Damien Neylon, winner of the 2015 Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship, is about to leave on his whirlwind trip to Thailand, Italy and Denmark. Find out more about him and what he’s most excited to experience on his trip.
Where did your passion for food come from?
Tricky question! It probably all started from a Jaime Oliver Italian cookbook that I bought when I was 14 and started making different recipes out of that.
Then I was on eBay one day looking to expand my cookbook range and stumbled upon El Bulli 2003 – 2004. I thought to myself ‘How can a cookbook be $600?!’ So I bought it - even though it was 3 week’s wages! It opened a whole new world to me. By the time I was 15 I'd been to Vue de Monde by myself; I set up my own sous vide machine in my bedroom at 17; and by 18 I’d eaten twice at Attica twice. I was hooked.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a chef to possess?
Discipline and knowledge. Discipline in the kitchen is a must. I also think that these days lots of people get caught up in modern restaurants and miss out on exposing themselves to tradition and technique which are fundamental.
Brae embraces the Australian environment as inspiration to create their menu. Is this important to you personally?
It definitely is. I’ve been cooking that type of food for a long time now and it becomes ingrained. A lot of Australians don’t know a lot about indigenous ingredients but if you go to South America, the local people can list a hundred varieties of different potatoes. I think one of the most important things we do at Brae is show people the native environment through our food.
How would you describe your personal style of cooking?
I’m still developing my own style. Being a chef is a never-ending learning process - even chefs who’ve been working for 40 years are still making constant additions and refinements to their own style.
As the winner of this year’s scholarship you will be travelling the world to work in three overseas kitchens, can you explain why you have chosen these venues?
I chose three distinct places that embody very different styles of cooking. They’re all places that I’ve really wanted to go to and I plan to soak up as much as I can. For me, it’s as much about the people as it is about the cooking.
What are you most excited about experiencing when you go overseas?
These restaurants are considered to be the best in the world at what they do, with extremely highly regarded chefs. I want to see the dynamic of the different kitchens, see how they operate holistically as a venue, and to take a little bit of the food culture away with me.
What do you hope to gain from your overseas experience and how will it inform your work when you come home?
It’s always good to get outside exposure. I want to experience how other kitchens might do things a bit differently, to see if there are things I can do to improve my work in my own situation. Everything I’ll see and do, no matter how small, will be stored up in my memory bank. So even though I might not be aware of it, it will continue to influence me in little ways for years to come.