“I love food and cooking – why not make a career out of it by becoming a professional chef?” A perfect combination, of course, and definitely sounds a most natural and commonsense decision.
In this brief interview, chef Rodrigo Do Vale, offers a straightforward snapshot of his career. Rodrigo also offers his take on issues typically dealt with by chefs everyday in professional hospitality.
One of Australia’s most successful restauranteurs
Rodrigo has worked in Sydney for over 15 years and is currently Corporate Head Chef for Melbourne’s Ezard Group, which also includes the ‘Gingerboy’ eatery. The Group is the brainchild of Teage Ezard, recognised as ‘one of Australia’s most successful restauranteurs’ over the last two decades.
Previously, Rodrigo worked at the expansive ‘The Grounds of Alexandria’ multi dining venue before joining chef Luke Mangan at the prestigious, award-winning and hatted ‘Glass Brasserie’ in Hilton, which received a $1.5 million makeover in 2018.
Both Teage Ezard and Luke Mangan imparted valuable insights into the true heart of creative cooking, which Rodrigo has never forgotten. “Teage once told me that he “didn’t think he was a chef but instead tries to be a storyteller”, and Luke believes, “a recipe has no soul, but as a cook, you must bring soul to the recipe”.
Wide-ranging number of dining venues
“As well as job satisfaction, being a chef offers a great career progression,”, says Rodrigo, citing the traditional roles taken along the way, “Commis Chef to Demi Chef then Chef de Partie, Sous chef, Chef de Cuisine and finally Executive Chef”.
Rodrigo also highlights the “wide-ranging number of dining venues” that provide an ambitious chef “ample opportunity to broaden their cooking experience and skills, and advance their career, including restaurants, hotels, resorts, catering companies and corporate events”.
Collaborate with marketing professionals
Hospitality itself needed to quickly improvise when Covid arrived, and Rodrigo’s own career has also taken a new direction with added responsibilities. “A new role was created to find ways of continuing business during the epidemic and after, when business started to reopen. Even though I still have Corporate head chef duties such as, hiring and train head chefs, and other kitchen staff for positions, I also travel to build business relationships with food suppliers, and stay updated on trends in the restaurant and food service industry”.
Rodrigo says that to maintain a successful business, he constantly “collaborates with marketing professionals to create campaigns and promotional materials”, as well as creating new dishes, updating and planning menus – which need the owner’s approval – including prices, layouts, descriptions and food images”. An important part of his duties involves “overseeing revenues and monitoring the budget for payroll, food supplies and kitchen amenities”.
Promote Brazilian cuisine throughout Australia
Rodrigo is also currently involved in several exciting career projects, including brand ambassador for a new app called Chefly Australia, which provides insight into personal cheffing. “To run your own culinary business, you don’t need an expensive set-up, a website or lots of time, and you definitely don’t need to be a marketing pro”.
Other brand ambassador duties include @coffeehunterbr and host at the Brazilian podcast @feijoadacast, “focused on Brazilian gastro culture and local chefs where I talk each week to Brazilian chefs across the globe about their past, present and future”.
Rodrigo has also helped to promote Brazilian cuisine throughout Australia too. “Most recently, I was invited to be part of a new project for the Brazilian embassy in Australia called “Brazil on the Map. At the moment I am enjoying the corporate side of the business”, says Rodrigo, “taking care of a new brand and all aspects involved is a great opportunity to learn new skills”.
“We chefs and cooks must impact our society”
Keeping an eye on the path ahead is never too far away in the plans of committed, driven chefs. “I rather look into the future”, says Rodrigo. ’Sustainability’ is of course, no passing culinary trend but a major part of a big conversation – affecting the planet as a whole, as well as in food sourcing and preparation. For Rodrigo, “Connection is the key for a better future”, pointing out that “we chefs and cooks must impact our society for a clever way of consumption, lower wastage and a more sustainable world”.
Rodrigo also feels strongly that coronavirus is a real and ongoing watershed moment in how the business world must re-align its values for future sustainability. “I believe Covid crisis is likely to increase awareness that companies must consider societal needs and ethical standards, not just short-term profits”.
“You also spend a lot of time on your feet”
As ever, straightforward and business-like answers to solving earth-sized problems. An approach that Rodrigo also offers to managing the everyday micro demands and stresses of life on the pass.
“The first few days in a professional kitchen will likely make you feel woefully unprepared, no matter how much education you have. It’s a normal reaction to being in a fast-paced, new environment. But even after you have started to get used to the way the kitchen works, you’re going to find things that confuse you”.
Rodrigo says the answer is to, “Ask – don’t try to wing it because that could ruin a dish, at the very least – or worse – an entire evening for the staff and customers. It may seem more stressful at first to admit you don’t know about something that everyone else seems to understand, but it will be less stressful once you get the information you need”.
Rodrigo admits that “working in a kitchen can be challenging as you are under pressure to deliver, and you also spend a lot of time on your feet. However, if you are organised, passionate and good at what you do, being a chef can be a real buzz – and lead to a highly rewarding career”.
Nevertheless, every chef needs time away to rebalance and re-energise, including Rodrigo. “Outside of the kitchen, you absolutely have to have a hobby or something that gets your mind off work. You can’t spend all your time rehashing what happened in the kitchen that day. There’s a reason relaxing is also called unwinding. It’s great to have a quality time with family and spend some time at the gym practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu”. Energetic sports tend to feature highly in a chef’s favourite ‘down time’ recreational activities.
“A career as a chef is highly portable”
Looking ahead, Rodrigo offers importance guidance for young chefs learning how to make progress in their chosen field in hospitality.
“We need to be ready for what the future of food and the industry could look like tomorrow. We talk about sustainability, composting and reducing our carbon footprint, but we also need to get ready with the right mindset and attitudes to explain the future of cheffing”.
There is also straightforward advice to simply ‘keep moving’. “Wherever you choose to live, finding work as a chef will always be an option. Whether you fancy preparing luxury meals on a cruise ship or taking one of the chef jobs in Melbourne’s hipster cafes, a career as a chef is highly portable!”.