By guest contributor: Zurina Bryant
An old friend of mine lives in Noosa, think pristine beaches, rivers, hinterland and national parks. Noosa is a world-famous surfing destination, known for its expansive beaches and colourful bays. Mark currently works for the five-star RACV Noosa Resort, a perfect getaway for family holidays, couples escapes or a short vacation with friends. Mark has worked at ‘The Manor House’ in Balmain, ‘Edna’s Table’ ‘Bambini Trust‘ and other restaurants over the course of his career.
Let’s talk to Mark…
When did you first know that you wanted to become a chef?
In the last few years of school I had a casual job as a kitchen hand. Working with the chefs at home on Lord Howe Island, surfing in between the lunch and dinner shifts seemed pretty good to me at the time. This was helped by my older brother being a chef and my mother being someone who seemed to be always whipping something up in the kitchen. Also, I grew up in a small island community where there were vegetable and fruit gardens, we had chickens for eggs and to eat, also cows for fresh warm milk on our weetbix in the morning with a thick layer of cream on the top and, for meat
What was your first ever job?
Probably my first ever real paying job was in the first month or so after leaving school. It was on the local island council, which mostly included mowing lawns.
And your first job in a kitchen?
Apart from the early kitchen hand work, the first job I took when I was getting ready to start my apprenticeship in Sydney, was with a company that did food for many of the major airlines. I hated it, it was not what my idea of being a chef was. Most of the work was on a line putting pre-made food in little plastic containers. I lasted about 2 or 3 weeks. I then got a job at the ‘Manor House’ restaurant in Balmain in Sydney, this was where I did most of my apprenticeship. I learnt how to create and cook with real food, which was more my idea of being a chef.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with?
My favourite ingredients can change with the seasons, different influences, or just how I’m feeling at the moment, but one that always remains a constant in my life is pasta. Its super versatile, can be created into many different forms, can accompany a whole range of ingredients both savoury and sweet, but most of all I find it really satisfying when I make it by hand.
And your favorite flavour?
Like ingredients my favourite flavour can change with the way I’m feeling at the moment, though there are always the favourites that remain like. That perfect point of caramelization whether it be on meat, fish, vegetables, fruit or pastry, good quality dark chocolate, a fresh Sydney rock oyster, and yeah I could keep going here.
Have you always lived in Australia? Tell us more about where?
Yes. My home is Lord Howe Island which is part of Australia, though we like to think we’re a bit special. I went to boarding school for the last five years of senior school in Lismore on the north coast of New South Wales, then found myself in the bright lights of Sydney to begin my life in the kitchen.
Twelve years, a mortgage and two kids ago (shit, has it been that long) my partner and I decided to move to Noosa, partly because it was cheaper to buy a house not far from the beach than it was in Sydney and, partly because we decided we needed a change from the city life and, we figured it would be a nice place for kids to grow up.
You’re married with kids. How does your job affect your relationship with your family?
Ha ha. People alway assume that we are married, and a lot of the time we just roll with it because with some people it easier than trying to explain why your not. One day, maybe.
The life of chef can be very hard on relationships, intimate, family and social. I am very lucky to have a partner who is very understanding of ‘the Chef life’.
Our two kids are generally used to it, I think. The other day our little girl said “I wish you could just work from home.”
I do always find it tough when I miss out on sporting or other events that our kids are part of and, other social events with our circle of friends, but I think a lot of them are used to it also.
What is your favourite thing to do on your day off?
When you own a house with a yard and little garden, there always seems to something to do. Most of all I just like to spend time with my little family whether it be at home, at the beach or something else.
I do try and sneak some time to myself to de-stress, even if it’s only an hour or two, I usually use this time to go for ride on my ‘Royal Enfield Classic’ motorcycle,I find it really relaxing.
What is your favourite dish to cook for your wife? Your kids? Do they dabble in the kitchen?
We eat pretty simply at home, we have a small veggie garden which we generally have an assortment of lettuces, kale, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, whatever’s in season and we can get to grow.
Chicken, fish, meat, a lot on the BBQ. Slow braises in winter. The kids love pasta, they like munching on the fresh pasta as I’m rolling it out. My little boys favorite is bolognaise, while my little girl loves plain pasta with butter and parmesan
Tell us more about Noosa.
When we moved to Noosa there was a definite busy season during the school holidays and, then it would drop right off in between. Now there is a constant busyness about the place with odd slow weeks here and there, plus the population has grown, if all the new housing estates are anything to go by, also the rental market is extremely competitive.
Noosa has events throughout the year, the triathlon, jazz festival, surfing festival, the food and wine festival, plus others.
The food and wine festival had grown into a huge event attracting chefs and visitors from all over the world, then a couple of years ago it hit a bump, with elements of corruption among the management.
However with a new management team and a fresh vision it is rebuilding.
The Noosa hinterland contains lots of farms producing lots of different produce, most of which can be found at the Noosa farmers markets every sunday morning, we like to get down there in the morning for coffee and breakfast from one of the many food stalls and return home with some fresh seasonal produce.
Where are you working now?
R.A.C.V Noosa Resort. Thats right, the ‘Royal Automobile Club Victoria’ own a resort up here.
I guess you could say that “the victorians like coming up here for holidays so much they decided to buy their own resort”.
Having always worked in stand alone restaurants throughout my cheffing life, working in a hotel is a new experience for me, there are a lot of systems and procedures that I’m still getting used to, but once you understand, they do all have a purpose. Plus with this hot humid summer it’s awesome to have a fully air conditioned kitchen.
What is your favourite local ingredient to work with? (after all this is an interview for The Indigenous Bartender)
In the Noosa hinterland and surrounding area there are many farms producing a multitude of different produce, from meat, poultry, dairy, fruit and vegetables, and a lot of them can be found at the Noosa Farmers Market every sunday.
As far as ‘indigenous’ produce goes, one that I like using at the moment, and is grown in the local area, are the native finger limes. They are very versatile, colorful and are able to complement many different foods
Care to share a recipe? (Which features a local ingredient)
As I said above, the finger lime and the small colorful, zesty, caviar like balls that are contained inside are a fantastic complement, both taste and visually to many different foods, anything than could use a zesty lift. In the restaurant at the moment we are using them to enhance a scallop dish.
Below is a simple coconut panna cotta recipe, with the addition of a friut salsa, including the zesty finger lime caviar which combine well with the sweet panna cotta.
[Coconut panna cotta]
2 vanilla pods
450ml coconut cream
175g castor sugar
3 gold gelatine leaves
Combine both creams with split and scraped vanilla pods and the sugar in a saucepan, heat to a simmer.
Meanwhile bloom the gelatine leaves in cold water.
Take the hot cream mix off the heat and take the gelatine out of the water, give it a squeeze and add it to the hot cream mix.
Stir to dissolve. Then strain into a into a bowl over an ice bath, stir periodically letting the mixture cool but not set. This step prevents the vanilla seeds from settling on the bottom when placed in the moulds.
Transfer cool mixture to a large pouring jug and fill moulds, should have enough for about eight 100ml moulds.
Let completely set in the fridge for a few hours.
For the fruit salsa.
Combine a small dice of mango and strawberry with some chiffonade mint leaves in a bowl. Cut 1 or 2 finger limes (depending on how big they are) in half and squeeze out the zesty caviar balls, check for seeds, then combine with the fruit.
Turn out a panna cotta onto a plate and spoon around some of the fruit salsa, enjoy.
Favourite restaurant that serves local fare in Australia?
When I was living in Sydney completing my Chef’s apprenticeship, I was fortunate enough to work in a restaurant called ‘Edna’s Table’ with the wonderful Raymond and Jennice Kersh.
‘Edna’s Table’ prided itself in using and promoting native Australian bush tucker. Most of us in the restaurant and, probably all the clientele had never heard or seen most of the native ingredients we were using. It was a huge mind-opening, interesting experience.
Ray and Jennice had made it their mission to educate people about native Australian ‘bush tucker’, bringing it into the mainstream the best way they could, through their restaurant and their interesting food.
While I can’t think of any restaurants at the moment which are using native ingredients quite to the extent that ‘Edna’s Table did.
One restaurant that I do like is Chef Peter Gilmore’s restaurant ‘Quay’. At ‘Quay’, Peter uses wherever possible, both native Australian and,Australian produced products in a multitude of dishes with interesting combinations, that are both visually stunning and delicious.
Last but not least, What would you say to your 18 year old self in regards to working in the Food & Beverage industry?
Be ‘positive, confident and in control’. Believe in yourself and, travel more.
I’d love to check out the Noosa Food & Wine Festival in 2017. Who wants to join me on a holiday to Noosa?
Zurina works behind the scenes on Indigenous Bartender. She has a background in photography, coaching and project management. Zurina is passionate about turning ideas into reality and is one of the key driving forces behind the birth of Indigenous Bartender. In her personal time, Zurina enjoys exploring new places and trying new new flavors.