Rising stars: (From left) Hanz Gueco, Lauren Eldrige, Chase Lovecky, Laura Baratto, and Zen Jay Ong at Yellow. Photo: Nic Walker
Being a chef is hard (yeah, yeah, hold the phones.) And not just a few nicks, cuts and burns hard, but properly hard-core. The hours, the stress, the physical exertion, the stink. It takes a certain type of person to want to make a life and career out of it.
Some do it for the kudos, some for the rush and others, like Yellow's Zen Jay Ong do it for the feeling of accomplishment. "Zen is very competitive by nature," says executive chef Brent Savage. "He's very driven and passionate about his work. His dedication and ability to do what it takes to achieve his goal defines the chef he is today."
They all admit to being adrenalin junkies who very rarely see the insides of their houses. "It's a rush," says Chiswick's Laura Baratto. "You've got deadlines. If you don't meet them, it's pretty much do or die." Though according to chef Matt Moran, she's cool as they come during service. "Laura is great to work with. Calm under pressure, a good communicator and she is always tasting the food."
Baratto and Ong are joining forces with Momofuku's Chase Lovecky, Marque Restaurant's Lauren Eldridge and Pei Modern's Hanz Gueco to cook at this year's rising star dinner next Wednesday. These are some of the most driven young individuals in the game right now. When you look at who's actually at the coalface day to day, it's these guys. And it's not easy.
For some of them, they work under the burden of expectation that a three hat restaurant can bring. "This may just be my background but nobody seems interested in full-on fine dining anymore," says Eldridge, a sharp pastry chef who's been at Marque for the past 2½ years. "There's such a push towards casual sharing. No one wants that extra experience. There are only so many burger/fried chicken/pizza places you can go to before you're like 'I'm done with this'."
"I came from New York. Most people who want to pay that kind of money for dinner want to wear a suit," says Lovecky, who owner/head chef David Chang describes as an ox who's done more work than most people he's known, and a rare combination of talent, drive and mental smarts. "Here, guys rock up in shorts and thongs and say 'we just want to chill and drink some natural wine.' People just want to put their elbows on the table, have a good time and eat some tasty food."
Hanz Gueco, who has recently moved to Marque's casual offshoot Pei Modern from Cafe Paci, thinks there's a new found freedom in the way chefs cook these days. "The sky's the limit for us. No one's ever going to say 'oh, it's not meant to be like that'. People like Neil Perry have pushed the way for us. We have a lot to thank for the older guys who have given us this freedom."
The rising stars dinner is part of NSW Food and Wine Festival supported by Citi.
Rising stars dinner, 6.30pm Wednesday, February 25, $150pp, Chiswick at the Gallery, Art Gallery Rd, the Domain, (02) 9225 1819, nswfoodandwine.com.au