Having spent the last decade manning the kitchens of Michelin star restaurants in the UK, Ashley Davis brings a world of culinary expertise and love of Tasmanian produce to his new role as head chef at Pure South. Here Tsari Paxton chats with Ashley and Pure South owner Phillip Kennedy about their collaboration to revamp the menu at the top Melbourne restaurant:
Q&A: Ashley Davis – Chef
You were head chef at London fine dining restaurant, Helene Darroze during the time it went from one Michelin star to two. How was that experience?
It was very gratifying but also very trying. The standards and consistency of being the best everyday was a lot of hard work.
Are there any differences between kitchens here and kitchens in the UK?
Here people are treated a bit better. In London you almost have to sell your soul to work in the top kitchens – you’re expected to work about 100 hours a week.
What made you decide to come back home to Australia?
I’m an Australian boy at heart. My wife is German but she loves Australia.
What interested you about Pure South?
I’ve always thought produce from King Island and Flinders Island is some of the best in the world. Pure South has good relationships with bespoke suppliers like Eddie Hanslow whose ducks, geese and guinea fowl are sold exclusively to us. He’s the only person licensed to kill ducks in Tasmania – this means we’re the only restaurant in the world that sells Tasmanian duck!
What’s your modus operandi in the kitchen?
I would say I’m firm and fair. I don’t believe in the old school rule about using an iron fist. I want people to enjoy coming to work and wanting to cook good food.
When you’re away from work, do you like to cook? Or is it like working on your day off?
My wife likes it when I cook! I make what I call ‘one-pot wonders’ – stews and casseroles. I like cooking for people and making them happy. I don’t like spending all of my time cooking though . .
Do you have a fool-proof technique for cutting an onion without it making you cry?
Breathing through your mouth! It’s not the fumes going in your eyes that make you cry, it’s the olfactory glands in your nose . . . Or get someone else to do it!
Q&A – Phillip Kennedy – Owner
It must be exciting have Ashley on board?
Ash is a bright lad. His last three years as head chef at a two Michelin star restaurant puts him among Australia’s best five or ten chefs. Ash was perfect because we really wanted some renewal and refreshment. It’s a classic thing that we sell but you need to keep it current and informed.
Pure South has a great concept, founded on Tassie produce…
The shift in awareness and exposure of Tasmanian produce as a food basket in the past 10 years is incredible.
Are you from Tasmania?
No, I grew up on a farm in Victoria between Cobram and Yarrawonga. We killed granddad’s beef, lamb and chickens. We milked cows. Where food came from was always part of my vocabulary.
What’s your process for sourcing produce?
I invest a lot of time going to Tassie. I went seven times last year. I take chefs and waiters and sommeliers with me each time and we go to farms and build relationships. It’s an authentic farm-to-fork story.
Who calls the shots when you’re designing a new menu?
Chef does. We’ve already agreed what our style is and how we want to tell our story on a plate. So when it comes to the level of cooking, I’m just a spectator.
Are there any “wow” items on the new menu?
I don’t think we go for extraordinary or crazy arrangements, we want the diner to appreciate what we’ve sourced.
What are your thoughts on the current Melbourne culinary scene?
Lots of people are applying good cooking techniques to cheaper produce such as offal, charcuterie, braising cheeks and jowls. I think this is great because it’s introducing a new generation to thoughtful eating.
Experience Tasmanian produce at its most sublime with a five-course ‘Taste of Pure South’ degustation menu. Pure South is located on the river level of Southgate, 3 Southgate Avenue.