Sunday, 27 September 2009

Head Chef Lisa's story: From little crumbs, big crumbs grow

A week ago Shelagh, our manager, boss, and part owner asked me to write a chef profile about myself. How indulgent I thought. So here goes, my wonderful five minutes of fame.

Firstly let me introduce myself. My name is Lisa Creigh, a chef from Newcastle N.S.W. Australia. I have been cooking professionally for 12 years now. I am 29 and love it as much as I did that first day. My days in the kitchen however go right back...

Lisa's early days in the kitchen crumbing fish. She's never lost her love of crumbing.
Since the age of four I have been in the kitchen, under my mum’s feet. I was the youngest of six and never went to play group. Instead, my mum (who was a stay at home mother spending many hours in the kitchen, aka domestic goddess) and I would spend many hours together cooking up a storm to impress my father and elder brothers and sisters. I would crush cookies, crumb fish, whisk eggs, and sift flour (the way you used to by putting the flour in the can and cranking the handle). If ever I was in the way, flour and warm water would be mixed together in a bowl to form a dough by my mother and I would happily sit at the table and play quietly until I would be needed again. Mum would tell me stories of my Nan being a great cook, how she could do all of her baking “by feel”, in other words a squeeze of the dough, a flick of the wrist, a pinch of this and a dash of that and it would all come together beautifully. All I remember is Nan’s amazing roast dinner on the farm.

Growing up, food was always a part of me. I tried my first oyster mornay at the age of eight. It made my older brother squirm. I loved it. My dad and I would go out fishing on his boat and we would have it fresh for dinner that night. I was ordering three courses from a very early age whenever we went out for a meal. It usually went something like deep fried Camembert with cranberry sauce, chicken breast stuffed and wrapped in proscuitto, and can you believe, chocolate fudge cake for dessert. Yum! Now can someone please roll me out the door.

This love of being in the heart of the kitchen (the place were everyone gathers to share stories, indulge, and create) has carried right through my schooling to a professional level. Studying Hospitality in my senior years during high school pushed me forward towards the all powerful chef certificate, or should I say chef ticket (insert cheesy grin). A ticket to experiencing great food and wine, cultures, people, and places. The biggest influence in my training came from a Melbourne Chef, Robert Brown, working for him in Newcastle. His training was hard discipline, but with a great understanding of ingredients, flavours, and a creativity ahead of others in my hometown. At the time it was modern Australian, (predominately seafood with Asian influences). It was privilege to train under Robert.

At the age of 20 I had my qualifications, got a working visa and went to Canada, to the mountain-tops of Whistler B.C. I worked at a Golf Club with Gerry Brandon (a brilliant chef) for the summer, and at La Rua restaurant (no. two for fine dining in Whistler that year) for the winter. I was in charge of the Garde manger section, preparing and serving delicious duck confit and cranberry parcels, Foie gras with chanterelle mushrooms, and other delicate morsels of goodness. After my part was done I would go over and volunteer with the friendly pastry chefs, learning all of their amazing dessert tricks. I would do the kitchen’s fish mongering as well, sometimes filleting Halibut almost as big as myself. Serving 350 covers a night fine dinning, while snowboarding in to work. Yes life was amazing. Since I was 14 it was my goal to be a chef in Canada by the time I was 21. I did it.

After that I landed back in Sydney starting afresh again, staying in fine dining a little while, then made a move to Riminis cafe and bar; an establishment with a very creative Head chef, Alec Bird, who had a few awards under his belt, best café etc. It was here that the next level of Sous chef came along for me. In the kitchen you are many things, sometimes teacher, counselor, creative cook, health and safety chief, caffeine addict. From that point food took me to Brisbane, Q.L.D, back to Newcastle, fine dining, shelling 3kg of fresh crab for hand made linguini to delicious breakfasts at amazing cafes.

Then the opportunity came for me to be Head chef at a soon to be Gastro Style pub called the Albion Hotel. Finally the chance for it to be mine! Well this job at the Albion Hotel was the chance of a life time. I was able to experience a kitchen from scratch, from plumbing, 3 faze power plugs, buying equipment and crockery, to a menu that was all mine. Mind you, we had inherited a lot of old grease so I scrubbed the place for three days solid to remove the grease before one lovely vegetable was allowed to come into the kitchen. Within six months the establishment was booming. We found it hard to keep up, but keep up we did with a few more recruits.

This gave me the opportunity to come to London and to Europe and its wonderful produce. When I read Shelagh’s ad on Gumtree for the position to start up Lantana as Head chef, I was so excited. Shelagh is a dedicated food lover and epicurist just like me. She has established a place that prides itself on great coffee, fresh seasonal produce, making everything in house and being as eco- friendly as possible including all of our suppliers. I knew this was the job for me.

First of all I love breakfast, always have. It’s the start of a new day and we want that start to be the best it can be. The toast all buttery soft and hot, the eggs warm and sexy, running all over the place (of course that is if you like it like that), and the smell and taste of English bacon, one of my top loves of England. Thank you H.G Walters which was my local butcher, and now Lantana’s. La Fromagerie’s incredible cheeses...and let’s not forget the coffee… amazing. There is so much to love about this great little café.

But my role could not be performed with out my team in the kitchen Megan Noonan ( Sous Chef aka Baking Goddess), Becky Davy, and Slimane. Thanks for all your endless hard work.

Lisa and sous chef Megan, Lantana's own Statler and Waldorf.

4 comments:

Banhmi11 said...

fascinating...

Van said...

fascinating...

mathew said...

keep up the grt stuff lisa and megan

anjali said...

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