Masterchef S01 ep6: Paul Wilson, Wilson Restaurant, [Melbourne]
Interview with Paul Wilson
I was bored in London, to be honest. I felt like I needed to learn something else. I was infused by Thailand, and just Asian food in general so I felt that Australia would be a great sort of starting point.
The Botanical is a local restaurant, it is a local wine colony, it used to be a very
famous watering hole. It has been renovated to be a very modern, sleek
restaurant serving unpretentious, interesting Australian food.
I am from London and I trained in some great hotels in my youth, when hotel
dinning rooms were the kind of prestigious restaurants to work in, with Michelin
KM Like which ones?
I was at Le Meridien, it had a Michelin Star when Michel Laurent was the Chef,
and at the Dorchester when Mossiman was there. We had 2 Michelin Stars in
the Terrace Restaurant. Then at Eden on the Park when it had a Michelin Star,
the Four Seasons Hotel . Then I went to work for the Roux Brothers for about
3 years in various restaurants and a country hotel which was set up by Albert
Roux. Then I joined Conran Restaurants and worked with Terrance Conran for
5 years. I opened Quaglino's.
At the Dorchester what you learnt as a cook, was organisation and technical
skills, you know discipline, it was a huge brigade, very organised hotel, a very
busy hotel. The Meridian was more of a cooking experience, fine dining
restaurant, 40 seats and 12 - 14 chefs, it was a really perfectionist sort of
kitchen and you learnt very fine skills. Working with Michel Laurant he was a
consultant chef, he went to France every month, and worked in this 3 star
Michelin Restaurant so it was more of a culinary, honing your skills, perfecting
the French technique in a very sort of...almost nouvelle cuisine sort of style in
those days. Then I kind of felt that I needed to experience volume, because
that was very much the trend at the time, big restaurants, big brassieres and I
wanted to do something with quality. Terence had opened this beautiful
restaurant serving great food, and I thought it would teach me business skills,
organisation and planning and just every aspect of running a business, as well
as being associated with great produce.
I was a Choux Chef at Quags when I started when it opened and five years
later I was the executive chef at the age of 27, which was quite a big
achievement for a young man to run such a busy restaurant - it was feeding a
1000 people every day.
KM Why Australia?
I was bored in London, to be honest I felt like I needed to learn something else.
I was infused by Thailand, and just Asian food in general so I felt that Australia
would be a great sort of starting point. I was surprised when I got to Melbourne
just how strong the European influence was, the Italian community here, the
Greek community here, the Mediterranean food was a lot stronger here than it
was in London at the time.
It is very hard to find good staff in Melbourne and in Australia as a whole. Most
of the good chefs are working in Europe, they want to travel and see that part
of the world. To find locals and to train them up to that European standard is a
real challenge so you're a fool if you don't have reference for your team, and
respect and you're humble and you make them realise that it is an education,
which they are getting paid for as well.
We were so naive about Melbourne. We felt that every city was the same, you
know you leave London and every day your restaurant is full, doesn't matter
how big or small it is, coming to Melbourne with a 300 seat restaurant we just
didn't think about not being busy. That taught us a lot about the market place
quite quickly, and how to adapt and listen to our customers and really give
them what they wanted, as apposed to sort of dictating to them, here we are
from London and this is what we do.
KM How do you compose a dish or a menu, what are you looking for?
Particularly in Australia is it different to composing overseas.
It is in a sense, you kind of think of what is available, it is not necessarily what
is in vogue
KM It is very cuisine de marche.
Very much so, it is a very local market, it is an ever changing market, it reflects
on the climate. If it is a hot day you loose all your soft herbs and you loose the
asparagus and the watercress, so you got to react pretty quick. So I am
constantly talking to my growers and my suppliers, visiting the market and
really it is what is good - create a menu of what is good. It is as simple as that.
It is what fish we can get that day and how it suits the cooking method. If it is
King Fish the we have to steam it, and we are going to serve it with a broth, it
suits Asian flavours and we cook it in that vain.
KM Is it a bit of a wrestle to get good produce here?
It has got easier but it is a real battle, yes. It is not London where people bang
your door down, and put produce in front of you. Here you got challenge your
suppliers, you have to ring them up and really motivate them, but you have to
be very humble as well, they are very proud. They think their vegetables are
the best in the world and they probably are but they don't send them to the
local market, they go overseas. And so if you want great scallops you have to
twist someone's arm and give them a sob story about how good the scallops
are in London and you can't get the same scallops here in Australia and
eventually they kind of send you a few kilos.
KM You have to use reverse psychology?
From a cooking point of view I feel reasonably comfortable. I still want to learn
more about Asian food and I think you need to study it for a number of years. I
have been here 5 years and I think that I have probably got my head around it
in the last 2, and I still feel that I could learn more about Asian....
KM But what is it about...why do you need to learn about Asian food?
I think it is a lot cleaner. In terms of technique it is very different, in terms of
ingredients it is extremely different, balance of flavours it is very different. As
an enthusiast of food you just want to learn about something else, and be
more accomplished in what you do as a career. That is what drives you and
certainly with Asian cooking I just am fascinated that it is so vastly different
I remember vividly a story in England when I was an apprentice, I was sent on
this errand by David Chambers at Le Meridien. He asked me to go to the Ritz
hotel and ask the chef for the Lobster Gun to kill the lobsters. The Ritz was
just down the road, so I was running down the road in pouring rain with a chefs
hat on, with the fear of God in me, "Get back here in 10 minutes with this
Lobster Gun" and then the Ritz chef says "I haven't got the Lobster Gun but
I've got the bullets and he gave me some larder needles all different sizes,
"this one here is for King Prawns, this one here is for Lobsters, this is for
Crayfish, and these are for Crabs" but the Chef at the Mayfair has got the gun,
you have to go to the Mayfair to get the gun.
KM They were obviously taking the piss out of you.
About 4 hotels later, eventually one of the chefs said, someone tell this poor
boy he has been sent up. I went back to the hotel a laughing stock.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:Paul Wilson, Wilson Restaurant, [Melbourne]