Being taught how to cook by one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs would be a dream for most aspiring chefs around the country, and for a lucky 40, this dream will soon be their reality. Come February, culinary legend Peter Doyle will be leading Merivale’s all new chef apprenticeship program, a first of its kind in Australia.
Since hanging up his apron at Sydney’s iconic est. and passing the baton to executive chef Jacob Davey in mid 2018, Peter has been busy prepping for an exciting new chapter that will see him cooking up a storm in the classroom, which seems like a natural evolution for him. “The opportunity came up to do the school and it was perfect timing and perfect gelling, because I don’t necessarily want to do nothing,” he says. “And I’ve been teaching people ever since I started, for the last 40 years.”
What it is that makes this program so different to anything out there and why it will be at the forefront of how chefs will be trained in Australia?
Firstly, an obvious difference is the intimacy and mentorship throughout the program. “A legendary culinary icon will work with you one-on-one to develop your skills,” says Nick Norris, Merivale’s Apprenticeships & Traineeships Coordinator, who has been working closely with Peter to create the program. With just two intakes of 20 students in 2019 and only ten in the classroom at one time with Peter, this kind of culinary training is the stuff of dreams. “It will be an exciting approach to learning,” Peter adds.
Having the chance to train with Peter has brought in a wide range of applicants, from fresh-faced teens to those taking the leap and finally following a long-lived passion. “We’ve had some mature age applicants, people in their 30s and beyond, which is really heartening,” says Nick.
Along with Peter’s practical classes, students will also have to spend a good chunk of time putting their skills to practice in the kitchens of Merivale venues, and with over 70 bars and restaurants, students will be like kids in a culinary candy store with so many different cuisines and opportunities at their fingertips.
Often referred to as a ‘home grown legend’, with his trademark being contemporary Australian food, executed with French-influenced precision, just how tailored will the program be to Peter’s own cooking style? Well, he has written all of the practical content of the course. “It will offer precision-based technique applied with attention to detail,” Peter explains. “We will be using the best available produce to encourage passion in the students”.
The program will be worlds away from Peter’s TAFE days in the 70s (where he unsurprisingly graduated as ‘Apprentice of the Year’). Peter recalls: “When I began my apprenticeship, it was a good time to start because, in a way, we were still in the dark ages. Every restaurant in Sydney basically had the same 20 dishes on and they weren’t produce-driven at all.”
Of course, all the fundamentals will be taught, as well as covering other cuisines (students might be lucky enough to make some Dan Hong specialities) but within weeks they’ll be attempting some of Peter’s signature dishes. No pressure guys!
Oh, and something else that’s pretty cool about the course? It’s accelerated to 18 months, giving hungry chefs the chance to get out there and work some magic in the kitchen even more quickly.
It’s not just the students who will be challenged. Teaching in a busy kitchen versus a classroom will be something new for Peter. “It is face-to-face, it’s hands on, and you are trying to get your philosophy and what you want done across all the time and maintain standards, so it’ll just be interesting to see how I go in front of a class,” he says. “But I feel confident that I can do it and that I’ve got the knowledge and know-how to express it.”
Having mentored many great chefs already, such as Jordan Toft and Jacob Davey, it’s going to be exciting to see the next generation of Merivale chefs emerge from Doyle’s teachings. “You always want the people you’re teaching to be better than you are by the time that they’ve grown in their capacity,” says Peter. “You want the world to be a better place by the time you’ve finished.”
Asked if he has one piece of advice for budding young chefs out there, Peter simply says “Come to work each day with a positive attitude towards pleasing your customers. It all comes down to that in the end and it’s very satisfying.” And with humble words like this from an Australian culinary icon, we think these chefs are going to be in very good hands.
See yourself cooking up a career as a chef alongside Peter? Apply now for the mid-year intake!