After a scary stint as a chef in a halfway house, it’s clear to see why Nick Vivian now prefers the tranquillity of the beautiful Hunter Valley!
Nick Vivian started his career as a chef in South-East England in 1985 and since then has worked in some of the world’s leading restaurants and hotels, including Rue St Jacques, Hotel Britannica Intercontinental and The Gazebo. He came to the Hunter Valley seven years ago, impressed with the produce and spectacular scenery, and is today Executive Chef at Hunter Valley Gardens and Barrel Room Catering.
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Bournemouth in the South of England.”
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
“When I left school I took part in a youth training scheme. I tried concierge, kitchen and then front of house in the restaurant. I realised that the kitchen was for me, I could be creative and enjoyed the fast pace and adrenalin rush.”
Is there one dish you still struggle to get right?
“To make Yorkshire puddings like my mum used to.”
What does it take to be a successful chef?
“A lot of hard work, dedication, and a real love and passion for the industry. When you have that, being able to listen, learn by mistakes and pick yourself up and keep going when things don’t go right.”
Worst job you have ever had?
“Worst job was when I went back to England and did some temp work. I was sent to a halfway house for youngsters that had just left gaol and were being re-introduced to society. The kitchen windows had metal bars on them, I had to carry an emergency call pager that was linked directly to the police and had people banging on the door telling me they want to come in and talk to me. I had been advised not to open doors under any circumstance. Once I fed them they all abused me telling me the food was shit. Needless to say I never went back there.”
What is your signature dish?
“We don’t have a signature dish as such when we are doing weddings and corporate functions, but I love making gnocchi and how versatile it is. I do a rolled pumpkin gnocchi filled with a thyme ricotta and honey almond butter sauce.”
What is unique about your restaurant?
“We are very unique in the way we have 62 acres of landscaped gardens around us.”
What is the chef serving in heaven?
“A slow-roasted pork neck with fennel seeds, and fresh sourdough. Oh and plenty of butter.”
What is the most bizarre dish you have ever tried?
“Fried chilli grasshopper.”
What is one question people are always asking you?
“Do you do all the cooking at home? Your wife must be very lucky as you must do all the cooking at home. The truth is my wife does a lot of the cooking on a day-to-day basis.”
What is your biggest food indulgence?
“I love good home made ice-cream. We have a small machine at home and love to try different flavours.”
How do you have your coffee?
“I have never drunk coffee, but I enjoy a good hot chocolate with marshmallows.”
What ingredient are you obsessed with right now?
“Fresh herbs. We grow our own in the Gardens at work and being able to pick them as you need is fantastic and puts so much flavour into the dishes.”
Which three people would you invite to a dinner party?
“Michel Roux, Jennifer Aniston, David Attenborough.”
What is your best tip for home cooks?
”Never be scared to experiment, always try new ideas and enjoy the cooking experience.”
FlavourFest is on at Hunter Valley Gardens June 12-14, where Nick will be one of the chefs. This event is part of the Hunter Valley Wine & Food Month - throughout June. Visit hunterwineandfood.com.au.... Read more.