Each month we profile a ‘Mount Zero Hero’ with the aim of connecting you to chefs, producers and retailers who all share the same passion for quality local produce that we do, and that we know is valued by our customers too.
This month we introduce you to Ashly Hicks, Head Chef Garden State Hotel, a grand new multi-level restaurant and bar located in Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
To say that Garden State is impressive is possibly an understatement, it can seat more than 800 people in its various rooms. Each space has unique décor and a tailored menu to create a different dining experience.
In a place this big it’s easy to imagine the scope of demands on the kitchen which helps to illustrates Ashly’s energy and willingness to accept a challenge.
Now in his early thirties, Ashly began working in kitchens in his teens. As soon as he was qualified - at 20 - he headed to London to work with Gordon Ramsey, and then at the Michelin starred restaurant, Tom Aikens.
After treading the tiles in London for six years Ashly returned to his home town Brisbane, where he co-owned and worked as Head Chef at the Buffalo Club. During this time his skill was recognised and rewarded by the industry; the restaurant received two Australian Gourmet Traveller Stars and Ashly was named the 2011 Queensland Young Chef of the Year.
Describing himself as ‘someone with an ever expanding passion for the industry’ Ashly’s desire for a new adventure led him to Melbourne and in late 2012 he joined the team at the one-hatted St Kilda institution, Circa, The Prince, working under celebrated chefs Paul Wilson and Jake Nicolson. In July 2013, aged 29, Ashly was appointed as Executive Chef Circa, where he earned the restaurant two Age Good Food Guide Hats in 2016.
He joined Garden State in late 2016 where his creativity and commitment was exemplified in the very first week... As the story goes, he was forced to re-think the menu due to an unexpected lack of gas supply to the building. Ashly created a new desert, using a blow torch to flame tamarillo and a sugar syrup by using hot water from the coffee machines. The triumphant dessert remains on the menu today.
With up to 800 plus mouths to feed daily, and multiple staff to match, Ashly is a busy man, and we are thrilled he took the time to answer our questions this month.
How long have you been part of the industry?
I don’t particularly know what lead me into the industry, but I have been a part of it since I was 14 and get more passionate about it every day. Originally, I’m from Brisbane, QLD and I don’t come from a culinary background – no one from my family has ever worked in kitchens. I was quite disruptive at school and had energy to burn, and immersing myself into a strict regimented kitchen environment worked well for me.
What have been some of your career highlights?
My career highlights so far have been earning two Australian Gourmet Traveller Stars at age 26 while I was at the Buffalo Club in Brisbane, receiving Young Chef of the Year and then earning two Age Good Food Guide Hats for Circa in 2016.
Can you name one of your favorite Garden Sate menu items?
I find it very difficult to choose a favourite menu item but what I’m enjoying cooking most right now is South Australian squid (around 8cm in size is perfect as it’s nice and tender) and Flinders Island lamb hangar. I’m drying Mount Zero Kalamata olives and blending them into Frantoio to make a jet-black olive oil for the lamb – the briny acidity is unreal; it cuts right into the rich gamey lamb hangar.
How do you source your produce?
I have around 30 plus suppliers at the moment and always try and chase the best produce. I get my vegetables from Andrew Wood at Glenora. I work with James Madden who sources some of my proteins as well as Yarra Valley Garlic and Mushrooms Anonymous who find me wild ingredients.
What is your favourite kitchen tool?
My favourite kitchen tool isn’t a tool – it’s more of an asset and that’s my team. I have had most of my team with me now for over three and a half years and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
If you weren’t working as a chef, what would you would be doing?
I can’t even picture what I would be doing if I wasn’t in the food business. Perhaps focusing on an off-road motorcycle racing career! Ha! It’s a hobby I share with my brother and father, and one that I don’t get enough time to enjoy with them at the moment.
What is a word you use to describe Mount Zero?
Shared ethos (I know that’s two!)
We always like to ask our ‘heroes’ what they would add to a foodie “bucket list” – with the aim of creating the ultimately culinary list experience.
I’ll add Japan. Their food, drink and culture is amazing. Go to Sapporo, have a thousand beers and go to Ramen Alley!
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
I’m working on some new projects and I would like to become an industry mentor in the not-to-distant future and share my absolute passion for the industry.
Thanks for your time Ashly, we have no doubt you’ll do everything your set your mind to.
Next time you are in the city make time to pop into Garden State and sample the inspired menu made by Ashly and his team, and in the meantime click through to our monthly recipes prepared by Ashly for you to enjoy at home.