A Look At Our Full List of Culinary Masters 2019

We asked the best behind the burners to nominate the young guns you need to know about. Introducing the class of 2019.

By Joanna Savill 19/12/2019

What makes a great young chef? How to spot talent and how to nurture it? As with any business endeavour, there’s more to making it in the restaurant world than simply putting good food on a plate.

When we asked some of the best in the business to name the leading chefs of the future, concepts like “authenticity” and “belief systems” were clearly just as important to them as “natural talent” and “hard work”.

And so, without further faffing about, we’re excited to present the Robb Report Culinary Masters of 2019.

1. O Tama Carey

LANKAN FILLING STATION, SYDNEY

O Tama Carey

NOMINATOR: PAUL CARMICHAEL – MOMOFUKU SEIOBO, SYDNEY

“We’re in a time when people are open to more things,” says Paul Carmichael, the force behind the Caribbean-influenced menu at Momofuku Seiobo, the Sydney offshoot of the US brand run by super-chef David Chang. Here, you’ll try feisty, spice-laden dishes in a sleek but lively fine-dining space.

“Our cooking is a representation and exploration of the Caribbean region,” he explains. “I sometimes feel like a fringe dweller. But I believe if you do good things and are genuine about it, people generally like it. True passion and the ability to put it out there is definitely part of it.”

It’s a make-or-break quality that he recognises in another “fringe-dweller”, the chef and creator of Lankan Filling Station in East Sydney – O Tama Carey. “She loves what she does,” Carmichael says. “Feeding people, cooking, making people happy: that sort of stuff. The stuff that matters.”

Maldive fish? String hoppers? Short eats and pan rolls? For many, a meal at O Tama Carey’s tiny East Sydney eatery is a journey into the unknown – to the Sri Lanka her family hails from. And while her career has seen her cook everything from Chinese (with Kylie Kwong) to Italian (at Vini and Berta), it was years before she set up her own kitchen.

“I didn’t always dream of having my own place”, Carey says. “But in my mind I’d always wanted to do a hopper thing.”

Hoppers, in case you’re wondering, are soft starchy bases used to sop up rich and tangy curry sauces – whether a bowl-like lattice of rice-flour noodles (string hoppers) or the more pancake-like egg hoppers, both Sri Lankan staples. Once she’d decided that these would be the focus, Carey’s research included trying to learn her family’s recipes.

“I’d travelled to Sri Lanka, but while I knew the food, I’d never really done it professionally,” she says. “It was only when I started experimenting with making curry powders and actually cracked those that it all started to make sense.”

2. Trisha Greentree

10 WILLIAM ST, SYDNEY

NOMINATOR: DANIELLE ALVAREZ – FRED’S, SYDNEY

Their restaurants may be a stone’s throw apart, but there’s more than the ‘hood (Sydney’s Paddington) that brings Danielle Alvarez and Trisha Greentree together.

Both find their chief inspiration in fresh produce, which shines through in their cooking – it’s an approach that’s placed Fred’s among Sydney’s best. To Danielle, it’s a focus that will bring Trisha her own share of glory.

“I think true success is all about having a really strong belief system,” says Alvarez, who spent time at Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse in California. “You need to have ownership of your vision and people that back you.

“I love this industry, it’s like family. And I feel so happy about the position of women now. Even compared to five years ago, it’s shifted from ‘How do we get more women?’, to ‘How do we keep more women?’. That’s a good place to be.”

“Pure curiosity and instinct” took uni-graduate Trisha Greentree into her first restaurant job while waiting to start her master’s degree. From the hatted Bird Cow Fish to working under Dan Hunter at Victoria’s Brae – Australia’s ultimate destination restaurant – she too did her time.

She also found her role models.

“People who genuinely love to cook and serve others,” she says. “People who live and breathe hospitality, not just professionally but wholeheartedly every day.”

Now heading up a small but like-minded team at cult restaurant/wine bar 10 William St, she’s found the perfect platform for her produce-focussed ethos. For Greentree, it’s all about sustainability and thoughtful farming practices.

“Nothing is more uplifting and inspiring than energetic vegetables that grew in healthy, fertile soil,” she adds.

3. Josh Niland

SAINT PETER AND THE FISH BUTCHERY, SYDNEY

NOMINATOR: KYLIE KWONG – CHEF, AUTHOR AND RESTAURATEUR

They say it takes at least 10 years to become an overnight sensation. And, not yet 30, Sydney chef Josh Niland is certainly on that trajectory. With a groundbreaking Sydney restaurant and fish business, a just-released book (The Whole Fish Cookbook) and a global tour to go with it, he’s poised for the kind of success many would merely dream of.

Three years ago, Niland and wife Julie opened Saint Peter on Sydney’s Oxford Street. It was to be no ordinary fish restaurant. From endless experimentation with less-used species and a ferocious no-waste approach, a whole new set of envelope-pushing techniques and dishes emerged.

“The potential use of fish that goes beyond the fillet inspires me every day,” Niland says. “Minimising waste and reducing our impact on the environment around us should be an innate quality in all of us, like maths or English.”

From a tartare of aged tuna served with a fish-eye cracker to chef-wife Julie’s immaculate lemon tart for dessert, it’s all bloody delicious. And as for Niland, he’s well on his way.

No stranger to national and international fame, Kylie Kwong is one of Australia’s most highly respected chefs. And she knows what it takes to get there. “An innate passion for cooking, a sense of generosity, a crystal-clear vision, an underlying commitment and focus…”

She’s also a huge Josh Niland fan. “Josh is a force of nature,” Kwong explains. “He’s highly creative, technically super-impressive, very, very bright on an emotional and intellectual level, has his feet firmly planted on the ground and supports sustainability, locally grown and harvested produce, ethical business practices and so on.” And, Kwong adds, “He’s so pleasant, humble and easy to deal with.”

4. Tom Hishon

ORPHANS KITCHEN AND DAILY BREAD, AUCKLAND, NZ

NOMINATOR: AL BROWN -DEPOT EATERY AND OYSTER BAR, FEDERAL DELICATESSEN, BEST UGLY BAGELS AND MORE, NZ

Al Brown is something of a hospitality godfather in his native New Zealand – with countless awards, and food businesses, to his name. He’s also well liked, has a great love for his industry and happily champions the next generation of chefs.

As Brown sees it, there are some fundamentals to success.

“To understand and learn the laws of basic cookery and the importance of developing a palate,” he says. “Too many young chefs these days just want to know how to use the sous-vide machine and arrange edible flowers with a pair of surgical tweezers.”

Which is why he has a lot of time for Orphans Kitchen’s Tom Hishon: “Tom is an intelligent chef who cooks with his heart. He manages to create delicious tasting food thatis also innovative, and without gimmick. I have a massive respect for what he does. He’s an all-round good guy, with a terrific philosophy around connection and love of the land.”

Tom Hishon has no hesitation in articulating his restaurant’s philosophy. “I utilise what grows around us, whether native ingredients, produce from community gardens, or from amazing farmers, fishermen or hunters,” he says. It’s a stance that’s earned him widespread respect in culinary circles and titles such as NZ Chef of the Year.

A manifesto on the Orphans Kitchen website extolls virtues such as “purity, simplicity and sustainability”, alongside more practical considerations such as “respect for New Zealand’s erratic weather”.

It means a regularly changing menu – though you can expect dishes like locally caught tarume (the Maori word for snapper) pan-seared and roasted in butter, served with a bordelaise-like sauce made from an intense fish-head and collar stock, and with local collard greens on the side.

“Super simple, but that’s what people are wanting,” he says. “That’s what I want when I eat out – good produce and a couple of nice techniques on the plate. I wanted to do a fresh take on New Zealand cuisine and our national food, and at the end of the day, just have fun.”

Fun includes an annual “root to petal” month where the whole menu is transformed into vegetarian and vegan dishes. “It allows us to explore vegetables the same way you might treat meat,” Hishon explains,

The dishes he explores include cauliflower cheese with pickled, brined cauliflower, served besides soured, smoked macadamia sour cream. “You feel great after you eat it.”

“I knew when I was 13 that I wanted to be a chef,” Hishon concludes. “I started in a dish pit in the local town, worked for great chefs in London, and essentially just tried to develop my own food style.”

5. Jo Barrett

OAKRIDGE, YARRA VALLEY

NOMINATOR: BEN SHEWRY – ATTICA, MELBOURNE

The force behind one of our best restaurants, Ben Shewry has won recognition way beyond our borders, including several World’s 50 Best Restaurants listings for Attica.

He’s always run his own race – something Jo Barrett appreciates. “I’ve always looked up to Ben,” she says. “And I love that he’s never been afraid to be creative.”

There’s plenty of mutual admiration here. When asked to nominate the young chef he’s most impressed with right now, Shewry had no hesitation in naming Barrett.

“When you are looking around at young chefs now, things have changed a bit,” says Shewry. “They’ve grown up with tools that didn’t exist for me – Instagram, for example.

But Jo doesn’t subscribe to that level of bullshit. She has such a high skill level and skill set. She focusses on all the foundational pieces you need to make a great chef.”

“I’ve always wanted to be a chef,” says Barrett. “My fondest food memories are of the veggie patch we shared with our neighbours and one of them teaching me how to make ginger beer and scones… I love gardening. And I love food!”

Co-head chef in regional Victoria with her partner Matt Stone, Jo now has the huge Oakridge Winery vegetable garden to draw on. And aside from running the dessert and pastry side of the menu, she bakes bread, makes cheese, cures salami and has even learned the pastry chef’s art of pastillage, otherwise known as ‘sugar work’.

“I figured if I wanted to be a good chef, I needed to know every section,” she explains. “Before I came to Oakridge
I was looking to be a butcher. But I signed up to do pastry and I’ve been a bit stuck in it ever since.”

A connection with the earth and the ingredients of the country is fundamental to Barrett. “I’ve always felt very spiritual, responsible for our planet,” she says. “Now, it’s about bringing the technical in with the spiritual to create nourishing food and great experiences for people.”

6. Kenny McHardy

MANUKA WOODFIRE KITCHEN, FREMANTLE, WA

NOMINATOR: DAVID COOMER -TRUFFLE FARMER AND CONSULTANT CHEF, ISLAND MARKET, TRIGG, WA

As the name of his Fremantle restaurant indicates, Kenny McHardy’s cooking is all about flames, coals and embers. And like many of this year’s Culinary Masters nominees, it’s also all about direct connections to farmers and producers.

After working under big names like Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing, it was during a short stint in WA’s Great South West that the penny dropped.

“I spent a lot of time with producers and growers and fishermen and farmers,” he says. “And it sparked a concept in me that I’d never taken seriously before.”

Next step was a place of his own. That was four years ago in a former pizzeria “at the wrong end of town. We also had a one year old and a four year old so our timing was really great.” And while there are still a few pizzas on the menu – including, in season, a truffle number with potato andmornay sauce – signature dishes include a terrine of Dorper lamb and a flatbread with smoked eggplant baba ghanoush.

“Cooking never made sense to me before. But this way of working is such a natural thing to do.”

Known for such outposts as Star Anise, Pata Negra and Fuyu, WA legend David Coomer was increasingly focussing on his 11-year-old passion project – a truffle farm in the beautiful town of Manjimup – when he first worked with McHardy and a friendship and mutual admiration was born.

“Kenny is a great guy,” says Coomer. “He passionately supports local producers and works in a kitchen the size of a wardrobe, with just one piece of equipment – a wood-fired oven – from which he cooks super delicious, Mediterranean- inspired food. Manuka is just your perfect local.”

7. Hugh Allen

VUE DE MONDE, MELBOURNE

NOMINATOR: SHANNON BENNETT VUE DE MONDE, MELBOURNE

Shannon Bennett was just 24 when he opened an edgy new-wave eatery in Melbourne’s Carlton. Almost 20 years on, that restaurant is now a beacon of contemporary Australian fine dining, set on top of the city’s flamboyant Rialto Tower, and with a young head chef, Hugh Allen, 24, driving the kitchen. It’s not hard to see the similarities.

“Yeah, I see a lot of me in him,” Bennett says. “He communicates very well and also takes criticism better than he takes compliments – very similar to how I think.”

While Bennett sees the industry changes of the last decade as positive, he’s also felt his share of controversy over wages and other business practices. “We need to get rid of the tall poppy syndrome in this country and celebrate aspiration,” he states. “Customers’ expectations are changing, too. They’re really looking for aspirational dining.”

Following his leader’s mantra, it’s all about aspiration for Hugh Allen – and it comes from his three years at the ultra-famous Noma in Copenhagen (currently No. 2 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list).

“Noma was a tough time but it was amazing, even though I was exhausted for three years,” Allen recalls. “But the energy was incredible – everyone had come just to be at Noma.”

Returning to Vue, where he’d earlier completed his apprenticeship, he was inspired by the Noma philosophy of celebrating ‘time and place’.

Now he’s bent on showcasing the best of Australia to overseas visitors and locals alike with dishes such as hand-dived sea urchin on bunya nut cream, and kangaroo cured on a warm salt rock.

“I want to celebrate Australia. And I want to be somewhere people are excited to come – the best of the best,” he adds.

8. Kane Pollard

TOPIARY, ADELAIDE

NOMINATOR: JOCK ZONFRILLO – ORANA, ADELAIDE.

Jock Zonfrillo is on a high. He’s just wrapped up a two-month pop-up in Sydney, bringing the native-ingredient-centred tasting menu of his hit Adelaide fine-diner Orana to a wider audience, and receiving great acclaim in the process.

“Everyone loved it,” Zonfrillo says excitedly. “It’s an acknowledgement of the value of those ingredients and the culture they’re coming from.”

Temporary is also a way forward, he says, at a time when the traditional bricks-and-mortar model is challenged by soaring rents, wages and fit-out costs. And he believes younger chefs have already worked that out.

“When I was young, people had to push me and drag me kicking and screaming in the right direction. But someone like Kane is intelligent enough to know that he is good and that success will come for the right reasons.”

Kane is Kane Pollard – the young chef behind Topiary, a simple modern-Australian eatery in a plant nursery on the city fringe. Pollard’s cooking has wowed even the chefs Jock hosts for the annual Tasting Australia festival.

“And yet it’s not trying to be anything other than a really nice restaurant in a garden centre – one that recognises its customer base and works to its strengths.”

Level-headed and below the radar, Pollard is already where he needs to be says Jock: “He cooks delicious food with good produce and knows where it comes from. If the next generation are all like him, we’re in very safe hands.”

Kane Pollard grew up in the Adelaide Hills as part of a market-gardening family. “Holidays were spent pulling stinging nettles from the rows of rhubarb or planting seeds for the next crop of Brussels sprouts. I’d go exploring, wading through the masses of wild fennel, dodging spiky chestnuts or picking blackberries. I think that’s where my interest in ingredients, and how your senses react, began.”

Starting in local pubs at 15, he picked up the basics and went on to learn the tougher lessons, like the importance of discipline, quality control and organisation in the kitchen. “I also learned that creativity is what keeps you positive. And the more I pushed myself to create the more I wanted to jump out of bed in the morning.”

Fast-forward to now and the beautiful garden surrounds of his Adelaide-foothills restaurant. “Being involved in the planting, growing, harvesting, foraging and searching is really important to me.” He also shares the strong no-waste philosophy of today’s best and brightest.

Ultimately though, Pollard’s real motivation is his creativity.  And making people happy. “If someone says that was the best dessert they’ve ever had, then it’s a good day, because you know no matter what, they’ll always remember that.”

 

 

 

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