The word has hit the streets (and kitchens) that there's a new Executive Chef at Vue de monde, and Vue Journal is here to give you the inside scoop on Melbourne native Hugh Allen.
Hugh re-joined the Vue de monde team in the second half of 2018 after time spent staging in some of the world's best restaurants, and a three-year stint at Rene Redzepi's Noma that saw him as an integral part of the team in their famed restaurant in Copenhagen and Noma Mexico pop-up in Tulum.
Returning to the Vue de monde kitchen, Hugh brings with him a wealth of knowledge and a fresh outlook on the possibilities for Vue de monde. We sat down with Hugh this week to find out a little bit more about a little more about him and what we can expect in the future at Vue de monde.
Vue Journal: Let's get the ball rolling with a trip down memory lane - you began your career as a chef at the age of 15. Did you always have ambitions to be a chef?
Hugh Allen: To be honest, I didn't really think about being a chef until I realised that school was something that just wasn't for me. My parents are both in medicine and so education was very important to them, but I was disinterested in class, a distraction to my friends and I just knew it wasn't really going to work out. I've always loved cooking, and an old school friend was working as a chef at Rockpool. We caught up, talked it all out, and I started as an apprentice a few weeks later.
VJ: Since returning to Vue de monde, we've noticed you take a strong direction towards cooking with unique, local and native Australian ingredients. What are you liking the most?
HA: I love Australian seafood. Ingredients like Marron, Sydney Rock Oysters, and Barramundi are almost prevalent here in Australia, but the versatility and flavours in our seafood are incredible. Upstairs we're currently loving Lemon Myrtle and Geraldton Wax, and I'm very keen to track down some native tamarind to experiment with. A good friend also recently gave me a book about the traditional plant foods of the Kundjeyhmi people of Kakadu National Park - it's basically an encyclopedia of bush tucker and bush medicine. Australia's native ingredients are epic.
When you're not cooking 13-course degustations upstairs, what do you like to cook at home and what do you do in your spare time?
HA: Chicken parma is my go-to if I'm cooking dinner at home, but I'm usually in service 5-6 nights per week, so at the moment I'm not cooking at home all that often, unfortunately! If I'm not working, I'll be playing with our Labrador Leia, or catching up with friends and family. I'm pretty happy anywhere, eating anything, but you’ll usually find me around at home or down at our local in North Melbourne.
VJ: And what's your favourite thing to drink?
HA: A cold pint of Stone and Wood Pacific Ale is hard to beat, but our Sommelier team upstairs have got me into some pretty juicy reds - the 2017 Bass Phillip Gamay that we serve slightly chilled with a Kangaroo course is very tasty - throw it in the fridge for 20 minutes before you drink it and it's epic. It's not a juicy red, but the Bannockburn 2008 Chardonnay that we serve with our Marron course is very easy to drink too.
VJ: What's the best dish/meal you've ever had?
HA: Funnily enough, one of my absolute favourite meals was back a few years ago here at Vue de monde when I came to eat as a guest. My friend (and my boss at the time) Cory Campbell was Head Chef, and he was just going nuts in kitchen, serving up whole tuna heads and grilling stuffed quails on the balcony. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before and showed me a totally different side to what I thought I knew 'fine-dining' to be. The other stand out dish for me was at Noma Mexico, in Tulum. The pastry team created a dried Pasilla chili, that was then simmered in the native sweet-sour Melipona honey, and then filled with a local cacao ice cream. Unreal.
VJ: What’s the best thing about being back at Vue de monde?
HA: Hands down, it’s the team. Being able to work with a team of over 60(?) front and back-of-house professionals, there’s a constant stream of knowledge and inspiration being shared. I get to work with an incredibly talented and passionate group of people, using the best produce we can possibly find, in a setting that’s up there with the best in Australia. It’s a pretty good gig!
VJ: And Finally, what can you see in the future for Vdm?
HA: We’ve already changed up about 50% of the menu at Vue de monde, and I’d like to see that continue to change and be more experimental, especially with a greater focus on the use of native ingredients. The other thing that both Shannon and I are really passionate about is reducing and minimising our environmental impact and discarded waste. It takes a lot more time and effort, but the end-result of a no-waste kitchen is incomparable. We’re looking at new-ways of using ingredients that would usually be discarded, we’re making our own wax wraps to replace regular cling film, and we're developing a compost system for our food scraps to head out to Burnham Beeches to be used as in our veggie garden up there, but there’s still a lot more for us to do. If restaurant kitchens haven’t already, or aren’t looking to act in a similar way, they’re going to get left behind. It's an exciting time to be in the industry.