Chef Scott Pickett On His Food Journey
To have received a ‘Chefs Hat’ in the first year of opening an eatery isn’t something many can boast of, but Chef Scott Pickett’s Estelle found its feet as part of Melbourne’s food scene shortly after its birth. From that day forward, there has been no looking back for the chef who likes to ride motorcycles in his free time. His second venture Saint Crispin came soon after Estelle only to be followed by a third and fourth; ESP – Estelle By Scott Pickett and Pickett’s Deli & Rotisserie.
What set you on the culinary path?
I grew up on a farm – growing vegetables, and with ducks, goats, and cattle, so food was always part of our family. The appreciation and respect came in from an early age because we were surrounded by it all, and a lot of people they don’t understand the food chain, but we did. Not just with animals, but vegetables as well. So that’s where my love for butchery really came from.
What has your journey been like?
Crazy is the first word that comes to me. At 41, I am a little bit of a calmer man these days, than when I first started in the kitchen at 14. I’ve been cooking all my life – for 27 years now – and that’s the only thing I’ve ever done, it’s the only thing I know. But one thing that I do nowadays is food, it has been my passion ever since I was a young boy. I consider myself to be very fortunate, because a lot of people look for a lifetime before they know what they want to do. I found my calling very early on. So that makes my days easier, but it’s still tough, because you have to work very hard, and for me, I get done at 1 am, six days a week. Ours is a profession where we see results every day, in every lunch or dinner and that’s a wonderful thing.
What changes have you seen over the years?
The kitchens have changed a lot since I started back in 1989. Those were my fundamental years and it was a completely different spectrum. They’re still intense, but a lot more physical. There was a particular way of doing a recipe and cooking it. Now it’s completely the other way…with the internet playing such a huge part. When I first started cooking, the only way to learn was by working in a kitchen or a cookbook, for which there wasn’t an Amazon from where you could just download a book and read it. You’d have to go to a bookshop, and even then you wouldn’t always have a lot of money.
What are the most challenging and exciting aspects of what you do?
The most difficult is to be able to create every day. Restaurants are like living breathing entities by themselves. You put your heart and soul into your work, and if you have people who are unhappy doing what they’re doing, then it can be seen on the plate and in the way the food tastes. Similarly, when happy people put in care and love into a dish, it is almost visible on the plate.
How did the name Estelle come about?
There are two stories: one is that Estelle is George Costanza mother’s name in Seinfield and I’ve always loved her. And in old French, it means ‘star’ – so it’s a little bit of both.
What was the experience of being one of the top chefs at the World’s Best 50 Awards like?
Aside from my wedding, it was the best night of my life. It was like going to The Grammys or an award ceremony. For it to be in my own city, Melbourne, instills a confidence in the chefs and the restaurants that we are now sort of the greatest food city in the world. Also spending time with the other chefs that I’ve known through my career, having them in our city and going for dinners, catching up and doing events was unbelievable.
If you had to create a dish that best encapsulates Mumbai, what would it be?
That’s a tough one. It would have to be a crazy dish because it’s a crazy city. But the main course dish for this dinner would be inspired by Indian spices and flavours, my classical French technique and then I would cook it like I would in Melbourne.
What does the road ahead hold for you?
It is to just keep doing what we’re doing and building the new project. We start constructing in November and open in March next year. So this year I will be at Estelle the whole time, whilst working on the new project. Maybe to also spend a little bit of time with the family, before my kids grow up too much. But I suppose paramount is just ensuring that we deliver a great product day after day.