The co-owner of Fins at Kingscliff in Northern NSW on the importance of doing what you love, and finding time for surfing
I first went to the University of Technology in Sydney and got a business degree. But instead of following that, I became a chef because I followed my passion. I wanted a job where I could go surfing, so I needed to work at night, and I always loved food. I’m very happy I did. But I learned a lot about marketing, my major, which stood me in good stead. You can have the best product in the world, but there’s no point if no-one’s buying. I can look at a profit and loss, and make a business plan. That’s as important as doing good food. The other essential element is passion—I love running restaurants. I love the pressure, I love the theatre… I get totally excited about fresh fish.
We’ve had three ‘Fins’. First at Brunswick Heads, then Byron Bay and now at Kingscliff, NSW. This is definitely our best incarnation. My partner Morgan is the manager and sommelier, there’s a great staff and excellent head chef—he’s intelligent and was an engineer—a big talent. It’s a great collaboration.
How many times do you go to a restaurant and the chef’s raison d’être is to throw as much as they have on things? A really good chef is about what they don’t do. That’s what makes the difference. I don’t use cream except in dessert. I use a local organic salt that conveys flavour. I’m onto a local macadamia nut oil—so the food miles are down—with a smoke point of 210, so I get a wonderful crust on my fish and people aren’t getting an oil that’s spoilt. I get lemons from my home at Peasants Creek. I’m happy for my food to be different. People love it and I don’t give up anything in flavour. And when people eat here they come away with a good energy. It’s pretty healthy cuisine.
People are looking for some magic when they’re been working all day, and they want a break from the humdrum and it’s our place to give that. Our staff are very professional, our wine list is very serious and we have a bar for people who are young. My friends with restaurants in the city say we’re cheap for the quality. We’re sub-$40 for mains, as we have lower costs here. We have without doubt the best raw materials of any seafood restaurant in Australia: line-caught, prawns without chemicals. There are not many people who leave and don’t say ‘wow, seriously great restaurant’.
“We have innovative food, the best produce, best staff and we have a life here as well. We don’t rip off the staff, we pay them as much as we can and we try to be reasonable with days off.” Steve Snow, Co-owner, Fins at Kingscliffe.
We have innovative food, the best produce, best staff and we have a life here as well. We don’t rip off the staff, we pay them as much as we can and we try to be reasonable with days off. People in here are happy; I get excited with fresh fish, I have a great place, I get to go surfing,
I work 10 or 12 hours. I balance it.
I love to write too. I’ve written a lot for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. I’ve done a cookbook, but not a usual one. I didn’t want to do another ‘me-too’ cookbook. There’s different angles, and a whole chapter on vegetables. There’s another coming out in September called Cooking on the Coast.
I also do a lot of guest cheffing. I like the pressure. I like the fact people have paid a lot of money. I like to come up with different angles and training the staff. I’ve cooked in Morocco and the King of Morocco came along. I did the opening of the Sheraton in Portugal. I’ve been on the island in Fiji where Keith Richards fell out of the coconut tree.
If people want to own a restaurant and they haven’t got experience, I ask if they’re very rich and are happy to
give away money. If they’re experienced and understand the food and business side, then I say you’d better love it, you’d better not do it for the money. And in time, find a bit of work/life balance. No-one can work the way you’ve got to work with any head-space and come up with stuff that’s creative and new without it.