Sunday, 11 January 2009

Kimbra Townend

Chef/Cookery Teacher
TAFE Drysdale, Hobart

Kimbra is one of those people in hospitality who I get inspired watching in action. She is one of those mega-passionate chefs who live and breathe food and cooking.

Her interest in food probably stems from her Mum, June, who was a stay-at-home mum always to be found either in the kitchen cooking up a batch of biscuits or other goodies, or in the garden taming nature. Kim used to help her mum with the afternoon baking after school, so got into the routine of producing home baked fare as a matter of course.

Cooking was obviously in the blood as her maternal grandfather trained as a cook in the navy, did a lot of catering and was a baker. In later life, he had the Geeveston Bakery and Taranna Bakery.

After she left school, Kimbra got a job at Banjo's in the city, serving behind the counter. While working there she took a specific interest in the sweeter bakery items, watching their production etc. She left Banjo's to go to work with Nonie at her Nonie's Restaurant in the Mall making all the cakes and desserts there. Following a lot of compliments and praise for her cooking from customers, she decided that getting an apprenticeship would be the way to go - so set about trying to get one! In Hobart, at that time, and being a female wanting to get into that more male-dominated field, she found it impossible to get an apprenticeship, especially given that the only hospitality experience she had was Banjo's (FOH) and Nonie's cooking cakes! She tried Dear Friends (Geoff Copping's ultra-upmarket restaurant at that time), Mures, and places like that, but no luck.

So - that left nothing for her but to follow her dream in Melbourne. She had been given the name and number of a chef at a hotel in Melbourne, so phoned, got offered an apprenticeship there, and relocated to Melbourne to work and train there.

She started at that hotel, which was the Mitcham Hotel, and worked there for about 18 months, catering amongst other things for children's birthday parties which the hotel specialized in. She worked under a brutal Italian chef who was a very domineering man, and wouldn't hesitate to throw a pot or pan at someone who was doing something he considered wrong! His proud boast was that he could bone out a whole pig in 6 minutes. He did this once a month. He would assemble the whole kitchen staff to observe, turn the timer on and bone the pig in the 6 minutes flat!

For her off-the-job training, she attended Box Hill TAFE on day release, one day a week. At that time in Melbourne, the two hospitality training schools were separated by whichever mode of off-the-job training the employer wished to use. If the Block release was your preferred option, your apprentice went to William Angliss; if you used the Day release option, then your apprentice attended Box Hill.

Kimbra realized that the best way to become a more rounded and experienced chef was to work at as many different places as she could, so she usually had one main job cooking, and picked up lots of other different casual jobs cooking in the evenings or on days off. For the 3rd year of her apprenticeship, her main job was at a restaurant that was open only during the days, so she was able to maintain the day job plus work other places on different nights. That day job was at a place called St Tropez, under a chef named Steve Cox, who she says was the chef who was the most passionate she ever worked with regarding his cooking. He gave her lots of freedom with the menu in the kitchen, and together they experimented with food: designing and playing with it. He supported her 100% and was a fantastic mentor for a young female apprentice chef.

She returned to Tassie when she'd finished her apprenticeship, and immediately got a casual job with Stuart Prosser at Prossers. As Stuart couldn't offer her enough hours, she then moved on to be the first female chef in the kitchens at Drunken Admiral with Craig and Leonie Godfrey. She says she felt the need to prove that she was the fastest and best while there, being female. Those were the days when crays, and seafood in general, was so cheap and abundant, and they were doing about 200 covers a night at Drunken. Heady days indeed! Craig was extremely generous with the staff, and a good boss.

She worked, as usual, a few other jobs as well, so was accumulating more and more different hospitality experiences as she went.

Kim then decided that she wanted to expand her experiences even more, so, as her brother had relocated to Canada, she decided to head there and look for work - so took off to Whistler in Canada. She had had the forethought to have a small amount of business cards (including her own specially designed chefs logo, stating that she was a qualified chef from Tasmania, prepared to work hard anywhere etc) made up before she left Hobart, so after she arrived in Whistler she went round looking at the restaurants she felt she'd like to work in, looked at their menus, then selected 6 she liked the look of, and left them 6 business cards - and that evening received 6 phone calls all offering her work!

She worked at some huge establishments: one place, Chateau Lake Louise, had 120 chefs working there and made everything on-site, including having its own butchery section which prepared its own pastrami, salami etc. She was a chef de partie there.

Some interesting statistics from Chateau Lake Louise include:

  • 1,000,000 meals per year
  • 2,000,000 cups of coffee = 18000 lbs of coffee
  • 15000 eggs just for the pastry department
  • 3000 lbs of flour a week
  • 5000 covers per day
  • 1000 covers per day just for staff
  • 10000 baked potatoes per week
  • $400 spent per day on wine for cooking alone
  • $18,000 of food per day
  • 1500 cows per year just for prime rib alone
  • 126 chefs for summer
  • 700 man hours per day staffing required
  • Bakery/patisserie sections run 24 hours a day

She then decided yet again to gain more experience, so went to Switzerland, and picked up work there. She worked in Berne for 1 year, then backpacked round Spain, Morocco, Portugal then England. She then decided it was time to come home and put down roots, so back to Hobart she trotted.

She had earlier decided that ultimately, the way to go would be to teach cookery, so went to Drysdale and had an interview with Tom Ellis. As there wasn't anything available at the time, he advised her to look for work at Wrest Point, which she did, and worked there in the Functions section under Andrew McMillan, who now is Head Chef at Astor Grill.

She then picked up a job at Willson Training Centre, teaching cookery, then eventually a job came up at Drysdale which she took.

She has worked at Drysdale in jobs ranging from Teachers Assistant, Teacher to Acting Team Leader (which she held for 18 months).

She has now been at Drysdale for 12 years - such a long time for a 38 year old! She has many challenges, as we all do, but I have no hesitation in predicting that she will meet them all with her usual honesty, integrity and credibility.

She still maintains her passion for food and cooking, and for trying to instill this in the young apprentices in her charge. She says she feels it's a bit like the Jamie Oliver scenario - with his 'Fifteen' restaurant. You get the new, raw, young apprentices in, then slowly turn them into confident chefs, who, at third year, are totally at home with their knife skills and coping with the restaurant environment. They have a huge amount to deal with initially - with the realization of exactly what it takes to get a meal to the table, family pressures, moving out of home for the first time, relationship issues, working in a team environment etc. Every day is a challenge.

But - as Kimbra says she tells all her students - cheffing is a ticket to the world. Once you have that qualification - the world is your oyster - you can go anywhere, on your own terms. You can get a job with the pay you want or need. As long as you are flexible. The more experiences you have, the better.

Two quotes from Kimbra impressed me:

You're only as good as the chef you work for; and

You need to develop what you've learnt and combine it with passion and creativity


Anonymous said...

I have worked in a home kitchen with kimbra all be it only for a short time, I found kimbra to be an inspiration, I cherrished our time together and have learnt so many skills from her.
hopefully one day we may get the chance to do it all again, best wishes ken.

Anonymous said...

This lady taught me how to de-scale fish.