In our second Chat with a Chef, we talk with Casey McDonald, Group Head Chef of Andrew McConnell restaurants which include, Cutler & Co., Marion, Cumulus Inc and Cumulus Up, The Builders Arms, Ricky & Pinky, Supernormal and Luxembourg. At The Essential Ingredient, we create beautiful retail experiences and sell quality products but did you know we also have a strong wholesale arm of the business and sell much of our quality ingredients to some of Melbourne’s leading chefs, including Casey. Here we chat to him to find out what he loves about his work (and The Essential Ingredient…).
1. How long have you been working with Andrew McConnell? What’s your role there and how complex can it get?
I have been working with Andrew for 5.5 years and my role has recently evolved into a group head chef role. This involves managing and mentoring the head chefs in each venue, as well as working with Andrew to develop the product and menu items of each restaurant. There are over 100 chefs across the businesses, so that can certainly bring some challenges in terms of spreading myself around, however this is why we work hard to build a solid kitchen hierarchy so the communication filters down clearly.
When the seasons change, I can sometimes find myself with more of a practical problem as the great produce coming in needs to be spread around the restaurants and featured in new dishes – this can also be the best problem to have too!
2. Why did you become a chef?
I have always enjoyed cooking since I was quite young, making dishes for my Mum and younger brothers by following recipes from magazines and cookbooks. Since the age of 12, I have worked in various kitchens, including the local take away shop which is what I loved to do after school. I was pretty happy in this environment, particularly when I could earn some pocket money!
3. Tell us about how the idea of a dish starts and gets on the menu at Cumulus Inc. Is there an approach you use or does it change situation to situation?
The approach is always centered around the produce that comes through the restaurant. We think about the different ways to cook and present the produce and aim to keep things simple, with only 3-4 flavours and touches to each dish. We keep in mind the idea that most dishes are going to be shared, with each plate passed around a table of varied sizes.
Having confidence in those 3-4 ingredients is really the key.
If we have confidence in the produce, then the cooking is a lot easier.
From the initial stage, my Sous Chefs and I will work on a dish and then revisit it a couple of days later alongside Andrew so that we have fresh perspective and input
4. How long have you been a customer of The Essential Ingredient? What do you buy from us?
For as long as I have been with the business we have worked with Essential Ingredient. We source all of our grains (black barley, faro, cracked wheat, pearl barley), foie gras and pastry specific items (chocolates, fruit & nut pastes).
5. What will you be eating on Christmas day?
I am going retro this year – prawn cocktails, curried eggs, baked ocean trout and lots of herb filled salads with tomatoes and zucchini. For dessert, Ill do a trifle with lots of delicious stone fruit as well as a classic Eton Mess.