The lifestyle of a chef isn’t for everyone. It can be stressful, physically challenging, mentally draining, and unpredictable, even at the best of times. Factor in a global pandemic, fully equipped with state-wide lockdowns and you’re in for a bumpy ride. Perhaps no one knows this better than Chef of the Year Semi-finalist and Mimi’s new Junior Sous Chef, Nick Kavenagh.
Originally from Melbourne, Nick has been cheffing from the ripe age of 15 and has amassed a wealth of experience across several highly regarded businesses, including hatted restaurants here in Australia and Michelin starred restaurants in London. His passion is for fine dining and like many chefs enjoys using his professional career to travel the world. In fact, had the pandemic not happened it’s probable that he wouldn’t be settled near Coogee Beach, and instead residing on shorelines abroad.
Talking to Nick we asked him what his plans were pre-pandemic, and his answer suggested that he had it all figured out. But his story highlights for us the struggles, hard work and determination that covid forced so many of us to show, especially in hospitality.
“During 2019 I was working on Hamilton Island at Qualia, which is a 6 star resort. It was my second time working there, I liked to work there for the summer season. It was a good opportunity to cook for discerning guests, alongside celebrity chefs like Peter Gilmour,” Nick explained.
“I loved the tropical lifestyle, the people I met on the island, working and living with everyone you become really close with your work colleagues.”
“The plan was to save up some money working at the resort, and then go to Toronto once summer was over. I’d even gotten as far as having my Canadian visa approved and tickets booked. Being a chef is an amazing skill to help travel the world, meet people and learn amazing food techniques.”
So as the busy season at Qualia concluded, Nick seemed all but set to jet off on another adventure. But of course, we all know what happened next.
Having resigned from the resort, Nick quickly returned to his hometown of Melbourne. With his experience it didn’t take him long to find a new gig and was offered a Chef De Partie position at one of Melbourne’s top French restaurants. His stint there would be short-lived however, with the pandemic lockdowns playing a part in his eventual departure.
“I loved the team, loved the food that we were creating. But when the lockdowns hit and borders shut, the whole plan backfired a bit,” Nick said.
Unfortunately for Nick, he was employed as a fulltime casual which made him ineligible for job keeper payments in Victoria. This meant he’d had no financial support during the Melbourne lockdown, which at the time had no clear end in sight.
At this stage, it would be understandable for someone in his position to call it quits and begin looking for work outside of hospitality. Instead, he chose to double-down on his passion and with a little bit of hustle and ingenuity “Nick’s Pasta” was born. The name for his new homemade pasta venture may have lacked in pizazz, but that’s not an issue when your food is doing all the talking. Soon he was serving over 100 orders per week to customers he had found through putting up flyers in nearby apartments. Operating out of his own home kitchen was less than ideal long-term, but it kept the lights on during an uncertain time in Melbourne.
“I wasn’t too sure what I was going do without any income, but I had to do something. So, that’s when I started selling homemade pasta. I would pick-up fresh produce from the Queen Victoria Markets and make pasta specials each week. I also made some meal kits with instructions and stuff for people wanting to cook it themselves at home,” he said.
As things began to stabilise in Melbourne, Nick was offered a position at an exciting new venture led by a pair of renowned Australian chefs. Nick was sold on the 5-year plan that was laid out for him and signed on as Chef De Partie prior to its opening. What seemed like a new journey, quickly turned as the two chefs spearheading the venture pulled out around the time of its opening.
While weighing up what he wanted to do next, he came upon an offer to participate in Foodservice Australia’s “Chef of the Year” competition. Of the 32 chefs selected, he was one of the few to have never competed in an event like this before.
“I’d never done anything like it before and really wanted to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. You had only one hour to write a menu, do four entrée plates and four mains. All while the hosts were talking to you with a microphone,” he explained.
Nick won his quarterfinal, finishing sixth in the tournament. Not bad for a first timer.
After two years of ups and downs in Melbourne, Nick decided that it was time again to purchase a boarding pass and take his talents to somewhere new. With international borders still restricting travel overseas, he chose Sydney as his next destination.
Having years of experience along with his recent Chef of the Year buzz gave him many career options shortly after arriving in Syndey. He’s excited to be stepping into his new role at Mimi’s where he can learn from renowned chefs Jordan Toft and Jeff Derome.
Down the road, Nick’s dream is to one day open his own cafe that does dinners and cooking classes too.
At Riviana Foodservice we love hearing from chefs like Nick and sharing their stories. So, if you have one to tell, we’re all ears and would love to hear from you! Get in touch with our team by visiting the ‘contact us’ section of our website or simply send us a message on Facebook to start the conversation.