Tony Twitchett , the youngest of four boys discovered his passion for food by preparing routine family meals with his mother and brothers.
At the age of 17, Tony moved to Melbourne to join his elder brothers Paul and Peter at Royal Arcade restaurant Luciano’s. He then moved on to start an apprenticeship at The Stokehouse, St Kilda in 1997 where he learned the culinary craft alongside well known Chefs such as Michael Lambie, Paul Raynor, Jean Gorde Allen and Justin Pola.
Tony began working with Robert Cunningham after his apprenticeship and worked his way up to junior Sous Chef. During this time, Tony established his love for Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines, which he explored while travelling through the region in 2002 and again in 2009.
Tony moved on for a stint at Ezards in the CBD before moving back to St Kilda to work with Chef Michael Lambie once again at Circa. The two developed a great friendship which continued when Tony joined him at Taxi Dining Room in Federation Square in 2004 and at the age of 26 was appointed Head Chef.
At the end of 2009, Tony – under Taxi Dining Room’s same umbrella company, Sovereign Hotel Group – opened Barkers Wine Bar & Bistro in Hawthorn, where his Modern Australian gourmet cuisine challenged the notion of ‘pub grub’
After a successful 12 months at Barkers, Tony has now come home to Taxi Dining Room to takeover the role as Executive Chef.
BISTRO speaks to Tony about Taxi Dining, the Melbourne dining scene and where the pub ‘gastro’ scene is going.
BISTRO: What specific challenges are there in running a fine restaurant like Taxi Dining from a hotel environment?
Tony Twitchett: Keeping the standards at an evenly high standard across the board (food, wine, service & ambiance).
Reaching everybody’s expectations, from a regular guest stopping in for a glass of wine & some sushi, through to a group visiting Melbourne for the first time and sampling from a premium nine course degustation.
Sourcing the best ingredients for my menus.
B: Can you describe the clientele at Taxi Dining Room?
TT: The demographic of Taxi’s diners ranges from ‘ladies that lunch’ to businessmen, we have celebratory events in the venue on a regular basis and the amount of proposals is too high to count. We have hosted some of the biggest celebrities, homegrown and international and some of the world’s greatest political leaders.
B: How would you describe the style and food of the restaurant?
TT: The food at Taxi is definitely “modern Australian with Asian influences” (Chinese, Japanese and south east Asian) the style of Taxi is a “Destination Restaurant”, where you can come and enjoy the cuisine and watch the excitement of Melbourne from above.
B:The restaurant has managed to excel in not just amazing food but also wine, service and atmosphere. Given the fact your background is kitchen based – how does a chef pull off the ‘Quadrella’
TT: Over the last 7 years Taxi’s been blessed with great heads of departments, the kitchen has had Michael Lambie and myself creating culinary delights, the restaurants atmosphere was created by a very “attention to detail” front of house team, and the professional wine team has been headed by greats over the years. As they say, “A champion TEAM will always beat a TEAM of champions”
B: How would you describe the restaurant scene in Melbourne at the moment?
TT: It feels like it’s on the surge back up to its best, similar to pre-GFC. Most restaurants and dining rooms are spending money on their venues or opening new venues. In this industry you have to expand and grow with the demands, and with punters back out there dining, venues are striving to excite again.
B: Do you think too many restaurants in Melbourne are fixated on chasing the latest trends
TT:Yes, hence the flood of ‘Gastro pubs’ in Melbourne.
B: Which chefs do you draw your inspiration from?
TT: David Chang, Kylie Kwong, Fuchsia Dunlop, Elizabeth David, just to name a few
B: Do you employ many apprentices? What are the most important lessons for them?
TT: Yes, we have 6 at the moment, which is a third of our kitchen. Most important lesson is to taste everything at every stage of cooking to learn about building flavors. Also learn to watch and listen, everyone’s a teacher of something even your grandmother.
B: How do you continue to grow as a chef?
TT: Eating out, reading and traveling (overseas and locally)
B: We are seeing more and more ‘gastro’ style pub restaurants – why do you think this trend is growing
TT: I think it was growing because everyone was eating locally – so the “local pub” had to become food orientated to satisfy our “food savvy” community, Melbourne.
B: What advice would you give a hotel owner if considering opening a fine dining pub restaurant?
TT: Every customer that calls, walks past the front door, looks at your website – is a potential customer. It is how you make them a customer – that’s what makes the difference between a business and a successful business.
And always, look after your locals as they are your bread and butter
B: What does the future hold for you?
TT: Now that I’m Taxi’s executive chef, I’m working closely with FOH & wine teams to extended Taxi’s future for another successful 7 years and beyond.