Passion drives quest for perfection on dinner plate
STUMPS Hotel head chef Jamie Pearce learned his craft under Australia's version of Gordon Ramsay at one of the most famous restaurants in Australia.
That experience at BANC Restaurant in Sydney under head chef Liam Tomlin taught him plenty about the quest for perfection in every meal and also about human nature.
It was hot in the kitchen, but Pearce thrived in the flames.
Now the 40-year-old and his team of six chefs are bringing those same high standards to Stumps Hotel.
To know where a man is going it helps to understand where he has come from. In Pearce's case, he has seen it all.
"I was at the Novotel in Brisbane and I decided that if I was going to keep doing this, I wanted to work with the best," Pearce recalls.
"At the time BANC Restaurant, under Liam Tomlin, was the best in Sydney and they gave me a start.
"I walked out of the Novotel doing eight hour shifts and went to BANC doing 90-hour weeks.
"It will either make you or break you. You'll either go, 'I am over this', or 'I want more of this'."
Pearce wanted more. He was in a restaurant with gun chefs such as Justin North, Matt Kemp, Colin Fassnidge and Warren Turnbull, who have all gone on to big things in the industry.
"The quality ingredients and techniques that they used taught me not to accept anything less than the best," Pearce says.
"You have got to have a passion that drives you every day."
And passion is a word that defines Tomlin.
"I remember once we opened up a Sunday paper and it had a story on Liam and the headline said 'Is this Australia's Gordon Ramsay?'," he grins.
"Back then, if you could work at BANC you could work anywhere.
"Emotionally it would crush you some days... and other days you'd think it was the greatest thing you'd ever done.
"You didn't come to work unless you were willing to give more than your soul. At the time it was one of the best restaurants in Australia and we'd constantly get people knocking on the back door wanting a job there."
Pearce left BANC in 2003 after two years and went to another three-hat establishment at Quay Restaurant under legendary chef Peter Gilmore, where he stayed until 2005.
"I went from a Gordon Ramsay-style environment to an open environment where you could have an input," he says.
"I learnt all the technique at BANC but Peter opened me up to think outside the square and use the produce naturally. As a head chef now I look at those jobs and think, 'I like the way Liam did that to get that result but I like the way Peter man managed that'. That moulds you."
Pearce, who grew up in Central Queensland, linked with Icebergs at Bondi where his best mate Damien McCleery was head chef, before he moved back home to Queensland where he was sous chef at Brent's Restaurant in Toowong under friend and former colleague Brent Farrell.
Then as head chef at Crosstown Eating House near the 'Gabba he embraced a form of share plate dining that he has now introduced at Stumps.
"I loved the style of food we did there," he said.
"It felt like you were at home and interacting with people and sharing the food around, but we'd put our own little twists on it."
Former Palazzo Versace executive chef Russell Armstrong, a consulting chef at Stumps, had eaten at Crosstown and knew the food Pearce was doing there would suit the Ipswich market because there was nothing quite like it out here.
"Russell is best mates with Liam at BANC so he knew the background I came from. He was consulting out here and rang me up and said, 'I think I've got a job that will be right up your alley'," Pearce says.
At Stumps, Pearce will let the fish or meat be the "king of the plate' without overcrowding the dish.
"I work with the seasons and let the food speak for itself," he says.
"I don't crowd the plate with so many things that you have to wonder what you are eating. The most elements I would put on a plate are five...but those five things pack so much flavour into the one dish.
"I want to do the same kind of thing that I did at Crosstown where people can come and relax, share and interact like they are at home."
On Sundays, towards the end of January, he intends to introduce pigs on the spit, whole lambs and various cuts of meat that diners can share in a relaxed environment.
"People won't have to think about driving to Brisbane. They will be able to come down here on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy live entertainment. We will start to design the menu around a lot more sharing."
The restaurant's "tapas towers" have already proved to be a huge hit with diners.
"I do quail kiev, braised pork which we season up, crumb and serve with apple and onion puree, white anchovies with black garlic and sourdough....marinated olives and smoked salmon mousse and chicken liver parfait," Pearce says.
Pearce grew up in Dysart where his grandmother was an outstanding cook on a property that inculcated a great appreciation of produce into the budding chef.
"My grandfather would kill a lot of sheep and back then you'd eat everything...offal, tripe....the lot," he said.
"He also had a vegetable garden that was half the size of a football field."
Stumps Hotel owner Raj Sharma is "absolutely delighted" to have Pearce on board and says diners can look forward to being well looked after.
"Now I can say that the kitchen is complete and I can look forward with confidence and know that the food is going to be high quality," Sharma said.
"When I started this project we didn't have the start I wanted. I gave a start to local chefs but I was let down. Then a friend of mine, Russell Armstrong, who is now executive chef at City Hall, was instrumental in getting Jamie here.
"We have also brought Suwisa Phoonsang in as sous chef. She was head chef at Bar Barossa and Siana. So now we have a great team."
Pearce says he "can see a lot of potential" at Stumps.
"I've only been out here three months and I am feeling my way with the people of Ipswich," he says.
"It is an education process that cuts both ways. I'm sure we will win them over."