Playing with toys

 The TOYS collective, from left: Darren Robertson, Morgan McGlone, Adriano Zumbo, Mitchell Orr and Dan Hong.

The TOYS collective, from left: Darren Robertson, Morgan McGlone, Adriano Zumbo, Mitchell Orr and Dan Hong.

How do you showcase your talents if you’re not an established restaurateur? That’s the problem the TOYS collective set out to solve

It seems everywhere you look there is a new cooking show on TV. With guest chefs and judges everywhere, it’s hard to know how a young chef would be able to get attention for his or her work. But there is one way to stand out from the crowd and that is to form your own collective and showcase your talents to the Australian public and beyond. That is exactly what TOYS—Taste of Young Sydney—has done.

The whole concept was to introduce a new generation of chefs and to offer dinners that were creative, fun, interesting and, most importantly of all, demonstrated the array of talent young Australian and international chefs have to offer.

“The whole idea stimulated from a conversation with Sydney Morning Herald food writer Helen Greenwood who was bemused at the lack of exposure to young chefs in Sydney,” says Melissa Leong, Fooderati consultant.

“Basically, chefs were waiting for companies to organise dinners rather than taking the initiative of putting dinners on for themselves
to display their talents.”

Along with up-and-coming chef Morgan McGlone, a group of like-minded chefs with both Australian and international experience were assembled for a dinner that would be an unforgettable experience on the Sydney food calendar.

“There was a lot of ringing around and sitting in pubs discussing what we should do,” Leong says. “We had to decide what the inspiration would be, who we would get involved, and do something a bit risky.

“We really wanted these dinners to be memorable and we wanted people to be talking about the dinners in a year’s time.”

In 2010 the TOYS team presented four events showcasing the talent of chefs such as Dan Hong (Lotus), Morgan McGlone (Flinders Inn), Mitchell Orr (Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year 2010), Darren Robertson (ex-Tetsuya), Pasi Petanen (Marque), Yu-ching Lee, Adriano Zumbo, Monty Koludrovic (Bécasse), Daniel Wilson (Huxtable), John Paul Twomey (Cutler & Co;), and Aaron Turner (Loam) among others. Each dinner had a different theme encompassing something obvious or not so obvious associated with the industry. The themes for 2010 were ‘Phat’, ‘Skin & Bones’, ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Water’. For 2011 the theme ‘Ballz Deep’ was the flavour of the evening.

“We wanted to treat the chefs like artists,” Leong says. “We realised that we also needed to get everything right not just the food. Now we have incorporated sommeliers and music into the event. The first event sold out in a day and the last event sold out in less than an hour.”

TOYS is not just about talented young chefs—the collective includes young sommeliers Banjo Harris-Plane (Est.) and Richard Hargreave (Bilson’s), cocktail bartenders Luke Ashton (Ivy Pool Bar) and Mitchel O. Bushell (The Corner House), with front-of-house run by Kylie Javier (Duke Bistro), Louise Tamayo (Bécasse), Erin Thomenny (Alira) and Chauncey Sjostedt (Berta).

“We are branching out of Sydney into Melbourne and the concept has been taken up in New Zealand,” Leong says. “The aim is to take the branding around the world. We are certainly attracting a lot of interest.”

For Morgan McGlone, it was a call to action that he needed.

“We really wanted to make it a good, fun evening,” McGlone says. “We were keen to show off our talents and let people know that there are a good array of young chefs working in Sydney. There is nothing better than working with your mates. It wasn’t long before the idea caught on and we were in Melbourne showcasing a TOYS dinner. I can see us expanding to Queensland and South Australia.

“We don’t want to have a TOYS dinner every month because we want to keep it in a place where people want it more and more. It needs to be fresh and exciting.”

McGlone’s roots are in New Zealand. At the age of five he moved to Australia where his highlights as a chef included working in Summit and Luke Mangan’s CBD and Salt restaurants in Sydney.

Inbetween McGlone spent four yours as a fashion model agent in Paris and New York. “It was interesting,” he says. “It certainly gave me insight into the fashion world.”

But food is his passion and his desire to improve and explore his skills saw him undertake stints cooking in France and New York where he will be soon returning.

“We had to decide what the inspiration would be, who we would get involved, and do something a bit risky.” Melissa Leong, Consultant, Fooderati

“At the moment I am helping out at Young Alfred Restaurant and Love Supreme restaurants and I am enjoying it,” he says. “I am heading to New York in late July to open a barbecue and Asian food fusion restaurant.

“I am not sure how long I will be there but I won’t ever close the door on Australia,” says McGlone.

Darren Robertson was another chef who was quickly on board with TOYS. Born in England, Robertson honed his skills in the UK’s Kent and Sussex before working at the Michelin starred Gravetye Manor in West Sussex. He moved to Australia in 2001 and worked with Tetsuya Wakuda.

“I have worked at three of the dinners and they are a lot of fun,” Robertson says. “The chefs are talented and you gain some valuable insights as well as an eventful and entertaining night.

“There is also a good feeling out in the restaurant and we always receive positive feedback.”

Robertson has recently started up his own Table Sessions. These are dinners held in idiosyncratic venues in Sydney. They can be held wherever.

“I find a space that interests me and then hold a dinner there,” Robertson says. “I collaborate with another chef and it has been enjoyable so far.”

The dinners are proving immensely popular with patrons raving about them afterwards.

But it is not just the chefs who are essential to the success of TOYS dinners. Front-of-house staff are equally important to ensure the smooth flow of the evening. After all, order, precision, staff co-ordination and tables setting involve a lot of preparation. Welcome to the world of Kylie Javier, from Duke Bistro in the Flinders Botel in Darlinghurst, Sydney.

“With TOYS dinners you are basically starting a dinner from scratch,” Javier says. “So everything from the culinary to the glasses to having the right staff on board has to be organised. You are working with professionals so that is great but of course on the evening, not everyone knows each other so it can take a little while for everything to fall into place. It is essential that the night runs smoothly.”

Javier is currently part of the team at the Bentley Restaurant and Bar, working closely with chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hildebrandt. “At the moment it is great working full-time and then undertaking the TOYS dinners too,” she says. “Of course it is a lot of work but we do enjoy ourselves too.”

And if nothing else, that seems to be the underlying theme of Taste of Young Sydney dinners: fun, fantastic food and flavour throughout the evening. And with a bit of planning, it could soon become a worldwide theme.

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