By JrmNovember 11,2015
“Maybe we didn’t all communicate (through social media) back in the day, but at least it wasn’t all bullshit” Chef Grant King is the owner of award winning restaurant Gastro Park in Sydney’s Potts Point. The food is fun and creative and his flavours perfectly balanced. Grant’s inventive presentations can be compared with an Australian Heston Blumenthal.We got to sit down with Grant to discuss the changes in the modern restaurant scene and the challenges of running your own business. It’s now been 5 years since you opened Gastro Park, where did it all begin and how did you end up here? I’m from Invercargill in New Zealand, which is a small town with not much going on for a teenage kid. My mum had a great big garden and was a keen cook so I spent a lot of time helping her out in the kitchen. I really wanted to become a rock star and loved music but my mum convinced me to go to catering school first, and then pursue my music career if I still wanted to. It was around that time that I watched a video of Marco Pierre White and was hooked. I got obsessed with wanting to learn everything. I felt the hunger and passion for learning everything about food, and I still feel that hunger today. You never stop learning. After college I moved to England and worked in both London and Leeds. I gained some great experience there working in a range of kitchens and at a Michelin star level. I then went back to New Zealand for a couple of years and eventually ended up in Sydney in 2002. Here in Sydney I got a job as a Sous chef for Greg Doyle at Pier restaurant and only 6 months later got offered the head chef position. During my time at Pier we got awarded 3 hats in SMH, Australian Restaurant of the year 2008, and got a spot at the San Pellegrino top 50-restaurant list. It was a great time in my career, but I dreamt of running my own place. I decided to take time off to spend some quality time with my children, and then I found this venue here in Potts Point. It was a great opportunity so I took it. So what makes a successful restaurateur? Hard work, constant nurturing, watching and evolving. The key essence is to have a great product, believing in it and keeping it consistently great. And of course my team, having the right people with you, the right front of house people to deliver your product and your philosophy. What are three qualities you look for when employing people to join your team? Energy I’m a very positive guy and I don’t like negativity. You have to be energetic to keep up in this industry. Honesty It’s so important in a kitchen Attitude & Hunger How quickly do they absorb what they are taught? I have a small kitchen and my key guys all have these qualities. They are all positive and committed to the product and that’s where they get their energy from, it’s not because they’re being whipped by there boss, we are all on a mission and if they don’t work like that, the product will fail. How do you keep your customers excited? They seem to be excited about the food we serve here so I just keep cooking food that excites me. We do have some dishes that have been on here for some time, because new and old customers really love them, like our liquid butternut gnocchi and chocolate, honeycomb sphere; it’s going be hard to take those off the menu. Have you changed as a Chef since owning your own restaurant? I’m a Restaurateur now, I have to detach myself from being called a Chef. I’ve got a strong team and a great sous chef in my kitchen. I still design the food and show them the food, but they cook the it and that gives me time to work on my business as a whole. I read a quote recently that said “work on your business, not in your business“ and that really applied to me, and by doing so it has allowed me to get a lot more creative. As much as you have highs and lows as a business owner and chef – and it can be very stressful – it’s important for me not to forget that I am living my dream. How do you think that the restaurant scene has changed in the last 10 years? There are a lot more local producers now and Australia produces products that we are proud enough to use on an international scale. Food is also a lot more natural now, before it was El Bulli and the molecular cooking and before that more classic cooking. The whole thought process and evolution on what is going on now is more natural, and that makes sense to me. We are also looking at more native stuff and figuring out what is good. Is there something in the restaurant world that you miss? I miss food just having to be delicious, instead of some story about a particular ingredient, and because of the story I can justify why the dish is being served to me, even if it’s not particularly delicious. I like a story if it’s still delicious, but if it’s just a story just because it’s new or something like that, well maybe it’s only ‘new’ because other people came across it and decided that it wasn’t worthwhile. I also miss honesty; no one is being honest anymore. Maybe we didn’t all communicate back in the day but at least it wasn’t all bullshit. A blogger told me once that the social media world doesn’t care about how the food tastes just how it looks on their instagram or twitter feed. A dish can look great on a photo, but it also has to taste great and be a balanced dish No one ever tweets, this dish looks good but is tasteless. Any young chef that you think is someone to look out for in the next couple of years? Joel Bennet, he worked for me back in the day and has just taken over as head chef at Henry Deane at The Palisade in Millers Point Do you feel that the Lock out Laws in Kings Cross have changed the atmosphere around Gastro Park? The lock out laws haven’t effected us that much, it’s more effected the night clubs and bars in this area. I have always struggled in this location, there is not a lot of foot traffic here, and I don’t have a big PR machine. But it has changed the perception of the area and my clientele probably feel a bit safer. But I feel for the nightclub owners in this area. It’s been a tough year for them. What’s you favourite place to casually eat out? I don’t get a chance to eat out much; I end up cooking a lot at home. Every now and then me and my team will head down to china town after service for some snow crab at Golden Century. I’ve also had some great feeds at Monopole and Icebergs. This article has been edited from the original transcript.