CONVERSATION WITH A CHEF | STEVE HOGAN

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By Jo Rittey

 

Steve Hogan oversees something of a cafe empire. He is Executive Chef to Addict Food and Coffee, Prospect Hill Espresso, Liar Liar and AU79, to name a few. Combining imagination, creativity, a sense of calm and a desire to help his team grow as chefs, the name of the latest cafe under his belt is apt; AU79 combines the periodic and atomic symbols for gold. This chef certainly goes for gold.

 

Hi Steve. Let’s start with how long you have been a chef?

 

I started cooking when I was still at school. I worked as a kitchen hand doing platters and working lunches, things like that in the school holidays and Christmas.

 

So you always wanted to be a chef?

 

It was something I fell into. I enjoyed hospitality at school then I got a job in the kitchen. When I left school I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do so I joined the Army in New Zealand. I joined up as a chef and they gave me really good training with London City Guilds, all internationally recognised. It was a good learning environment. I really enjoyed the structure.

 

What kind of food do you cook in the Army? Is it food for the troops or fancy food?

 

The food isn’t really too fancy but it’s about learning the basics really well. Everything we were taught was from the French culinary arts, so soups and sauces and cuts of vegetables and meat, all the techniques and processes you need. I’ve found that some of the New Zealand chefs who go to Polytechnics all try to run before they can walk. They want to do molecular gastronomy and foams but they can’t make a hollandaise or a proper jus or they don’t know how to fillet a fish properly. They skip the groundwork and go to the fancy stuff.

 

Do you have to do all the other Army stuff as well?

 

Yes. You learn to be a soldier first. You learn the logistics of the army and then you learn how to be a chef after.

 

I feel as though there would be lots of aspects to that which would be really helpful, like discipline and even the level of fitness would be helpful for the kitchen.

 

Exactly.

 

 

When did you come to Melbourne?

 

2013. As I got near the end of my military career, I got to a point where I stopped learning and I was only staying in the army for the situation; the freedom and the travelling, the financial support. So I left the Army, worked in a few restaurants in New Zealand, one in particular called Clooney in Auckland city. We won the Metro Best Fine Dining Restaurant in New Zealand. After that there wasn’t much more to grow towards or learn in New Zealand because it’s so small. So I came over here and worked at Bistro Guillaume for a while. It was good to see a different type of business and to see the volume of customers there is over here. It was a busy place and I took on more responsibility and more leadership in the kitchen. Then I moved on to Chin Chin and worked with Benjamin Cooper and liked the atmosphere. The vibe was really enticing, especially as a young chef. It was fun. I liked it. It was different to the traditional French food from my training and from Bistro Guillaume.

I eventually got to a point where my partner wasn’t happy with my working hours. We were on opposite schedules. So I went towards working in cafes. I took a job as a sous chef at St Ali. I ran their restaurant in North Melbourne for a little while when someone went away. Then I moved on from St Ali to Addict Food and Coffee in Johnston Street. I pretty much took that over from the early days and built it up to the popular place it is now.

 

 

How do you manage the role of Executive Chef?

 

After Addict Food and Coffee I went to Sir Charles and became a financial partner, so I’m a chef and part-owner there and my business partner also owns AU79, Addict Food and Coffee, Liar Liar, St Edmonds and Prospect Hill Espresso. When I went from Addict to Sir Charles and became a financial partner, they saw me as someone with potential. Ryan was my sous chef so I trained him up and moved him to Head Chef at Addict and then did the same thing with Eddie at Sir Charles so I was able to step up to being Executive Chef. That’s been my role for the last twelve months.

 

 

Just to explain it to non-chefs, how do you train someone up for the role of head chef? What makes a good head chef?

 

Being a head chef is more about having the plan and having the answers. So if anybody else in the kitchen doesn’t know what to do, even if you’re a young head chef and not too sure yourself, you have to be sure for their sake. It’s about how you cost out the menu so it’s cost effective. You need to have a balance between being firm and strict with someone and also nurturing them and teaching them and guiding them to become a really good chef. That’s been the best thing about my job; seeing Eddie and Ryan in the roles they are now in.

 

 

Where do you get your ideas from?

 

My menus are pretty imaginative and creative. I don’t have an extensive recipe book or catalogue of photos. I’m very much about taking something I know, like pure cooking skills and techniques, having an idea and working my way through to achieving it. It’s usually very visual. It starts with a thought, then I think about how I could achieve that. It sounds like a simple concept but that’s pretty much it.

 

AU79

27-29 Nicholson Street, Abbotsford

au79cafe.com.au

Mon – Fri 7am – 4pm

Sat – Sun 8am – 4pm

 

 

 

Jo is a French teacher, a freelance writer and loves cooking lamb shanks. Armed with a PhD in Medieval French Literature, an exotic New Zealand accent and a winning (hopefully) smile, she likes nothing better than sharing a meal and good conversation with chefs.

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