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JOSHUA NILAND


CHANGED BY THE PANDEMIC Niland and Saint Peter have been profoundly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which gave Niland an opportunity to reconsider the way he runs his team and the journey has been a revelation. “I am trying to seek out what gives me the most amount of joy in my own week but also what gives my team joy,” he says. He asked them exactly why they cook and how


they could enjoy it more. “I had two out of 15 burst into tears because nobody had ever asked them what makes them deeply happy and satisfied. The two boys I thought were happy and dominating their work were the two who cried. They were going to bed at night filling pages of notebooks with ideas, to scratch the itch that I wasn’t providing for them.” The conversations meant that Niland could move


production space,” he says. “Saint Peter is a tiny restaurant it needed an extra cool room and more hands to accelerate production time and facility to realize greater buying power. If you can purchase more, you bring your cost down and you can benefit from the whole fish.” They opened Fish Butchery a few


doors down from Saint Peter in 2018, creating a small eco system that allows Niland to take what he wants to cook in the restaurant and use the leftovers to prepare retail products for the local community to purchase. “It means that I can now generate 90-95% usable potential from one single fish. Not only is it economically sensible for a small business to operate like that but ethically it is embedded in the business and how we work now.” He says the experience of writing menus at Saint Peter made him think more deeply about what he put on the menu. “I started to discover how much I could achieve with one single fish and that was when we dropped all the shellfish and we have a menu that is built around just a few fish. We don’t need to put crab or caviar on the menu. People might want that, but they can go


For more go to fcsi.org


somewhere else,” he says. “There are so many restaurants around the world right now that are flipping lids of caviar when you could be using the roe from the fish and make your own. If we go to great lengths to find the very best product, why would I cut a square out of the middle of the fillet and then flick the rest of it because it isn’t aesthetically pleasing?” The new book coincides with the opening of another restaurant Charcoal Fish, inspired by the rotisserie chicken shops, so ubiquitous in Australian towns and cities. The simple menu will offer grilled fish and a selection of salads and vegetables. “There are no bones, no offal and no icky bits, it is straight up protein grilled over fire,” he says. “All the creativity and techniques we apply in Saint Peter have been poured into a takeaway where the offering is available to everybody rather than the privileged few that get a seat at the counter” Though, at time of writing, with


Sydney locked down in another wave of Covid, Charcoal Fish has been delayed, Niland clearly has big plans for the model. “The idea is to create a blueprint for a new fish shop in 2021, to start the process here in Australia and then look further


them to a position where they would be challenged and “for the last six months those two are the happiest kids in the room,” he says. “Everybody should be spoken to like that and it is the approach I have had since [the first] lockdown because I felt I wasn’t giving a strong enough education to my team,” Niland says. “When you open your own business, and everybody is watching, you put the blinkers on and get your head down, but then you look up and realize that you haven’t given enough to your team.”


beyond Australia’s shores,” he says. In Niland’s approach there are clear parallels with Fergus Henderson, the British chef who revolutionized dining when he opened St John and put the less desired parts of the animal on the menu to show diners the possibilities beyond the premium cuts of meat. His impact has been profound, 25 years after launch. There’s a sense that Niland is on a similar trajectory – he is seeking major and radical systemic changes and he is only just getting started. “Are we celebrating quantity over


quality?” he asks. “As it stands that is what we are doing and maybe the handbrake does need to be pulled right now and we start paying a lot more for fish if we want to enjoy the luxury and privilege of it.”


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CODY DUNCAN / JOSH NILAND / ROB PALMER


WORLDWIDE


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