Under the Influence with Chef Nick Blake
Name: Nick Blake
Position: Head Chef
How did you become a chef?
I have been heavily influenced by my childhood in Fiji from the age of four until I turned 18. I loved the outdoors and had a nack for growing things, I had my own garden and even a pig! I’d pick chokos, avocados, guavas, cassava and all the tropical produce in the creek by our home in Suva. I’d go with Mum to the markets, pigeon shooting with Dad and prawn spearing via kerosene lamp in the local village creeks. Being from an anglo-Burmese father, good food, family recipes and particularly Asian food was what I was brought up on. It seems natural now that I ended up as a chef.
Rewarding career moments?
Working alongside Rene Redzepi and the Noma Australia team in Sydney in 2016 and having him explain his menu concept; setting up my own business Wildforage Australia, working with a wide range of TV and print media through my foraging; and taking the reins from Mitch as Head Chef at Riceboi.
What do you love about being a chef?
I love that you keep learning every single day and it is so unpredictable; I love the pace of the kitchen; I love the magic that happens when you’re under the pump but you’re also in full control of the chaos. I love the kitchen banter and comradery that comes from working day-in, day-out with a team.
What do you love about local produce?
Local producers are what makes cooking on the Sunshine Coast so interesting. They give us Chefs a greater connection to ‘place’, knowing the back story also enables us to create more meaningful food experiences. Some of my favourites include Fraser Isle Spanner Crab, Walker Seafoods, Kenilworth Dairies, and meat from Maleny Buffalo.
What is your approach to food?
I let the produce guide me as to what I will do with it. Working in a pan Asian restaurant gives me a lot of different options to approach an ingredient but I don’t like fusion! I like to pick a clear laneway and stick to it. Then it’s about showcasing a technique and finding complementary flavours and textures that hit you in the face when you eat it.
Do you cook at home?
I cook every single day I am home, I will never pass up an opportunity to cook. I have a love affair with spice and Indo-Fijian style curries.
What is your favourite dish to eat or cook?
My grandmother’s Mohinga Burmese Fish Curry. I feel connected to her everytime I make it.
Who would you love to cook for? Dead or Alive?
Alive, my Mum-she makes the best akuri eggs and fresh water mussel (kai) curry.
Dead, my Grandmother for her knowledge of old burmese recipes and heavenly guava cheese.
Who is your culinary idol?
Rene Redzepi for his creativity, foraging knowledge and how he interprets the Danish landscape. Lennox Hastie for his skill working with fire; and Ben Devlin.
Why do you love the Sunshine Coast?
I love where I live in Yandina, our amazing farmers markets, local fishery, access to produce, national parks, beaches and sense of community.
Any advice for young chefs?
Put in the work, focus on the actual cooking, takes notes when you learn something new, only you can keep yourself inspired. Read books, eat well at work, always turn up to a trial with a sharp knife. When you feel like you’re being broken down or its too hard ‘push through’ – the magic happens when you reach the other side.
What is your favourite kitchen tool?
My Japanese Oroshigane (a very fine Japanese grater that’s used to grate fresh wasabi root and daikon into a very fine puree and can also be used for zesting).
What is your favourite ingredient?
Japanese Green Yuzu Kosho (a paste made from fermented green chilli and Japanese yuzu (citrus) peel).