Food and Drink
Posted by Matt Wilson
25. Mar, 2015
Melbourne is known for its many great restaurants and cuisines, so it should not come as a surprise that a Melbourne chef is competing in Expo Milano in June, quite an honour for any chef. I got to have a chat with Attica chef Peter Gunn on winning the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015, on competing in Expo Milano and his love of cooking.
What made you decide to become a chef? What was the appeal of it for you?
I left high school at fourteen and enrolled in a pre-trade program that had introductory courses in a variety of trades, including cooking. I started studying cooking full time while also working weekends. I would work Saturday and Sunday mornings at a café at my local swimming pool and then go straight on to a fried chicken and Chinese takeaway joint in the city. I was really inspired while working with the chefs at the Chinese takeaway joint, they were like rock stars; they showed up, chopped veggies, threw a wok around a giant flame, ate like kings, smoked cigarettes and drank beer. The thought of being able to do what they were doing, like them, really appealed to me – these guys were the first chefs I ever met. Obviously there were a couple of other incentives, like money, and I had also finally started doing something with my life that made mum proud.
How did you end up working at Attica? That’s one of Melbourne most renown restaurants.
At one of the restaurants I worked at back in New Zealand, the owner and the head chef cooked with Ben Shewry at Attica as part of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. When they returned they would not stop raving about how great and unique Ben’s style of cooking was. Attica was always the goal when I moved to Melbourne; I first applied when I left New Zealand in 2008 and just kept applying with every step in my career before finally being accepted. I think I applied maybe four or five times in total, obviously I really hate hearing no.
I started as a junior sous chef and have slowly moved my way up, holding positions like garden chef, head of research development and now, sous chef. I think I was drawn to Attica because it felt so unattainable, because the kitchen relied so heavily on skill and produce. I felt really at home with the ethos and culture of Attica.
How do you feel Melbourne’s restaurant scene compares to the rest of the world?
Honestly, I feel like we play it a little too safe in Melbourne. Everything is accessible and on trend. I feel like most new restaurants and cafes are so conscious of image that they lose sight of food quality and utilising really great produce. Also, food is extremely expensive in Melbourne, possibly because of the above.
We tend to knock off some thing cheap and cool from another country, spend a lot of money on branding and end up selling street food for the same price as my monthly phone bill.
I feel like our established restaurants however like Rockpool Bar and Grill, Yu-u, Brae, Cutler & Co and definitely Attica, really put us up there in great standing with the rest of the world. I personally always lean more towards a finer style of restaurant rather than casual fare, so that probably does not help in me answering this question.
How was competing in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition? You must have felt ecstatic when you found out you won in the semi-final against all those other chefs.
It was a great experience. I was completely shocked when I won. The strength of the other competitors was insane. I’m still a little overwhelmed with it all to be perfectly honest. It really only took a couple of minutes before my phone started going off non stop. Thinking back, it was a great achievement not only for me but for my friends, family and work mates who have all really helped me get to this point.
How do you feel about competing at Expo Milano?
Nervous. I have a lot of other things on the go at the moment and I generally try to focus on one event at a time. So I guess I’m not looking at it too seriously just yet. I’ve found it a little dangerous to focus on one thing for too long especially when I don’t have all the finer details which will come as we get closer to the event. Until I have everything in front of me and tickets in my hand, I will just continue focusing on taking over Melbourne.
Why did you choose to make the Cape Grim beef short rib your signature dish?
It’s a really tasty dish, the richness of the beef short rib balances really well with the acidity and salt of celery vinaigrette and garlic flowers. The ingredients are all of a very high quality & I feel like it is quite an original combination. We were given three hours to produce our dishes on competition day and my dish lent itself to that time constraint. The celery vinaigrette I used for this dish is one of the few recipes I currently cook that I can truly call my own.
What do you plan to do once the competition is over?
I plan on working at Attica for at least another couple of years before opening my own restaurant off the back of the monthly pop ups I have been running since 2013 called IDES. I take over Persillade in East Melbourne with a staff of ten to offer a six course tasting menu and offering a raw honest style of service and food but of the highest quality. I cook with integrity and do my best to keep all my dishes original to offer Melbourne some thing unique and one of a kind.
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