Arthur Yannakopoulos, of Garnishes Catering in Brisbane, has just turned 80. After 60 years in the industry, he has no plans to retire. By Frank Leggett
“I’m originally from the Kalamata region of Greece but left there some 60 years ago and caught a boat to Sydney. I soon made my way north and have lived and worked in Queensland ever since.
“I started working in a number of small restaurants, getting work wherever I could. One of my early jobs was making cappuccinos in the Carolina on Queen Street—the first coffee lounge in Brisbane. I moved around between Brisbane, the Gold Coast and outback Queensland. In the ’60s, I worked at two well-known Brisbane restaurants, Kabana and Olims.
“Being a single father with three children, I took jobs wherever I could get them, working evenings after completing day shifts. I eventually became a chef for the Carousel Hotel at Kangaroo Point and worked there for 30 years. This was followed by 20 years as chef at the Admiralty Motel in the Brisbane suburb of Hamilton.
“For the past 15 years, I’ve been working for Garnishes Catering. At present, my day starts at 5am when I prepare fruit platters, do some cooking and set up for the day. I really enjoy the work and the early start as I hate to be rushed. I have plenty of time to prepare before anyone else comes in.
“I often mentor young people starting out in the industry and have had a few apprentices over the years. Sometimes they make it and sometimes they move on to other careers. One became a truck driver because being a chef was too much hard work. In this industry, you have to be committed to the job and that’s all there is to it. You can’t just walk in and wander around.
“The best advice I have for any young person starting out in hospitality is to be reliable and work hard. Don’t look at the clock. Start early if required and if you have to stay late, so be it. In this game, there is no finishing time and no starting time—you just need to get the job done.
“The best advice I have for any young person starting out in hospitality is to be reliable and work hard. Don’t look at the clock. Start early if required and if you have to stay late, so be it.”—Arthur Yannakopoulos
“The most important thing is to turn up on time and be ready to work. No restaurant or café owner can tell their customers that they haven’t got a cook today but can you come and eat tomorrow? You’ve got to be reliable and have your mind on the job.
“Working for Garnishes Catering is challenging and very satisfying. No two jobs are the same and they can vary in size from quite small gatherings to events with 500 people. You never know what’s ahead so you need to be flexible and take whatever comes. I find it a very exciting work environment.
“We have a big job in Longreach coming up where we will cater for about 1000 people. I’ll be going along with the other staff members to help out and ensure everything goes smoothly. Back in 1961, one of my first jobs was working in a café in Winton, so it will be great to explore that area again.
“The industry has certainly changed over the past 60 years. When I first started, most restaurants served a big steak on a plate with three vegetables. The only vegetables were potatoes, pumpkin and peas. The potatoes and the pumpkin were always mashed and the peas weren’t fresh or even frozen. They came dried in a big bag and had to be soaked for 24 hours before you cooked them.
“When broccoli first came in, children would say, ‘Mummy, there’s a little tree on my plate.’ A lot of people would complain about being served cucumber when we first started using zucchini. Now everyone loves Australian produce and beautiful fresh veggies prepared in all kinds of ways.
“I love what I do and have enjoyed a lifetime spent cooking and feeding people. I look forward to coming to work—the staff and management are wonderful people who I consider to be friends. I have no plans to retire. I’ll be doing this until they tell me, ‘You get out of here. We don’t want to carry you out, so you better walk out.’ Of course, they are all far too nice for that to ever happen!”