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Left: Niland aims to use 95% of a fish such as this Spanish mackeral. Below: A fish dish from Niland’s Sydney restaurant, St Peter


Opposite page: Niland set up The Fish Butchery to supply his restaurant and provide an outlet to sell items he creates from the whole fish


H


e etched his name into the global gastronomy world with a radical nose to tail approach to cooking fish, exhorting consumers to eat


eyeballs, sperm and livers. Since 2016 from his small Sydney restaurant Saint Peter and later through his 2019 book The Whole Fish Cookbook, Joshua Niland has steadily gone about starting a revolution in how the world perceives fish. The headline grabbing parts of his


philosophy were accompanied by a thoughtful curiosity as he experimented with ageing fish and making charcuterie with offcuts; the lingering attention he captured for the more shocking ideas has given the Australian chef a platform to share his message of sustainability and responsible behaviors around our sea and fish stock. Accepting that most people are uncertain when it comes to fish – the smell and texture is unfamiliar and we are often not sure how to handle it, he is challenging conventions. He sees his purpose to be changing people’s perception of the value of fish. “It is really to broadcast a message that the way we have behaved with fish in the west is unacceptable, it is so ignorant and neglectful and pretty disgusting,” says


42


Niland. “We settle to just take the center out of the fish and then set everything else aside.”


A nurturing start Though he didn’t grow up in a home of culinary excellence – “everybody had a meat and three veg upbringing and we were spoilt to have a hot cooked meal a day” – Niland’s route into cooking was mapped out early. When he was eight years old, he was diagnosed with a cancer that meant he had to have one of his kidneys removed and spent months undergoing chemotherapy. His mother nurturing him back to health taught him the importance of being cared for. “I think the experience of a meal being specifically cooked for you, at a time when you feel really lousy, can be very impactful; even something as insignificant as a toasted sandwich or chicken pie,” he says. “I was eating the food made by somebody extremely worried and scared and I think that in itself – more than any book or magazine – was critical to my decision to become a chef.” He had his first taste of the kitchen


aged 14 when he went to work in a local café, making coffees, washing dishes and


doing basic kitchen tasks. Just over a year later he left school after year 10, to pursue his dream of a cooking career with his parents’ blessing. “They knew it was what I wanted and that I had my head screwed on and I desperately wanted to be in a professional kitchen,” he explains. After leaving school he went to work at The Brewery Restaurant in Newcastle, half an hour from his home in Maitland, a small city equidistant from the beach and the Hunter Valley wine country. It was to provide him a with a perfect introduction to his chosen career path – the real basic 101 of a kitchen, as he describes it. “The people I worked for invested so much energy and time in training and I think that is quite a novel thing today,” he says. “To be led very directly, to be shown how to make mayonnaise or fresh pasta from scratch or how to wash your hands after each task. It was all drummed into me really gently.” He knows he was lucky to land his


first job in a nurturing kitchen and the experience has helped to shape Niland as a manager overseeing the training of young chefs in his own kitchen. “My overarching sentiment to young chefs now is to make sure you go and work somewhere where they are as desperate


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