I came to cooking by accident about three years ago. After nearly 10 years working in the public service, I realised I wanted to do something else with my life. So I quit my government job and ran away to Paris with a friend who gave me a new lease on life and revived my love of food. I owe her a lot.
The trip was a revelation. I found a new generation of young chefs that had turned their backs on white tablecloths and tourist-trap bistro food. They cooked on creative impulse with what was available at the market that morning.
I got chatting to the chef of Au Passage, Ed Delling-Williams, and talked my way into an unpaid role in the kitchen. I still don't know why he took a chance on me. I was 31, clumsy, unqualified, with no experience. After one shift, he said: "You're about 15 years behind. You'll have to work harder, faster and better." I went in every day for the next two months.
Back in Canberra, I joined Bar Rochford as a prep-chef with the occasional service shift, floor service when it was busy, security on the door when it was busier. I wanted so badly to be a part of it that I'd go early to the markets and buy produce out of my own pocket so that I could teach myself and test ideas.
The food at Bar Rochford is unfussy. Since we're unbound by technique or a particular cuisine, I can change our menu often, depending on what I can get my hands on and what inspires me.
By looking at Canberra's stark seasons as a positive, and working so closely with local growers and suppliers, I've found that we can get the best out of what the region offers. In the spring, we served great carrots from Brightside Produce with a wheat-beer sauce and chamomile, then they left some in the ground for us over winter and we got huge, sweet carrots which we slow-cooked and served with almonds and grilled blood orange.
Sometimes I look back and think, what the hell happened? Now I work twice the hours for half the money and people come to a restaurant to eat what I cook. It doesn't make any sense to me, but that doesn't make me love it any less.
Bar Rochford, First Floor, 65 London Circuit, Canberra, ACT, (02) 6230 6222, barrochford.com
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