The Other Chef is the intriguing name of a fine food enterprise that reflects Eric and Monicas’ passion for local produce.
>Eric, When did you realise you had a passion for cooking?
As a child, I loved spending time in the kitchen when my mum was cooking – and my dad was a good cook too. I had shown interest in becoming a chef from the age of about 8, and my dad fostered this interest by taking us to a different restaurant every second weekend. So, from a young age, I was lucky to be exposed to a wide range of foods from various cultures.
Like most kids, I was keen on any occupation that involved a uniform – my favourite just happened to include a tall white hat, rather than a fairly cool fireman’s helmet – though I don’t normally admit to that one.
As a teenager, I had to make a choice of a career path, and becoming a chef was definitely it. The passion for cooking was hard to hang onto for a couple of years, as I did my time washing piles of dishes, peeling onions, and crumbing the odd 100 kg of squid. As any young apprentice chef knows, it’s hard work when you are starting at the bottom of a kitchen team.
Since then, I have had many wonderful opportunities that my career offers, including travelling, working overseas, and owning my own restaurant. Being a chef is a continual learning process, and I love what I do. After 25 years of cooking professionally, I still have that passion – perhaps even more so now.
> Apart from working as a chef at the Stunned Mullet you also teach commercial cooking at TAFE. How different are the two roles?
I really enjoy both roles – they are definitely different, but in fact they also complement each other. My work at The Stunned Mullet keeps me in touch with current industry procedures and trends, which are important to pass on to the apprentice chefs at TAFE.
The owners of the Stunned Mullet are very passionate, not only about their business, but also about good food and quality ingredients – which makes it a pleasure to work there. And the buzz of a busy service with an energetic team – and of course, happy customers, is always satisfying.
Teaching at TAFE is rewarding in that I can pass skills and knowledge that I have gathered over the years on to the next generation of young chefs. This country has produced some outstanding world-class chefs, and I believe we will continue to do so through quality restaurants – and training venues such as the Port Macquarie TAFE.
> What’s your favourite ingredient/dish?
This is a hard one to answer, but I’d have to say my favourite ingredient is vanilla bean, for its distinctive luxurious aroma. I use it in our Strawberry Jam, Apricot Conserve, and of course, when I cook desserts.
My favourite dish definitely depends on what is in season. In summer it might be a pizza of smoked salmon, onion jam, blue cheese and wild rocket, accompanied by a beer (or two). Winter means a well-braised lamb shank with truffled mash and wilted spinach, washed down with a big glass of Shiraz.
> Any interesting stories from your time as a chef?
There are always lots of interesting stories, but one definitely sticks in my mind, and didn’t happen all that long ago. I had just taken on the role as Head Chef in a leading winery restaurant in Margaret River, WA. It was my second day in the job, with a fully booked lunch service about to commence any minute. The police walked through the back door of the kitchen, and proceeded to hand-cuff the apprentice and the kitchen-hand. They were marched out the back door and into a paddy wagon.
I couldn’t believe it – there was just me and one other new chef. And this guy had two fingers missing off his good hand – no word of a lie. I think I nearly cried at that point, but we managed to pull ourselves through service, but we were still washing dishes hours later.
> What was the inspiration behind creating The Other Chef fine foods?
During our trip around Australia, we visited many regions with an outstanding array of local produce – including truffles, cheeses, venison and seafood. There was often a focus on using locally grown fresh foods, in restaurants as well as in locally made jams, relishes and condiments, and we started to think about making our own range.
Once we settled in Greater Port Macquarie – another region which grows fantastic fresh produce, it was obvious that here was the opportunity to make our ideas into reality. Our good friend Donna Carrier, of Bent on Food in Wingham, invited us to launch our range at a producer’s tasting day she held at her store, and that was the beginning of The Other Chef Fine Foods.
In addition to using the wonderful fruit from Ricardoes Tomatoes at Blackmans Point and citrus from The Company Farm at Gannons Creek in our own products, a large part of our business involves designing and creating products for these farms, under their own brand.
Working with the local farms keeps me up-to-date with seasonal produce and provides me with continual inspiration and ideas for new products.
> Monica, you hold a Diploma in Wine Marketing. Tell us a little about that?
I have been lucky enough to work for some wonderful wineries, including Brown Brothers of Milawa, and our very own local Cassegrain Wines. I studied wine marketing through the University of Adelaide – a course which covers not only marketing subjects, but also viticulture and oenology (winemaking). The agricultural campus of the uni had its own vineyard and winery, so we could get into the fields to plant and prune vines, and have a go at making our own wines.
Probably every student’s favourite part of the course was the sensory evaluation subjects. We would sometimes taste up to a hundred wines in a day – and have to evaluate and rate each one. Sounds great, but by the end of the third day, you don’t want to see another drop of wine for a week!
> The Other Chef has won some awards too?
We entered our first food competition last year – the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show. We were thrilled to be awarded Bronze Medals for our Strawberry Jam and Asian Tomato Relish – especially when we saw the competition we were up against!
The Sydney Royal Fine Food Show recognises excellence in Australian grown and produced food products and plays a vital role in establishing industry benchmarks and rewarding excellence. It is a fantastic opportunity to have your product judged against the industry’s best.
Since the 2007 show, we believe we have improved on and hopefully perfected some of our products and are looking forward to this year’s Sydney Royal competition.
> You have some beautiful recipes online too?
Yes, we have some great recipes on our website www.theotherchef.com.au. Our products are all designed to be versatile and easy to use – they have been made with the home kitchen in mind. The recipes on our website are all easy to achieve at home, with fairly simple ingredients. For example:
Ricotta Hotcakes with Marmalade Glazed Citrus. Scrambled Eggs on Sourdough with Lemon Infused EVOO and Balsamic Essence or Cold-Smoked Yellowfin Nicoise Salad with Lemon Infused EV Olive Oil and Balsamic Essence.
For something requiring a little more time and effort, but worth every bit, try the Crisp Skinned Tasmanian Salmon with coconut risotto, Asian Tomato Relish and macadamia pesto.
The purpose of our website is to provide our customers with ideas on how to use our products, and advise where they are available for purchase. We encourage and welcome any feedback or questions in relation to our range of products and love to hear about new ways of using them!
> Where can people buy The Other Chef Fine Foods?
Our products are available locally at:
The Growers Market, Food Too @ Cassegrain Winery, The Hastings Farmers’ Markets , Ricardoes Tomatoes, Bago Winery, Beetroot’d Café & Deli at Kendall, Blue Cow Designs at Wauchope , Bent on Food in Wingham.
Readers can see our website for full list of stockists, including Sydney and Melbourne. Visit www.theotherchef.com.au
> Thank you Eric and Monica.