The co-founder of Bayswater Brasserie and The Boathouse at Blackwattle Bay on nurturing, and creating a framework for talent
I really love learning, it’s no different now at 51 from when I was 17. I had a really interesting start to my career in Salter’s Restaurant in Auckland, which was a small restaurant way ahead of its time. Barrington Salter introduced me to a whole world of Mediterranean cooking with a French basis which still influences me.
I had some early experience in Europe at L’Auberge, one of only two restaurants in Holland to have a Michelin Star. Everything I’d read about was coming across the benchtop—wild mushrooms, feather or fur game.
From there I went to starting Bayswater Brasserie, running my own restaurant. I was very young. By anyone’s standards it was ambitious and we were pretty naive. We had enough energy and dedication to make it work.
I felt there was a need for more casual dining. We’d come out of era of poached chicken with raspberry sauce. We made it about lifestyle—the idea of going to a restaurant and being able to order sometime healthy and simple, having it an extension of people’s own dining rooms, with a bit of buzz and talking to others that were like-minded.
We paid respect to good quality ingredients. We made everything whole. I’d make bread, the dessert tray. We’d buy whole lamb or veal and break it down. We had the volume and the capacity to do that.
In 1993 I had one of the best, most memorable experiences. I worked a stage in the kitchen at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. I couldn’t believe how dedicated Alice Walters and the people who worked there were. They had that nurturing thing. When I left she gave me a pile of books. On the same trip I discovered the ‘Acme Bread Company’.
I moved to The Boathouse in 1997. My goal was not to be the one recognised behind the stove, or the one people wanted to see. I wanted to manage it and pursue other things. There’s a lot of very talented people out there and we created a framework they could develop in. We’ve had a couple of really successful chefs there.
There are two types of restaurants: restaurants that process and restaurant that nurture. Ours is one of the latter.
“There are two types of restaurants: restaurants that process and restaurant that nurture. Ours is one of the latter.”
I read a really interesting review of two London restaurants recently. The reviewer went to The Ledbury, and found it was the Brett Graham’s night off and the staff were running the show. Then he went to Marcus Wareing’s Restaurant and Marcus was everywhere. The reviewer had the most delightful evening at the Ledbury. Wareing wasn’t doing anything wrong but I get sick of hearing about the chef thing—being a chef is hard work and it is a huge deal but it’s not all about him. The team is what makes it.
Michael Klausen was involved in The Boathouse in the early days and we started to develop the bread business. Michael now runs Brasserie Bread. We set it up with the intention he’d take it over. We’ve stuck with the core principles of making great bread, not compromising on anything. We brought a new partner on board with the bread about four years ago. David’s background is IT. He’s put in a strong system that runs the bread company—orders are turned into recipes.
I’m very forward-looking. I try to look ahead. I like to be excited about what’s coming up.
In 1999 Michael Allpress asked me to set up Allpress Espresso in Australia. He and I grew up together. We were very careful about getting it set up right so it didn’t compromise our friendship.
We run the bread company and the coffee company now with a board. I wouldn’t have thought of that five years ago. It’s been really illuminating having older people with different skills and experience. We spend a lot of time in strategic development.
Now I’m moving to the UK for two years. London is strikingly similar to Sydney 10 years ago. People are starting to take notice of coffee as a culinary thing, rather than as a commodity.