Paul Tyas grew up in Frankston, but speaks with a slight London accent. Paul loves cooking with premium meat and is happy when people refer to him as the meat man. He says just wants to cook good beef and clearly that’s what he does, given the awards he has collected along the way. He is currently cooking good beef at the Grosvenor Hotel in St Kilda and the pub was recently awarded People’s Choice Pub in the 2016 Time Out Pub awards.
I read that you are one of those chefs who always wanted to be a chef. What was it, from the age of 9?
I think it was more like 4. There was a Baking Scones book in Primary School that was my favourite book and I just always ran with it. Mum and dad thought, oh here we go, it’ll never transpire. But then school was never for me so Mum and dad said I had to get a job in the city to prove that I was dedicated. I used to live down in Frankston. I think they thought it’d be a 9 to 5 job. So I got a job in the city at 15 and left school. I actually ended up working with the owner from here, so I’ve worked on and off with Rabih (Yanni) since I was 15 years old. I’m now 32. So I think I’ve done 9 or 10 years with him.
Between Beaumaris, The Mentone, The Point, and now here, it’s been about 10 years I’ve spent with him.
Clearly you had a passion from the start, do you still have that passion?
I love it. I’ve travelled the world with it. I’ve done everything. I eat out on my days off. I probably spend too much of my wage on hospitality. I just love the people in it. Especially now, it has resonated even more. I’m in the middle of organising my own wedding and I just won’t budge on food. Clothes…a suit, I’m not so worried about that but you’ve got to make sure the chardonnay’s good because I don’t want to be drinking rubbish.
Oh no. Who is catering for you? That would be a terrible job…cooking for a chef on his wedding day.
Do you know, the thing is, and it proves that hospitality people really are the best. As soon as I knew I was getting married, everyone came to the party. Wine suppliers…the venue has practically been given to us. Such a great bunch of people. Hospitality is just great.
Along the way, how have you honed your craft?
I started in a pub, which is funny because now I’m back in a pub. It was back in the day when there was the upstairs, downstairs scenario. I started in the café and moved into the fine dining, got a real taste of it then. I’m lucky enough never to have needed a resume, I’ve always just flown through kitchens. I went from The Beaumaris and The Point back in the day to working for George Calombaris at Reserve; Rabih got me the job there. I spent two or three years there before it shut. During that period we went to a Master class in Brisbane where I met Andrew Turner from London who flew me out there. I spent two years with him in that kitchen. By then I had a real taste for it, but I thought English kitchens were a bit dark. You arrive in the morning and you leave in the morning. I thought maybe there’s more to this so I went travelling. I spent a year in France, which was amazing. I didn’t do any fine dining there, I went as peasanty as possible.
Did you? What part of France?
In the Savoie.
Oh the mountainous part.
Yes. In a village called La Clusaz. So you know, it was all Tartiflette and fondue terrine de campagne and all the great stuff. I just thought, yeah, peasant food’s for me. Then I came back to Australia after doing a bit of time in really big places. The other thing about me is that I just love big numbers. Just love big venues.
Really? That just sounds so daunting to me, getting it all up at the right time.
I meet all these chefs who say they do 20 covers. It’s not uncommon for a table of 20 to just walk in here. I just love big venues. I did a big venue in London that had a butchery, a bakery, a pub, a bistro, a crypt and a restaurant. It had about 48 chefs.
That’s a village.
Yeah it was huge. It was a whole London block. God, I’d love to own that property. It’d be worth a fortune.
So it was there that I discovered that I love meat. I came back and there was an ad on Seek for a chef to work at The Point Albert Park and during my apprenticeship it was always this monster that was spoken about. I wondered whether I could do it. So I tried and I ran into Scott Pickett who I used to know from back in the day. I worked under him for three years and really honed my meat. I thought I knew a lot about meat. I didn’t know anything about meat. Its funny when you’re ten years in and you think you know a lot and then to understand that you know nothing about it.
I spent three years working under him and working on meat which is now my true passion as you can see from my meat shed through there. It’s my pride and joy. I reckon there’s two and a half tonne of beef there at any one time.
Then Rabih rang me and said he was thinking of buying this pub and so I came down here and spent a year working it into a pub. It’s not a gastro pub. I wanted to avoid that term at all costs. I think the Australian pub is great. It’s where we celebrate, commiserate, if you want a Parma, fantastic, or you want a steak. And it’s got to be done well. We tried to bring the Australian pub back into vogue. We’ve even revamped the cake cabinet and brought it back but with nice portion control. We’ve kept it as Australian as possible with burgers and parmas, and obviously steaks are the jewel in the crown. We have a lot of fun along the way.
How long have you been here now?
Three and a half years and it’s still growing.
Do you still get to play with some things within the constraints of the pub menu?
We are so lucky here because it breaks down into so many aspects. We may be doing 200 parmas one night, but also have a table of eight who have ordered foie gras and truffles and it’s exciting to do that as well. So ok yes, we’re a pub in St Kilda but we have truffles and foie gras. And we’re lucky enough to have Al who brings in our wine supplies. Benjamin Laroche came over and did a Chablis dinner. The only other place that did it was the Bentley in Sydney. If people want to come in and have a whole suckling pig, we’ll do suckling pig. If they want to come in and do a degustation, we can do that too.
That’s a nice variation.
It’s good fun too. Once or twice a week someone will come in and I’ll have carte blanche to do whatever I want. We’re spoiled here. We also have a burger truck here so we’ve done some fashion launches and other events. We can take the show on the road and can do whatever. I’m lucky to have people with the skills in the kitchen that enable me to pop out and do other things.
How big is your team?
Not big enough. I have 14 full time plus casuals. So it is a big team.
How do you manage them? I just watched that terrible restaurant movie, Burnt, with Bradley Cooper. And he was so screamy. All the chefs I’ve met have been so nice to talk to, but with the pressure in the kitchen and all those people, how is it?
To be honest, I’ve changed. I was that guy until I arrived at The Point. We just had so many people come though the doors because it was just such a hard environment. You just get sick of procuring staff. If you can retain staff, the business progresses. So you have to bite your tongue. Also you get wiser as you go. You don’t lose sleep over it. It’s food. At the end of the day it’s food. I take it seriously, very seriously, but is there any need to yell at people for it? No. I’m extremely lucky here. Moses, my second, has worked with me for five years. He has been over and done Gordon Ramsay and come back. And you know, you have to share what you’ve got. Too many kids are learning everything off YouTube. You can’t blame them, but you’ve got to give them a reason to stay, be that for progression. And also, come the time that something pops up, and it’s suitable for them, you have to be willing to put them forward for it.
What do you think are the most important things for a young chef entering the industry should know?
When to be quiet. (Laughs) I had this conversation with Moses the other day actually. In my day, you know, you started and you picked the herbs. And you didn’t move from picking the herbs until you got that right. But if you got that right really early maybe you could help the sauce chef break down the ducks and you’d push to get it done. Now I know in hindsight, we were just relieving them all of their work. But it was exciting to be allowed to do all that. Now the kids these days read all these books and it’s all avant garde and they just forget the basics. So I think you have to earn your stripes.
There has to be a sense of discipline in the kitchen, doesn’t there? You’re working with knives and heat and pressure.
It’s a volatile environment.
So I guess they have to be disciplined to cope.
Yes, but you’ve got to reward them too. More so than just saying, well done, good job. We quarterly go out for dinner to a late night venue, the whole team. You’ve got to celebrate the small things, you know, best burger, best pub. I can’t do it without them, so it’s naïve not to take them out and reward them. It’s also nice if they feel they’re part of it. You only know you’ve trained someone well when you hear them training someone else. I can listen to two of my boys talk about meat and I don’t even need to open my mouth now. It’s fantastic to hear someone talking about something that’s passionate to me and they are now passionate and passing it on. It’s great.
There are too many places where you’re stuck in the corner. Here we have a revolving kitchen, as in the rosters are written, not around skill set and personality, it’s written around numbers. As long as we have four people in there on certain days we can do it. Everyone is capable of doing every section. Doing the same section day in, day out is mind numbing, so we break it up. It has to suit a lifestyle as well.
The hardest thing is recruiting. It takes up to six months to get them up to anything that’s worth keeping. So to want to get rid of them and not invest time in them, I can’t understand it. If I employ someone here, I can’t progress the business for six months. They’re not at a skill set to go further, so I need to keep someone for a minimum of a year, for the business. Otherwise we are just throwing money away. And then they get excited, they bring people in. Most of the recruitment we’ve done has been through them bringing their friends in, which is great. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s an employee’s market these days. The kids go to the restaurants they want to work at and it has been saturated. The one thing I explain to them when they start here is that this business has been here for a while and Rabhi has operated for twenty years. The doors will open tomorrow and everything will keep on operating. We’re not a new venue trying to get accolades, we are just a good hospitality venue. We have won a few things along the way which is nice, but it’s not what we are about. There are too many venues that pop up for six months and don’t last.
Chefs should be aware that it’s a career. It’s not a part of your life until something else comes along. It’s a good career. You should be proud of it. And there’s money to be made out there if you work hard. Too many people chase it and get burnt out because they were never developed fully as a chef to understand GPs and how to run a business. I hold a lot of chefs responsible for a lot of closures. You have to because they don’t treat it as thought it’s their own. If it was their business, would they run it in this way? Yes it’s fantastic that you’ve got four luxury items on that menu, but what’s it costing. You have to work it as though it’s your own.
Thank you, you’ve said so much. As people do when they are talking about what they know and love.
Well yes, but would I have said the same thing a year ago? Perhaps not. It’s always changing. You have to evaluate things every day. Some days you may go home and as bad as it sounds, you have a beer in the shower and just think what went wrong today. You’re always evaluating yourself and what you’re doing. The conversation will change with chefs.
Bless ‘em, the ones that are after the accolades and the hats. I just want to cook good beef. I enjoy being the meat man. But this is what I’m talking about today. In a week it could be completely different.
10 Brighton Road, St Kilda East