do. When we opened Ash Street Justin gave me a list of things he’d like to see on the menu. He put on that ‘a little pot of scrambled eggs’ so I added toasted brioche and salmon on the side. So we meet somewhere in the middle.
“You pick your brigade and treat them with respect. It’s up to them to prove themselves. Respect and getting on, enjoying your job, that’s what it’s about.” Lauren Murdoch, Head Chef, Felix
Felix is the biggest I’ve done. It’s inspired by French bistros in New York and Paris. A Bistro has a large volume and turnover, with something for everyone. I’ve gone from ordering five kilos of oysters to 60kg a week.
Opening it has meant moving from a kitchen with four staff to a kitchen with 40 staff. That means less time cooking and more time on people management and systems management. Having a brand new kitchen team of 40 is challenging until the staff get to know each other and learn to work together, which thankfully has happened quickly.
You pick your brigade and treat them with respect. It’s up to them to prove themselves. Respect and getting on, enjoying your job, that’s what it’s about.
Some people worked with me at Lotus, so I’ve had the same team for years. You’re physically close so you have to get to know people well. Last year I was off for three weeks, stuck in London because of the volcano, and they were doing specials as if they were me.
Thankfully we have had some great reviews already and it’s something that is very important to me personally and professionally. It’s also very important for the team to know the most critical of diners think they are doing a great job.