Scotties has an awesome new Chef on board and a tasty event coming up
For those of you who know your food, restaurants such as Rockpool, Bistro Moncur, Bodega 1904 and St. JOHN (in London) will all be familiar, perhaps even restaurants you've dined at?See our handpicked guides to Newcastle
Now, thanks to the lure of our seaside loving life, and some family ties, Newcastle has scored itself chef Joel Humphreys.
Joel has worked at a long list, see above, of Sydney and London’s most respected restaurants and is now bringing his worldly experience right here to Newcastle, more specifically, Scotties. With his upcoming Sichuan Feast event only a week away it was a great excuse to drop in for a chat.
Lovely to meet you Joel, thanks for inviting us along, so when did you get to Newcastle?
I’ve only just arrived, about a month ago now, and I’ve been working at Scotties for about three weeks.
Probably not long enough to make any significant changes, but have you managed to sink your teeth into the role already?
We’ve made quite a few changes to the menu, you’ll notice it’s really different to what was previously on offer. I spent the first week doing some research and development and getting the menu together and then the next week putting things into place.
You’re originally from New Zealand but have been living in Sydney working at some pretty incredible restaurants, can you tell us a little about your time there.
I’ve spent my career traveling and in London I worked at St. JOHN and Koya Restaurant. I also worked in Greece then headed back to New Zealand for a while before returning to Australia. I’ve mostly lived in Sydney, spending the better part of ten years there.
So what has brought you to Newcastle?
My fiance’s family are from Newcastle so we’ve been talking about moving here for quite a while, but it’s only been recently that the time has felt right.
It's quite a different scene in Newcastle to what you are used to, are you enjoying it so far?
I am loving it, it’s like living in paradise [laughs], I wasn’t looking to take on another big venue I just wanted to do something completely different.
I grew up in a small town in New Zealand so my career has always drawn me to big cities and big restaurants, and what I’ve realised is that to establish yourself as a cook it’s important to keep yourself really happy. And I am happy by the ocean and foraging and getting to spend quality time with my family and my daughter. The by-product of that is great cooking. So that is a really long way of saying that I want to be by the ocean [laughs].
Working with seafood has been a big part of your career but not your only focus, has that been a deliberate move to keep your training quite broad?
I was working on the fish section at Rockpool for about a year and a half, which is where I learned so much about the quality and handling of seafood. In those formative years, I trained under Michael McEnearney working with live tanks and killing to order.
Through my career I have worked in a wide variety of cuisines and now I am at a point in my life where I can express that through the produce I have access to which is nice.
It makes sense that you were drawn to working at a seafood restaurant, but how did it come about with Scotties as opposed to another seafood restaurant or even setting up your own.
My fiance and I came here for lunch a while back, we just had takeaway on the lawn, and the fish was just really beautiful and amazingly fresh. Then I looked at the dining room and I just loved it. I’ve been running restaurants double the size of Scotties, so I am looking forward to doing something on a smaller scale.
What can we expect when we check out the Scotties menu now?
The menu is still predominately seafood and vegetable base, but it’s really dictated by the produce and seasons so it will change from week to week.
One of my fish suppliers from Sydney, Tony Wearne of Shanes Seafood, has moved up to the Central Coast, I really enjoyed working with him in Sydney so it’s great to have him up here now. I’ve also been working closely with Carlo Pasquale from Jesmond Fruit Barn, who has been incredible, along with Gareth from Covered in Crumbs who is baking a spec sourdough for me.
I am not labeling it as mod Aus, Japanese or Chinese, I’ve got a couple of dishes on the menu that are classical French technique but has Japanese flavours, there is also a really classical Italian dessert that has a Chinese fling to it. I think it’s delicious.
Will the takeaway remain as we know it?
We're making some changes, but not a lot. I am looking at creating a Scotties Fish Burger, and again working with Shane’s Seafood to get some different varieties of fish through the window. I also plan on introducing some salads and plant-based meals just to lighten it up.
You have your first event coming up at Scotties on the 17th April, it’s going to be a Sichuan feast, can you give us a heads up on what we can expect?
It will be a banquet-style menu and essentially how I want to start the event is by having the table fully laid out so when you sit down you start eating straight away. I really love the atmosphere and emotion that is created around a table when everyone is digging in, that’s how I like to eat Chinese food.
Then there will be a main course, which will also be shared, followed by a really simple light dessert, and lots of cheap Chinese beer and natural Australian wine.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
The whole idea of the Sichuan event was inspired by a number of pop-ups I did in London. One of my friends Joel Wotten, who is actually from Muswellbrook, we both worked at Rockpool and St. JOHN together, and we did a pop-up in a tiny little hole-in-the-wall pie store in London, it was crazy. We approached the owner, Bob, and offered him a couple of hundred quid and used the space to cook Sichuan food.
In London at that time there wasn’t much Sichuan food and the evening was really fun and everyone loved it.
We were then asked to do the same event in Copenhagen with our friend Lee Tiernan from Black Axe Mangal and this night was one of the last pop-ups we did before we came back to Australia. It was so much fun and I am looking to do more of these events in Newcastle. I’ve got more events planned, I’d love to do a Vietnamese soup event and another one that involves a suckling pig over the winter months.
What did people you worked with think when you told them that you were moving to Newcastle?
At first they were like ‘what do you mean?!’ ‘I don’t know man?’ but now they’ve seen what I am doing through social media and they’re like ‘wow it’s beautiful up there’.
We’ve been coming up here for years to visit family and I’ve seen how Newcastle's changed over the years, there are some really cutting edge concepts coming through. At first I thought 'no way I couldn’t leave my career in Sydney', but then I was like 'you know, maybe I could', to, 'ok we’re doing it' and here we are.