LUKE HARDS - THE PUBLIC INN
I grew up in Harcourt. It was a pretty quiet town. I spent a lot of time mucking around at the pine plantation over the road and generally got up to mischief with my mates.
I went to Harcourt Primary until it shut down and merged with Harcourt North. Then that shut down and became Harcourt Primary again. I went to high school in Castlemaine and spent my teenage years seeing movies and shopping in Bendigo. My dad was a baker at the local hospital, the Old Maldon Bakery, Hot and Crusty and Tip Top. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with him but bakery hours didn’t appeal to me. The first thing I remember cooking is scones with my grandma.
I did my chef’s apprenticeship at Clogs, a well-established pizza and pasta joint in Bendigo. As a second year apprentice I booked a return flight to Sydney and a table for one at Bilson’s, when Manu Fidel was Head Chef, because I wanted to see a high-end kitchen. The other customers were a lot older and dressed to the nines and were fascinated by the kid in the corner ordering the full degustation. The wait staff cottoned on that I was an apprentice chef and Tony Bilson took me into the kitchen and offered me a drink. He asked me what wine I liked, and I didn’t know anything about wine, so just said “red?” The sommelier brought over two glasses of red and I drank it with Tony sitting at the pass, watching service. The kitchen was shoebox, and to see the food that was coming out of there really opened my eyes to what can be done in a confined space.
The most intimidating place I’ve worked at is The Stoke House in St. Kilda - there were fifteen chefs in the kitchen, all classically trained. For my trial, they assured me it was a quiet night, assigned me a section, gave me a menu with the items I was responsible for highlighted and showed me how to do each menu item once. We ended up doing a hundred covers that night, but I got the job and had a couple of days to work out how to afford to live as a chef in that part of Melbourne. I’ve also worked in Kyneton, Maldon and Daylesford and have been at The Public Inn for just over a year. Here I enjoy creating Asian- style dishes, and I love coming to work with funny, creative, passionate people.
At home I like to keep it simple – dumplings are a favourite.
What do to in the area: Do yourself a favour and get an almond croissant from Johnny Baker's Drive Thru.
For anyone considering a move out here: Castlemaine's really expensive. It's bullshit.