The Van Haandel Group is keeping it in the family, appointing one of its own longstanding chefs – Oliver Hansford – to lead the kitchen at Brisbane's Stokehouse Q.
The appointment is something of a culinary homecoming for Hansford, who started his Australian career at Stokehouse Q in 2013 before taking the reins at Gauge Brisbane as its head chef. He then headed south and returned to the Group as Stokehouse St Kilda's head chef in 2016.
"Moving through the company and opening the juggernaut of a restaurant that is St Kilda – that was a whole other level of excitement and fear, long hours and sleepless nights," says Hansford. "And now to be offered this new position – I'm incredibly honoured."
It's been a relatively swift recruitment for the Brisbane restaurant since former executive chef Richard Ousby stepped down from the role in June, with the Group's head Frank van Haandel describing Hansford as the "obvious choice" for the role.
"There is no one who knows Stokehouse better than Ollie," said van Haandel in a statement. "We love being a part of the Brisbane dining community and we know that Ollie will embrace all that Brisbane has to offer."
When Hansford takes over the kitchen this spring, he'll be making changes to about half to the menu – diners can expect local vegetables and seafood to receive top billing.
"Because diners are looking out onto the water, I really want to focus on seafood," he says. "We're going to work very closely with fishermen, fisheries and our suppliers to get the best Australian seafood possible and really showcase that at the Stokehouse."
Despite his early years cooking at the Michelin-starred Morston Hall in Norfolk, Hansford says simplicity will be the calling card of Stokehouse Q's rejuvenated menu.
"It's about moving away from manipulating ingredients into something that they're not," he says. "If it's the best produce and the flavour and texture is there, let that be the hero."
There's no word yet on who will fill the new vacancy at Stokehouse St Kilda. Hansford joins an esteemed list of alumni who've led the Melbourne restaurant, including Anthony Musarra (Agostino's), Maurice Esposito (Cecconi's) and Oliver Gould (Palermo).
"There's so much support here [at Stokehouse St Kilda]; front and back of house," says Hansford. "I know that wherever I go within the Group I'm always going to have the same initial feeling of pride, being a part of it all and putting my name to the food we are serving."