It’s been a steady climb for chef James Gibson, who started at Arbory Bar & Eatery – which overlooks the Yarra in Melbourne’s CBD – five years ago as a Chef de Partie, and is now the executive chef of the popular venue.
“I got the job and then the team sponsored me to stay, and here I am,” says the UK-born chef who started his apprenticeship at 16.
“School wasn’t working for me and just before my 16th birthday, I got a part-time job washing dishes,” he shares, “and one day, one of the guys in the kitchen asked me if I wanted to help make the sandwiches. I went from there.”
The fact he “loved washing dishes more than going to school,” was also a sign that he was heading in the right direction.
Fast forward to 2022 and James is coming into the busiest time of year for Arbory. Christmas and summertime mean Arbory Bar & Eatery and its sister venue, Arbory Afloat, will be pumping.
The pop-up bar and restaurant is situated atop a refurbished barge on the Yarra, and this year Arbory Afloat returns for its seventh season with the theme Balearic Beach Club, drawing inspiration from the fun and vibrant nature of the islands of Ibiza, Formentera, Minorca, and Mallorca. In keeping with this theme, James has created a delicious tapas dish using Mount Zero products – we’re thrilled that he’s this month’s MZ Hero and has shared this recipe for us to try at home.
“I discovered Mount Zero in places I worked before I started at the Arbory,” he says. “It started out with discovering the pulses, then the verjus – I LOVE the verjus and put it on every menu that I write. It’s on the menu at Arbory Afloat, too.”
The recipe James has shared this month was inspired by a recent trip to Spain, seeking out inspiration for this season’s Arbory Afloat menu.
“I was in Barcelona over winter, in a pintxos bar, the place had no seats, and everything was out of a tin or a jar. They plated up all these high-quality tinned goods, and one dish I’ve replicated for this menu as it was a great way to use Mount Zero’s Olive Jam, which I love,” he says.
The tapas dish is poached apricots that are served with a gooey cheese, olive jam, anchovies and another of James’s favourites, a splash of our Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
“The dish is really accessible,” says James, “and while you think the flavours wouldn’t pair, for me it’s the perfect marriage of the sweetness of apricot, the saltiness of anchovies, the subtle roundedness of the Arbequina – and the cheese and olive jam bring it together. Enjoy!”
the fast five
1. If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?
Landscape photography – nature/mountains.
2. Last place you dined out?
Auterra Wine Bar in Armadale.
3. What's your favourite Victorian restaurant?
4. Favourite season/s of the year for produce?
5. Do you have any special projects scheduled for 2022 or beyond?
Arbory Afloat is our special project every year. We love it!
By Hilary McNevin