Peter Gunn - The New Guard
It's been 12 months since his successful pop-up, Ides, became one of Melbourne's most exciting restaurants, but this Kiwi chef is out to prove there's much more to come.
Shrugging off expectations can be difficult, something Peter Gunn discovered when he left Melbourne's renowned Attica to open his own restaurant, Ides, last year. "Being the ex-sous chef at Attica can be hard to shake off," he says. "Ben is my greatest mentor and has changed my life, but I don't want that restaurant. I think we're through that now, but it did take a while."
The Wellington-born chef spent five years in Ben Shewry's kitchen, having come from Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel with Dan Hunter. Guests familiar with both restaurants will see the DNA at his eatery in Collingwood's Smith Street, but Peter is definitely taking his own path.
FROM LITTLE THINGS
Ides developed from an idea to start a catering company with a friend. They had business cards printed, put out the word and booked zero jobs. Thankfully, Attica allowed him to flex his creative muscle.
"I started to have a lot of my own ideas and I really wanted them to go somewhere," says the 31-year-old. The idea of a pop-up was floated.
"Month by month, we grew. We started bringing in our own stuff, we got people involved, we started cooking better food, serving it better." Soon, it was near impossible to get a seat at the monthly events.
"Right from the beginning," he says when asked when he knew the pop-up would translate to a full-time establishment. Not that there haven't been moments when he's wondered if it would work, but he's developed a coping mechanism that involves focusing on his family, wife Nirvalla and three-year-old son Oden, on days off. They have another baby on the way and Peter's planning to spend less time in the kitchen, a move that may raise some eyebrows.
"I've learned not to give a toss what anyone thinks," he says. "I've been praised in some media, belittled in others, and if you look for approval, it can really chew you up. But I'd come into the restaurant, which was full of people enjoying themselves, and realise it didn't really matter what was going on out there."
Ask a Melbourne diner what they know about Ides and they'll likely tell you it's the place where the chefs serve the dishes.
"We started running the food at the pop-up, but we just ran it, put it down and said this is what it is," Peter explains. "These days we serve the food. We really try and engage, although not everyone is interested - they just want to eat."
There are just six chefs in the kitchen, and they create six-course menus each night for 36 diners. More recently, they've added an optional course, an appetiser and two different types of bread.
"It's really about building a repertoire of dishes I can call my own," says Peter. Rather than regularly changing the entire menu, a new dish is introduced every fortnight. "It takes about two weeks, I think, to get a dish right. We started a new, very intricate dessert on Wednesday and it's in its third version tonight."
When the restaurant opened, the menu changed each week. "But guests don't come in every week, so it was putting a lot of pressure on my small team. Now we work on one thing until it's rock solid then we can move on to the next dish."
It's not just the food evolving. With the restaurant's first birthday happening on March 15 , Peter is keen to move forward. He's introduced the Sample Menu, where diners are served dishes currently in development. One Day Sundays are the equivalent of a pop-up within the space. Then there are the guest chefs, like Federico Zanellato from Sydney's LuMi Dining, who brought his Italian offering in February.
"When your on-call mentor is gone, you call on other chefs to learn from them. We're not going to replicate his (Zanellato's) food, but we are going to learn some stuff we don't come across from day to day here."
TIS THE SEASONING
If George, Matt or Gary were to take a seat at Ides they would never give Peter a pasting about lack of seasoning.
"It's got me in trouble, but I'm a sucker for salt," he says. "And it's made me realise I need to create seasonings that can withstand the amount of salt I like. So to balance it out, I need high-intensity sugar or high-intensity pepper."
It is the ability to present those different bold flavours in innovative
ways that has proved Ides' big attraction. "The inspiration comes from everywhere, the flavour profiles come from anywhere and, for the most part, dishes are based around produce at its peak."
He goes on to explain the lengthy development of a dish involving pork hock, tomatoes, lovage, rhubarb and blood orange. "There's a lot of focus, a lot of restraint and discipline there."
The four dishes he's presented here are riffs on classics - the mint-glazed lamb neck wrapped in roasted parsley is a nod to a traditional roast. They're dishes meant to be shared for a Sunday lunch. And all four involve full-on seasoning.
"The cos lettuce is brushed with bonito vinegar and lemon oil, then the seasoning is lots of salt, lots of palm sugar, lots of chilli, there's so much sensation going on. It's so unassuming, but the flavour is big."