The face of Flying Fish puts his success down to learning the basics, trusting your partner and maintaining the honesty in every day’s work.
“If you’re going to do something, you may as well be the best. I always had high goals. I was never going to be just a chef. When I got to Bilson’s I had a great mentor in Leon Fink. He taught me about business—how to read a balance sheet, the bottom line.
“I quickly saw I had to learn about hotels and the corporate world—especially human resources. There are so many people in the industry who try and assert themselves.
“I had a big break at the All Seasons in Darling Harbour. I put my hand up and spent time with the finance controller, learning how to read and write budgets, control costs. All the basics are in hotel management. Rule number one is stick to your budget. But half the industry doesn’t even know how to write a budget.
“Con Dedes and I discussed my job at Flying Fish over three weeks, but we realised within minutes we could work together. Eventually he said, ‘Right, what do you want?’. I said a partnership and he said OK. It was done on a handshake. Then I said after five years I wanted to be a director and now I am. It’s allowed me to do what I do without hindrance.
“The keys to our partnership are mutual respect, trust and honesty. I respect the fact someone trusted me with a large investment. He backed me and in return I pay it back. We’ve always got our eyes open for another opportunity. But we call Flying Fish the ‘mothership’ and you should never forget the mothership.
“Flying Fish has become a strong brand and we planned that from the start. I said ‘we can be Flying Fish with Peter Kuruvita’, but if we push that guests will expect Peter Kuruvita to always be in the kitchen. So Flying Fish is the brand and we have signature dishes—there will always be mud crab, there will always be tapas and curry. It’s been a long time since anyone said ‘we didn’t see you in the kitchen’. They don’t expect it and I don’t go in every day.
“I trust my staff. If they say ‘I need you in the kitchen’, I’ll go. If they need me on the floor, that’s where I’ll be. It’s not micro-managing, it’s multi-tasking. And that’s about longevity.
“I respect all the staff who work here. I tell them ‘you don’t work for me, we’re working together so you can have a good life and I can have a good life’. I say ‘thank you’ all the time. We’ve not lost anyone from here for so long—I’m very proud of that. Our kitchen staff return for a second or third shot.
“I don’t ever believe this job is finished. The day you think that, you begin to fail. You are only as good as your last meal. They are guests. They are not clients. They are not customers. They are guests you have invited into a space you’ve created.
“Complaints have to be handled well. Understand the guest has not had a good experience. I call them and apologise—even if they’re obnoxious, they should still have a good night. We always invite them back.
“If you do what you do with honesty, the rewards will come. Having said that, it is very important to advertise. I look at the big car companies, they advertise all the time. One or two per cent of your income should go onto advertising.
“Pick your markets properly. We’ve advertised on radio since we opened. But recently, we realised we were doing it in the wrong time slot. We’ve change the time, changed the presenter and business has increased.
“Pay your suppliers. They’ve already paid for the stuff you’ve got, so why keep money that doesn’t belong to you? And they know everyone.
“We’re fortunate in this industry. Every day we create. Every day is different. Every day there is a challenge. The food changes. Even with all its challenges, it’s an exciting industry to be in. Making money is a bonus—but you’ll never make a fortune.