November 19, 2021
People & Places

No pressure: Sous chef for a night

Would you have what it takes to play apprentice to a highly acclaimed chef with Michelin stars in his culinary repertoire? Food writer and former My Kitchen Rules contestant Paul Wood attempted to do just that in his very own home kitchen.

Paul Wood and Jake Kellie get to work on Paul’s faithful, if diminutive, backyard grill.

For me, learning to be a half-decent cook came out of necessity. I don’t have an archetypal story linking abilities in the kitchen with family heritage – the most memorable meals from my youth featured hero ingredients such as burnt chops, packet-mix pasta alfredo and a soggy combination of three veg. Becoming a chef was on my list of possible careers at some point, but that changed. There was the time I cooked on the telly and scored top marks from Manu; but that was definitely about the dinner party and later, things were not so successful in the second-round studio kitchen of MKR. As time went by, I realised that I’m much more adept at writing about food or throwing a delicious dinner party than the strict and technical side of cooking.

The finishing touches go on the Mayura wagyu skewers

Jake Kellie started his career right out of school, thrown into the thick of things as an apprentice to Matt Moran at his Sydney restaurant Aria, followed by a development phase at the highly acclaimed and awarded Estelle in Melbourne under the guidance of chef Scott Pickett. He then traversed the globe, with stints working with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck and Brett Graham at the Ledbury in the UK, before landing the gig as Head Chef for Michelin starred Burnt Ends in Singapore, where he spent three years helping them to rise to number five in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List. It currently sits at number 59 in the World’s Best.

The rainbow chard gets a quick charring on the grill.

Back in Australia, Jake was working at Sydney restaurant Mimi’s with plans to travel to the US when the pandemic hit. Instead, he packed his bags and landed in Adelaide and, after 12 short months in town, has already been making his mark. His time here has included short stints across a few venues, with events and pop-ups giving him a chance to mix and mingle with some of SA’s best producers and industry heavyweights. And now his next adventure will see him land in Norwood, when his much-anticipated restaurant arkhé opens its doors this November.

Brendon Keys gets to grips with a bottle of chardonnay.

I’ve followed Jake between venues and events since he landed, whether he’s delivering a degustation from a commercial kitchen, snacks from a food truck, or is limited to the flames from a backyard grill, this talented cook seems to do no wrong when it comes to presenting the perfect dish. And so naturally I jumped at the chance to become his sous-chef for the day.

No pressure. For him, anyway.

To level the playing field, I propose a dinner party on home turf, and we agree on a menu that includes a few of the dishes we’ll soon see landing on the tables at arkhé. The guest list includes a group of industry connections, producers and friends that he’s formed since arriving in Adelaide.

Brent Hill lines up to sample the mussels.

Typically, a dinner at my place involves a quick afternoon dash to the shops, sourcing some quality ingredients and keeping it simple. I’m usually throwing together a welcome platter as guests arrive and they know to help themselves to the wine fridge while I put on a last-minute display of preparation to make it look like I’ve spent the day slaving away in the kitchen.

But not today. Jake phones early with a list of things to get ready for the night ahead. It’s 7am and I haven’t had my morning coffee: a day in the life of a real chef is already tiring.

The ocean jacket cheek.

There’s fresh curd to make and mis en place to prepare; mussels to de-beard and sauces to simmer. Jake started his preparation days before, visiting Ngeringa farm to source organic produce and taking delivery of the best cuts from Mayura Station and The Dairyman. He’s sourced other ingredients from producers including Kinkawooka and Woodside Cheese Wrights and had even zipped up to the Lot 100 Kitchen to prepare a mustard marinade using Mismatch Stout.

Jake arrives while I’m ironing napkins, polishing glassware and helping the ladies from Adelaide Flower House get the stems positioned on the table. With mere hours to go until guests arrive the pressure mounts and this is all feeling a little familiar: Lights. Camera. Action.

Wine, please.

There was South Australian produce galore, such as Kinkawooka mussels with brown butter sabayon and salt baked celeriac.

Chardonnay from Chateau Comme Ci Comme Ca is the perfect match to mussels served with a brown butter sabayon – a savoury version of a sauce typically reserved for desserts. The molluscs soak up the flavour and add to the creamy texture of these piquant bites.

Usually having access to a huge open fire grill, one test for the night is getting Jake to make the most of some more domestic-scale equipment and appliances. Using a charcoal Everdure grill does naught to limit the taste and texture of Mayura wagyu skewers, cooked and then coated in a mustard dressing and topped with roasted rosemary. Oohs and ahhs from the guests as we serve the meaty snacks confirm that they agree.

Jake and his real sous chef, Zac Goddard.

Another chardonnay from BK Wines called The Fall is poured as we plate up some very fancy toast. Starting with freshly baked sourdough with a generous slather of yuzu and shiso-infused aioli, ocean jacket cheeks that have been licked by flames are carefully assembled on top of each toasted slice. A combination of spices that includes sumac and dried chilli offers a hint of heat. The layers of flavour in this simple looking dish verge on addictive -– who knew that fish faces could taste so good?

The Dairyman pork chop was a hit.

In the last of the snacks, burnt flour grissini crackers act as the base for a whipped preparation of Woodside Cheese Wrights’ heavenly goats curd that is topped with bittersweet slivers of preserved cumquat. Soon after appetisers are delivered, we’re joined by actual sous chef Zac Goddard, who’s been Jake’s right hand since he arrived in town – working with him in various kitchens and over the summer at their Pirate Life Brewery pop-up. Zac will continue in arkhé’s kitchen when it opens, and for good reason; the two work in perfect unison and pretty soon I realise it’s time to take my more rightful place as host, joining guests and letting the professionals get on with mains.

As we’re seated, my dinner table aesthetic gets the nod of approval from design firm Studio Gram’s Olivier Martin, another of tonight’s guests, who has worked on the interior fit-out design for arkhé. I manage to get some insight into the plans for the new venue and am told an open wood grill will be the main source for cooking the entire arkhé menu. But for tonight it’s back outside to the alfresco where Jake is finishing off the next course over a more meagre source of heat, my trusty Everdure.

The Dairyman in the Barossa is one of the state’s most thoughtful and ethical producers of meats from a mix of livestock and they produce some damn good dairy products, too. The menu reads “pork chop” but this is actually an entire rack of pork that has been smoked and charred over the coals. Guests are treated to a display of Jake’s butchery skills as he easily dissects each piece, plating up perfectly pink slices of meat aside crispy crackling. A melange of fresh herbs is mixed into that Mismatch stout mustard sauce and chunks of quince offer a fruity flavour that helps to break up this otherwise savoury and salty main.

A hatted Aaron Fenwick brought wines from his Comme Ci Comme Ca label.

Another surprise ingredient is freshly harvested truffle shaved over segments of salt-baked celeriac that has also spent time over the coals. Slivers of Jerusalem artichoke impart their woody flavour and a yeast sauce is a surprisingly delightful addition to this hearty side. Simply prepared over flames, leaves of rainbow chard flavoured with a zesty lemon chilli dressing sit in pools of that freshly made curd I’d whipped up earlier, under the guidance of SA cheese-queen and one of tonight’s guests, Kris Lloyd. Some of Kris’s artisan buffalo curd is also the secret hero ingredient in tonight’s dessert – a less than traditional spin on a Basque cheesecake. Over a later glass of Pedro Ximenez, I manage to convince Jake to share his version of the recipe – you can thank me later.

We finish the night with freshly made marshmallows, poked onto skewers, coated in Davidson plum powder and roasted over the faithful Everdure.

Burnt Basque cheesecake. Jake puts a local spin on this traditional basque dessert, with the addition of buffalo curd.

And as the night comes to a close, I’m exhausted. And full. And dreading tomorrow’s dishes. My short time as an apprentice has given me a new appreciation for the hard work and painstaking dedication top-class chefs give to their craft.

And I’m grateful for a few things. First, that one particular international flight was cancelled and Adelaide gained a chef of this calibre. Second, that Jake is already working with some of our best producers and finding new ways to work with ingredients. And third, that arkhé will stoke its fires for the first time later this month, where his actual kitchen team can do all of the hard work, and I can get back to doing what I do best.


This story first appeared in the September 2021 issue of SALIFE magazine.


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