From the Ground Up with Chef Jack Madden
How and why did you become a chef?
I fell into the industry, really.
I was studying environmental engineering at Griffith University and working as a dish pig at a small, Italian, family-run pizzeria. After a year I found I was working more than studying and realistically having way more fun. So off went the khaki and on went the apron. I started my apprenticeship with Chef Russel Armstrong and never looked back.
What has been the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some amazing moments. I worked at Edinburgh Castle during the Royal Tattoo – that was an amazing experience. Cooking for royalty and working on extravagant banquets was amazing.
But hands down, opening Bask Eumundi with my beautiful wife Jess a little over a year ago. To watch the space evolve and see the brilliant people it attracts, we are blown away by what has been created in front of us.
What do you love about being a chef?
It used to be the pace, the pressure and the BIG characters – finishing a heavy service with fresh burns on the arms, whites patterned with the night’s menu and the smell of sweat and oil. It still is, in a way.
We make a new menu almost weekly. Some items stay but nothing stays for long. Each week I ring our local suppliers, and we go from there.
Three days of planning and preparation and three days of service. I love that I don’t need to rush, and I love the satisfaction of serving a plate that was envisioned days prior.
As John “Hannibal” Smith says, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
What do you love about local producers?
Everything! They are the inspiration behind all our dishes, drinks, flower arrangements, plates and more. We have some of the best farming areas within
50 km to the west and some of the best fishing waters to our east.
What I like even more is seeing a shift in restaurants championing our smaller local suppliers more so today than in previous years. Power to the small independents, I say! They are also the ones that keep us in the kitchen, on our toes and eager to try new products.
What is your approach to food?
I studied the classics as an apprentice – French, Italian and sometimes crossing the Spanish border.
When we moved to Melbourne, I thought I would try my luck with a wok. I worked under Geoff Lindsay at Pearl Restaurant. The new techniques, robust flavour and decorative plating blew me away. It changed the direction of my palate for good.
My personal approach to food has adapted over the years by different influences.
I enjoy presenting plates with a western label but with the amount of flavour mostly found in eastern cuisine.
Who would you love to cook for?
Only one? More fun with a few!
Let’s go with Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters, including Taylor Hawkins. Throw in all of Motörhead as well! I’d say there would be a few good stories there.
Who is your culinary inspiration?
I can’t say I have one. There are too many amazing chefs out there. It probably has to go back to our local farmers again. I really enjoy talking to them about their products and using that as a foundation for the dish. Then we study, read, try and repeat until we have what we want. But all the inspiration starts with a call on what’s looking good.
Do you cook at home? If so, what?
Yes. We all cook at home! I’m blessed with my two young girls, Molly and Matilda, and on a Sunday we have a big family cook up.
On school nights, it’s one-pot wonders and 10-minute creations. The girls love a butter chicken or a minestrone soup. I don’t know too many people who don’t.
What is your favourite dish to eat or cook?
I have love for a long graze. Think lots of pickles, condiments, cheese, meats, sausages, canned sardines, smoked mussels, white anchovies and oysters. Throw in some house-made breads, both loaf and flat, dips, nuts, fruit and pâté en croute. Please.
What do you love about the region?
We have tried to escape the Coast four times now. Each time we come back, it just feels right. We noticed when we returned from Melbourne four years ago that there seemed to be a renewed energy in the young people coming to or from the Coast. People who trained in other parts of the world were coming home or making home on the Coast and bringing their passion and trade with them. It’s an exciting time to be here!
Any advice for young chefs?
Study. Just like any profession, you need to do your homework.
Eat. No, seriously. Try everything. Domino’s Pizza will not improve your palate.
The main advice is just to give a ****. If you’re interested in this trade, act like it. Fakes will get called out in this industry.
What is your favourite kitchen utensil?
I know it sounds a little highbrow, but I am always reaching for my tweezers. They are an extension of my fingertips.
What is your favourite ingredient?
At the moment, zucchini flowers. Our friends from The Produce Wholesaler are supplying beautiful flowers from Wilsons Pocket, in between Gympie and Rainbow Beach. We stuff them with parsley, manchego and bread. Fried in a light tempura batter with a romesco on the base. Delicious!