Head Chef Jonathan Heath and Chef Tom Harris from Vincent Street Kitchen and Bar, a Cessnock Leagues Club venue, were crowned winners of the Clubs NSW Chef's Table competition earlier this month, among 42 other competing clubs including some of Sydney's largest contenders.
Since Vincent Street Kitchen and Bar opened in December 2018, Head Chef Jonathan and his team have been literally reshaping the notion of club food with dishes that wouldn't look out of place in a Hatted restaurant. While Heath has spent much of his 16-year career working across restaurants in Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and internationally, his interest peaked when the opportunity to take the helm of the new kitchen arose.
"At first I was a little apprehensive, there's such a stigma around club food but when I saw the plans for the venue and heard the vision management had, I jumped in with both feet. And I'm pleased to say it was a fantastic move," he commented.
The Clubs NSW Chefs Table competition takes the Masterchef guise of a mystery box challenge, giving teams less than an hour to see the ingredients, plan out a menu and map out a work flow, with 3 hours cooking time.
The ingredients included whole corn-fed chicken, chicken liver, chicken hearts, preserved figs, kohlrabi, cavolo nero, mushrooms, ruby grapefruit and raspberries to name but a few.
"The club scene has changed dramatically over the last 10 years or so and I think we will continue to see some of the best chefs heading to club kitchens. Competitions like this are amazing and give real exposure to the quality of food now served in club venues .
The judging panel consisted of judges chairman Julio Azzarello, executive chef Adam Moore, Sydney Swans chef and former MasterChef contestant Courtney Roulston, The Red Spoon Company's Nenad Djuric and World Association of Chefs Societies judge Roshan Thammitaarachchi.
It is a major achievement for a small regional venue such as Vincent Street Kitchen and Bar to win against such fantastic competition and highlights the calibre of dishes Heath and his team produce.
"I always use local produce, I don't believe in culling menus and recreating a new menu every season, instead we focus on evolving our menu - if a dish is doing really well then it stays, we might change things, change fillings, tweak things or switch seasonal veggies or garnish. But if something is not working then we change it. Our whole approach is to listen to what the customers want."
"If someone wants to come in and enjoy a burger then that's still available but if a customer fancies a dry aged steak or a really beautifully plated dish then that's also part of what we offer."