The Balmain Pub Group recently purchased the Balmain Hotel and Swanston hotel. The Balmain Pub Group has undergone an expansion that takes Brad Sloane away from a role as Head Chef of the Riverview to Executive Chef of a Group. BISTRO finds out the challenges that lie ahead for Brad
BISTRO: How does the food offering at The Riverview, The Balmain Hotel and The Swanston Hotel differ?
Brad Sloane: The Riverview and The Swanson have similar concepts in that they serve traditional pub grub in the bar combined with a more refined dining experience in the restaurant. The Balmain Hotel, on the other hand, has a more casual street food focused menu that offers something different to traditional idea of pub food.
BISTRO: Can you outline the management structure of the foodservice side of the Balmain Pub Group?
Brad Sloane: Nick Wills, the group GM and I oversee all three of The Balmain Pub Group venues and then for each venue we also have a hotel manager, a restaurant manager and a head chef.
BISTRO: What are the challenges of having two venues in Balmain? How do you create a point of difference on the food side?
Brad Sloane: It’s great having two venues in Balmain, we simply attack separate markets. The two pubs are nothing like each other structurally or aesthetically – The Balmain’s huge beer garden brings people in during the summer, but through the winter everyone wants to be around the fireplace at The Riverview! Both the food and the drinks offering are also completely different and designed so that they wouldn’t compete, which is why we decided to create the Asian influenced street food menu at The Balmain compared to the more traditional pub fare on offer at The Riverview.
BISTRO: What are the challenges you are finding being Executive Chef of a Group of hotels as opposed to just the Riverview?
Brad Sloane: The biggest challenge for me is that I can’t physically be in the venues all the time and have to trust my head chefs to continue the work I set up. Whenever we move into a new pub, I spend a lot of time in the new venue creating the food concept, perfecting the menu and implementing the culture of The Balmain Pub Group, but once that opening phase is over I face the challenge of making sure I have a strong team in place run the kitchen without me.
B: What are your responsibilities as Executive Chef
Brad: I’m ultimately responsible for the kitchens in all three venues. Although I don’t deal with some of the day-to-day duties at The Balmain or The Swanson such as costing and ordering, I do look after the staff, the menu direction and marketing.
BISTRO: What new skills have you had to master in this new role?
Brad Sloane: Chefs become control freaks out of necessity and as executive chef I have learnt how to delegate responsibility, trust my head chefs and relinquish that control.
Now my role is often all about managing people and relationships. It’s so important to get the right personalities working together in a team and also to manage communication between the floor and the kitchen to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength – these are the kind of things that can make it or break it in a venue.
BISTRO: Is finding good staff becoming less or more of a problem?
Brad Sloane: It is definitely becoming more of a problem to find good staff these days. The apprentices just aren’t coming through anymore and I think that really has a lot to do with a growing unskilled workforce in Australia and also seeing the kids being fast tracked through their apprenticeships, which means that there isn’t the level of experience there used to be in the industry.
BISTRO: Is all purchasing done through you? Do you manage supplier relationships?
Brad Sloane: I manage which suppliers we use and set up the cost and pricing of what we buy, then I hand it over to the head chefs do the ordering for each venue.
BISTRO: What added buying power do you have now that you are buying produce for three venues as opposed to one venue? Can you qualify and quantify (percentage savings if any) these advantages
Brad Sloane: With three busy venues as opposed to one you’ve got definitely got more buying power and suppliers are more interested in your business, so there are definitely advantages for that.
BISTRO: The rate of transformation in terms of food offerings from hotels has been exponential in the past few years. Will this continue? Are these changes brought about by a new generation of owners like Nick Wills?
Brad Sloane: I believe that pubs have a bit more to offer than restaurants in a lot of ways – they have that relaxed atmosphere where you feel comfortable and can hang out for a period of time. By emphasizing the food in a hotel, you also avoid the trouble that comes with pubs that are totally alcohol focused. Publicans like Nick Wills have realized that pub dining is on the rise and there is money to be made in comparison with restaurants, I think that will definitely continue.
BISTRO: Some of the larger and older family run hotels groups seem to not be able to ‘break the barrier’ when it comes to food innovation. Do you agree? Why is it so?
Brad Sloane: I suppose that these older hotels can be seen as more stuck in their ways. Food is a huge thing now with cooking shows, food blogs and social media and people are really interested and knowledgeable about food. There’s so much choice out there now and it’s so important to always be looking at what other people are doing and what’s working in other venues so you can keep up with your competition.