An Interview with the Executive Chef at Spicers Retreats, Australia
The prospect of cooking and eating for a living is a pretty tempting one – especially when you’re doing it in some of Australia’s most luxurious properties. Enter Cameron Matthews, the passionate, Executive Chef who has been working at Spicers Retreats for the past 8.5 years. We recently caught up with Cameron about what makes his job so thrilling, and why a visit to Spicers is a must for any Australia holiday:
Tell us a bit about your job and what it entails.
As Spicers’ Group Executive Chef my job involves mentoring, inspiring, training and leading the amazing chefs that we have working within our restaurants. I spend time talking with each individual, tasting dishes and making suggestions to each chef on how they could make things better within their kitchens. I represent these chefs within the hospitality industry. I also work alongside the property General Managers with any restaurant-specific knowledge they may need.
What do you love most about your role?
Working with all the different styles of cuisines that our restaurants do – every restaurant is very different so it requires a huge amount of creativity and stretches my knowledge, it throws up a lot of culinary challenges. The Spicers culture is fantastic with nearly everyone being, happy, humble and smart!
What do you love most about working at Spicers?
The uniform may be the same, but no two days are. We have unlimited access to coffee – lots of it! And of course the surroundings are inspiring. Everywhere I look there’s something (or someone) I want to know more about. Ingredients, techniques, style, craft, stories and big personalities abound. “Spicerians” are some of the hardest working, funny, dedicated, big-hearted people I have ever met. Every day they show me how to be brave, learn, have faith, and be strong – no matter what. When service gets tough, the professionals step up.
I love food, knives, fire, movement, and the energy of a busy restaurant and that, if you pay attention, you can learn something wonderful every day. Also, tasting beautiful things is a job requirement and, while I may not eat all day, when I finally do get a meal it’s usually pretty mind blowing.
How does the feel and surroundings of Spicers influence the menu you create?
Each restaurant has a unique look and feel and they draw on that. I use the French word ‘terroir’, as used in wine parlance, a lot – so each menu is heavily influenced by that. Also all of our chefs rely on local artisan bakers and makers to source produce for our kitchens, giving them a specific link to the surrounds.
What challenges do you face in your role?
Restaurant culture has brutal origins: there’s an ancestral machismo that developed in the classic kitchens of France, where working gruelling hours built talent. A bad temper was considered a sign of toughness, commitment, and originality. And tolerating admonishment was a character-building experience, not a human resources nightmare. Thankfully that’s changing, but only slowly –chefs still think this way sometimes – I’m guilty of it – so one of my biggest challenges is to ensure change, not only through our restaurants but our industry. Luckily, Spicers has a great culture.
What’s your favourite dish to create and serve?
Probably the next dish that I create! I don’t believe in sitting still, signature dishes aren’t my thing, you’re only as good as the next dish you serve. Having said that, and seeing how you asked, I’d have to say I enjoy cooking any dish based on well-aged duck, cooked over coals like we do at the Long Apron, the restaurant at the Spicers Clovelly Estate in Montville, Queensland.
If you could only eat one thing off the Spicers’ menu for the rest of your life, what would it be?
One thing – that's too hard to decide! As a last meal it would be a duck entree from the Long Apron, free-range pork cooked on the fire pit at Homage, in Spicers Hidden Vale, followed by a koji crème caramel from the Spicers Tamarind Retreat.