He's just been appointed Executive Chef at one of Melbourne's finest restaurants, Vue de monde, and has a huge passion for local produce.
Hugh Allen is no stranger to some of the most prestigious kitchens in the world. After beginning his career at 15 as a fresh-faced apprentice at Rockpool Group, he then went on to earn his stripes at Vue de monde, before moving overseas to cut his teeth in a Danish fine-dining restaurant.
He's now back in Melbourne, this time at the helm of Vue de monde. We go beyond the kitchen with Hugh Allen to find out what makes him tick, his inspirations and valuable cooking tips.
Why did you want to become a chef?
"I’ve always loved cooking from an early age. It all started from watching my favourite cooking shows like The Naked Chef with Jamie Oliver and Two Fat Ladies. Also, doing something that was hands-on always appealed to me."
Who is your biggest industry inspiration?
"My biggest industry inspiration is René Redzepi from Noma in Copenhagen. After my three year stint at Vue de monde, I went overseas to build on my experience and ended up securing a permanent gig at Noma, spending three years there learning from René and the best in the business.
"What René has done for Scandinavia and its food culture is remarkable. What started as a small restaurant has grown to be a culinary empire and movement around the world, while staying loyal to its Nordic roots."
What has been your career highlight so far?
"I’d have to say becoming Executive Chef for Vue de monde recently. After coming back from working at Noma late last year, I was excited to return to Vue de monde after it played such a key role in my training.
"What’s most exciting about returning to this iconic restaurant is the team. I’m working alongside such talented people in their fields, whether it be in local produce, premium wine or managing the whole restaurant experience.
"Drawing on inspiration from my recent travels and with Head Chef, Chris Marshall, Restaurant Manager, Christoph Schrottenbaum, and Master Sommelier, Dorian Guillon, we’re excited to drive Vue de monde’s culinary vision into the next era."
What’s your go-to kitchen appliance?
"I have so many, but apart from the essentials like my knives, I’d have to say it’s my big cast iron pot. It works on any induction surface and is a one pot dream!"
What is your favourite cooking hack?
"This may be obvious, but it surprises me how many people don’t put a tea towel under their cooking boards. It’ll make your life so much easier by stopping your chopping board constantly moving.
"Preventing food waste through fermentation is another cooking hack. Learning fermentation and how to use these processes in our cooking was a key part of my experience at Noma. By pickling, salting and curing different foods, you’ll not only preserve the lifespan but add a whole lot of delicious flavours to your dishes. Obvious examples are kimchi and sauerkraut, but also try kefir and classic household yoghurt."
Favourite ingredient to cook with and why?
"My favourite ingredient to work with at the moment is kangaroo. The team and I are passionate about supporting local, seasonal produce at Vue de monde and this is evident in our current menu that includes a tasty dish of Jonella farm baby corn with cured kangaroo (from Paroo Premium Kangaroo in South Australia) and macadamia miso.
"Definitely check it out! What I love about cooking with kangaroo is that it’s not only extremely tasty but it’s healthy and easy to prepare. I also love that it’s unique to Australia."
What staple meal do you cook regularly at home?
"You can’t go past a good old chicken parmi. A key trick is making sure you brine the chicken breast beforehand... often people forget to do this at home.
"All you need to do is add 40 grams of salt to a kilo of water and soak the chicken in there for at least 12 hours. For the extra effort, you’re guaranteed a perfectly juicy, tender and flavourful chicken parmi every time."
Can you tell us about the worst cooking blunder you’ve ever had?
"One that comes to mind is when I was in Denmark and I used tinned chickpeas instead of dry chickpeas for felafels... You must always start with dry chickpeas and soak them yourself – never substitute with canned. It will not work!"