It was a double win for Melbourne restaurant prodigy Andrew McConnell at The Age Good Food Guide awards.
McConnell was recognised as both Citi chef of the year and as chef and proprietor of Victoria's best new restaurant, Supernormal, at the 2015 Good Food Guide awards, held Monday night at the National Gallery Victoria on St Kilda Road.
The CBD pan-Asian eatery opened its doors in May, taking McConnell's tally of currently operating - not to mention pumping - venues to seven.
The Age Good Food Guide co-editor Janne Apelgren said it was the third time McConnell, 45, had been recognised as chef of the year in his career (2007 and 2010 previously). He, along with brother Matthew, first came to the attention of judges in the 2002 edition when they were jointly recognised as the young chefs of the year for their first restaurant, Fitzroy's Diningroom 211.
“McConnell has this innate ability to predict how Melburnians want to eat, even before we know ourselves," said Apelgren.
"The restaurants he starts are real leaders and pioneers. We can maybe not thank him for the no-booking craze that followed the opening of Cumulus Inc in 2009, but he's really led the way and a lot of Andrew's restaurants are really ingrained in Melbourne diners' minds as their favourite eating in this city – the cracked wheat salad or baked eggs at Cumulus Inc – for example.
"These dishes have all the love and care that go in at the top end but they're fun without sacrificing service or quality."
McConnell, who has been overseas for the past week responded to the news in an email on Tuesday morning.
"I have just woken to the very incredible and exciting news of last nights awards. I am so thrilled and honoured."
He described 2014 and the effort involved in opening Supernormal as "exhausting".
"Thank you for the recognition, it really means a lot to me. After being away this last week I am so proud to be part of the Melbourne dining culture."
Former Royal Mail Hotel chef Dan Hunter was another grinner at this year's awards. Again the champion for regional Victoria, Hunter's first solo venture Brae, 60km south-west of Geelong at Birregurra, donned three hats and was awarded Vittoria Coffee restaurant of the year. Other restaurants to be awarded three hats are the city-based fine diners Attica, Flower Drum and Vue de Monde.
Hunter described the best restaurant award as "a great honour" and thanked his team "in the kitchen and on the floor", his business partners and his wife Julianne Bagnato "who is the backbone of everything we do and who has believed in this for so long....
"[Brae] is a restaurant that is so young and one that took so long to materialise... My wife and I took the best part of three or four years looking for right site."
The Flower Drum returned to three-hat status in last year's Guide after a seven-year hiatus, but staff at the 39-year-old restaurant had extra cause to celebrate this year with chef Anthony Lui taking out the Vittoria Coffee Legend Award. Lui took over as head chef in 1985 but the legend tag is recognition of more than longevity in a fickle industry. Apelgren said Lui had brought excitement back to Cantonese cuisine. She said an example was Lui's recent standout barramundi noodles - noodles made from the fish – "which showed all the innovation of the youngest chefs around now".
"Anthony is in his 60s and he is in that kitchen cooking every day; he's not on television, he's not judging cooking shows - he just has such extraordinary commitment and the Flower Drum is again a go-to for food lovers, as well as the powerful, the influential and for celebrities," she said.
Meanwhile Neil Perry – whose three Melbourne restaurants Rosetta, Spice Temple and Rockpool Bar & Grill all retained their two hat status - became the first chef to accumulate more than 100 hats in the history of the Good Food Guides. Perry also has three restaurants in Sydney plus another in Perth and is rumoured to be looking to Brisbane.
Very few restaurants lost hats at this year's awards, but among them were Albert St Food & Wine, Bella Vedere, Brooks, Grossi Florentino Grill, Neilson's and Scorched, which all fell from one-hat status to none.
The busy bees at Rooftop Honey were recognised as winners of the innovation award. Owners Vanessa Kwiatkowski and Mat Lumalasi have brought honey production to the city with more than 70 hives above Melbourne.
And following in the footsteps of Andrew and Matt McConnell, this year's KitchenAid Young Chef of the Year award was split between Joshua Pelham from Northcote's Estelle restaurant, and Timothy Martin of Paris-end favourite The European.
Angie Giannakodakis was recognised for her front-of-house skills at her Carlton restaurant Epocha, winning this year's Citi Service Excellence Award.
The Point, Albert Park had a win with its exciting wine list recognised as the best in Victoria for 2015.
The Age Good Food Guide 2015 will be available for $10 with The Saturday Age this weekend from participating newsagents. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $24.99.