Get to know our HEAD CHEF’S STORY
After sitting here a while and wondering what it is I could write that people would read; I came up blank. Not because I don’t have anything interesting to say, but because people have lives and I think the last thing they want to do is read about someone else’s. I was told otherwise. It turns out blogs are everywhere. And they are about anything and everything. Though this one is unique. No one has told this story before. This is my story.
I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was about 8 years old and I was helping my mum in the kitchen back in Leeds, UK. We’d have roast dinners every Sunday and the whole family would sit and eat together and afterwards we would play cards. And we would play for money, lots of money. That’s actually a lie, it was mere pennies, but at that age I thought it was a treasure trove and I wanted to win it all. I rarely did, but I certainly gave it my best.
I would help peel the brussel sprouts, peel the carrots, peel the potatoes or peel the onions used for the stuffing. I didn’t get to use a knife. Back then I didn’t think I was old enough. Turns out I wasn’t skilled enough. But practice makes perfect and pretty soon I got the upgrade I was looking for and I had a chance at the knife. That’s when I knew. I wanted a job where I got to use a knife.
Took me another 4 or 5 years before I got pretty good with one. I remember going through a stage where I would make myself a salad sandwich for my dinner, though this was no ordinary sandwich. It was an open affair; with the smallest diced salad items I could cut. I would quarter the tomatoes and cut out the insides and dice the flesh very small. I’d do the same with the cucumber and the same with the carrots. I basically diced every component into fractions of their original size. Then I would butter some bread, add a thin layer of mayonnaise, a lot of cracked black pepper and more iceberg lettuce that my parents would let me and then I would start throwing on all the mixed items on top. I would finish it with diced cheese and lemon oil and I would eat it. And it was the best thing ever. Every once in a while I will still do it now at home. I’m just quicker than I used to be.
Half way through my 13th year of this life, I got asked to help my best friend, Sarge, at his place of work. It was an American diner on the outskirts of the city. He needed someone to help him wash all the dishes and stuff. I wanted money so I agreed. Not long after working month or two I got the opportunity to do the dessert section. I was told I’d get a few extra quid (that’s slang for English money) if I were good enough so I heartily agreed and one night I had my first taste of what it could be like to work in a kitchen.
And I loved it.
I didn’t work in the dishes again after that. I stayed on desserts for a while and got promoted to doing the starter section. It was very different to cutting cakes, and there was actual cooking involved. I used ovens and fryers and convection microwaves. It was a hell of a lot of fun. It helped that the people around me were encouraging and respectful. They knew I wasn’t a chef but that I had some qualities about me that at 14, I was better than some of the commis chefs there. I was given every opportunity to shine. All the while I was working at the diner I was also going to school. My grades didn’t suffer, I mean, they weren’t great to begin with but to get into college to do the course that I wanted, I needed four Grade C’s or above. I got them easy. And off I went to college. Three years later I was a qualified Chef with City and Guilds level II and III. A higher hygiene certificate and a few other pieces of paper telling me I had done what was necessary to go out into the world and become a chef. That was 1994 when I qualified. 22 years ago.
It was almost like having three jobs back then. I would work Mondays at my job placement. Tuesday to Saturday would be at the college and a few nights a week and all day Sunday I would work at the diner. By this point though I was a regular on the grill and the pizza sections too. They offered me my first full time job. I said yes. It lasted 6 months before the sold the building to some people that wanted to turn it into a nightclub. We all got made redundant!
The same friend, who got me the diner job, got me a job in a hotel. It was one hell of a hotel too, more than likely the best one in Leeds. I did another 5 years there. Learnt an insane amount of things. But then I moved on. I took on a promotion and a step up in terms of the food. I went to a bistro where I learnt all the expensive stuff. There was foie gras, sashimi, sushi, pates, brioche, truffles, and all the good stuff. I only managed a year though because I was asked to be the sous chef of a restaurant in the swanky part of the city. I’d gone from being a Commis in a hotel to a Sous Chef in just over one year. I felt like I was out of my league but it turns out, that if you put your foot down and do a good job, you get rewarded for it. I nailed the job and spent nearly three years. In between that time I had come to Australia and back again. I spent 8 months waiting to get back into the country. I worked back at the restaurant and saved all my money. On February 14th 2006 I landed in Australia for good. I had either sold or thrown away pretty much everything I owned, said goodbye to some close friends, and even closer family, and flown the 11,000 miles to get here. It’s funny what the love of an amazing woman can do to you. Over 10 years later and here I am writing about it. I’m writing to try and make you understand the thought process of a Chef that writes burger menus for a living. I thought that you might know where I’m coming from, if you know where I’ve been.
In the ten years I’ve been in Australia I have worked in some of the most iconic steak houses, been a Head Chef in a few too. I have run little holes in the wall that sells the most amazing wraps. Worked for a big franchise that produced some of the worst food. I’ve even got a nightclub on my resume because I wanted a challenge. All of these places in some way have influenced the menu that is currently running here, at Burger Institute. And at some point in the future I will share with you some of them.
Right now though I want to tell you I’ve found my career so far like playing cards as an eight year old. I might not have always been dealt the right deck, but I have always given it my best. I still feel I have a lot left to give and working at Burger Institute has given me the opportunity to do so. I have some of the best people behind me helping me whenever I need it and people in front of me that want to learn. As a Chef, I can’t ask for more than that.