When did you discover your love of food?
I grew up on a tropical fruit farm on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and I was surrounded by food from a young age. Food always interested me and I discovered what I wanted to do very early on in life, so I’ve been lucky in that sense. I cooked all through high school and I’d cook the family meals at night.
Being a Queenslander, were macadamias a part of your childhood?
I grew up sitting under a macadamia tree! I had two rocks under my macadamia tree and that’s where I would spend a lot of my time as a kid, smashing them open and eating them. They’ve always been a part of my world.
Where do you turn for inspiration when you’re creating a menu?
The starting point is always fresh produce and what’s in season. I look at what’s around, how long it’s going to be around, how long the menu will be running for, and then I write the menu accordingly. I travel a lot in my role as Gympie Regional Food Ambassador, and when I’m on the road, I make a point of meeting the local farmers who grow the food in the region I’m visiting. The more I understand how something is grown, the better I use it.
What is it about being a chef that you like?
It’s not just the cooking side of being a chef that I love; I really enjoy the organising and teaching side of it too. There are so many different facets of the job, including a lot of people management. I’m happy to wear all the hats – I love the people as much as the food, most of the time.
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
I have two – garlic and olive oil, but the quality is important. If you’ve got good quality garlic and olive oil, there’s so much you can do.
How closely do you follow food trends?
I avoid them like the plague! My entire style of cuisine is completely produce driven. So if I’ve got figs for example, I’ll try and do as little as possible to them because to me, they’re already beautiful and I don’t want to turn them into a foam or a gel. But what I am loving is that trends seem to be moving towards locally grown produce and showcasing that on the menu. I hope that continues to grow.
What do you love most about macadamias?
How versatile they are. From a chef’s perspective, macadamias are great because they lend themselves so well to sweet and savoury applications. I love using them in pesto – they add a really great flavour. And of course they’re fantastic on their own.
What’s your favourite way to enjoy macadamias?
I really loved them in a dish I created recently where I served them with prawns and lots of different Aussie bush flavours – finger lime, lemon myrtle, wild foraged sea succulents. It was such a delicious combination of flavours and the macadamias were really important in delivering that textural crunch the dish needed.
Where is your favourite place to eat, anywhere in the world?
Australia! I’ve travelled quite a lot and every time I go overseas, I always look forward to getting back to Australia for the food. We have such great produce here, and I love the way Australians prepare food. My second favourite would be Turkey – they love their food and have great ingredients. But Australia is definitely my number one.
What do you like to cook at home?
I eat really healthy food at home. I make a lot of salads using ingredients I’ve grown in my garden. I eat really seasonally, so when peaches or strawberries are around, I’ll gorge on those, and then when they’re finished in my area, I won’t touch them again until the next season.
What’s your favourite TV show or movie?
My favourite movie of all time is The Karate Kid – the original version. Whenever I have a new apprentice start, their first week’s homework is to go home and watch it. The lesson in it is if you repeat something over and over, you hate doing it and for ages you don’t know why you’re doing it. And then once you’ve done it for four years, you realise why. Whether it’s peeling prawns or chopping vegetables, you suddenly realise you’re really fast at it and you do it really well.
Do you have a favourite quote from The Karate Kid?
“Daniel san, concentrate. Close the eyes. Think only of the tree.”