Dan Hunter is one of Australia’s leading sustainable chef

From humble beginnings to culinary calling

Dan Hunter’s culinary trajectory began as a humble pot-scrubber in Britain. After years of unfulfilling work, he returned to Australia and completed a Certificate III in Hospitality (Commercial Cookery) before commencing a stint at Langton’s in Melbourne and moving onto the now closed Verge. 

In 2005, Dan landed a work experience gig at Mugaritz in San Sebastián under Andoni Luis Aduriz. In two short years, he rose to head chef—the fastest rise ever—leading the restaurant to two Michelin stars and a coveted place in the top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. 

Returning to Melbourne in 2007, Dan experienced a slight hiccup as head chef at Fenix for just three months before helming the Royal Mail Hotel Restaurant in Dunkeld, four hours outside of Melbourne. What appeared to be a huge risk turned out to provide a huge reward. Over six years, he earned the restaurant 3 hats and developed his first intensive organic kitchen garden program, cementing the sustainability foundations to what would manifest into Brae Restaurant. 

The birth of Brae Restaurant

Dan opened Brae in 2013, charged with creating an identity that genuinely represented tasting and experiencing the land. Close to the ocean and part of a close community, Brae’s location—nestled among Victoria’s Otways in Birregurra—was perfectly suited to Dan’s philosophy of sustainability and seasonality, surrounded by 30 acres of farmland. 

Brea Restaurant | Dan Hunter | Victoria

Brae Restaurant with Chef Dan Hunter. Image: venue.com.au

Focussing on sustainability, and seasonality

With Brae, Dan fully embraces what it means to deliver from farm to table. Almost all the dishes on Brae’s menu comprise of ethically-grown produce, including organic chemical-free vegetables, fruits and grains. Local bees supply honey—and also pollinate the gardens—while resident chickens supply free-range eggs. 

Dishes often comprise little to no waste, such as Brae’s Sommerlad Chicken served ‘nose to tail’—the perfect example of sustainable cooking. The dish utilises the whole bird, from its wings to its internal organs; the dish’s sauce and stock are made from chicken necks, feet and frames. It’s also served with a whole zucchini, from its flowers, stems, leaves and petals. 

Produce is picked prior to each service, sometimes up to an hour before. “At 6 pm we pick the strawberries and serve them at 7 pm.” Seasonality also means Dan grows fewer varieties of produce each year, focussing on quality. Furthermore, anything sourced off-site is carefully screened to meet environmental and social standards. 

Dan Hunter | Sommerlad Chicken

Dan’s Sommerlad Chicken dish. Image: AGFG

Advice for aspiring chefs

Dan Hunter leads by example. His success is a result of exceptional standards and exemplary work ethic. Above all, “Decide your own standards and stick to them,” Dan says. With Brae, Dan has incorporated this philosophy into every aspect of the restaurant experience, from the food to the infrastructure, and the underlying ecosystems that underpin his success. 

Dan is also lighthearted about the advice he gives other chefs, “Do try to not always critique other chefs, just enjoy the differences out there”.

More than just a chef

Outside of cooking, Dan loves spending time with his young daughter, building lego. An avid lover of the beach, Dan enjoys art and music, on top of cooking at home. Acknowledging his age, fitness and health are increasingly important priorities: “I could stay up all night going clubbing in my 20s, but not in my 40s.”