Beyond the beaches of the Sunshine Coast, a world of organic produce, luxury retreats and sophisticated two-hatted restaurants wait with anticipation. As General Manager of Spicers Clovelly Estate and Executive Chef of two-hatted The Long Apron, Cameron Matthews has successfully drawn attention to the Sunshine Coast as a premium destination. With a focus on relaxed luxury, Spicers is about the best of creature comforts and tranquility, which Cameron works tirelessly with his team to present.
But what makes The Long Apron particularly unique comes from where they draw upon their inspiration, which is the very individual and unique local region of the Sunshine Coast itself. From producers such as Walker Farm Foods to Mooloolaba sourced seafood or handcrafted dairy products from Kenilworth Country Foods, every component of the dish is exclusively crafted from the region, using Cameron’s cooking techniques to promote flavoursome foods, naturally.
Largely self-taught, Cameron’s background in the culinary arts started with an Italian family at Victoria’s Simones At Bright. The passion for simple food using premium produce was initially instilled here, with the cooking ethic to create food with passion. Cameron has since worked his way up the ladder, through to Sirromet Winery and the Stamford Plaza Hotel Brisbane and finally to Montville at The Long Apron. While Italian techniques are not necessarily united to fine dining, for Cameron, cooking is more about caring for people and cooking for a reason.
As the clock ticks down to Saturday June 13, Cameron will be applying his food ideology on this special night and cooking for a reason when ten of the country’s top chefs unite for the Variety of Chefs Ball at the Hilton Brisbane Hotel. We sit down with Cameron and delve into how he first learnt gnocchi by the uniquely original ‘broom handle method’, how he marries Italian cookery to a two-hatted restaurant, and what we can expect when he plates up dessert for #VOC2015.
Your background in cooking comes from Italian training, but this isn’t ordinarily associated to fine dining. How do you marry Italian cooking to fine dining at Long Apron?
Fine dining to me is not about starch and silver and the white gloves. It’s about the quality of service and quality of food. The care from the people who are serving it and producing the food is the essence of fine dining. Take away all the layers of fine dining – all the pomp and ceremony – and strip it down to what it should be: great food, great local product cooked with the love and care and attention to detail it deserves, by people who care.
At Simones At Bright, we worked really hard in the kitchen, cooking really amazing local produce in the simple style that Italians cook. Italian cooking is more about caring for people and cooking for a reason. I learnt gnocchi by the ‘broom handle method’ – which is if you made it wrong, you got a broom handle around the back of your legs. That was from Maria, the 79 year old Nonna. I learnt the passion for food, and to not bother cooking unless you care about what you’re doing and so, having a reason to cook.
You’re general manager of the estate as well as the executive chef which are equally two full time jobs in themselves. How do you manage to balance both?
It’s like running a kitchen. It’s also about having a great team under you. There’s delegation and decision-making. There’s not a great deal of difference between running a property and running a kitchen. They’re very similar.
If Spicers Clovelly is about relaxed luxury, how is this concept reflected in the food?
Being a fine dining restaurant, we’re irreverent in our food while putting the fun into it. Everything we try and do, we don’t want to be over the top. We just want to enjoy the twists and turns and thought processes of what we do.
What do you think being awarded two-hats for The Long Apron has done for the Sunshine Coast region?
I’d like to think we’ve bought some recognition to the Sunshine Coast, particularly to the people who have deserved it. It was amazing produce there to start with, and we’ve bought that to the forefront. We’ve developed a real community up there. It’s a great community already, and the Long Apron has become a part of that. So as a community, we’ve done it all together.
What does the Sunshine Coast community mean to The Long Apron?
It’s very much about the producers and the people, and working with those people to help produce what we like. We may not get perfect produce but that’s fine. For example, our chicken supply from Casey Walker’s Walker Farm Foods with her nomadic chickens means we get six chickens a week. We’ve designed the dish around the fact that they produce a small amount of chickens – they’re amazing heritage-bred chickens. Other amazing small producers are coming in every week with sensational produce. Working with these people gives me satisfaction and are important for the connections they create.
What does the two-hats for The Long Apron mean?
The two-hats are important for guests. It’s in your mind as a chef because you love to get that, but it’s also good for our area – for the producers we use and the guys in our kitchen. Do I want it? Yes. But is it the reason why I cook and why we do what we do? Hats are great. It’s an important part, but it’s not the be all and end all. The most important part is cooking for people because you love to.
What dish will you be creating for Variety of Chefs and what can you tell us about it?
I’ll be making dessert with Richard Ousby from Stokehouse Brisbane: chocolate and quince dessert with malted potato cream. Using potatoes in a dessert can be different, but when you roast them and infuse them with milk, they taste like malt.
What does the Variety of Chefs Ball mean to you?
Any time you’re in the industry of hospitality that you can give back is really important. Restaurants are a tough game; a tough gig. And to be able to use what we do and benefit the community for this cause will be amazing. For me, coming from a 30-seat restaurant to cook for 500 people will be a bit wow. It will definitely be a good night.
Photographer: Lady Lex