SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - While many celebrity chefs are building restaurant empires, Serge Dansereau is happy to focus on his one beachside location in Sydney, Bathers’ Pavilion, spend time with his family and produce cookbooks.
French-Canadian by birth, Dansereau trained as a chef in Quebec but moved to Australia to work at Sydney’s Regent Hotel in 1983 where he stamped his mark on the restaurant Kables with his passion for using seasonal produce and championing local growers.
His latest and fourth cookbook, “French Kitchen: Classic Recipes for Home Cooks,” continues his theme of using fresh, local ingredients but he hopes the 230 easy recipes will suit families and everyday cooks.
Dansereau, the head chef and owner of the iconic Bather’s Pavilion Cafe and Restaurant at Balmoral Beach, spoke to Reuters:
Q: What did you bring new to Australian restaurants?
A: “In Quebec I always worked with regional centers that grew a lot of local produce but when I came to Australia there was a great need to broaden the range of produce available so I worked with a lot of small producers to get new produce that you hear a lot about now. It was pioneering at the time and exciting years.”
Q: Did this focus on local producers spread?
A: “All the chefs in Sydney, we were all friends together. I was the produce person and every time I found something or developed something I would pass it on to the other chefs around town. Working with small growers you can get something very special and I was always the first one to search for producers who would grow something for me as we didn’t have it, like wild mushrooms, or work with cheese producers to create a special cheese. I also improved the quality of delivery from the market.”
Q: When did the craze for producing cookbooks take off?
A: “It started with the growing importance of the chef in driving the style of a restaurant through the food. This dates back to the mid-1980s. We started to see chefs coming out from the back of the restaurant to explain food.”
Q: What was your vision for Bather’s Pavilion?
A: “After 16 years with The Regent I needed to have my own outlet, to be more than just a chef. I wanted to create my own restaurant, to have a challenge business-wise and let my personality come through. I was able to find a fantastic site in the Bathers’ Pavilion. I make my own bread, my own burgers, my own jam. We make everything in-house and respect the produce. We go to the market every morning and I own my own truck. We still deal with lots of small individual producers. My philosophy now is to look after my customers.”
Q: Any expansion plans?
A: “I am not the new kid on the block and I don’t need to reinvent myself. Once you get to a certain point it is more important to look after the customers and staff and contribute to the industry by supporting other chefs in different regions. I have 110 employees here and I do a lot of consultation with ships. I have a young family and I don’t feel a need to replicate myself. I feel in Australia it is not as well received to do that. In the United States a chef can open 10 restaurants and not be there but in Australia the customers want the chef to be there. I have given that a lot of thought. I think Australians will be loyal customers and support you if you work there.”
Q: What has been your biggest disaster?
A: “One was in Germany when I was asked to cook by Donatella Versace for 700 people and I was one of seven chefs from around the world. The chef who was supposed to be in charge couldn’t arrive as the airport in London was closed so all the responsibility of producing the dinner fell to me. The stress of putting this whole dinner together, with everything in Germany, was huge. It was one of the hardest dinners I have ever done in my life and I came home with shingles.”
Q: What advice do you have for home cooks?
A: “It sounds a cliche but keep it simple. You need to follow recipes. Don’t try to do too many things at the same time. Just stick to a main dish and a salad and cheese for a dessert. Trying to do three or four courses at home is very difficult.”
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Elaine Lies