Chef's World

Chef's World

Last Updated: 24 Mar 2015
Jenny Susanto-Lee

From prominent chefs on the move to the contentious issues surrounding penalty rates, we find out what's making news in Perth's restaurant scene.


Michelle Forbes

Mega chef Michelle Forbes dropped jaws late last year when she left Scott Taylor's stable of restaurants (Beaufort Street Merchant, The Trustee, and Enrique's School for to Bullfighting) without an executive chef, and they are still to find a replacement to fill her impressive shoes. But what has she been doing with herself since? A good deal of holidaying and restaurant-hopping in the eastern states, apparently.

Michelle has also done a spot of consultancy work, including helping out with a new Indian restaurant being set up in Northbridge by Gurps Bagga, from Maya Indian in Fremantle. But for the moment, her next major role is still on the negotiating table. "All I can say is that it's with a big group that's very established,
and it's a new role," she says.

Mandoon Estate

The paint is still drying on Mandoon Estate's spanking new restaurant in the Swan Valley, but executive chef Michael Hartnell is already making his mark. UK-born Michael has been sharpening his knives in London, New York and Melbourne ever since he was inspired by his big brother seventeen years ago.

"I started my apprenticeship when I was fifteen, at The Ivy, where my brother was working at the time," says Michael. "Nowadays, I tend to cook a lot of Italian. At Mandoon, we have homemade pasta and bake all our own bread, and we look for the best produce we can get. I'd probably define my style more as international though. We like to get a bit technical in the kitchen, especially with our degustation."


Solomon's Cafe, that Highgate Mecca of all things healthy and organic, has got a new chef. Born and bred in Rome, Alessandro Pizzolato is intensely passionate about fresh produce. He practises what he preaches, too.

"I've always been very fit and done a lot of sport, and I've always eaten healthy," says Alessandro. "I think it's very much an Italian thing, where the focus is on good produce rather than technique. I believe a chef should be a messenger of good eating habits because, for today's generation, there is a lot of cheap fast food that is stopping them from living a much better, healthier life."

Also on the move

  • The Brown Fox in West Perth has picked up a new gem in the kitchen, who has just finished a stint working "furiously" at Jamie's Italian in Bristol in the UK. Osman Winn has taken on the reins as head chef, and is dishing up salads, small and large sharing plates, and an all-day graze.
  • Leederville's tres chic eatery Amani Bar and Kitchen has a new head chef in the form of Kelvin Looi. Hailing from Singapore, Kelvin was a former head chef at The Publican, as well as Mash Brewing before making the switch. In Singapore, he worked at high-class French eatery Les Amis.
  • Brad Leahy has swapped his whites for a suit and is the new bar and restaurant manager for the Fremantle Sailing Club. Brad moved from his head chef role at the Bluewater Grill in Applecross, although we hear he still likes to dabble in the kitchen.
  • Italian drawcard Divido has lost its chef and co-owner. Jason Jujnovich quit the eatery late last year and is now running a food stall called Back to Balkan, which specialises in Eastern European street food. Check out its Facebook page to find out which markets its hitting up around Perth.


Perth's chefs and restaurateurs are reaching boiling point on the contentious issue of penalty rates.

When it comes to public holidays, most people are pretty darned happy. A day off work, time to chill... what's not to like? But ask a restaurateur and you'll more than likely get a chilly response. Penalty rates on public holidays mean they are paying through the nose for staff.

Take Australia Day, for example. Jacki O'Hara from The Peasant's Table in Mt Hawthorn recently revealed it would cost her an extra $900 in staff wages to open that day, and that she would struggle to break even.

Restaurateur-about-town Scott Taylor says there is no doubt that hospitality's biggest cost is labour, and penalty rates play a major role. "I know that in many well-run hospitality businesses, 38 per cent of revenue goes to labour costs, while in some businesses, it's 50 per cent. So, in other words, $5 out of every $10 goes to labour," says Scott.

"And that is in direct relation to outdated industrial relations laws. These laws are supposed to be in place to make sure it's a fair and equitable situation for workers, but what it has actually done is swung things the other way. So when a public holiday comes around, if a casual chef wants to work, the existing industrial relations laws mean I'd have to pay $54.40 an hour for them – and my answer will be, 'Sorry, you're not working'. The young casual guys who want to work on public holidays can't, because (these) laws have priced them out of the market."

Shortly, this debate will go under the microscope in a review by the Productivity Commission in a quest to reboot the entire industrial relations system. The Restaurant and Catering Association, which has tabled a submission for the review, is pushing for penalty rates to be standardised. With some rates as high as 275 per cent for casual workers on public holidays, it's no wonder smaller business operators are struggling to open on these days.

"It's putting lots of pressure on us. Weekend rates and public holiday rates are a bit out of control, to be honest," says Justin Bell, owner of Jus Burgers and Pinchos.

"On public holidays, we have to staff up with our salary staff and our family. You don't make a lot on those days, but you have to provide a service to the community. People expect you to be open."

WA Premier Colin Barnett has recently stated that penalty rates should remain, but admitted they should be made more realistic in order to encourage employment in the hospitality industry. The Australian Hotels Association's Bradley Woods has said he would also fight outdated penalty rates.

"Really, penalties need to be looked at, and it would be really good if Mr Barnett could come to the party," says Justin.

"He said there needs to be an increment, but at this point that increment is out of control."

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