High-calibre young guns

Twenty-five of the city’s finest chefs mingle while gaining a backstage insight into the workings of one of the world’s premier entertainment destinations, writes James Gyore.

AS we settled in at Nobu in the Crown complex for the first ever Melbourne Executive Chefs Club, I couldn’t help wonder how I would feel if this was me hosting in “my” dining room. 

From the calibre of guests attending, including recently-hatted chefs Adam D’Sylva of Coda and John Lawson of No. 8, frankly I would have been seriously stressed - even for a meet and greet. 

It didn’t take long, though, for the array of quality canapés on offer to show that Crown today meant business. 

And the starting presentation of Japanese beers was a fantastic preview of the tastes and expertise we were all about to experience. 

All around me chefs said their hellos and struck up new acquaintanceships. 

I soon met Mark Ryder of Qantas Catering, whom I have a great deal of respect for, along with chef great Mark Normoyle from the RACV Club, who deserves praise for his many outstanding achievements training Melbourne graduates.

For the backstage tour, we found Crown’s kitchens are split into two main groups, with the rest folding out from there. Events and Conferencing is headed by executive chef Kelly Jackson and Restaurants by Laurent Phillipe.  

Today it is general manager of restaurants at the Crown Resort, Oliver von Brunn, who takes charge of my group. 

From the way he fires off facts, figures and statistics he is clearly a man who knows a great deal about how to manage a massive food business on the slimmest of margins. 

I can imagine a time not too distant when a qualification in business or accounting will be a prerequisite for the title of chef. And from what von Brunn is saying it seems to all boil down to three basic words: know your costs. 

If labour is the significant item in a commercial kitchen, then why is activity-based costing not the way it is managed? 

The old rule of thumb of 30 odd per cent is just too vague a value upon which to peg the success of our business.

But for me, the producers and purveyors were the main reason I was here, after getting excited to see Extra Virgin Australian olive oil on the invite. 

You see, I’m an oil guy. Sure I use butter, but I love oil! And not just EVOO, but any oil. Flavour, aroma, mouth-feel, all decide my infatuation with any particular oil and its application. So an EVOO tasting? Be most assured, we had one, courtesy of Australian Olive Oil Association CEO Lisa Rowntree, herself a highly-regarded judge in the category. 

I was in heaven as we sniffed, tasted, gazed at and compared the colours and textures of four different olive oils, ranging from golden yellow to grass green. Even still, I wonder whether Melbourne chefs are still loving their butter.

Unilever was also here with chefs Mark Baylis and Matthew Tee to show off the Cuban Sandwich and other great famous sandwiches from the USA. 

I know we all poo-poo conveniences but I dare say a great many of us use them in our kitchens. 

Again, it’s activity-based cost management that determines if buying in a quality convenience product is smarter than making it in-house. 

Frankly, I’ll admit that from a cost perspective I can save a great deal in labour and utility by buying them. I need to give my diners value for money as well as a decent feed. 

And as our young gun chefs might say in their text-inspired shorthand version of English… “Don’t be dissin’ the jar.”  

There were several varieties of beer during the presentations, which included a Birch & Waite condiments masterclass by Werner Kimmeringer. 

Other tastes on offer were Unilever’s UK Coleman's Mustards (French) Cuban sandwiches, Nestle’s beef and seafood stock by Chef, and quail and spatchcock from Game Farm Select Fresh Providores showed off fruit and veg including anything from the ground that was crudité, miniature and baby sized chat by Werribee grower Ken King. 

A great afternoon was had by all. To finish, there were coffee shots galore from Nespresso and chocolate fondue. 

And let’s not forget a delicious presentation on tooth fish by Lisa Downs from Fishtales. 

Before we wrapped up, the founder of the club Mel Nathan asked around for business cards, with an almost never-ending selection of lucky door prizes awarded to the chefs including a whole five kilo fish to take home.  

Former Crown executive banquet chef, Werner Kimmeringer, was on hand to deliver Birch & Waite’s sauce presentation and summed up his feelings on returning to the venue: “Still after all these years I get a case of the goose bumps whenever I walk into this place. The Crown is one of the best places in Australia to work.”  

Thanks to Crown for helping make the inaugural Melbourne event such a success –our guests are already lining up for the next one!



Always keen to support Australia’s young guns, Food Companion International was especially keen to see inside Crown College’s training kitchen and restaurant “The Culinarium”, headed by executive chef Andrew Crispin. For aspiring chefs, Crown is a real way to help fast-track your career into the industry, with a training program that combines rigorous theory with rewarding hands-on practice. We discovered that within the first week of apprenticeship students are cooking for Culinarium guests, all under the supervision of award-winning trainers.  

IMAGE: 2014 was the year the Executive Chefs Club came to Melbourne, and where better to start than with Japanese beers and sake at Nobu in the Crown Melbourne Resort