EGGSTRA SPECIAL PEOPLE - PAUL WILSON
MELBOURNE FELL IN LOVE WITH PAUL WILSON BACK IN THE EARLY 2000S. AFTER A DISTINGUISHED CAREER THROUGHOUT THE UK AND EUROPE WORKING WITH SOME OF THE WORLD’S CULINARY GREATS, HE OPENED WHAT QUICKLY BECAME MELBOURNE’S HOTTEST DINING DESTINATION, RADII AT THE PARK HYATT. THIS WAS FOLLOWED SOON AFTER BY THE BOTANICAL PLUS A WHOLE LOT OF CONSULTING ACROSS A RANGE OF VENUE STYLES AND CUISINE TYPES. HE’S NOW LANDED HIS NEW SOLO VENTURE IN SOUTH YARRA, WILSON & MARKET.
How is Wilson & Market different to what you’ve done before?
My ‘muse’ right now is produce. Discovering local suppliers has really reinvigorated my enthusiasm for food. Wilson & Market has a broad offering - a space that incorporates a cafe, restaurant, wine bar and retail. The menu is very seasonal and produce-focused, rather than a focus on cuisine type. For the last five years I’ve been either doing Californian Mexican or Pan Asian or Italian so this is really about what the farmers produce. It sounds like a tag line, but is a true reflection of how we work. The produce dictates the accent on the dish. Without turning into a fusion restaurant, we try and follow a Mediterranean laneway, which I haven’t done for awhile and so I am really enjoying it again. It’s a style that covers a lot of the produce heroes of Melbourne and surrounds.
What are you loving about the produce?
The local produce has never been better. It is the most exciting time to be a chef in Australia. Fifteen years ago it wasn’t so easy to find such amazing ingredients, but now you are exposed to the entire nation’s bounty plus regional food cultures which are extraordinary. I am loving what I am seeing from the likes of Transition Farm, Flinders Island Lamb, Warialda Belted Galloway, Yarra Valley Caviar, Stone & Crow Cheese, and of course, Real Eggs.
What is it about Real Eggs?
It’s the perfect product. I’ve been to the farm. I’ve met the producer. I’ve walked in the paddock with the chickens - they have a lot of access to fresh pasture, lots of insects. They are really well cared for and loved and you can see that in the owners; they are beautiful people that genuinely care about their animals. The hens are totally at ease in their open environment as they have a lot of guard dogs that look after them, and you see all of this in the quality of the eggs. They are second to none. They really are the best eggs I’ve ever worked with in my career. The yolks are twice the size of normal eggs, the flavour is really clean and delicious, they’re wonderful in every sort of dish. I use these eggs a lot because they are so fantastic. You don’t realise how much you depend on eggs - imagine a patisserie or street food or breakfast without eggs - it crosses a lot of cultures. You rely on eggs heavily and you’re only as good as your ingredients - that’s something I’ve really learnt in my career. You can be a talented chef and plate food like an artist but you’re only as good as your ingredients, and eggs are the basic, most fundamental ingredient.
Do you get enthused by food trends?
I used to be obsessed with food trends, as part of my job as a food consultant. When I travelled through Latin America I became obsessed with Latin food as it was so unique and their technique was so amazing. I feel compelled to expose those to other food lovers, and Melbourne is a food-lovers city. Melburnians love ethic and international food - it is a city with no culinary borders.
When are you happiest at work?
When the new seasons start and you see the produce coming direct from the farms, it’s very inspiring. I get very animated and you can get very creative and there’s some great impulse cookery, all based on what you’ve seen. We will change our menus eight, maybe ten times year, subject to weather and subject to the farms. You have to always be thinking about innovation and creativity. But food is nourishing and is important for your wellbeing - not just for indulgence and gastronomy- so we need to consider how it benefits people, and that’s what we try and do with our dishes.
What’s your quickly-whip-it-up dish?
A big salad. But without the leafy greens - oven-roasted or barbequed biodynamic vegetables and herbs are the focus.
What challenges are you experiencing as part of the restaurant industry at the moment?
Balancing running costs. The need for more training, more multi-skilling of staff. I think there is an opportunity to create smaller menus to address these challenges - more focus on food concepts and specialising - single ingredient concept restaurants. Just doing roast chicken. Or just left same year (for Radii) was probably the pinnacle of my career thus far in Australia. Prior to that I was the youngest Executive Chef in a London restaurant with a Michelin Red M when I was 27. My first book was a great achievement. There quite a few proud moments in there.
On The Menu
Smash pea & avocado toast with fava, broad bean leaf & asparagus, with two poached Real Eggs (pictured).