We sat down with Quentin Whittle, Head Chef at Stone’s Throw to chat about his career, the industry, and his love of cooking. He’s the humble, down to earth Head Chef of the Eastern Suburbs eatery Stone’s Throw who’s passionate about fresh, seasonal produce, and cooking for the people in his local area.
Having the guts to hop on a plane, by himself, and head over to the other side of the world to cook is undoubtedly one of Quentin’s greatest achievements in his eyes to date. This 12 months spent in Canada working in a French/Moroccan restaurant (similar in size to Stone’s Throw) doing 200 – 400 covers per night was good preparation for his current role. The Chef was a Belgian Michelin Star Chef who’d had a gut-full of fine dining and wanted to do a more casual style of dining, but still using all those same techniques as the top restaurants.
“For me that started something in my head. I realised that I really like the unpretentious fine-dining aspect to cooking, eating, and drinking, and it’s probably why I cook the way I do now”.
Travelling half way around the world to cook takes guts and teaches you a lot about yourself, which inevitably helps you in the kitchen in the long run. “Any chef that can summon the courage to do that, you don’t know it at the time, but you are really investing in yourself”
Quentin also thrives on seeing his own Chef’s grow, teaching them new skills and seeing the point where they master them. The satisfaction for him comes when he can say “I was a part of that inspiration”, that is the most rewarding thing, and “if you don’t get off on that in hospitality, you’re probably doing the wrong thing”.
Quentin never really felt comfortable at school. He had a lot of energy but didn’t really know where to put it, so he started working in kitchens, washing dishes at the young age of 15.
“I loved the chaos and the energy right away. The disorder of things was chaotic, but somehow organised at the same time”
Quentin felt right at home in that environment, and this is initially what drew him in. The comfort he found in the kitchen is something he never felt in the class room, and when the opportunity for an apprenticeship came up he knew he had to take it. From there, he fell in love with being around the produce and the energy of a busy kitchen.
In 2007 he started working for Simon Kardachi at his first Restaurant The Pot, or The Melting Pot as it was known back then. It was a fine dining, degustation restaurant with carpeted walls and velvet on the chairs. “Dining has changed so much since then”, he says.
Watching Stone’s Throw grow after the rebrand from The Grace, and getting to work with great people whilst seeing the customer base grow has been really rewarding. On top of that he loves being able to cook with seasonal ingredients in a relaxed dining style venue. Quentin believes that there will always be a place for elite/fine dining, but that segment of the market will get smaller as the industry is shifting to more people wanting a casual dining experience, but still authentic and good food. Quentin likes the community aspect of cooking in the suburbs.
There has been a shift in the industry, particularly around consumers being more educated about what they want, thanks mainly to main stream media and cooking shows being popular. “It’s great for the industry that people are more educated, but also means diners are more decisive with what they want, which makes it harder for chefs” he says.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is the prices of food. Overheads are up, wages are up, but the cost of a main meal hasn’t gone up. It gets harder and harder to make a dollar”
On leadership and leading his team in the kitchen; Quentin says “That to do well as a leader, you need to lead by example and give constructive feedback, both good and bad. They see me doing it, getting my hands dirty, and it sets the standard for how we do things”.
“You stand next to each other 15 hours a day in a kitchen, so relationship management is important. I have to motivate myself as well, and if I’m motivated, hopefully that motivates them too”.
In his second head chef job, the pressure of managing a team led to some personal burnout for Quentin (which can be very common in the industry). He believes that if we focus more on teaching our managers to be better ‘people managers’, we give them a better chance at longevity in the industry. A lot of people in the industry burn out and just don’t come back. He is one of the lucky ones who did come back, but only after learning to manage himself better in order to be a better leader.
Starting out in cooking is a lot of work. His advice is to be patient, passionate, and be inquisitive - “Question everything – if you do that you will end up somewhere good”.
He looks up to people who have been in the industry for a long time, and are still in it. People who are passionate, gathered, and made a go of it. People who stay humble and are passionate about what they do.
Quentin believes the best indicator of how well you are doing is in customers coming in to your restaurant consistently. He believes that listening to your customers and engaging with them is really important. To stay at the top of the game you need to always remember who your target audience is, and who you are serving. Restaurants need to continually evolve and get better at service, and never stop improving on the whole.
And what’s on the cards for Stone’s Throw? To continue to cook seasonally, to continue to cook for the people, and to offer a great food and wine experience which engages local suppliers and producers - “fill the void between producer, cook and consumer, and bring them all together”.
Head down to the Parade and make your next dining experience at Stone’s Throw, you will be welcomed with open arms and delicious dishes. Oh, and the new cocktail bar is open for business too.