Chef profile: Nelly Robinson

Nelly Robinson, head chef and owner of Sydney's nel. restaurant reveals where his foodie passion comes from.

After starting his career in the hospitality industry at 15 at Michelin-starred restaurant Northcote Manor in the UK, Nelly started at the top. Now, he heads up nel. restaurant, serving up the finest in an array of international cuisines. 

Why did you want to become a chef?

My passion even to this day is football and growing up I always wanted to become a pro footballer. When that didn't work out, I got a job as a pot washer before I was offered a position in the front of house and kitchen in a Michelin stared restaurant. The reason I chose the kitchen was because the passion and flair in this space was palpable.

Who is your biggest industry inspiration?

I have a few I look up too in different ways. Firstly, I was trained by Nigel Haworth and he will always be the one that gave me my start in the industry. In terms of the cooking world I look up to Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago and Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park in New York, within Australia I look up to Jock Zonfrillo at Orana in Adelaide. I love what he does with his menu and respect how he has grown the restaurant up to where it is now.

What’s your go-to kitchen appliance?

My go to kitchen appliance would have to be my Japanese BBQ Hibachi, which I love and use a lot in the kitchen to cook seafood and meat on the charcoal, which is electric in how it keeps its heat. I also cannot go past my Japanese knives, which would have to be the most utilised tool in the kitchen.
I also use a lot of Nitrogen in the kitchen. I love playing and experimenting all the time with how we can come up with something different. 



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Favourite ingredient to cook with and why?

My favourite ingredients to cook with are chili and saltbush. I’m always making curries at home and like it spicy, so chili is an absolute must – have in my kitchen. At work I use a lot of saltbush in cooking as it is just so versatile and can be used with almost anything! Fish, meat, butter, and I’ve even used it in ice cream before. And like most Northern English folk, I am a lover of a good potato and with saltbush it is to die for!

What is your career highlight so far?

I'm very lucky to have cooked with some of the best chefs in the world but by far the biggest career highlight is opening my own restaurant and owing it 100 per cent. To be able to create menus every eight weeks and run my own business makes me so proud. Another highlight was being asked to cook for Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday celebrations in Canberra, which was a very special, once in a lifetime experience.

What staple meal do you cook regularly at home?

My favourite cuisine in the world is Indian food. I will always make a curry at home testing different regions from the north to south of Indian cuisine. I also love to BBQ with swordfish, and we use a lot of potatoes in our house in everything.

Can you tell us about the worst cooking blunder you’ve ever had?

I’ve certainly had a few in the younger days, like not knowing what a celeriac was but I think the worst thing I’ve done was putting two fingers though a slicer machine when I was 24. I was slicing bacon and sliced the fingers instead; the scars and numbness is still real today.

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