Every chef may be different but many often share common passions. Not just a devotion to cooking and hoping their culinary creations will satisfy individual customer’s tastebuds. We repeatedly hear of their great love of always wanting to learn more – and to only use local, natural products.
For Carl Johnson, working as head chef at ‘The Botanica’ in Vaucluse, E. Sydney, every day brings countless possibilities for exploring creative cooking and designing unique menus.
The story actually begins more than ten thousand miles away – in Birmingham, UK. Carls’ career path to date offers a fascinating snapshot…
Working in restaurants across the UK
It was a modest start, as a ”potwash” in a local pub, aged 16 and still at college. But it was an awakening. Carl says his “passion for food grew from there”. Soon, Carl was following his passion, working in restaurants across the UK, including Yorkshire, London, Shropshire, Birmingham and the Cotswolds.
One standout hospitality venue from these early years was gourmet restaurant, La Becasse in Ludlow, Shropshire. And working under Will Holland, one of a handful of chefs that Carl says had the “biggest impact” on his career. Holland brought a wealth of experience from two decades of working in some of the finest classical restaurants in the country.
Carl’s next career move was to Heston Blumanthal’s ‘Hinds Head & Dormy House’, a one Michelin star 15th century gastropub in Bray On Thames, Berkshire. Here Carl was working under Ryan Swift, who had spent over eighteen years in the gastronomy industry – and another big influence upon Carl’s career. However, his next “mentor” would be found in Australia.
One of Australia’s most renowned and celebrated restaurants
In 2017, Carl had taken his chef’s knives to the kitchen cutting boards of Sydney restaurant, the ‘Bridge Room’, under chef/owner, Ross Lusted. Following its closure, Carl moved to the “Quay”, “one of Australia’s most renowned and celebrated restaurants” with stunning views of Sydney Harbour.
Two years later, Carl was appointed head chef at The Botanica, a ‘farm-to-table’ restaurant destination “set amongst a lush garden oasis at the heart of Sydney’s eastern suburbs”.
“Its a unique restaurant due to its very pretty setting. It also has its own gardens where we grow everything from lime fingers, grapes, figs and avocados. As well as an abundance of edible flowers, a vegetable garden and native bees. All this is less than 5km from the Sydney Central Business District, a focal point for nightlife and entertainment, and a privilege to have such close access”.
“Freedom to create my own dishes and menus”
The venue also offers many opportunities to develop his own ideas on cooking, which Carl particularly enjoys.
“The restaurant is not only farm to fork, which I absolutely love, but also gluten free, which has been a challenge. However, the main reason I was drawn to the role was the freedom to create my own dishes and menus.
My own philosophy on food is to try and let the ingredients speak for themselves. We use the very best in season produce we can get out hands on, and our aim is to keep things simple and not over complicate dishes. Food for me needs to be relatable, and I really enjoy cooking food I would eat on a day to day basis”.
“Try my best to be in the gym at least four times a week”
‘Keeping it simple’ and cooking food they would ‘eat themselves’ are themes repeatedly heard at Life on the Pass. So too, is one of the ways that many of the chefs we interview say they manage their wellbeing after a typical busy day in the kitchen.
“I work out a lot”, says Carl. “I love to train and try my best to be in the gym at least four times a week. It’s great for the mind and really helps to let out some of the stress and pressure”.
Carl also owns a fitness ecommerce company which he says keeps him busy when he’s not cooking. “Outside of that, I enjoy to eat out where possible and I’m a huge music fan”.
“Times will be difficult, but never give up”
Many of the chefs we speak with also love to spend their time away from the pass, either engaged in physical activity, playing sports, or eating out in other restaurants. Not unsurprisingly, Carl’s advice to young chefs at the start of their career is consistent too.
“Learn as much as you can and work hard. Times will be difficult, but never give up. A chef’s career can be extremely demanding, especially at the beginning, but it can also be very rewarding”.
The rewards of inspiration, creativity and, as Carl says , of “really enjoying seeing people’s reaction when they eat your food, which hopefully are always positive”.