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Paul Metcalfe might be serving some of Sydney’s freshest seafood at Nick’s Bar & Grill - just don’t ask him to go catch it for you!
British-born Paul Metcalfe knew he wanted to be a chef from a young age, and that ambition has taken him to the other side of the world, as head chef at Nick’s Bar & Grill at Cockle Bay. Specialising in seafood, chargrilled meats and modern Australian cuisine, it's one of Sydney's favourite alfresco dining spots
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in a small spa water town called Buxton in the north east of England.”
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
“I enjoyed cooking at home from a young age, making cakes and biscuits and things like that on the weekends with my mother. When I got older I decided to get a job in a kitchen at the age of 13. I started at the bottom as a kitchen hand and worked my way up and have never looked back since.”
Is there one dish you still struggle to get right?
“One of the hardest things to cook perfectly and I still get wrong sometimes is rice. The problem these days is that rice cookers have made it so easy that when people try to do it the good old-fashioned way, it doesn’t always come out the way you expect it to.”
What does it take to be a successful chef?
“To be a successful chef, you need to love what you do. If you don’t love it you soon get put off by the long hours and all the hard work that goes with the job and before you know it, you come to hate it. That’s why so many people don’t stick with it. It looks so glamorous on the television programs but in real life, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But if you love it, it’s a great life.”
Worst job you have ever had?
“The worst job was when I was over here backpacking for a year and working my way round Australia. I was planning to settle in Airlie Beach for a couple of months and got a job as a chef on a dive boat, which should have been a great and relaxing job out on the Great Barrier Reef. However, I got pretty bad sea sickness and just managed to struggle through the three days that the trip lasted and never went back out for the next one. “
What is your signature dish?
“I don’t really have a signature dish. I have never wanted to put my name to a dish and say this sums me up as a chef. I like to cook all things and always try new things, so that you always keep yourself fresh and up to date with what is happening in the culinary world.”
What is unique about your restaurant?
“The restaurant is in a beautiful location on the waterfront and everything we use is fresh produce and made in-house, even our own bread, which these days is a rare thing.”
What is the chef serving in heaven?
“For me if there was a heaven, the chef would definitely be serving more than one dish, it would be a smorgasbord of a selection.”
What is the most bizarre dish you have ever tried?
“The strangest thing I have eaten was while on holiday in Thailand and eating deep-fried crickets from a street vendor. Not really my cup of tea but when in Rome.”
What is one question people are always asking you?
“The one question I always get asked as a chef is, ‘what is your signature dish? ‘”
What is your biggest food indulgence?
“My biggest food indulgence has to be chocolate, absolutely love the stuff.”
How do you have your coffee?
“I don’t drink coffee, never have, never will, can’t stand the stuff.”
What ingredient are you obsessed with right now?
“I am obsessed with anything that is fresh. Whether our buyer has sourced a different type of fish or shellfish fresh from the market floor or our providore has found some new and exciting exotic fruit.”
Which three people would to invite to a dinner party?
“If I could invite any three people to a dinner party it would be Rick Stein, Ricky Gervais and Padma Lakshmi.”
What is your best tip for home cooks?
“Just cook things that you enjoy to eat and if it doesn’t always look or taste like the recipe says, don’t get disheartened, just keep trying, it’s all about practice.”