Jacob Davey cut his teeth in the kitchen in his early teens making lamb chops and spag bol for his parents and four siblings. Then, after a brief detour studying architecture, he found his way back behind the pans and took up an apprenticeship at Chianti in Adelaide. Stints at Taxi in Melbourne, the Michelin-starred Pied à Terre in London and Sydney’s Marque followed. In 2014 he started working alongside the legendary Peter Doyle at est., before taking the reins as head chef this year.
We chat to him about putting his stamp on the menu at est., what makes a great restaurant and where he would have his last meal.
How have you evolved as a chef working at est.? What did you learn from working with Peter?
I learned lots of things but probably more on the management side. In terms of food, Pete gave me a lot of freedom to just do what I wanted as long as it fitted into the est. framework and the balance of flavours. We wouldn’t want anyone coming in and getting shocked. He helped me develop in terms of managing staff and managing a kitchen. The back of house, nitty gritty sort of stuff.
est. is such an iconic restaurant. Does that bring challenges creatively?
There are a lot of regulars here that you don’t want to alienate but you also don’t want to become stagnant and not attract new people. So, it’s just that fine line. Always trying to push it a little bit further – but I guess incrementally.
And how are you doing that? You’re interested in the ageing process of the meats and proteins that you use and introducing a few new flavours… how would you describe the way that you’re bringing yourself into the est. experience?
I guess the main way I do that is I think about the kind of dining experience that I enjoy and I try and translate that to the guest. We have restructured the tasting menu, so it begins with a lot of snacks, where the guests start by sharing finger foods for the table, and then graduates into dishes. And I’ve always liked component dishes, so a dish may have a side dish that works well with it.
Can you give an example?
The duck at the moment is served in three parts, an aged duck crown that we roast, a little bowl of the confit leg meat, sort of like a braise, and a broth made from the bones. We present the roasted crown to the guests and tell them a little bit about it and then it goes back into the kitchen where we carve it and finish the dish.
There’s a performance element to the duck dish and an education element – do you find people respond well to that kind of thing?
It’s a mixed bag. Some people are really engaged and they love it. And some people are not so interested, but that’s okay… For me it’s worth it for the people who do get into it because I think it adds a lot to their experience.
What do you think makes a great restaurant?
It’s a lot of little things done well, I think. It starts as soon as you walk in the door. The greeting, the warmth of the staff. What I want to do is delicious, refined food, done well and with care.
Do you have any rituals that you go through before you start a service?
I don’t think so but I place a big importance on greeting everyone at the beginning of the day.
So, you don’t run a shouty kitchen?
No, it’s not shouty. I mean everyone has their moments but it’s pretty good.
Is there anything about the day-to-day life of working in a kitchen that you think would surprise people?
Maybe some of the conversations that take place in the kitchen would surprise people? It still has that rough and tumble sort of pirate thing going on in there sometimes. It can get pretty low brow, so maybe that would surprise people.
What do you always have in your pantry at home?
Always anchovies, capers, parsley and garlic. You can always make something tasty out of that.
What would your last meal be?
Definitely L’ambroisie in Paris. I recently visited there on a research trip and it was the most memorable meal I’ve had in a long time. French classics done to perfection. Sea bass with artichoke and caviar, langoustine with filo and curry, and this chocolate tart which is renowned as the best tart in the world.
Do you think it was the best?
Yeah, it was pretty amazing.
Read Gourmet Traveller’s review of est. here.