This month’s Mount Zero Hero, Travis McAuley, Executive Chef, Hellenic Republic wears his commitment and passion for his work with a ready smile. Warmly welcoming me into his Brunswick restaurant Hellenic Republic, he simultaneously directs the hub-bub of food-prep and juggles phone calls to numerous staff and suppliers.
Melbourne born, Travis recalls having interest in cooking from an early age. First cutting his teeth at Wild Oak Café in the Dandenong’s working with Gary Cooper, before heading to London where he worked at The Institute of Directors for two years.Returning to Melbourne, Travis joined the team at One Fitzroy Street first working first with John Psanis and then George Calombaris. When George joined the team in 2005 it proved pivotal; the two of them have been working together ever since.
In 2007 they opened the highly acclaimed The Press Club Restaurant and Bar, followed by Hellenic Republic (in Brunswick, Kew, Williamstown and now Brighton) of which Travis is part-owner and Executive Chef.
“That Aussie boy knows more about Greek food than Greeks do - because he is passionate about it.” George Calombaris has been heard to say about Travis.
It’s a passion that is evident as Travis talks me through his day ahead, his conversation is peppered with food references, from seafood market prices to the earthen ware dishes he loves and learning about traditional Greek food and family recipes from Calmobaris’s mother.
These family recipes and the aural tradition of learning them are treasured by Travis and the results have been embraced by Australians – Hellenic Republic’s Cypriot Grain Salad has clocked up over one million views and has since been named Australia’s most popular salad!
Thank you, Travis, for making time to speak with us this month and for sharing some of your most popular recipes using Mount Zero products for our readers. (Click to see recipes details.)
Can you tell us a little about your background? What led you to the industry and some of your career highlights to date.
After completing my apprenticeship, I first worked in a couple of local restaurants out in the eastern suburbs, but really found inspiration working with Gary Cooper at the Wild Oak café in Olinda.
Then I did a couple of years over in London before returning to Melbourne, where I jumped into One Fitzroy Street with John Psanis and Chris Lucas.
After an ownership change there, I crossed paths with George Calombaris and joined him to open up The Press Club. From there we opened up the Hellenic Republic in Brunswick, which then led on to opening in Kew, Williamstown and recently Brighton.I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside some amazing chefs and other passionate people in the industry, both here and overseas, that have really inspired me.
What’s your favourite item on your menu and why?
We’ve recently opened up a new venue in Brighton, with a strong focus on seafood. So, at the moment we’ve got some cracking seafood coming in daily, which we are simply cooking over coals and dressed with good olive oil.
Where do you source your produce?
As close to the source as possible. The greatest thing about this industry is working closely with suppliers that are as passionate about their product as we are with what we do with it.
What’s the most heard feedback from your customers?
It would have to be the for our Cypriot Grain salad recipe that was featured on the Good Food website. Who would have known that a salad using Freekah (which was only just starting to gain popularity at the time) would be such a hit!
What’s your favourite kitchen tool?
It would have to be my hands.
What would you be doing, if you weren’t in the food business?
A Formula 1 driver of course. Well, to be perfectly honest, a career outside of the food industry has never crossed my mind. Even if I wasn’t cooking I’d be involved in it in some form. I think it’s the relationships you form with staff, suppliers, customers and others in the industry that I enjoy most.
What words do you use to describe Mount Zero Olives?
We are creating a Foodie’s bucket list – what are your tips?
Where do you start? Make your own sourdough from scratch. Grow your own vegetables – it is so rewarding to make a meal from your own garden. Learn to make your own cheese. Make your own salami and other cured proteins. Eat shucked oysters fresh off the boat. I think the list could go on forever.
Do you have a favourite “foodie” moment from art, film or a novel?
I’m not sure if you’d classify it as a “foodie” moment, but Paul Newman saying he could eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour to win a prison bet in Cool Hand Luke was pretty awesome.
Finally, do you have any special plans or dream projects planned for 2018?
I have another trip to Greece planned for later in the year to Athens, which I’m really looking forward to. I always come back with a head full of ideas and inspiration.