Our HQ Getaway Chef, the super-talented Miss Laura Sides, trained as an apprentice at the Andalusian-inspired Añada in Fitzroy, and has worked in some of Melbourne’s top restaurants as part of the front of house management team: Lucy Liu and Taxi Dining Room in the CBD, and La Luna in Carlton. Laura’s passion for cooking was something that developed almost by accident.
“My mum wouldn’t let me cook because I’d make a terrible mess. I didn’t really grow up with an interest in food at all. When I moved out of home I started playing around with food, and I found that I really enjoyed cooking and people seemed to really enjoy eating it! Moving to Melbourne [from England] and working with food is where my passion was really cemented.
I arrived in Melbourne with just a backpack and not knowing a single soul. All I knew was that I wanted to work with food and wine and this seemed like the best place in the world to do that.
I unwittingly managed to secure a job in a very prestigious restaurant within 12 hrs of arriving off the plane. When I googled the restaurant later that evening, I saw it had just won Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year. I was absolutely petrified, but I turned up for day one and things rolled from there.
I later moved to Taxi Dining Room, where I started as a food runner and finished four and a half years later as part of the management team. During that time I also studied and qualified as a chef. I had the privilege of working my apprenticeship at Anada Restaurant in Fitzroy, where I would do all the food prep from 7am until mid afternoon, then race down to Taxi and work on the restaurant floor. It was an absolutely crazy time.
I then went back into management and have recently finished eighteen wonderful months as part of the opening team at Lucy Liu. I have never been hugely drawn to the confines of a restaurant kitchen, I crave creativity and being able to do my own thing. I have always known I would come back to food in the right way, and here I am!
1. What is your most memorable meal? Why does it hold such a firm place in your memory?
My favourite meal as a child was kedgeree, which is smoked haddock and spiced rice. Coming from Norwich in Northern England, you’re not really exposed to exotic foods, and I remember thinking, ‘… this is exciting’. Mum made it for us every Christmas Eve. I had it every year from four years old until I was twenty-five.
2. What was the hardest thing about your apprenticeship?
The combination of studying, going into class, doing the contact hours in a kitchen and working as a section waiter was pretty difficult to juggle. I would often leave Taxi Dining Room at 1am, needing to be back in the kitchen at 7am then back to Taxi for 4pm, it took its’ toll!
I also struggled with the Patisseries semester. I’m not one to follow a recipe and with patisserie cooking you really have to be diligent. I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth and struggle to cook anything I don’t really want to eat.
3. You’ve worked as the face of some of Melbourne’s top restaurants. How does working on the floor compare to working behind the kitchen?
I love the theatre of working on a restaurant floor, I love the intensity and high pressured environment of service. I love that you really never know who may walk through the door and having the joy of meeting such a broad range of people who all turn up for the same reason – the love of food.
4. What’s your favourite dish to prepare when you have friends over?
I so enjoy cooking at other people’s houses – it’s like the ‘mystery box’ on Masterchef, you open the fridge and cupboards and just make something. My favourite dish to cook is my version of steamed ginger and spring onion chicken. It’s one of my favourite dishes in Melbourne, originating from Ling Nam in Chinatown.
5. What do you do to eat healthy?
I never, ever eat anything out of the packet. It doesn’t excite me and it doesn’t involve any sort of interaction with the food. So I think that’s a good start. I have also become very aware of the power of water over the past couple of years and try to drink sh*$t loads of the stuff.
6. Who do you look up to in the industry? Why do you love what they’re doing?
The reason I started on this journey, across the world from Norwich to Melbourne was Rick Stein. I’d been through a big upheaval back home, and was ready for a change. I didn’t know where to go first until I saw Rick Stein cook a suckling pig in Ubud, and then realized that’s exactly where I wanted to go. So that’s where I went, and that’s what I ate, and that’s why I’m here now. I love how rustic and simple his food is.
7. If you could cook anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
If I could cook anywhere and for anyone, it would probably be for my Mum and Dad. I never got the chance to cook for them together, so perhaps that’s a step back in time rather than a specific location.
8. What are you looking forward to on our HQ Getaway in January?
I’m looking forward to the challenge of cooking for so many en masse, and I’m looking forward to using all the gadgets in the retreat kitchen which i don’t have at home but wish i did (ie. Thermomix!!!!!!).
I’m also looking forward to being in a beautiful space with like-minded ladies, away from the rat-race of day to day life.
9. You currently do Crossfit – why does it appeal to you?
I love Crossfit, because I know if I go 3 times a week I can pretty much get away with anything for the rest of the week! I like feeling strong and pushing myself to my absolute maximum capacity (which I simply couldn’t do on my own).
I love turning up with anxious anticipation of the workout ahead, then working out like a crazy person in a hot and sweaty industrial box, high fiving someone and going home being barely able to walk.
10. What do you dream of in 2016?
Channelling all things things I love and have learnt into the career I have always wanted x