Masterchef S02 ep10 : Robin Wickins, Interlude Restaurant, [Melbourne]
Interview with Robin Wickins
Classically trained in London then trailblazing into the world of Molecular Gastronomy, Wicken's humour is very evident in the spectacular dishes he assembles.
Wickens: Interlude - it’s a fine dining restaurant that tries to sort of stay away from the stuffiness that you
get associated with a lot of restaurants. We want people to come and enjoy and have an
experience, something that, like they haven’t really had before in restaurants.
Wickens: I think I fell into cooking just purely from not being able to think of anything else. I left
school and was washing up in a local pub and it just sort of stemmed from there as being a pressure
from my parents to find something to do. I was very anti-office environments and suits and that
sort of thing, so it seemed like a good, creative, hands-on sort of environment to be in.
Wickens: I mean once I decided I wanted to cook I approached different restaurants and got started
in a few simple sort of local places and then eventually moving on to my first real restaurant which
was Ram … in Oxford.
Wickens: Once you sort of step into the world of the kitchen you’re always learning things and
there’s always a guy Michelin stars and you know before that I had no idea what they were and
originally you learn that cooking is already this world and then once you get into that you learn
that there’s this other sort of elite world on top of that.
Wickens: Being the bottom rung was like two or three on the same level and all you do is looking
after vegetables and peeling vegetables, they don’t really let you do much until I think it’s sort of
more of a process to see how dedicated you are and then once you get through that and then
suddenly it all opens up for you and you’re just learning every second of every day you know it’s
Wickens: Kitchens are very self managing with the people that continue doing it and pretty soon
you can get rid of people that are either not 100% or never going to be the chefs that they might
think they will be.
Wickens: Somewhere about two, just over two years. What was interesting was just seeing produce
I’d never seen before, seeing techniques and it was a big brigade, it was easy to sort of hide if there
was something else missing from it and I think from there I moved to a lot of small restaurants and
worked with sort of smaller teams.
Wickens: Then I moved to London. I think at that stage you’re almost sort of trying to test
yourself. You’re hearing lots of these things about Marco’s doing this and it’s crazy, and you think
well maybe I don’t, I’m not sure if I want to go that far yet or the Gavroche is this serious, by the
same token you want to try and find something that’s going to always push you and something a
little bit different. And so my first position in London was at Pierre de’tere when it first opened
with Richard Neitz, somebody that had come through the kitchen at the Nomar as well so it’s
easier to get a foot in the door if it’s someone that you’ve known from another kitchen.
Wickens: You know we’re talking a 40 seat restaurant with a lot of chefs in the kitchen and eight
to ten chefs, wowing small amounts of people every night and just putting everything into the food.
That’s what I wanted to do.
Wickens: It may be something that’s very associated with English kitchens anyway is flavour, is
that they have this real strength of flavour. There’s a lot of foods that are coming out in France and
Spain that’s all about subtlety and the waiter tells you the flavours there, but if they hadn’t you
might you know it’s all very clear, light broths and herbs and very, very delicate flavours.
Wickens: No matter what sort of techniques you use or what style of cooking you do, if it’s a
pumpkin soup it needs pure pumpkin flavour and it just smacks you in the face that it tastes of
pumpkin and that was something I always have carried through and I think you know one of the
biggest things I’ve picked up is not about you have to get all the balances from the sweetness and
the acid right, but you still if you’re going to call it a pumpkin soup, it needs to be exactly that.
Wickens: I went to work at the Bendham then with Simon Hopkinson and you know it was very
produce driven, there was quite simple food, they were charging quite expensive amounts for it so
it had to be very good, the best produce you know the best chickens in France, the best truffles and
you know by this stage you’re already sort of developing an idea of the difference between using
amazing produce and trying to palm off sort of lesser ingredients and for all the effort you can put
into techniques and without good produce you can’t do anything.
Wickens: Australia has this opinion that produce is some of the best in the world, we see things
coming off the suppliers that just wouldn’t happen in London and you’ve got no back up here, it’s
if you don’t accept it you don’t have it, so you know you have to really think on your feet and be
very sort of clever about what you’re going to do.
Wickens: It took me a long time to try and find a job and suddenly you’re sitting back going what,
because I think a lot of people come over you know thinking they’re the man because they’ve
worked here, here and here and they get to know them and people are just like, who cares, and that
takes quite a lot of getting used to actually.
Wickens: I did a bit of time at the Poynton, my first probably real job was at Toofees which is a
seafood restaurant and then I worked at Dining Room 2-11.
Wickens: And a lot of the restaurants I worked in were very structured by what Michelin wants and
you know this is how it’s going to be done because that’s how so and so, three stars and will follow
the same suit and I think out here you can do whatever you want, which is nice isn’t it really, as
long as the people want to eat it and they’re saying it’s good and they want to come back, then
there is a lot more freedom.
Wickens: When any chef opens a restaurant, especially their first restaurant, you do become a little
bit reliant on things you’ve done in the past, so we sort of opened here and we were reproducing
things that we were doing in London and it was good, people liked it, but it wasn’t my style, takes
you time to sort of settle in and build a team and get some confidence and work out how it is you
go from running a kitchen to running a restaurant as well, which is a big change.
Wickens: I think we’ve become so accepted of new techniques and new ideas behind food that
we’ll try anything. We’ve gone so far out on a limb that we are at the cutting edge of Australian
Wickens: I supposed we’re classed as molecular bistronomy style restaurant which is not
necessarily a good thing because it’s this term that everyone is sort of trying to get away from now,
especially in Melbourne, I think a few people have tried it before and their interpretation of it was
just to have as many different weird combinations together as possible and for me it’s not about
that, all it is about accepting that cooking is a skill and like anything it’s going to evolve.
Wickens: It’s strange that chefs seem to be the only sort of skilled labour that says that you have to
do things that were invented 100 years ago and you can’t do it any other way, whereas you look at
any other trade and doctors and dentists are all acceptive of new technology and new ideas.
Imagine if they didn’t.
Wickens: Yeah, I mean you go into a doctors and he pulls out leeches you’d run a mile but for
some reason chefs have to do everything as a scoffier did and there’s no other way to do it, which
I’ve always found a little bit weird. Once I was on my own and I didn’t have anyone telling me
how to do it, we could explore those ideas and really create a style which I think has become quite
unique in that it, we’re classed as this molecular bistronomy but it’s very classical, to me it’s very
classical, steeped in history, it doesn’t move from the same combinations of the same things we
were doing back in the classic French restaurants, you know we still have chicken and truffles and
leek and there’s no crazy combinations of flavours. But what we do do is look at it and say how we
can treat it and present it and cook it in a more modern way.
Wickens: We’ve never really classed ourselves as an Australian restaurant, we see ourselves as a
part of an international movement and very close conversations with lots of chefs around the world
and there’s this really sort of small movement of chefs trying to push what things are doing and are
very open to anything and working backwards and forwards off each other so it’s
Wickens: There’s a huge sense of humour in the food, you know we’re trying to do things that are,
that people will feel comfortable with but when they get it, it’s like completely opposite of what
they were expecting and it’s an experience that they won’t get anywhere else. I mean lots of the
food has sort of hidden sauces and things explode and you know waking them up, getting them, I
think a lot of people go out to restaurants and they’re in that sort of mode of just you know order
my entrée or whatever and then when they get it and there’s things sort of moving on the, popping
and bursting, it really it’s like wow, you know we start to win them over.
Wickens: We don’t change the menu traditionally, seasonally, there’s always something changing
until it gets to the stage where we can’t stand the sight of it any more and then we move on to
something else, so we’re always working on you know one or two new dishes and getting it to a
stage where it’s good enough to go on the menu and then it will keep evolving on the menu and
then it’ll disappear and never come back. Some dishes don’t even make it on the menu there.
Wickens: We’re sort of thinking about an idea or an ingredient that will come in season and it’s
like okay how can we do that and a lot of it’s done by joking around in the kitchen and having a bit
of word play and saying you know that would be funny if we did a dish called rocket science and it
was based around different ways of forming rocket and you know and strange ways like that and
then other times it’s just simply you know we want to put chicken on the menu, how are we going
to do it and what’s in season that we can put it with and we’re quite aware that we could go too far
and you know every single vegetable and meat is pureed and then re-set back, so you need to have
a little bit of restraint.
Wickens: Mostly we get good reactions and people, we’re at a stage now where people come
because they are expecting a certain amount of theatre to the meal. Occasionally you get
somebody that’s maybe not right for the restaurant or it wasn’t exactly what they were expecting,
but over the years that’s sort of weaned down to a point now where we’re pretty, we are known for
what we do and people come there for it.
Wickens: We’ve got a little liquid beetroot ravioli that the waiter tells you, you have to eat in one
mouthful but still people don’t listen so you know sometimes there’ll be beetroot juice sprayed all
over the restaurant, all over the customers and we do a few dishes that you suck out of a glass tube
so if you give that to the more sort of quieter, older customers they you know, it’s funny seeing
their reaction to this. To some people it can be quite confronting but we want to do it in a way that
it really allows them to relax and get into the meal a little bit more and it works sometimes and
sometimes it doesn’t work.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Robin Wickins, Interlude Restaurant, [Melbourne]