#ChefsTable: with Wade Watson
Wade Watson has come a long way since his first profession as a dishwasher in Australia at the tender age of 13. The young Kiwi’s raw talent was quick to be noticed as he later won Queensland’s Apprentice Chef of the Year, making him Australia’s youngest executive chef of the 5-Star Orpheus Island Resort. The winning trend continued under Wade’s reign as the resort was then recognised as Queensland’s Best Fine Dining Establishment for two consecutive years.
This was followed by a stint in British Columbia as Hakai Beach Resort’s executive chef where he was catering to VIPs such as Kevin Costner and Warren Buffet. His next posting was as executive chef of Sassafraz Toronto, a celeb hotspot considered to be “The Ivy” of Toronto. Relocating to Hong Kong, Wade then worked for the well-established Lan Kwai Fong Entertainments group for a number of years.
Finally setting his sights on the Philippines, Wade, as executive chef, turned Abaca Boutique Resort + Restaurant in Cebu into a dining destination gem. Today, the perpetually perky and jolly chef owns his own chain of restaurants, Bondi & Bourke, which highlight the good ‘ol dishes that he grew up with (think Aussie meat pies, lamingtons, pavlova, etc.). His latest and third branch in Davao is in fact located by his own hotel called The Bourke that is slated for completion by year-end.
Wade has also co-authored a cookbook entitled Behind the Apron and has appeared in numerous TV shows alongside Bob Blumer, Martin Yan, and Greg Coulliard. Read on for more of this delicious Tatler exclusive:
Philippine Tatler: What inspires what you put into your cuisine and menu?
Wade Watson: Travel is one of the best educations a cook like myself can acquire. For food-minded people, it opens you up to different cultures, different ingredients and flavour profiles. Learning different methods to get similar results is exciting. Ingredients change globally in taste, texture and production so to alter your cooking methods for the same product depending on your location is a learning process. One never stops learning in this insane biz!
PT: What do you cook for yourself when you are at home?
WW: Nothing! I can’t be bothered! My partner, Hannah, makes killer soups. I’m happy with that or Yellow Cab. If I’ve had a really bad day, I might call McDonalds, or just smash a few kebabs. Home is pretty much where I sleep and store my shoes (I like shoes). Sadly, throughout my 23 years of cooking, home is basically a bed, a shower, and a storage facility (for said shoes) and my growing knife collection…Also Hannah and my daughter hahaha!
PT: What are your favourite ingredients? What is always in your pantry?
WW: Simply put, anything fresh, local or anything where love was involved in the production. It all comes back to simplicity. I’m not a fancy guy by any stretch. At home, the most likely things you will find that are for consumption would be a selection of great cheeses, water crackers, Cheetos and the odd Mars Bar! The chances of me coming home and busting out a quinoa salad with flax seeds and wheat germ for myself...It’s not going to happen. Maybe I should start eating my daughter’s fruit – but that’s being ambitious!
PT: What would you like to tell diners when they’re eating your food?
WW: Enjoy it. Treat it for what it is. Enjoy the casual dining feel. Chat with the staff. If something is not to your liking, feel free to call the cook, manager or supervisor and we will endeavour to have you leave happy, because at the end of the day, that’s what is important to me.... Give that a try before you discredit hardworking staff or the restaurant on social media. Or call me direct! Here’s my number (+63.918.807.3559) – I fix things.
PT: What challenges have you encountered in the F&B industry that have made an impact on you?
WW: Food & bev is a lifestyle, it’s not for [insert plural word for female felines]! Once you decide on this career, you best get used to constant never ending challenges, be it people complaining, social media, “the bad side,” the lack of sleep, the hot conditions or two cooks not turning up on time because they were tired from the previous night. I seldom see my family, with my Davao project [his hotel and 3rd B&B], it’s gotten even worse. Product is always an issue. It’s hard to do the job without the tools you need! I’m a very impatient person by nature but unfortunately my staff just have to get used to it – it’s the way I’m built. Language is also a bit of an obstacle at times. I speak that funny Australian English, not American English, which they understand a little better. I could ask for beef and then get passed a tub of pickled beets, or a stick of celery! But hey, I’m here!
PT: Who is your ideal person to cook for and why?
WW: Three words: The Rolling Stones. It’s not really about the food but it would give me a chance to meet them. I’m a huge fan!
PT: What influenced you to become a part of the culinary world? What is it that you love about food?
WW: Well, I’m no Rhode scholar! I was never really into that whole schooling thing. It was more fun competing in sports, getting caught smoking and breaking the rules. Not having completed high school, I asked around how to make money and the word “undertaker“ came up a few times. So I dipped into that but it wasn’t really my thing sifting through boxes of ashes, removing screws and so fourth. But I always loved cooking and learnt from my mum. Mum is an awesome cook and it’s about the only time she could get me to focus on something growing up. Then I started washing dishes at a local restaurant…I had no choice – dad gave me an ultimatum! So I started watching the cooks and kept thinking to myself, this looks cool... As they say, the rest is history!
PT: Do you have any other projects up your sleeve?
WW: I opened B&B Davao December last year. With the restaurant came the option to take on a hotel, so for the past six months I have been completely stripping and renovating a great little boutique property in downtown Davao, located right behind the restaurant. It’s charming and the potential is epic! It’s broken me down trying to facilitate on many occasions, but I have to keep moving, and it’s been a great learning curve. I have never built a hotel, so I’m giving it a shot and hopefully do another! I have secured another space in Davao for a new smaller and a bit “hipster” concept. Yes, I used that modern word and I actually feel hip for using it. I will start that late September and if all goes well I will bust it out in time for Christmas.
PT: If you could cook any other cuisine, what would it be and why?
WW: I would have to say Thai of Chinese. Thai because it’s such a simple but complex preparation, and the freshness of it is mind blowing. It’s light, full of flavour and diverse based on the province. Chinese, because it’s awesome and I feel the chefs don’t get the credit they deserve at times. Age old traditions hold fast!
PT: Do you have a favourite food or dish?
WW: Cheese. If there is an afterlife, I just want cheese, some good sour dough, my mum’s bacon & egg pie as well as Hannah’s braised pork and tamarind soup there and I’m all good.
PT: What’s your management style and what do your staff bring to the table?
WW: I tend to opt for a less traditional approach. I have, after eight years here, found it easier to employ staff with little to no experience. Basics are the building blocks of any successful cooking career and I find it easier to teach them one-on-one than change bad habits, or attitudes. After all, cooking is about attitude and a will to learn a trade or skill set.
I have, unfortunately, witnessed far too many 20-year-old culinary superstars that can’t make a simple hollandaise sauce, basic veal stock or cook a perfectly poached egg, but then their speciality is “molecular gastronomy.” There are stepping stones to making great food. First you learn the basic techniques, then you work tirelessly for the next 15 years and earn your stripes. The worst thing to call a 20-year-old fresh grad is a “chef.” It creates an ego that holds them back and they don’t even know it. There are too many young cooks with their names on and a thermometer in their pocket that can’t even make a white roux, and it really bothers me. It all looks like fun on TV but to achieve success in this industry, you have to put in the yards...
I will be the first to admit it, though, I’m nothing without my staff, and they are as much an equal part of the success as I am. They work hard and most are very dedicated and I love them. As the great Marco Pierre White was recently quoted: "Nine out of 10 English chefs have their names on their chests…We all wear blue aprons in my kitchen because we are all commis. We’re all still learning.”