Michael Slade loves being a chef. After chatting about his culinary journey, he cooked up a feast for me and the photographer, Juan. “How will you have an understanding of who I am and what my food is about, if you don’t taste it?” he asked.
How long have you been cooking?
Jeez. I was working in a butcher’s when I was 13 and my first foray into cooking would have been when I was 15. I’m 36 now, so just over 20 years.
And you started in England?
Yes, back in the UK. I always knew I wanted to cook. I turned around to my mum when I was about seven and said I want to be a chef and I’ve pretty much followed that ever since.
Where did that idea come from?
I have no clue. Because my mum’s a terrible cook. Maybe that’s where it came from. (laughs) I’ve always enjoyed it, you know, baking with my Nan.
I went to college, did three years at college, did an advanced hospitality in catering management course which involved cooking. Then I went and did a Level 3 Patisserie and Larder and then went to London. I started at a place called Le Pont de la Tour, which was quite renowned at the time, and then moved to another restaurant called Coq d’Argent which was all part of the Conran group and there I found two Yorkshiremen who took me under their wing, and I worked with them for about four or five years over a few different venues.
What made you come to Australia?
I always wanted to come here. Stephen Goodlad, who was my Executive Chef at the time, actually did a stint out here at Burnham Beaches, and he always said he’d send me to Australia and I kept on working and then he said, right, I’ve got a job for you in Melbourne, off you go. And I started at The Grand Hyatt. That was in 2002.
How do you find the food scene here?
We’ve got everything in Melbourne. You can pretty much go out and dine for a reasonable price, because of all of the ethnic backgrounds we’ve got here. It’s a melting pot for food here. There’s a great standard of food here.
Who have you learned the most from in your cooking career?
I’ve had a few significant people along the way. Tony Gledhill, the butcher, I’m still in contact with him today. He taught me an awful lot. I was with him for two years. I enjoyed working with the meat. Then there’s Kevin and Stephen, who were my Head Chef and Executive Chef, the Yorkshiremen. I have a lot of respect for them. They are my biggest mentors. Adrian Richardson at La Luna Bistro as well. You don’t work for someone for two three-year periods without having a healthy respect for him.
Where does your inspiration come from for your menu?
We’ve termed the food Med-Anglo. We’ve got lots of Mediterranean influences. I do have an Anglo bent to it, so we’ve got suet pastry pies, we age beef, and there’s a few classics on there, like fish and chips, that sort of stuff.
Seasonal stuff is pretty much what we work with. There are a lot of meat inspired dishes, but with the market around here, we do try and make sure that we’re catering for vegetarians as well. We put a fair bit of effort into that, it’s not just a token gesture.
Do you have a favourite dish?
There’s a tough one… The menu changes quite constantly and we always have something different going on. I love what we do with aged beef. It’s such fantastic meat. The goat and the rabbit are pretty good. We do a spicy glazed goat dish. We use habanero chilli base to it then we smoke the goat, braise it for 3–4 hours to make sure it’s nice and tender then we serve it with roasted onions and yoghurt. It seems to go quite well. People enjoy it. Actually I should say our Sunday lunch roast is probably my favourite. I like sitting down to a roast every week.
757 High St, Thornbury
Closed Tuesday, Mon, Wed – Sat 5- 11pm, Sun 12 – 11pm