Home economics and sport were the two things that Chef, Corey Fowler says he was best at in school. Other than winning state motorbike races including, 7th place at the Australia nationals. But it was to The Gordon Institute of TAFE in Victoria that Corey, at the age of 16 – “one of the youngest chefs to complete a pre-apprenticeship at the time” – steered his career direction.
Corey’s journey so far has been a fully packed ride. In his own words, he “got to slay a few dragons to get to the princess”. Which brought him to his career philosophy today… “the importance of the right kitchen team which ultimately becomes your extended family”. Having this bond is essential for an aspiring chef to manage the many demands of a life on the pass.
Fired up to seek out more of the authentic and the diverse
As part of his apprenticeship, Corey started at Growlers in Victoria when it first opened, working with three female chefs over the next three years. “Seeing how they multitask really helped me as a young chef, and they also gave me freedom to be creative… and understand the value of real flavours”.
Corey was now fully fired up to find more of the authentic and the diverse – fast footing it to London, England and The Cocoon, near Piccadilly Circus. It was at the top-10 pan Asian restaurant that Corey discovered “life changing” cuisine from Japan, China, Thailand, and to learn the art of “salt, acid, sweet, heat, textures, and cooking with fire”. He helped prepare for many VIP events, including ‘Fantastic Four’ movie premieres, and also worked on his days off with a high end company, catering for events such as the Elton John Aids Foundation dinners.
Corey’s naturally curious nature soon took him off to search for new cooking experiences abroad.
First off, France, to run food and beverage for a boutique ski company, including cooking for the Olympic athletes. Next, Canada and the Silver Star ski resort, running their fine dining restaurant.
“During the winter I would drive to all the local farms and gather produce… even micro herbs and mesclun, grown especially for me, which was rare at the time”.
Then finally back to Victoria, and a spell at Movida Lorne, the Spanish tapas at the iconic Lorne Hotel, then onto Campbell Point House, private hotel and restaurant on the Bellarine Peninsula. Here, Corey cooked eight courses every night, using locally sourced ingredients. Popularly labelled as “Modern Australian”, the process saw Corey involved with a combination of “foraging, fermenting, dry ageing cheese making, curing, charcuterie and bread making”.
Best available produce brings the community together
These experiences have left its mark to this very day. “I love to forage for mushrooms, and coastal succulents like bone fruit samphire, coastal spinach, herbs and salt bush”. Corey also loves to grow garnishes in his own home garden. It also formed Corey’s central food philosophy of the responsibility a chef has to support local farmers and their economy.
“I’m really passionate about knowing your money is being kept locally. Obtaining best available produce brings the community together. Buying at peak season means flavour is also peaking at the same time as prices are low”.
I think its pressure you put on yourself
Corey also has his own take on the stress and pressures of the restaurant kitchen. “For me, I think its pressure you put on yourself to make sure everything is as close to excellent as it can be before serving. The set up is key, motivating and pushing your team to be ready, and watching to ensure everything is being done to a high standard”.
The pressure you put on yourself is “never really done”, says Corey “As a leader/sous/head-chef/owner, you’re always planning ahead, such as going over our bookings, upcoming VIP events, next day’s service menus. Plus, checking if the kitchen is clean, and if you have everything you need…”
Corey believes that, “it’s up to you as to what kind of chef you want to be and how hard you push yourself. Some chefs are better at leadership than others and are great organisers, planners, and probably find it easier.”
But all the pressure and strains are of course, worth it in the end for Corey.
Only a chef knows the feeling and what we endure
“When those plates hit the pass perfectly and it looks great, tastes great, and you see the front of house smiling, or your team looking super proud of what you just pushed them to achieve, and then the customers take a photo or give compliments, you know you’ve done a good job!”
Corey likes to quietly slip into the dining room to feel the buzz, and see and hear for himself that everyone’s having a good time. “Only a chef knows the feeling and what we endure”. Corey recalls as a young chef, “giving up your nights, weekends, and days off, depending where you work”.
Corey says you often have to deal with issues on the fly. “A kitchen is a harsh environment sometimes, and only the strong and committed survive. It’s not for everyone but I spend more time at work with the team there than I do with my family so in a way your restaurant becomes your family. You support and confide in one another, as we go to battle everyday in the kitchen. As a head chef you get to understand the personalities around you.”
That’s why it is important to Corey to “create a positive environment for people to thrive, train and help everyone have a work life balance”.
I think I made every type of wheat or corn based product imaginable
For Corey, work life “downtime” consists of cooking for friends and family, gardening, surfing, fishing, playing hoops and basketball – and reading cook books! Corey says he, “spends two hours a day researching markets and trying to find new ways to earn passive income”.
During Covid, Corey took a “well-deserved” break from the pass to just cook for the love of cooking for his family, work on his garden, and learn more about food. “I think I made every type of wheat or corn based product imaginable”.
Naturally, Corey also has pure gold advice for younger chefs starting out, based on his cooking experiences in many a kitchen environment.
Learn from the best, develop good habits early
“Think about your own style, what you like to cook, eat, dine out and eat – and start early by investing in yourself and your time. It maybe be hard at the start but you will reap the rewards once you’ve done your time”.
The key is to, “learn from the best, develop good habits early. Over time, your reputation will help you land a great job early on in your career and spring board you to anywhere you are prepared to go and work on your craft”.
Corey points out that, “Once your apprenticeship is done, the safety net is gone, and you have to fight for your food, earn respect, and develop leadership skills”, adding, “It’s something you learn through trial and error – practice at home at first, perhaps prep and plate dishes from your favourite cook books, or replicate images from the restaurants or chefs you follow. Develop your skills and create your own identity”.
For Corey, his experience on the pass clearly shows, “if you can cook well, be creative, respectful, a good leader, create lasting relationships with your suppliers, and be cost effective, it will help eliminate unnecessary stress and pressure. You will be freed up to take yourself, kitchen, restaurant ahead – and have fun while you do it”.