Community is at the heart of Bianca Johnston's cooking, as is practising clever waste-minimisation techniques. "I always want to cook honest food with peak-season ingredients," she says. Cooking wasn't initially on Johnston's radar, but an appearance on My Kitchen Rules as a teenager sparked a new-found appreciation for food. "Cooking didn't come super naturally to me. I guess that's why it took me a long time to blossom," says the 2019 Appetite for Excellence Young Chef winner, "but hard work gets you there."
The 27-year-old first developed that work ethic as an apprentice at the now-shuttered Smolt Kitchen in Hobart, before she hit the stoves at Tom McHugo's, a revitalised gastro pub in Hobart's city centre. It's there that she has really honed the idea of what kind of cook she wants to be.
"Tom and his partner Whitney's stance on hospitality is so infectious. They aim to make sustainable food accessible to everybody," says Johnston. "They are really focused on creating a community. They truly live it."
For Johnston, this includes spending weekends working at Fat Carrot Farm, one of the pub's vegetable suppliers. "I went to start learning about farming practices because I want to be informed about what I'm cooking with," she says.
Working closely with producers and developing a sense of community has also had a significant influence on her cooking. "They are friends; it's not just a work relationship. At least once a year we have a community day where the pub is closed and producers, beer makers and winemakers all come together. The people you're hanging out with are the people that have an input into what you're doing every day, so it does feel like you're really feeding the community."
She says the crispy chicken rice is on heavy rotation at staff meals. "This recipe fits in with what we are about at Tom McHugo's, making the most of what you have. It came out of the need to use meat off the carcasses in a stock, but can also be made by poaching chicken wings."