The wonderful Proudfoots Boathouse is famous in our district and way beyond. Its history is well documented and widely known; my own perhaps less so. Here is a potted version of the path that led me to be at the helm of this magnificent landmark.
I took over the Boathouse in July of this year. Having been in partnership with the Previous owners for a period before that and having worked for them for a short time also.
I started my apprenticeship at an institute famous for quality chef training in Melbourne, Cracklins on Swan. Then under the management of industry stalwart, Alan Dinnar, it was well know for commencing passionate cooks and giving them an introduction into commercial cooking. Whilst at Cracklins, Chef Brendan Cowie, a superior, talented chef, gave me a crash course in all aspects of traditional restaurant kitchens, brigades and a foundation understanding of Modern Australian cuisine. The restaurant specialised in French, Cajun, Creole and Japanese. Sounds like a mismatch but at this time in the industry, fusion was new, exciting and exceptionally popular.
The year was 1997 and this was a very important time for the transition towards modern cuisine in Australia. Molecular gastronomy was still in the realm of some hyper-elite in Europe; the equipment used in this form of cooking was still in science laboratories, and chefs were chomping at the bit to break free from the constraints of classical cooking, but wary of repeating some of the disastrous mistakes of the ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ movement 10 years earlier.
As chefs tried to break free, learning from the excellence of Marco Pierre White and his peers in London, there was the constant reminder that before you could go forward with your own style, you must still learn the fundamentals of French cuisine. Culinary terminology was still all in French, brigade positions were given French titles, and it was a dog-eat-dog world of competition over who had the most refined knowledge. Australia became a fantastic breeding ground for chefs who were intensely trained, working long and mad hours, industrious, resolute, some crazy alcoholics, but above all who had the balls to hack it at any level.
Time passed and I continued my apprenticeship studying at the Culinary Academy at the Hotel Sofitel. While working at Jacques Reymond under Jacques and John Lepp, trade school was by no means a burden here but rather an honour. We would meet at Langton’s in Little Collins Street for breakfast (one of the first places to be serving sous vide eggs) to talk about our restaurants and dishes, be brash, tell each other how much we are going to be better at school, get geared up and go in. Students came from Marchettis Latin, Matteos The Point, La Restaurant, and Scusami just to name a few. Students went on to open restaurants like Reserve, Robertos and many more.
During this time, my greatest learning curve was participation in the AHA Darryl Cox Memorial Trophy. Every Sunday morning for 15 weeks we would arrive, in immaculate presentation, at the hotel at 5:30am to perform a test run of the competition. We would have the likes of Gabriel Martin, George Colombaras, Marcus Moore and Simon Humble critiquing and teaching intensive lessons to prepare us for the competition. We achieved Bronze, which we were happy with out of 20 amazing teams, and there is a medal somewhere in my life, but the experience and knowledge that resulted were priceless.
My first qualified position was under Thierry Vauzelle at Chez Bob in Armadale. A marvelous chef, mentor and person, Thierry grounded my knowledge in the prestige, romance and technique of traditional French Bistro cuisine. I distinctly remember a conversation once about trying to input some variation into the making of a Cassoulet we were preparing. Thierry nigh on went and got the guillotine out for me at the mere thought of messing with Cassoulet! This is the foundation in classical cooking that we had to have before we could try anything new.
Moving to Warrnambool in 2003, my career took a change of direction heading out onto the Floor and working for the Dark side as a waiter, or as too often asked “How do you feel about being a chef who is now a waitress?”. After several years as a waiter under the amazing Ryan Sessions at Merrijig Inn Restaurant, I returned to the kitchen and floor in 2009 under my own governance.
I opened my first restaurant at the beautiful Basalt Vineyard in Killarney. Here was an amazing lesson on the fly! We took over the house with the idea of having it as a hub for producing cakes and pastries for BrightBird café and to produce the food for our catering business. After a few weeks, we knew that this was not going to suffice, so we decided to open the restaurant to the public, on New Year’s Day. Sitting on the veranda waiting from 9:00am until 10:00am when the first customer arrived, chain smoking, not knowing what was going to happen. Then BOOM! It was on. 30,000 customers in the first few months! It was here I was really able to establish myself in the industry in South West Victoria.
A few years on, after an amazing stint at the world renowned Royal Mail in Dunkeld as the Sous Chef, we found ourselves here at the famous Proudfoots Boathouse. It was always a venue I had in the back of my mind, never quite seeing the opportunity coming my way, but it did. This is undoubtedly the pinnacle of my career to date. Although the learning curve on a venture of this size has been steep, I have fallen in love with the burgeoning business, the beautiful setting and the marvelous people who make it what it is .It is my privilege to be your host at this stunning landmark venue.
This is our story so far, stayed tuned for the next chapter.