Darren Robertson: Paddock to Plate

Darren Robertson is an unassuming and genuine guy, just as comfortable catching waves as he is cooking in front of a camera, creating new menu items, or cooking a bbq for family and friends at home. From humble beginnings cooking in his hometown of Kent, a stint at Gravetye Manor in Sussex, and eight years at Tetsuya’s in Sydney laid an extensive foundation for Darren’s culinary journey and passion for all things food. Now running two restaurants (Three Blue Ducks in Bronte and Byron), co-hosting Channel Ten’sRecipe to Riches’ plus hosting his own show “Charcoal Kitchen’ on Foxtel, a third book underway, and an exciting new outback pop-up restaurant project on the cards, Darren talks about all things culinary, why he loves his food-centric life and the ever-changing food industry.

Who was/is your biggest inspiration?
Probably, my mum, she is such a hard worker and has definitely instilled that work ethic into me.

What can people expect from a Three Blue Ducks experience?
It is relaxed and casual, despite a lot of us coming from fine dining backgrounds. We put a lot of care and love into the food and present it in a way that is relevant and accessible to everyone. Bronte is a little place near the beach, Byron is a huge farm – 96 acres, there’s a children’s playground, live music, picnic spots, you can go and pick mushrooms, dandelion leaves, berries, and have a great experience – we don’t make it easy for you to leave!

Why is the paddock to plate phenomenon – promoting locally sourced, organic produce, and supporting sustainable local farming and businesses – taken off over recent years?
It wasn’t always like that, it has definitely grown in the last ten years, which I have seen as I have visited producers and farmers, and had stalls at farmers markets. It is quite scary what’s out there. We are all surfers, we love the outdoors and nature. We don’t want to eat sprayed food, it all just seems like the right thing to do. We try not to be preachy about it, though. Not everyone can afford it, there are different constraints people face around food. We have a list of guidelines to stick to and are responsible for hundreds of staff and thousands of customers at our restaurants, so we take this very seriously.

Do you think more people are becoming more aware and interested in where their food comes from?
There is definitely a trend toward locally sourced food and produce and experiences that are environmentally healthy. It has been happening for quite a while now and is quite topical. It is only growing with more and more awareness through cooking shows and social media.

What current food trends are you seeing emerge throughout 2016?
There is a definite flow on from the Sydney NOMA effect, lots of native ingredients. Pop-up dining continues to be popular, as customers seek a more offbeat, unique dining experience. People are also tending to grow more of their own food and are more interested in how the food they eat is produced. There’s also a growing trend for seaweed used in all different things at the moment.

Do you have any new projects underway at the moment that we haven’t heard about?
Yes actually, I am maybe going to open another restaurant, and we are also about to start on our third book. We are also in the stages of creating a pop-up restaurant that we are going to take to all parts of Australia, the remote parts of the Australian outback. It is going to be an outdoor cooking experience, catching the food and cooking it out under the stars out on hot coals.

What is your favourite thing to cook at home?
I always love a good bbq, I love cooking old school on hot coals, a decent steak, seafood, oysters. I love cooking outside, I love spicy food, lemongrass and chilli and ginger, a nice spicy paste.

Why do you love what you do?
It is lots of fun, we get to eat like kings and taste incredible produce. I love our industry, it is full of passionate and fascinating people. It used to be quite secretive but has become far more open and collaborative over the past decade. People find out you’re a chef, like when I first went to London and you’re on absolutely no money, and they will bring you out extra courses. If you are inquisitive and show interest, people are so supportive, people have realised now that we need to globally share everything in our industry.

A solidly grounded food philosophy and unfailing passion, combined with years of experience in the company like-minded, food-loving business partners and friends is a sure-fire recipe for success in the culinary world – Darren has all the ingredients he needs to continue leading Australia’s food culture for many years to come.

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