An Appetite for Excellence
What’s now become known as the Appetite for Excellence program began out of my frustration at trying to keep our talented young professionals from leaving the hospitality industry.
‘Skill shortage’ is a term you hear thrown around a hell of a lot. Once you open your own restaurant you soon become disillusioned and depressed at how hard it is to find good apprentices.
It’s the reason behind my philosophy of keeping staff members who are at the top of their game. If you look after the good ones, they’ll stay and deliver on your vision. Marty, Matt L, Matt M, Shannon and MJ, for instance, have been with me for years and are still with me now. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty. In this industry it’s a bloody rarity.
Once you found an apprentice chef who you thought was up to the task it became an ongoing battle to keep them motivated. There wasn’t really much industry-based motivation for them and as a result, a lot of them were just chucking it in.
Apprentices were getting paid less than cooks who had no formal qualifications. Underqualified chefs were quite often getting paid cash in hand and given sous chef titles because they were good at making pizza. It was demoralising for young apprentice chefs. Why bother doing your apprenticeship on bugger all money when you can get a gig in a high-volume food service outlet and get paid practically double for flipping burgers and re-heating sauces?
The problem was especially dire down at Moorish, our restaurant in Bondi, where we would have to ramp up the chefs in summer. We never employed people without qualifications, it was a principle of mine. It’s the grounding you needed to have if you were serious about being a chef, and the sort of chef I wanted in my kitchens had to be serious about their career full stop.
We’d place ads week after week after week. It was a really difficult situation. You have to remember these guys are young, they are just starting to party legally, they’re all becoming adults and here I am wanting them to work 60-hour weeks and forgo their social life. We lost a number of quality apprentices because they just had no motivation. They were as disillusioned as we were. They couldn’t see the value in working long hours, doing repetitive jobs in the kitchen for 4 years.
Many of them chose the industry because of the whole glamorous celebrity chef side of things. Apprentices soon came to the harsh realisation that the four years of torture were not going to turn them into Jamie Oliver overnight.
I wanted to instil a feeling of opportunity in them, motivate and reward the young guys who were working hard in our three restaurants.
At the time, my business partner Lucy Allon and I were working with Lexus and their fine dining Encore program.
We sat down to brainstorm how we’d get the program off the ground and approached our business partners to become sponsors. Lexus loved the idea of naming rights so that was a no-brainer.
We got a few other sponsors onboard and Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic even got involved in the initial year.
This year, the program wouldn’t be possible without the support from Virgin Australia, Tourism Australia, Sanpellegrino and Porkstar.
When we first started we only needed a small panel of industry experts. Tetsuya Wakuda, Guy Grossi, Lyndey Milan, Anthony Musarra and Philip Johnson. They don’t get paid for the gig but what they get is inspired young kids filtering through the industry, which is worth more than your weight in gold.
We now have a panel of experts who are some of Australia’s best chefs and restaurateurs, all eager to discover emerging hospitality superstars.
This year we’ve introduced new judges for the 2018 program including Dan Hong (Mr Wong), Analiese Gregory (Franklin), Kylie Javier Ashton (Momofuku Seiobo) and Duncan Welgemoed (Africola).
They’ll join long-time judges Peter Gilmore (Quay and Bennelong), Sam Christie (Longrain, The Apollo, Cho Cho San), Nick Hildebrandt (The Bentley Group), Guy Grossi (Grossi Florentino) and Lisa Van Haandel (Longrain and Long Song).
Winners have been given once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and chances to work in some of the most amazing restaurants in the world. In 2005, the first Young Chef Kenneth Bryce from Gianni Bintage Cellar got the opportunity to do work experience at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in the UK and to represent Australia in the Sanpellegrino Cup.
Last year’s Young Chef winner Shui Ishizaka is about to head off this weekend on his amazing profile-winning trip, with stages planned at Meadowood in the Napa Valley, Blue Hill in New York City and Noma in Copenhagen.
It still surprises me how important these awards have become in the hospitality calendar Down Under and it surprises me even more that the Appetite for Excellence program is now in its thirteenth year!
Applications are now open until April 9, so let the search begin for Australia’s 2018 Young Chef, Young Waiter and Young Restaurateur.
Through our two development programs, Appetite for Excellence and The Inspired Series, and the support of hospitality colleges, schools, and Australia’s hospitality industry leaders, we’re doing everything we can to educate and support our young up-and-coming industry professionals
Being a chef and restaurateur, the hospitality industry has been a big part of my life, so for me it’s important to give something back to the industry that has given me so much.