Many people think it’s every chef’s dream to work in a Michelin Star restaurant or to own one. At one point Adrian Graham, 32, thought about it but soon realised it wasn’t for him. Instead, Graham, who’s currently on a working visa from the UK, is pretty content with working in the kitchen of the Riverview Hotel located in Sydney’s inner western suburb of Balmain.
“I just want to cook food that concentres on flavours, that can be defined, that hits all taste sensations, that’s surprising and exceeds expectations, and fun food that gets people thinking.”
Riding the wave
For most chefs, their passion for food and cooking derives from their cultural heritage or family traditions. But for Graham, whose background is English Jamaican, it was none of that.
“No, not at all! You know how many chefs I know whose parents are cooks or there’s someone in the family that is? My mum always jokes that all chefs are inspired by their mother’s cooking, but mum was awful at cooking and my dad doesn’t cook either. My dad’s parents are Jamaican and his mum cooks awesome food, but him – not at all!”
Rather his 10 or so years in the kitchen started when he had to choose an elective subject as part of school and thought food tech was something that wouldn’t require too much studying, but rather on-the-job training.
“I was done with school. I didn’t want to learn anymore. I was there for my social life so I thought rather than picking something to follow on to, I’d pick something to jump forward into something where I didn’t really need anything,” Graham says.
It was also around the same time there was a large push for people to take up hospitality jobs mainly because following the airing of Gordon Ramsay’s Boiling Point series on TV it put a “downer” on the industry, Graham added.
The hard yard
Despite not wanting to continue any further studies, Graham had his fair share of hard work in the kitchen. In his first job, which allowed him to move quite quickly up the chain, he spent two-and-a-half hours travelling to and from work each way and working 12-hour long shifts in a hotel’s kitchen catering for conferences and functions, as well as the in-house restaurant.
Graham then looked into fine dining, inspired mainly by one of the chefs he was working with at the time.
“When I watched this guy the care he had for his food and the way he treated it was like nobody else was in the kitchen and that was intriguing for me, so I wanted to be around that,” he said.
Before he knew it, Graham found himself heading up a kitchen of a hotel in Sark, an island in the English Channel that was home to about 600 people at the time. He described the experience as “perfect” and nothing like any ordinary seasonal job he had taken before because for once he found it interesting.
“When I was there it was very exciting. It was a self-sustainable island, so they wanted us to use as much of the local produce as possible. I was also lucky to have a great team. We were also cooking some really good food in a place that you didn’t expect would do really good food and people really appreciated it.”
At one point Graham also had the opportunity to work at a Michelin star restaurant but decided to turn it down for various reasons.
“I got an interview and I went for the job, but it was located in Central London and the commute would’ve been awful. I didn’t mind two-and-a-half hours to Richmond because it was on a bus [instead of the train], plus the days were longer and if I didn’t finish at a certain time I couldn’t get home.
“Also, it didn’t feel right. I’m sure it was really good but I wanted to be part of a team that really got on with each other.”
Graham went on explaining one of the main reasons he enjoys being in the kitchen is the comradery that exists within the kitchen and something he believes the Michelin star restaurant lacked. At the same time cooking the same dish over and over again didn’t appeal to him.
“I always like cooking at places with changing menus and that’s what I get to do now [at Riverview].”