Carter Lawrance is a young chef with lots of plans and huge amounts of passion for cooking. He sheds some light on what it’s like starting out in the industry. My advice, take note of his name and watch this space, there are big things ahead for Carter.
What made you become a chef?
My parents wanted me to find a job and I had just turned 15 and I looked for a job but couldn’t find anything. Then I got a job at Safeway and the first day I remember I just didn’t want to go and so I called up and quit straight away and one of my Dad’s friend’s partner was a chef in a café in Brighton and he said they needed a kitchenhand and so I went in for a day to see how it went and fell in love with working in the kitchen. And I’ve never left the kitchen. I was working there at the weekend; Saturdays and Sundays and then after about a month I started wagging school just so that I could work there instead and then I was working three or four days a week and absolutely loved it. So by the time I was 16 and allowed to drop out of school, I did; I dropped out of school a term into Year 11 and started looking for somewhere to do an apprenticeship.
And where did you do your apprenticeship?
I did my first year at Fifteen, which was the Fifteen Foundation run by Jamie Oliver and Tobie Puttock.
Yeah so I was looking for an apprenticeship for a while before that. I almost started an apprenticeship at Cicciolina in St. Kilda and then almost at Tolano’s, another Italian place in St. Kilda as well but then the Fifteen opportunity came up. My Aunty told me they had applications available at Fifteen and I ended up applying and there were about 350 people who applied. It was a three-stage interview. I got through the first stage then the second stage and then the third stage was a two day camp where we went out to Phillip Island to this weird camp where there were lots of team activities, and I got through that and they took on 15 apprentices.
What were they looking for, do you think?
People who were passionate, I guess. Someone who really wanted the job.
What did you learn from them?
Most of the stuff I know today. The training they do in that kitchen is better training than you’d get in other restaurants because the restaurant is about the apprentices; they were there to teach us as opposed to the apprentices being there to peel potatoes or pick herbs. The head chef, who was there when I started Warren, was a South African guy and he was pretty good but after a few months he left and we got a new guy. He was Aussie but he’d been working in London for Gordon Ramsay as his sous chef at Maze, which was a one Michelin star restaurant in London. He came over and took over the kitchen at Fifteen. He was one of the best chefs I’ve ever worked with. He took me and my friend John under his wing. By that time half the apprentices had left. There were maybe only seven of us in the kitchen and John and me were the first apprentices ever at Fifteen to run our own section. I ran the pasta section and John ran the pan section next to me. Dave took us under his wing and taught us everything he knew.
When chefs say they learn so much from a particular person, is that techniques or is the approach, the philosophy, what is it exactly?
Techniques. A lot of techniques. The way he’d put flavours together. The way he’d teach me how to braise or roast meat or how to make ravioli. Whatever it was he taught me ways of doing things that have stuck with me ever since and no other chef has really been able to sow me.
What kind of food do you like to cook?
I love European cuisine; Italian and French. Probably my favourite is Italian, mainly. The last couple of years I’ve been starting to get into Asian food, specifically south-east Asian. That’s probably my favourite food to eat.
Have you travelled through there?
I’ve been to Japan twice in the last couple of years, and Thailand and before that I’d been to China. But that’s it. I haven’t travelled through there a lot. Japan is my favourite country in the world. I’ll probably be going there again this year. I love Japanese food.
Can you work there?
I actually got offered a job in a ski resort called Niseko. One of my friends’ Uncle owns Donovans in St Kilda, actually he owns restaurants around the world and he has a restaurant in Niseko and he offered me the Head chef job there but at the time I was working in France and couldn’t leave there to take it.
What was it like working in France?
I was in Chamonix. It was really different. It was good because my passion for cooking was not really there before I left. I’d lost a lot of my passion because it had become less about the food and more about the hours and the stresses of dealing with other chefs. I needed to get my passion back and my head chef at the time, Ian, who I’d worked with at a couple of restaurants, he was a really good chef and he told me he’d get me a job overseas. He told me to go and do that for a year or so to get out of the regular kitchen environment for a while.
Were they a hard audience in France?
Some were. Every week it would change. We had a different group of guests in the chalet. My girlfriend, Christie, and I ran a chalet with one other person. It wasn’t the main chalet but it was the owner of the company’s baby; it was a really nice chalet probably worth 5 plus million Euros and it was in an incredible spot in Chamonix with seven bedrooms and the guests would pay between 20 and 28,000 Euros for the week. So the guests had high expectations. Depending on where they were from, it would change the way I cooked. If I had French guests in, their focus on the food would be higher for me, as opposed to if I had Russian guests in. If I had Russians, I could make really delicious food, but if it didn’t look as pretty, they wouldn’t respond to it. But if I made a dish and plated it up really nicely, they absolutely loved it. If I had an English family, then I’d do hearty food, like a big shepherd’s pie in the middle of the table so they could help themselves.
So it was up to you what you cooked?
Totally up to me. It was good because most chalets had a set menu and the chef just had to cook whatever was on the menu. But this company was one of the best companies in Chamonix. The chefs who have been through that company are all in pretty big places now. Ben, who was there about 8 years ago has just won best chef in New Zealand two years in a row; he runs a three hat restaurant in New Zealand. Josh Pelham who worked at Estelle. Ian who was my old head chef and worked there for a few seasons, he’s doing some really interesting things now. It was a really good company to work for.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Experience. Eating at different restaurants and working in different kitchens under different chefs.
Since you’ve been back in Melbourne you’ve worked in a few different places.
Kind of. Last time I was in Melbourne I was only here for a month so I could save up some money to travel more with my girlfriend. So I just got a job in a café for a month. Then I went back. Now I’m working for a mate Dan who I was at TAFE with. He’s just opened his own business and needed some help.
So is the plan to go to Japan next?
I don’t know if I’d work in Japan. I like travelling there and exploring. It’s much different working in a place. Working in France was much different than if we’d just been visiting there. It’s nicer not working.
So, see what happens?
Pretty much. In the next year or so I’ve got no idea what will happen. I’m thinking of a trip to South America next year. I’d really like to do a couple of stages in a couple of good kitchens there, in Peru or Colombia or Mexico. I’d like to work for free there for a month or so, get back into fine dining. I haven’t been in fine dining for a while and I’d like to learn a few more techniques and then come back and take a sous chef job in a one or two hat restaurant, something like that. Then work up from there. Then eventually open my own restaurant.
That’s the plan, then? You’d like to have your own place?
For sure. Not yet though. I want to learn a lot more.