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The ‘Crisis’ of shortage of Chef’s in Australia

The great Chef’s Crisis

It’s been well documented in recent times by different media groups, here are some examples.

I can recommend listening to this sound cloud/pod cast by Christine Green, she really nails a lot of it, I’m yet to read her book, I think it would be a cracker with all her tales! This discussion is really good, you can listen here.

and her book is available here


Some others that have covered the subject also, no solutions on this one just observations from a very experienced and respected Chef

some deeper thinking

This local Australian media article isn’t bad either, although ironically the same organisation  is guilty of what so much of the food media do with ‘glamorizing ‘ what is not actually glamorous

This article goes deeper into the mental stress of the industry

Rather than go on about the negatives of the massive hours and working the hours that everybody else is having their fun time , I thought I’d highlight a couple of issues below and an idea or two how to keep your great chefs ‘long term’ .

On the Positive side : 

My advice to young chefs the same that was given to me year years ago :

“always cook with someone else’s money , and IF you wanted to do your own thing ‘ be the 3rd one in’, *topic for explanation later time.

I would add ‘Travel’, the one thing that the industry and trade can provide is the chance to see the world, and often with that have your rent paid , which makes the crappy $$ so much sweater!

Lastly,  ‘its totally ok to crank some loud and heavy tunes during prep time’;  ‘food fights are good for mental health’;  and don’t play with front of house staff!

And before it all gets to depressing to the point of horror at the thought of people having to cook their own food, here is a classic mood lightener.


  • Money, the money I made and what was available starting in the 80’s compared to now when taking CPI into consideration is terrible, it hasn’t even kept up with inflation.  Anyone that has an eye on the $$ and wants to make good money cooking, really needs to be looking offshore for their career.


  • Media, through a plethora of tv shows, the media have turned a hand full of chefs into celebrities, rocket scientists, social commentators, marketing money making machines, health professionals, political activists and everything in between, they could save the world if the food media gave them a chance!


  • Over sensationalizing the reality of what really is the industry and highlighting the 000000000000000000ooo00000000000000000 1% that get that level of media opportunity  (lets face Mr Oliver would be the first to admit he’s a very lucky chap, just happened to be in the right place at the right time and ran with it, good luck to him, ‘lubly jubly’ as he would say!) but it’s so far from what is the norm, it  couldn’t be further from the truth, it paints a VERY UNREALISTIC picture of what life behind the pass is really like.


  • A lot of Chefs will say just pay us more… those that say this are highlighting their ignorance of ‘commercial reality’. Wage/money can only be linked to profit, and MOST food businesses don’t make money or if they do very little, so there isn’t enough left over to pay more. For Chefs to ‘earn more’ they need to be cooking in operations that make their money less off the food and more off other areas, be it alcohol, gambling, accommodation, fees, whatever it may be.


  • Busy profitable food business (that can make money) are ‘Physically’ and ‘Mentally’ are demanding and the fact is as a Chef gets older it’s harder to maintain, so how do you keep them on board?


  • Hours, well they are crap, that’s all there is to it, but does it always have to be 10-14 hr days  for days on end before you get a day off?  If your working on a fortnight roster sometimes that can mean 10 days straight. Then when you get that day you basically and up in a coma on the couch because you are physically and mentally exhausted? I would recommend to most medium to large operations consider shaking it up a bit, why not offer 4 days 10-12 hrs per day , 4 days off roster, if you cant pay more then perhaps offer a lifestyle, it’s not always about the money.


  • Training, the current method of training due the Federal Governments apprenticeship/certificate system being linked to financial incentives to  training  organisations and business owners , has resulted in a  INFERIOR level of training than decades before. I say this particularly with Food Safety, Workplace Safety, and Commercial Acumen which just doesn’t seem to be touched on. Food/Menu/Cooking  variety, flavors and presentation is at much HIGHER levels than the past, but the business side of it is poor. Kitchen/Business Management just isn’t covered or taught, so it’s left up to the individual to find their own training. I also say this with background and experience in the training sector, its a model that is fundamentally flawed and broken ( I wrote a detailed submission to the powers that be back on the day that fell on deaf ears) and guess what? All these years later the ‘training industry’ is now  finally under investigation at Federal political level, but for many the damage has been already done. It’s up to the leaders of the industry to train from within now, invest in their chefs of tomorrow, because we can’t leave it up to the Government for solutions, they already have failed there.


  • I can see a time when large hotels and food/hospitality organisations start to look at chefs in the same light that a professional football club does. Identify the talent early and sign them up to long programs that will see them stay with the club/business for the best part of their career. Just the same as the football club it would involve many layers of training and support and a structured career plan with performance intensives along the way, especially rewarding long term commitment. Some hotel groups already do this with opportunities for   transfers nationally and internationally within the group.


  • So where are the best ‘professional career chefs’ going , or going to go? In my view they will gravitate to larger organisations, Clubs, Pubs, Mining/Resource Aged care/Health sectors where the businesses make profit or are NFP on the food side, and therefore can invest in better conditions (kitchens/equipment) reasonable hours.  The money might not be higher, but the conditions and security are much higher and encourage long term commitment and opportunities for career advancement.


  • Certainly the evidence is clear in NSW where the Club scene sets the pace nationally and there are some really strong examples of training and investment into the next generation of chefs, backed with industry initiatives such as the It’s certainly an area I would suggest any new Chefs in training be looking to, you will gain experience in large commercial kitchens that a properly designed and resourced, secure employment and income and many of the best clubs offer great opportunities for ‘Fine dining’ , ‘Function’ and Catering along with Bistro work. Some even have their own Pastry and Butchery sections on site, a rarity in this day and age of ‘buy in convenience’ This gives a training Chef a ’rounded’ view and skill set on all types of kitchen work and they will be well skilled to move into any areas of the industry that they choose, from small fancy Restaurants to large scale catering kitchens. In the past you would look to a ‘Hotel’ kitchen for this training , that’s not always the case these days, and training isn’t always high on the Agenda for Hotel Kitchens like it once was.


  • Despite what the media may tell us , the fancy Restaurant with all the hype and media exposure and big named Chef , DOES NOT represent the entire industry and sure does not represent the best career path ‘commercially’ for a ‘Professional Chef’, cooking ‘professionally’ is different to cooking entirely for love or ego. There is a time and place in every commercial Chefs career for both, Ego/Passion and Commercial, getting the balance is the tricky part!

    Clubs training next generation of chefs
Next generation club chefs
  • The Brigade/Army ‘Yes Chef’ culture, is ridiculous, antiquated and out of touch with the modern world, the Culture needs change, especially the totalitarian army style of ranking and abuse!  Is stems from a time and era where menu’s and food were much different, and also the way we treat people! I’ve seen many young chefs broken from abuse by elder washed up worn out ‘cooks’ that frankly had their taste buds inserted in the wrong end of their body, ‘the way many young apprentices have been treated over the years would be one of the biggest factors in the ‘high drop out rate of apprentice chefs’.
  • How and what we eat now is vastly different, ingredients the equipment and resources are  different. For some strange reason we want to hold onto to so much the past, News flash ‘ Escoffier is Dead’ and he died a long time ago, time to move on.


  • The death of the $100k executive Chef ! Back in the 80’s in what common to find European head chefs of hotels and larger organisations earning this sort of money, I know for me it was one of the things that attracted me to the industry , there WAS money to be made when you made the top. These guys were task masters, but they knew their stuff and they could run a kitchen with lots of staff  like well oiled machines, they were tough, but they were respected and they knew their gig. But somehow things changed…management said, ‘ we don’t need these overseas $100k ego maniacs’ lets promote the Jnr Sous Chef to do it on $65k , they can do it, save  us heaps…and that short sighted approach was the beginning of the Rot.


  • Lack of ‘kitchen management’. This is the No 1 issue I find in so many operations, Head Chefs that are too busy ‘cooking’ when they should be spending MUCH more time OFF the tools ‘managing the operation’ be it staff/rosters, menu/costings, suppliers/produce, marketing, food safety, kitchen maintenance , energy costs the lists go on. If a Chef in a busy operation can spend more time on these above items they could potentially save their operation many thousands of dollars.
  • By shaving % off labour costs, % off food costs, %operating energy costs, % of maintenance/repair costs TRAINING New staff, all these small % improvements will add up to FAR greater profit than pumping out extra covers each night. If you can get your senior chef into a ‘executive ‘ position , less on the tools your bottom line will improve, you can train your own staff and guess what your senior Chef might just stay for years to come! Pay them well*, let them run it like a business, and let them spend time training the Chefs of tomorrow. * Incentives are key here, bonus’s for hitting targets, ‘profit’ based, not just ‘numbers based’.


  • Much of the above may seem to be directed at medium to larger organisations, and probably is, but it can still be implemented in smaller operations.


  • Over supply: There is a massive oversupply of eating out options available to us these days, with everyone’s busy lifestyles, long commutes from workplaces etc this is unlikely to change. But it does put an unhealthy  pressure on the staffing pool. And sadly a LARGE percentage of the small start ups will fail, and in the process probably ‘burn’ some poor young chef’s along the way.


  • I have no idea why people that ‘eat out’ think they are qualified to ‘open and run’ a food operation, especially if they come from industries so different, it’s been this way for a while, and probably won’t change . Which is good for people that are selling hospitality business finance and or supplies, not for the staff. My Tip for young or Apprentice Chefs, avoid working in start ups, leave your Ego at home and work with experienced professional operations , go where you can lean and be trained, you also know that  you are at least going to get paid!


  • Bad business managers, underpayment of staff.  Well documented,and its not just the small unknowns, the better known and bigger names are just as guilty, industrial relations is choked up with a back log of hospitality pay issues. Hardly helps attract new players.


  •  For professional Chefs , especially apprentices let the ‘I’ve always wanted to run my own restaurant crew’ do so on their own time and money not at your expense’  OR if you take on such a challenge do so with a ‘risk factor’ built into your wage/pay because statistically you are at high risk of working in a business that is going to go broke, so make sure you get plenty up front, because you will have buckley’s chance of chasing up that missing super and holiday pay once the doors are shut.


  • I feel fortunate to have done much of my Apprenticeship years working in environments where time was spent training me to reasonably high level of skills and organisation, I was lucky to work under some fantastic chefs, and a few not so! Those skills I carry with me and I know (and occasionally do) that I can get back ‘on the tools’ at any time I need/choose to. For those that are still out there busting their backs sacrificing the massive hours and commitment to feed/entertain others  I applaud you, but makes sure you are getting well looked after for your efforts.

          ‘If you think a good chef is expensive, wait until you find out what a ‘cheap’ chef will cost you’






When to engage a commercial kitchen consultant designer?

The million dollar question, when at what point do you reach to a commercial kitchen consultant?

At there risk of offending anyone that has been guilty of the below, here goes!

There are many different examples of project and size and type , too may to list, but the answer always to all is to engage at the START of your planning and consideration phase, I have listed some examples below to help explain, these are all based on years of real life examples.

The confusion or lack of understanding of the ‘when and why’ to reach or engage (in Australia) in my opinion is largely the fault of the body that is supposed to promote the profession within industry. It does little to promote itself or its members to the outside world, which causes confusion  as too who/what a commercial kitchen designer consultant does.

Typically a project may have an architectural team engaged, an interior designer and the relevant specialist consultants involved, rarely any are experts or greatly experienced in what makes a commercial kitchen or food service operation design work.

The only people you want working on your kitchen and or bar plans from a ‘functional and effective’ point of view are people with lots of ‘real’ project experience that are involved from conception to completion, and those that have relevant industry experience operationally, you need to then add a good dose of industry equipment experience, a clear understanding of all the  types, features and benefits of commercial food service equipment  is essential.

Modern food service, menu’s and equipment mean we can now design effective kitchens is much smaller spaces than the old school hotel kitchen plans of past era’s. However there is a big difference between ‘compact and effective’ and ‘too small’.

I have  yet to come across a set of plans that has allocated too much space for the food service and or bar operations, its always on the too small side and this not only effects the performance of the operation but food safety and profitability.

To work out how much ‘space is required’ a detailed brief on what the facility is required to do needs to be obtained. This is a very specific detail also, simply ‘provide food and beverage’ is not a brief! (I have seen exactly those words written on a Government brief before!)

What sort of food? What type of service? What sort of numbers? What is the product/food supply situation? What are the staff skill’s/numbers anticipated to be? What would a typical menu look like,, yes the MENU massive impact on what happens kitchen design wise, yet I’m often asked to design a facility that doesn’t have this sorted! Horse/cart !! It doesn’t have to final or exact but food types, methods of cookery, service delivery all so very important.

Anything else you want to add?’

Seems so obvious but I have had clients for example that say at the last moment ..well there is going to be 50 people staying on site 7 days…..but that’s for the first 6 months..after than it will go to 250…”WT! you didn’t think that was important to state up front!” massive design implications. OR .’.we are going to cater for 100 …but we may also pick up the catering contract around the corner that would be for an extra 100!” ….great …=total redesign!

Provide as much detail at the start about the short/medium and long term plans  for the operation, this will have a big impact on design.

Current Trends 

Casual, multicultural, fast casual, healthy, funky, hip, amazing presentation, are all current directions the food and hospitality industry is heading. Designs that feature strong interaction between kitchen/food/guest are playing major parts in design, food is as much entertainment as it is a meal these days.


The major factor for space/design/equipment calculations is? How does one know how much space to allow in a project early on.

In my opinion, is to plan it like you are working it yourself, this is what i do, and i also collect as much information if possible from the existing operation and staff (if an existing business) on what is working or not working for them currently.

I really don’t understand how you can design a kitchen for commercial success if you have not experienced years of working in them yourself, you need to be able to picture yourself as the operator , actually running and cooking in the operation, same goes for the bar. That means from menu design, ordering, receiving, storing stock, then we can look at preparation and cleaning requirements, and all the space calculations are still always going to come back to the menu and type of service and skill levels of the staff expected.

So with this is I mind we work backwards, from the loading/receiving bay.

Put your Builders/Architect/Engineers Chef’s Hat on!

It’s easy to be caught up writing and concentrating about food, efficiency, systems etc, menu trends all essential points, however.

There is a HEAP of building infrastructure and services involved with a professional food kitchen/operation/bar.

If i was to say there is easily Fifteen hydraulic points/considerations in a typical 100/150 capacity restaurant/pub/bar you would say I was mad! There is at least this amount, there are ‘non negotiable’ plumbing items such as hand basin/s, dish/glass washers and then believe it or not often over looked ‘food preparation sinks’ and then we have Combi Oven/s ice machines, Gas lines this list goes on and this is without looking at mechanical ventilation, that is exhaust canopies and make up air to the buildings all under the HVAC engineers final specifications of how it will actually work.

The early days of a kitchen plan actually involves talking to Architects/Draftspersons/Engineers/Hydraulic Consultants/Electrical Consultants/Building Engineers and the list goes on…you can even through ‘heritage and environmental consultant/engineers in there. Note the words Chef/Bar Manager/Operations Manager don’t appear on the list. Everything in the food service design is going to impact how the building is designed and or built, all the services and the infrastructure to support them needs to be planned now, normally months often years before the building is built, let alone final menu’s and or decor are decided upon.

During these early planning stages and building issues that are impacted by the food service plan are going to raise their head, and there will be plenty. Examples may include, unable to place exhaust canopy in chosen location due to building engineering issues, type of cooking appliance/fuel can have a local planning/environmental impact and require pre approvals, electrical load capacities are insufficient to meet the requirements, trade waste facilities need to planned well in advance to locate their position, these calculations can’t be completed until the correct hydraulic plans are in place and these need to be based on the kitchen plan, gas locations or lack there of, ceiling heights in some areas may cause issues with coolrooms, exhaust canopies etc unable to locate plumbing or drains in certain locations due to structural integrity of the floor/slab..the list is massive.

The sooner an operator can focus on getting the basic layout of the kitchen/s, bar/s completed early on the better the project will be in planing  and building stages and costs. If the above examples are considered  ‘after’ or ‘late’ in the cycle it will always lead to

a)increase in project costs b)delays in the project c)compromised design and specifications

I often see Architectural and Interior Design conceptual drawings that look amazing at the front, so much beautiful design and presentation it looks fantastic! But when you peel back the wrapping the ingredients that are required to make that kitchen or bar functional, efficient and effective are simply not there, the design doesn’t work. It can be as simple as a lack of sinks and the right ones to comply with the Australian Standards for Food Premise Designs, through to lack of storage, no cleaning/chemical facilities, no equipment storage the list goes on. Partly the blame for this is the amazing 3D rendering computer design software that is out there now, its sometimes easier to come up with a life like amazing 3D image than what it is to have details to scaled schematic drawings.

3D presentation it encourages looking at the presentation side of things or the ‘Wow’ part before we have looked at the ‘How’part.

The Wow is much easier to achieve than How, and that probably explains why you should engage a Foodservice/Commercial Kitchen/Bar Designer as early as possible, because there is no point in making the design look wonderful if functionally it doesn’t work, the lack of functionality will make or break an operation.

In the ‘how’ we can look at how much food we will be procuring, how often and storage requirements, then the cooking and preparation requirements, how service flows, how the kitchen flows, how do the food safety considerations work, and last but not least , how we are going to do the the cleaning, washing sanitizing, the same goes for bars.

And from that we can start to determine the space required, then we can get into the nitty gritty design.

There is no magical square meter calculator ,  I have seen them and they do not work, the ONLY exception to that rule is in ‘catering’ operations with set cycle menu’s and catering numbers, e.g. mining camps, aged cares facilities etc.

Avoid costly project delays caused by having to resubmit local authority plans.

I recently was asked to help out on a project that was well underway in the construction phase. The short a story was once we had sorted out what was really required for their operation it equaled a LOT of extra plumbing points.

Now the construction hadn’t reached this part of the building yet, so no problem you may say, quite the opposite actually. All the extra plumbing points meant a redraw of the hydraulic plan , which had to be done by the Hydraulic consultant (not a cheap date$!!) then the hydraulic plan had to be resubmitted to council more $$, on top of that the plumbing contractor had to stop his trench digging until then as his entire plan was about to change, so the building process was delayed until the council could look at the plans and reapprove. Luckily in this case the council was quick, it could have been a lot worse, never the less it cost time/money that would have been avoided if we (or another consultant) was involved 6-12 months earlier!

example scenario 1. Community facility/hall/School tuck shop

If I had a dollar for every ‘commercial kitchen’ i have seen designed into a community hall or facility that is supposed to be able to cater for occasional functions of 100-200 ppl that consisted of a small square room, sink, fridge a domestic oven range and bit of domestic cabinetry , hand basin if your lucky…and passed off as a commercial kitchen!

Its a crime, clearly it’s not and it’s not going to work, normally ends up on having to hire in coolrooms, extra cooking equipment and bunch of extra staff and helpers to make the function work, instead of a couple of professional staff with professional facilities and equipment pumping out the function in a professional food safe manner, efficiently, quickly and with minimum fuss.

They should  of engaged a consultant at the start, and allocated the correct amount of space and plan initially, very expensive and hard to fix up later on.

example scenario 2. Retail property development

This one is so common it’s scary,and  is often the reason why the first time operators of the business fails, poor design that results in massive extra fit out costs. The wonderful presentation of the new complex , sexy 3D designs , sometimes video animations, funky street architecture, lovely exteriors incredible interior designs and presentation all up an extremely good looking as a project and development looks amazing. Board walk dining, lifestyle, promises thousands of people in food traffic etc.

Then the client signs the lease to their new food dream building, then the plans start. What they have all too often signed up to is a blank concrete box, maybe one or two plumbing points if they are lucky, maybe an exhaust duct maybe not, normally in a location that it is totally wrong for the application.

No consideration to how,where the stores are coming in from, often they don’t even have a back door, no cleaning facilities, no hydraulic/plumbing/power. Much of these items could have been added in during the build and as such would have been at the costs of the developer. Now the customer is having to cut concrete slabs for drainage, install or move exhausts /ducts, trade waste, building works, the list goes on. Now the fit out costs have blown out massively, the business is doomed before they even start as the capital injected is way to much to gain a realistic commercial return, to cover the blow outs, even if the business runs successfully.

This is where the saying (that a Restaurateur told me when I was an apprentice)  ‘ 2nd or 3rd one in son’ never ever go in first, the costs are way to high and too often cripple the business. 2nd or 3rd time the business sells – picking up the capital costs for a fraction of new…and now the numbers are on your side! I’d say that rule is even more valid today than ever.

If the client has an engaged a food service consultant at the very beginning they would have identified many of these infrastructure costs for them early on, and as such they could of been included in the build, or negotiated with the property owner on costs… or pull out of the deal and find one with better numbers that made sense.

example scenario 3. Renovation of existing, normally increasing size and capacity

Normally this is in the hands of the Architect, includes really complex building designs, increasing the facility size and capacity, and being a renovation it’s not simple, always complex, often involving trying to keep the existing business operating during renovations.

I’ve found that the Architects and Interior designers are brilliant at the seating/dining plans, allocating space, as there are some general ‘math’ rules that do work for this, in fact there are Australian guidelines they have to follow for minimum space requirements per person any how, so the answers are already provided to certain point.

But again its the allocation of space for the food, storage preparation and service that seems to always miss out, and the operation gets renovated with a new kitchen that really isn’t much better than the original. The new kitchen should increased capacity, decrease labour, increase efficiency, and improve on food safety and decrease running costs.

I’ve seen architects in these types of projects allow more space for the bar than the kitchen! Because that’s the ‘sexy’ focus on the project , and ego’s often take over. To be fair it is the profit center also, but it doesn’t take up anywhere near as much space to make drinks than it does to prepare food. The space requirements for both couldn’t be further apart!

Commercially however the bar will make more money than the kitchen , but this doesn’t equal  a poorly planned undersized kitchen. Sometimes the architect will engage the currently chef for input, that’s a good start, but that information should only act as part of the brief. Normally that Chef has not designed kitchens before, if they have maybe one or two, and only bits of, they are looking from a little bit too inside.

An outsiders view added to the inside will add far more options to the designs and a lot more solutions from experience in many projects. They will also have a wide picture on all the relevant equipment, specifications and regulations that will impact the design. The other issue with ‘only the existing chef’s view/input is’ generally you can bet that that Chef WILL NOT be at that business in 12 months let alone 3-5 years, fact! the design needs to work so ANY PROFESSIONAL can come in and work it, sure they will all have their own ideas on what they would have done out liked etc…no design will ever be 110% perfect , there is always complications, restrictions and barriers that will mean some sort of compromise to and up at the final result. The client should always remember that the Chef isn’t paying for the new kitchen and it’s their money and business on the line, the final decision should always be with them the person with the skin in the game.

The above scenario I often see in large club /hotel type operations, a decision is made to improve the operation, increase capacity and update the look. The result is always some cleaver Architecture that increases the existing building and amazing interior design that revives and refreshes the interior, often increasing dining capacity at the same time. But the common theme in the gets neglected, ‘we will sort the front of house out first then sort the back later’.

Which is the same as giving a car a set of shiny news wheels and paint job but leaving a clapped out motor running it!

The result always is , more customers come to the new flash facility, but the dining remains the same or in many cases worse because the kitchen is pushed beyond it’s capacity, it’s broken, standards slip, can’t keep staff and then it ultimately effects food safety also.

Operators and Managers need to understand the following, There IS and ALWAYS Will be a ‘skilled’ Chef shortage, the reasons for are for another blog post. Bottom line is yes you can pay more to attract better staff, but if your kitchen is crap it wont matter, it equals working in a constant Sh! fight everyday and that’s taxing, physically and mentality, when they get an offer that has ‘better working conditions’ they will jump ship, simple as that. The conditions and hours will determine the stability of the staff more than the $$$.

I can guarantee you that the chef turnover rate in well designed and specified kitchens is far less than the those that are not, on top of that productivity and efficiency is higher which equals better bottom lines for the business.

The kitchen renovation should  be planned with the above. In the case where is its is designed nicely it is often  really just a ‘rebuild’ of what was already there, everything has been fixed up building and equipment wise.

Nothing is challenged in the way dining concepts, presentations, menu’s its pretty much the same, missed opportunity, this is the point where you design some really good initiates that can make a food service operations strand out among an increasingly crowded market place .

At the renovation phase also you should be looking at running costs also, consider new equipment technology that can dramatically reduce energy consumption, which again improves bottom line. These discussions all need to be had early on as the results will impact the design.


Engage an experienced consultant/designer/expert asap , even if its just to add some consulting advice to the existing design team, they don’t always have to do the entire designs and  spec, it can be done by the interior design or architect team in conjunction with the consultant.

Happy designing, be sure to look up ‘commercial kitchen design’ on Pinterest , our ideas board is well over 2,000 ideas, a picture speaks a thousand words as they there’s plenty of creative ideas to look at there.

Commercial kitchen design Pinterest
Commercial kitchen design and food ideas on Pinterest

food presentation




Bespoke cooking and equipment and the Art of Grilling

I recently toured what is a rarity in the Australian Catering equipment industry, that is an ‘Australian owned Manufacturer’! Cookon which has been around the industry for decades has been busy in recent years specializing in Custom and Bespoke Grills and cooking equipment.

Owned by the long established Langford metals group in Brisbane it now has access to the latest technology in Laser and Fibre optic machinery all using précising cutting measurements based on 3D Cad programming . This is normal manufacturing process for production run equipment and metal jobs, but in this case that same precision technology is applied to one off custom designs.

Custom Char and Roaster
Custom Char and Roaster

The team and importantly the design and trades team have been involved with Cookon in many cases for decades, which means there is an amazing amount of IP on board, over the years they have designed and manufactured hundreds of unique cooking appliances, chances are if you can think of it they have probably done it!

The current industry trend that has been around for a few years and is likely to only increase is what we call as ‘show cooking’. Front of house cooking either to order or in advance with slow roasting /grilling techniques showcasing the international food styles of South American and Asian meat cooking where cooking over coals, wood and flame is the key ingredient. Cookon’s powder coating facility allows some added colour to be incorporated also.

Argentinian BBQ


Any ‘honest’ chef or foodie will agree that meat cooked over charcoal or wood always tastes better, the juices and fat as they drip over the coals create mini flare ups increasing the ‘BBQ’ and ‘Smoke’ flavours. I always cook by BBQ and Roasts over charcoal and wood in a Kamado, they have the added benefit of ceramic insulation, speeding up the cooking times increasing moisture retention.


Using different types of wood in the cooking process also can change the flavour of the product as well as cooking times. Add to the improved flavour the amazing spectacle and theatre of the smoke and flame and you really do then create a special point of difference to your menu and operation.

Wood Fired Roast

When wood fire is prohibitive.

It’s not always possible to have a woodfired or charcoal appliance in your kitchen, the set up and compliance costs involved a great due to the duct and exhaust canopy requirements. However all is not lost! You can still create a similar effect by designing a spectacular grill that is gas powered, add some ‘decorative’ flame to the unit and you have a spectacular talking piece without the wood hassles, just not the same flavour.

Custom Show Grill

Turbo charging your grilling.

With all the main branded grill manufacturers that make a ‘matching’ Chargrill/BBQ in their range, I find that they are all just ‘OK’ they do a job and often the menu if wide and varied so all of the appliances in the cooking line are used equally, and here in Australia most of our kitchens are not pumping out massive volume of char/BBQ meats so they handle the workload ‘OK”.

There are though exceptions, specialist steak/BBQ establishments, higher volume pubs that do series volume of grilled meats, these are the types of places that need to seriously look at their grill/BBQ equipment in isolation and look at the design and specification in greater detail. You need to start looking at not just how many Kw of power is being generated but ‘how’ what type of burners, what radiant assistance or baffles are in place, what heat retention is there, in common rank and file BBQ Grills the answer is NONE! You can pump as much gas flame power you like at a grill, but someone has to pay for that gas consumption, and that’s the operator. What if you insulated the box with a ceramic or brick lining to build a residual layer of heat that eventually assist with the cooking process for free!

Cookon Custom LT10 Grill_Cliffords at Watermark_Surfers Paradise (21)

The type of grid/bar is also important, Cast iron retains heat the heat best. Fat Drip tray design is also important no just that it does its job and drain such away properly but is built and designed in such a way that it can cope with the extreme heat being generated. What happens between the gas burner the grill is equally important, it’s not just a case of putting a much gas flame as possible up to the grill surface, that will only invite massive flare ups and hot spot burns that in turn create a nasty carcinogenic after taste. It’s fare to say that most ‘pub’ cooks have no idea when it comes to grilling, they simply believe that lost of heat and flame coming out of the grill is great, they couldn’t be further from the truth! If its out past the meat contact point, what’s the point? That’s just wasted energy and MONEY! The trend of many establishments are offering bigger thicker cuts of meat mean that the skill and equipment is more important than ever. You need the cooking process to penetrate deeper into the meat, this means you need to actually slow things down little to ensure it occurs OR finish the cut off in an Oven to ensure the process is correct. Otherwise you end up with the all too familiar burnt on the outside cold in the middle steak! Combi ovens with their added steam are a great tool for finishing off. Or you can consider a version of wood grill and BBQ as one unit such as the Spanish Made Mibrasa or Josper.

Mibrassa Grill

One of the busiest steak Restaurants I have ever been to is the Webber BBQ GRILL in Chicago USA, massive over sized Webbers loaded with piles of meat and a bunch of highly skilled grill chefs  smashing out massive volumes of food. The technique that was always employed during the process was the lid being placed back on the grill for portions of time, ensuring a more even heat source all over the meat not just under it, and as always with meat cooking ‘plenty of time ‘ was allowed for resting the meat before service.

Webber grill restaurant

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