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JOSHUA NILAND


to teach you as you are to learn,” he says. Aged 17, the big city beckoned as he


moved to Sydney keen to learn in the big kitchens. “It was a rude shock and I knew it would be hard, but I also knew that if I was ever going to aspire to what was in my head, I needed to push myself,” he says. The job was in the 300-seat Glass Brasserie. “I was so glad I went there because it taught me to be very organized. When you do 250 for lunch and 300 for dinner and then 200 again for lunch the next day you get pretty good.” It was a professional and personal journey of discovery. “At work I moved around the kitchen; from pastry to larder to meat and fish and as a second-year apprentice, aged 17, I thought that was a pretty good achievement. Outside work I was just getting my bearings looking after myself, doing my own washing and getting around,” he says. Next, came the chance to join the kitchen in Est, a fine dining high achieving restaurant and he spent 18 months working in the kitchen. “By the time I was 19 years old I found myself


expediting food and leading service with a brigade that was twice my age. I was flattered and honored to be in that position but I felt I got there too quickly,” he reflects.


What he did pick up from the experience was a curiosity about fish. “I noticed how meticulous and rigorous the preparation and the service was; I enjoyed the idea of needing to have this really sharp acumen to be able to do that station,” he says. “So I told my chef at the time that I wanted to be more immersed in fish, just because I found it so difficult. He said: ‘You should go and work for Stephen Hodges’.” Hodges was a maverick chef with a


restaurant called Fish Face in Sydney. “He was your typical crazy chef, really aggressive,” recalls Niland. “He would drink a lot and always had a cigarette in his mouth.” Hodges would give him a unique learning experience that was unlike anything he had experienced before. “If you poured nothing into your work Stephen would pour nothing into you,


but because I cared so much about what I did he gave me his career’s worth of knowledge in the space of 18 months. It was amazing that somebody would trust somebody with so much information; he was so generous with his teaching.” Where Est aimed for consistency


over creativity, Fish Face encouraged experimentation and failure. In addition to a set menu of Hodges’s greatest dishes there was a daily changing chalk board menu featuring whatever came in from the fishermen on the day. Chefs were encouraged to be creative and put their own ideas on the board. “There were nights where people said, ‘this is rubbish’ but other nights they loved what we cooked,” says Niland. “There aren’t enough venues where you are allowed to fail and you learn so much about yourself; you get critical feedback from the chef and the guest. There was no editing screen before you put it on the board because Stephen wanted it to be an environment where you can fail.” One specific conversation with


Hodges shaped Niland more than either of them could have imagined at the time. “One night Steve said to me, ‘you need to start thinking of tuna like it’s a cut of beef and mahi mahi like a cut of lamb’,” he recalls. “He said: ‘With all the cookbooks you have read, I am sure you could come up with a beef recipe for me. Stop thinking fish is fish and start thinking about it more like that’.”


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WORLDWIDE


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