One of the many things I love about Eat Canberra is that I get to meet passionate, interesting people who love food as much as I do! Then I get to share the story with you. So when chef Michael Carey recently contacted me to tell me he had entered the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition, you can only imagine how excited I was.
I recently met him to learn more about his entry dish his career and his passion about food. Michael is currently a chef at popular restaurant, Jones & Co. (formally Me & Mrs. Jones) on the corner of Giles and Kennedy St in Kingston. When I stopped by he was infusing gin with mushrooms and other glorious ingredients to create a cocktail for a Four Pillars competition. His inventive, create personality and zest for life shone through as we started chatting.
We launched into conversation about his career, love of food and the competition. I soon learnt that he’s also the man behind the incredible banoffee dessert found on the menu at Jones & Co. Banoffee pie is one of my favourite sweet treats, so of course I had to try it! You need to get in quick to have a taste because it’s not going to be on the menu for much longer….
A fresh black truffle from The Truffle Farm had been delivered to the restaurant that morning and he casually suggested that he could shave some truffle on the dessert. Ahhhh, yes Chef! It was a taste sensation and it totally worked. I invited him to join me to try the dessert with the welcome addition of fresh truffle. So we sat chatting at the bar while we devoured heavenly bites of his banoffee creation.
Michael completed his apprenticeship in 2012 and also completed a Cert III in Patisserie. Since then he’s worked at some of Canberra’s best restaurants and cafes including Eighty Six, Sage Restaurant, Ellacure, Temporada and Space Kitchen. He also created the popular Popcorn and Caramel Sundae that can be found on the menu at Eighty Six. The dessert consists of a butterscotch caramel sauce, peanut brittle, salted buttered popcorn, buttered popcorn ice cream and a mini waffle cone stuck upside down on top, which is served in a stem less wine glass.
Building on his experience and his creative flair he came up with his signature dish he developed for the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition. I asked him a few question to find out more his very interesting dish, ‘FEATHERS and FEELERS’ and to find out more about why he’s so passionate about food and working in the industry.
1. Tell me about the signature dish you entered in the competition?
Due to the recent Australian prawn crisis and the introduction of white spot disease into the country I wanted to do a dish that supports the Australian prawn industry. As a child I grew up with chickens in my backyard and have always had a soft spot for chickens. This inspired me to create a chicken and prawn dish. The dish consists of a chicken and prawn ballotine, prawn bisque, squid ink beer-battered prawn legs, smoked confit celery, blistered cherry tomatoes, fennel frons, celery heartleaves micro basil and snow. I wanted to utilise the whole prawn leaving no wastage. So I used the prawn meat in the ballotine, the heads and shells in the bisque and the squid ink beer-battered legs. The inspiration behind the squid ink beer-battered prawn legs was to make them look like a huntsman spider, which are commonly found in Australian homes all across the country. I am a huge believer in sustainability and I do my best to recycle and reduce waste to maximize the output of any product. I also wanted to showcase the best available produce Australia has to offer in a unique way.
2. Why did you enter the competition?
I was actually encouraged to enter the competition by a friend. They wanted to help with the growth and development of my career and skills as a chef but also as a person. It’s a nice feeling to have people like that in your life. I had known about the competition for many years but never really thought of entering. The whole process has been really good for me and I believe that it is great for personal and professional development. Everyone at Jones & Co. have been really supportive of me throughout the journey and helped immensely. I would encourage any young chef to give it a go.
3. What would it would mean to you if you won or were a finalist?
It would mean so much to me and I would be over the moon just to be named as a finalist here in Australia. The judges will pick what they believe are the top 10 dishes. The chefs that created those dishes will then cook and serve their dish to a panel of 10 international judges here in Australia. Those chefs will be competing for a spot in the world finals, which are being held in Italy early next year. Making it to Italy would be a dream come true and winning is something that I can’t even imagine. I am certainly not getting that far ahead of myself. There are so many talented young chefs out there and the competition is fierce. I have had a lot of local support and would like to thank everyone involved, you know who you are!
4. What’s the one thing people need to try on your current menu?
The first thing that comes to mind (this might be a little bias because it’s one of my favourite things to eat) would be the Steak Tartare. It’s done very traditionally with freshly hand cut beef eye fillet, finely diced cornichons, eshallots, capers, parsley, a touch of truffle oil, brandy, salt and pepper. Finished with a raw egg yolk (which we inject with a touch of Tabasco), pickled baby onions, julienned radish, micro herbs and some char-grilled sourdough bread – absolutely delicious. Anyone that hasn’t tried Steak Tartare needs to and I beg of them to be a little adventurous. Don’t be put off by the fact it consists of raw beef and egg yolk. Another thing I urge people to try would be any of the desserts, it really depends on what you like. There are four amazing desserts on the menu catering to all taste buds, which in a few weeks are about to change. My favourite dessert on the menu right now would be the deconstructed Banoffee Pie – whole wheat biscuit pie base, dulce de leche (sweetened condensed milk caramel), fresh banana rounds, caramel popcorn, banana marshmallow, vanilla gelati, popcorn snow and a sprinkle of volcanic ash sea salt. Replacing this dessert will be my interpretation of the classic Key Lime Pie which is from the state of Florida!
5. Who/what inspires you to create amazing food?
There are many influences and people that inspire me to create amazing food but the first one that comes to mind would be nature. I think this is the best place to start when creating food because everything we use as chefs, and eat as consumers, come from the earth. It’s really nice to get outside as much as possible and immerse yourself in nature and the seasons. You can draw a lot of inspiration from doing so and I believe it’s a good way of staying connected. Another inspiration that I draw from is ‘food pop culture’ and iconic dishes and food items from around the world. There are so many things around the world that have become hugely popular, have stood the test of time and are now classics. Take the S’more as an example, which is an American campfire treat consisting of toasted marshmallow and chocolate, sandwiched between two graham crackers. I like to take those main ingredients/flavours and rework them into something different and original with some of my own style and flair. I also draw a lot of inspiration from the hundreds of cookbooks I own. There are so many great chefs, restaurants and books out there. There’s so much information available at our finger tips! It’s all about taking this information in and using it to create something unique to who you are and how you envision food. That way you can make it something that you can call your own. My favourite chef and someone that continuously inspires and motivates me to cook amazing food is Daniel Humm. He’s the executive chef and co owner of Eleven Madison Park New York, voted the world’s best restaurant this year. In my opinion, his food is the best in the world and has set the bar very high for me as far as my career as a chef is concerned #careergoals. Having said all of this I believe you can draw inspiration from almost anywhere. It’s all about being in tune with what’s going on around you and having that creative spark.