“I always enjoyed cooking with my Mum from a very early age, and when I got into a professional kitchen for the first time I fell in love with the pace and creativity,” Stephen recalls. “On my 15th birthday I started my apprenticeship at Bluewater Brasserie, close to home in Nambucca Heads.”
After moving over to the kitchen at Bonville Golf Resort, south of Coffs Harbour, Stephen went on to complete his training at Sydney dining institution Jonah’s, in Whale Beach.
“Jonah’s was the first hatted kitchen I worked in and it really elevated my skills,” says Stephen. “After my apprenticeship I stayed on as a Commis Chef under Richard Millar, who taught me a lot about the importance of working closely with suppliers and never compromising on produce quality.”
Next came a posting with Novotel Pacific Bay Resort, back in Coffs Harbour, where Stephen worked as Senior Chef de Partie before being lured back to Sydney to join Peter Kuruvita at Flying Fish Restaurant & Bar.
“I worked alongside Peter as Head Pasty Chef and Sous Chef for four years, and was responsible for helping to oversee and run all kitchen departments,” he explains. “It was really inspiring to be showcasing Australia’s finest seafood while getting creative with a mix of Asian flavours.”
Keen to gain overseas experience, Stephen headed to London and took on the role of Chef De Partie under Bjorn van der Horst at La Noisette, a Michelin-starred restaurant opened by Gordon Ramsay in the mid 1990s. This proved to be a defining experience.
“La Noisette didn’t follow any traditional cooking guidelines – Bjorn always cooked freestyle, so no two guests ever received the same dishes,” says Stephen. “Working in this way really taught me that cooking is a never-ending learning process, and to always be open to new ideas.”
In 2008, Stephen was invited to head up the kitchen at Flying Fish Fiji, located on the luxury grounds of Sheraton Denarau Villas. It was a welcome opportunity to consult on Peter Kuruvita’s innovative menus and train a team of 18 Fijians to produce high-quality cuisine.
“Island living was really exciting, and it was amazing to watch our team develop their skills and really embrace the opportunity to learn and work together,” he says. “It was an invaluable learning experience for me as well.”
After spending two years honing his management skills and establishing Flying Fish Fiji as a destination in its own right, Stephen returned to Flying Fish Restaurant Sydney as Head Chef, where he continues to get creative with the finest seafood and seasonal ingredients.
“Freshness, seasonality and working with an innovative team are the things that always keep me inspired in the Flying Fish kitchen,” he adds. “By keeping up with the seasons we get a new canvas and a new set of colours to work with every three months – in summer we go light, crisp and tangy, and in winter we go rich, warm and hearty.”
Looking ahead, Stephen says his aim is to ensure Flying Fish Restaurant continues to inspire customers and staff alike: “The restaurant is constantly evolving, but it’s the spectacular setting, consistent high quality and passionate staff that will always keep everyone coming back.”