CARLY LAUDER - CHEF
I grew up in Newport, by the bay. I’m a Western suburbs lass. My mum and dad still live in the same house, across the road from a refinery. There is a park that separates the houses from the massive petrol tanks. It’s noisy and the tanks glow and rumble at night. Quite often the alarms go off, I’m not sure why, but it freaks me out. I expect to go up in a fiery ball of flames.
My childhood was an absolute dream. I loved school. We mucked about in the street at night and went for walks down to the ‘warmies’ near the power station on the water, where the fish came to feed and breed. There were always people there fishing. We’d walk the dog and keep an eye out for hot boys. I’m one of three girls and we grew up down the street from our best friends. Restless teens, always at the park, on a walk, at our friends….. It was years and years of fun.
I went to Williamstown North Primary School. I remember wetting my pants on one of the first days and having to wear someone else’s undies. I was a chubby, academic kid who was terrible at sports. I loved Williamstown High School. People think I am crazy when I say how much I loved high school. I loved my friends, teachers, learning, music…… I was a total geek. But, I tried to make up for that in front of the cool kids by being the loudest and funniest so that I wasn’t pigeonholed into a library dork.
Then I started a Bachelor of Speech Therapy at La Trobe. Bad idea. I loved the anatomy and physiology, but the grammar and phonetics subjects were so dull. It took me hours to travel there and really, the only bit that I liked was the fortnightly cadaver dissections. We had this old lady as a lab technician who showed us what to do, or did it herself, depending on the complexity of the task at hand. I’ll never forget her fondling a man’s erect penis whilst explaining the procedure ahead. She was an absolute legend. All that time. All those bodies. All those green uni students.
I left after the first year, just scraping by, stealing lecture notes from people who actually attended class. I spent most of my time in the uni bar. My intention was to go back after the summer break, or at least that's what I told my mother. My sister had just graduated from her degree at Melbourne Uni and was headed overseas on a two-year work visa in the UK. So, I got my visa too and left for a three month stint travelling, then working in London. Before I left, I decided I wanted to become a chef, which my mum thought was a waste of my good brain. But it continues to be an exciting and rewarding occupation, constantly shifting and changing.
I remember working as a waitress for my aunt Pearl (who owns Madame Brussels) at her birthday party. She’s loud, hilarious, promiscuous and naughty. So are her friends. I was about fifteen and I took trays of canapes around and re-filled drinks. I remember being caught up in the thrill of observing other people’s fun and celebration. It was intimate, debaucherous, scintillating and a bit terrifying. I decided that’s where I would invest my time.
Since then, I have spent years in kitchens and front of house. It’s always different and always energetic. It’s sometimes stressful and sometimes tedious. You deal with arseholes and legends. All of the women in my family are nurses. That is another level of hospitality that is too challenging for me. I’ll stick to drinks and snacks and steer clear of the serious stuff and bodily fluids.
There is no typical day when you work for creative people. I have spent the last year and a half at du Fermier with Annie Smithers and before that, four years at Bress Wine, Cider and Produce with Adam Marks. Both Annie and Adam are whirlwinds. They work very hard and expect professionalism and focus when you are there. Every day is a new one. You can’t really plan what a day at work will be like. It’s just so different. And plans change, frequently!
I also run a small catering company for weddings and events and my brief changes every time, so I’m constantly reinventing how I approach each location and client depending on their needs. It’s always very challenging, but certainly the most exciting part of my job.
Being a woman in the hospitality industry in Australia sucked when I got home from years of travel in 2001. I actually stopped working in kitchens because the masculinity and bravado of male chefs was intolerable. I had beautiful head chefs in the UK and Billy Mac, my head chef at Jimmy Watson’s in Carlton, was the exception to the iron-fisted, macho bullshit back in OZ. I have been lucky to come under the wings of some very amazing people and have had the support of some great employers, so I think I have been fairly remunerated, trained and encouraged by them. The hospitality sector can be one of total negligence when it comes to fair wages, superannuation, over time, holidays, but I think I’ve done okay. Except for two businesses still paying off my superannuation ten years on...
Today I live in the sleepy old town of Maldon with my partner, Simon and my old old dog Patsy. It’s an old Goldfields town and it’s brown all summer and freezing all winter. I love it. I left Coburg with my husband and moved to Woodend in 2009. It was so peaceful. So much space. People talk to you. It made me really appreciate the changes in the seasons, visually, gastronomically and being able to relate to the nuance of weather, which I had never even thought of before. I’d had my head in a bucket before then. We moved from Woodend to Kyneton, where we stayed for a year. Then I had a big bloody affair with Simon. I left my husband and Simon left his partner. I moved to Castlemaine, alone. Then after a year, when it was right, I made the move to Maldon, to Simon, my lover.
I do miss not being close to Coburg and Footscray. I’m totally devoted to cooking Middle Eastern and Asian food at home. I miss Al Alahemy and the Footscray market and I visit both when I am in town. After years of working in hospitality I’ve found a fondness for fine wine. That’s hard to find here too. I’m always happy to support local wine, but PLEASE someone open a Chablis and Pinot bar!
People are friendly, the community is relatively small, but should you fuck up (ie; have an affair) be ready to be judged by your community. It’s probably an awesome way to re-evaluate your morals though.
The future is as uncertain as the present. I have entertained the idea of launching a catering company as a full-time job. I’ve thought about opening my own restaurant. And most recently I’ve thought about going back to school to study and try to get a job as a park ranger. I’m not one for having a five year or ten year plan. I once joked about starting a cooking program called ‘Flying by the seat of my pants’. That’s kind of how I operate.
Favourite places in the area: the Chewton Res (except when the weird naked man is there), Dog Rocks and the oak forest in Harcourt, the Rock of Ages in Maldon, Cascades in Muckleford, the Loddon River in Baringhup. Turpins Falls in Kyneton, Muckleford steam railway station. (a great place for a picnic and an affair), Johnny Bakers and the Theatre Royal. When I am not working I am walking in the bush, cooking dinner for a thousand friends because I can’t help myself, listening to music or podcasts, visiting a gallery, rolling out my swag somewhere strange, planting food plants in my garden and then neglecting them.
If you plan to be a green changer, become part of the community. If you don’t enjoy how someone is operating, have a conversation with them and don’t slam them on social media. Give them a chance to resolve your issues. Everyone will start as your friend. Don’t give people reason to be your enemy.