Peeling 10 kilos of prawns a day at Daniel’s first job didn’t deter this Adelaide boy from becoming one of Sydney’s top seafood chefs!
Daniel Hughes went straight from completing his apprenticeship to a job as head chef at Adelaide’s Blanc Restaurant, winning a prestigious award for best seafood restaurant in the same year. He brought his love of seafood with his move to Sydney, setting up at Manta Restaurant and Bar on Woolloomooloo’s gorgeous Finger Wharf. Influenced by Thomas Keller, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and locally Steve Manfredi, he combines his passion for classic technique with his Italian heritage to create stunning seafood dishes.
Find Manta on Facebook at Manta Restaurant & Bar.
Where did you grow up?
“Adelaide, South Australia.”
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
“I come from an Italian background and my family were always very passionate about food so I had an interest from a young age, but never considered it as a profession until about 17.”
Is there one dish you still struggle to get right?
“Everything I create is a constant work in progress so I’m always evolving my techniques to bring out new elements in my menus. Dessert recipes have always required a bit more time from me than other dishes.”
What does it take to be a successful chef?
“Hard work and dedication are essential, you need to be committed to this profession to succeed, you have to have a love for it; it can’t simply be a job.”
Worst job you have ever had?
“My worst job would have to be my first. I was working in a hotel kitchen, de-veining about 10 kilos of prawns a day, I had to wear a uniform that was two sizes too big and fit me like a tent and I had a parking ticket waiting for me when I got out at the end of my first shift. I had to question whether I was in the right profession - I was lucky that things started looking up from there.”
What is your signature dish?
“The garfish and scallops on the Manta menu are something I’m very pleased with; the garfish in particular was a long process of creation and is very popular with Manta customers which is always a good measure of success. The raw selection is also something that I’m very proud of; I wanted to offer a sashimi selection with something different; there are four different tastes of the ocean with their own individual garnish, it has evolved over the past two years into a Manta signature dish.”
What can people expect from your restaurant?
“Exceptional quality of produce, simple flavours and a lot of passion and pride in our technique.”
What is unique about your restaurant?
“Our location can not be matched; the wharf is a quintessential Sydney dining experience. We’re dedicated to tailoring our product to offer customers an experience to match their personal expectations; our ultimate goal is creating something that will have people coming back time and time again.”
What is the chef serving in heaven?
“My Nonna’s legendary spaghetti marinara with a Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Barossa Valley shiraz.”
What is the most bizarre dish you have ever tried?
“A traditional Greek soup called ‘mayiritsa.’ it’s served on Easter Saturday after midnight church services to break the fast. It’s a mixture of lamb offal, liver, heart, lungs, intestines and other organs, definitely an acquired taste.”
What is one question people are always asking you?
“‘Do you cook at home?’, and the answer is ‘only when I have the time’.”
What is your biggest food indulgence?
“A really good quality wood-fired pizza.”
What flavours/ingredients are your favourite to work with?
“I enjoy a range of different flavours, right now I’m focussed on the Mediterranean and seafood is definitely my favourite ingredient to work with. Winter provides a fantastic variety of fruit and vegetables which I always enjoy working with.”
Which three people would you invite to a dinner party?
“Gordon Ramsay, Russell Crowe and Diego Maradona.”
What is your best tip for home cooks?
“If there’s a recipe, follow it, don’t rush the process and don’t get too fancy. Good luck!”