Today we’re speaking with Dave, our head chef here at Wide Open Road. He’s been with us for over 4 years and has been busy working to update our new menu for Spring and Summer with some locally sourced, seasonal produce.
Where’d you learn to be a chef?
I worked in the UK at a tapas bar in central London. It had really funky vibes, a great wine list and a tiny kitchen, with about six chefs working in it at any one time. The menu there changed every day, and because it was lots of tapas you’d have eight pans going at once on the stove. We made things like pork belly with braised white beans, salmon and saffron risotto, pickled mushrooms. We had three sittings each night, so we’d be cooking til about 11pm.
Later I became the head chef at a gastropub I opened with some friends. They’d been publicans before but wanted to open a more food focused venue. It was called Captain Cook; they were both from New Zealand. We did everything - we built the kitchen, created the menu, and I stayed for about two years. I wanted to travel and I was thirty one at the time, and the travel visa won’t let you into Australia after thirty two. So I travelled Australia for a year and ended up here in Melbourne,
I’ve never been a brunch chef before coming here, and the brunch market in Melbourne is pretty cutthroat. Everyone here is a foodie, and everyone expects what a brunch menu will look like.
Where did inspiration for the new menu come from?
From southern French and southern Italian style of eating, it’s all local-produce focused. Seasonal, simple produce, with Mediterranean influences. The focus is really on high quality ingredients and simple cooking. We’re doing smaller plates, so the idea there is you can have something smaller for breakfast or lunch, or you could build it out with lots of dishes. We’re also focusing on share plates, as part of the community vibe we hope to foster here. People sitting around a table is a lost thing these days because they’re so busy, so if you can come here and share a few plates of food it’s a nice concept. Another huge thing is to have food that can carry throughout the day, and can lend itself to having a glass of wine with it, or a coffee in the morning.
How did you go about finding local producers to source ingredients from?
I’ve had long relationships with most of the guys I use here. We use local butchers, fruit and vegetables, seafood. Saving Grace are a great Spanish / Mediterranean supplier, the go-to really for that kind of food, and for things like small goods, vinegars and oils. We have an amazing olive oil from them, it’s actually Victorian and the olives are grown here. We also have a great merlot red vinegar from them that’s so good you could pretty much drink it. We’ve really focused in on smaller suppliers doing speciality produce, so that we don’t have to do much to do them because they’re already at such a high level.
What’s your favourite dish on the new menu?
The broad beans with mint, ricotta and lemon bruschette. Even though it’s laborious to shell fresh broad beans and the season is quite small. We chargrill the bread, then rub it with garlic, and fresh sea salt and olive oil, so it smells amazing. So the scents in the kitchen are really garlic, olive oil and bruschette with this menu. We’re looking at expanding the menu to add seasonal specials too, dependent on what’s in at that time. The menu will be ever-changing and flexible, which is a better way to do it. That way we don’t have to import anything when the Australian season isn’t growing the product, we can just swap things onto the menu.
Who do you look up to, chef wise / restaurant wise in Victoria?
I love the vibe of Carlton Wine Room, they do smaller plates and focus on share dishes, with simple fresh food. It’s very relaxed, when you walk past it looks like people are just sitting outside of someones house.
Cafe wise I like Florian, they have a sophisticated looking menu but there’s only three or four ingredients on the plate, it’s very calm and leafy. It feels European.
MoVida too, it’s a Spanish tapas place. MoVida next door is very cool, it’s got a square bar that you can sit at and eat tapas and talk to the staff. There’s always specials on.
How do you go about designing a menu?
It’s often based on a seasonal item for the upcoming season; so for this it was broad beans, and then we built the menu out around it. Then we thought about, even though we’re doing lunch style dishes, we’re open for breakfast, so it has to be accessible for the whole day, which led us to the bruschette idea. Then we trialled some dishes. We also considered what’s on the winter menu - we had a porridge poached pear, so we updated that with a granola and seasonal summer fruits. Plus we always do eggs on toast, and then with seasonal sides. And we considered options for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free items too.
Food prices have skyrocketed since covid, and so has the cost of living. So we’ve made this menu overall more affordable, which we wanted to do to fit the community brief. We want to serve the community, and to have people able to come in every day. We’ve been open every day other than Christmas and New Years Day in 2009, and we never shut during the pandemic.