Tristan Rebbettes: Free Range
An executive chef at just 27 years of age, Tristan Rebbettes talks about living out his childhood dream, his idols, and being a finalist in the 2022 Young Chef of the Year Awards.
Tristan Rebbettes was in his late teens when he moved to Australia from his home town in the UK. Now, almost ten years later, he’s executive chef of a luxurious farm-stay accommodation, managing a team of people, growing and cultivating produce – and loving every bit of it, as you might expect from a young man who always knew he wanted to be a chef.
“When I grew up, you had Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and all that on TV and I was always watching them,” says Rebbettes. “I can’t remember the age, but I was very young when I was always telling my parents that I want to be a chef. So they probably thought I just liked the TV shows and all that.”
With supportive parents, he started doing some cooking lessons for kids, and cooked regularly at home. “Instead of trying to push me away from being a chef, they drove me, helped me in any way so I could become a chef and do my qualifications,” says Rebbettes.
After college he did a stint in a pub while also working at a local fishmongers. “I got a lot of my fish skills from there,” he says. “I love cooking fish, and I think that stems from many years working in this little fishmongers.”
Then one day it all changed.
Tristan Rebbettes is currently executive chef of Mona Farm in Braidwood, NSW.
Tristen Rebbettes' Tuscan kale and Italian sausage stuffed pork belly porchetta, with broccolini salsa verde, kohlrabi and black garlic.
“I wanted to go somewhere. And I guess I thought, ‘well where’s the furthest place to go?’” It happened to be Australia.
“I was down the pub one day with friends from college and I just said, ‘guys, I think I want to go to Sydney.’ And they were like ‘okay – can we come?’”
What began as a one-or-two-year working holiday turned into an Australian career. “Now I’ve gone down the whole road. I’m a citizen. Got my passport. I’ve lived here now coming up ten years,” he laughs. “September 26, 2013. That’s the day we landed.”
Through college connections, Rebbettes landed himself a job at Rockpool, which was still located at the Rocks in Sydney at the time. He continued to build on his already impressive credentials, adding Sepia, Est., Cafe Paci and St. Peter to his name.
“I loved working in Cafe Paci. It was a pop-up restaurant at the time and I remember the dining room where everything was painted grey – tables, chairs, ceiling, walls, floor. So you'd go in there and the only colour really that would be there would be the food and wine.”
He found himself in a familiar place with his fishmonger background at St. Peter as sous chef. “[It was a] fantastic opportunity working with Josh Niland,” he says. “Understanding his kind of way of working with fish, which is just on a total different level.”
Tristan Rebbettes barbequing oyster mushrooms for his blue mackeral recipe.
Tristan Rebbettes' barbequed blue mackerel with purplette onions, roasted bell peppers, oyster mushroom and sweet and sour currant sauce.
MOVE TO THE COUNTRY
From working the big city life to running a kitchen on a rural property on the outskirts of Braidwood in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Rebbettes was drawn to country life.
“It just felt right to go somewhere a bit more rural. I grew up in a place called Sarisbury Green, which is in a county called Hampshire. It’s a little village, very close to the coast, so it was always just a quiet place,” Rebbettes recalls. “Braidwood itself reminds me of home because of the climate, the look of the area, and especially Mona Farm being very British-inspired in the gardens,” he says.
The inspiration to go rural actually came from working in the outback between restaurant jobs in Sydney.
“I was doing a bit of farm work to get my second-year visa – a classic trip from Sydney to Cairns in a camper van. It was a fantastic time. At one point we had the opportunity to go to Gregory Downs, which I loved. We spent a couple of months there, just in the middle of nowhere but in paradise,” he says.
“Like, one day I was picking things, another day I was cooking in the kitchen, another day sitting behind the bar... there was no kind of fixed job, it was just you do everything during the day.”
I think a lot of my inspiration comes from just what’s happening around me. Just being able to walk out to the gardens and pick my own veg, to pick an apple off the tree or quince or a pear and go see local suppliers
This eagerness for working so closely with the land is what has brought him to Mona Farm, a large estate with livestock, kitchen gardens, English-style forests and guesthouses. His role as executive chef sees him providing private dining to those staying in the guesthouses, or running experiences with guest chefs such as Lennox Hastie from Firedoor.
Rebbettes seems to thrive on such diversity. “It’s so different to a restaurant where everyone knows exactly what to expect,” he says. “I guess this is quite personal, where it’s not like you're feeding the masses at one time.”
“We get to give a very personal, unique experience as we’re bringing the restaurant to them. And being where we are, we can have it outside if the weather is great, and be experiencing it on the farm where the food can be raised and grown and I think it just gives it an extra little special thing.”
It’s the connection to the land and produce that drives Rebbettes, and at Mona Farm there is no shortage of it. The estate has Highland cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens, beehives and bountiful vegetable gardens. This fertile pocket of NSW boasts fantastic growing conditions for truffles and mushrooms as well as peaches and other stonefruit.
“I think a lot of my inspiration comes from just what’s happening around me. Just being able to walk out to the gardens and pick my own veg, to pick an apple off the tree or quince or a pear and go see local suppliers,” says Rebbettes.
“It really makes me and my team just feel like we are out there, not just in a kitchen. We get to be outside, we get to walk around and cook over fire.”
Tristan Rebbettes' apple tarte tatin.
Tristan Rebbettes has been drawn to the Australian country charm.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
Through young yet experienced eyes, Rebbettes sees a lot of hope in the future of the hospitality industry.
“Things are moving to be much more sustainable,” he observes. “Things are opening up much more through social media. Suppliers seem to be getting more inspiring in these places like farms, and it all seems like they’re feeding off each other. The way we’re moving forward, I think, is going in the right way.”
Being recognised as a finalist in the Young Chef of the Year Award for 2022, he says, represented a nod to his commitment to a more sustainable approach to food.
“It kind of gave me a drive to keep trying harder and just keep going,” he says. “It made me feel like if I keep doing what I’m doing, then hopefully someday I’ll get to where I want to be.” And where is that, exactly?
“My goal is to kind of have a space that is not just a restaurant, but kind of like a learning centre,” he says. “Where people can learn how to make ceramics, and people come in, learn how to tend gardens which supply the restaurant itself, – same with livestock, and then also woodwork. I’d like to have this like a closed loop – everything’s ending up at the restaurant, but it’s a learning space as well.”
A bold vision, perhaps. But what else is youth for, if not for dreaming big, and making beautiful things?