CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CANDICE WALKER
Her life revolved around food growing up. Candice worked in a restaurant after school, she cooked for her family and she still found time to watch three cooking shows on TV every single day! Candice did not shy away from any job – she started as a dish washer and rose through the ranks to become a Commis 3 – before even starting culinary school – all before she turned 18. She moved to Dubai just over 2 years ago and this city offered her, her first overseas chef job. She would like to change the café scene in Canada – but I think for now, she is happy enjoying the sunshine (not the heat) of Dubai – so this city will play host to her for a few more years, and I for one, cannot wait to try some of the new dishes she is dishing out on the menu.
Name: Candice Walker
Restaurant: Qwerty, Media One Hotel
From: Mornington Peninsula (near Melbourne), Australia
Culinary School: William Angliss Institute, Melbourne, Australia
Knife Hand: Ambidextrous
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
Yes, I always ate them. I liked my vegetables more than meat. My parents cooked different things. My dad is English, and my mum is Australian. So, my dad would cook curries and spicier food and my mum would cook things like spaghetti Bolognese, roast and vegetables – more classic dishes. So, we had a variety growing up. So everyday of the week would be a different dish. But I used to like broccoli, cauliflower and of course potatoes.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a police officer – I liked the structure of the job and how they helped people. But then I went through high school I got an after-school job washing dishes – so I ended up in kitchens after school. When I got fast at washing dishes, they started making me do prep and then they put me in the line. I went up the ladder to be a Commis 3 – before I went to chef school. I worked in cafes and restaurants for 6 years before I went to culinary school. As I was finishing high school, in about the fifth year of me working in restaurants I realised I need to get a qualification and though why not go to chef school while I am still working in the kitchen – as you go to school one day a week and the rest of the four days you work in a restaurant as an apprentice.
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
My most memorable job. was perhaps my hardest job when I worked at The European in Melbourne. My chef teacher at school got me a job there as they knew the people and I went for the interview and there was this big scary British chef – Ian Curley. He began by telling me that he would put me in the function kitchens or maybe in another kitchen – and then he decides to put me in the pasta section and I was like ok, no worries – but I thought to myself that I haven’t really done much in the pasta sections and here they were making fresh pasta every day. When I started, the staff told me that no one makes it this section. There were 6-7 different fresh pastas you had to make everyday with all the fillings and because it was a European restaurant a lot of people ordered pasta. But you weren’t only cooking the pasta, you were also cooking the sides for the grill and entrée sections. I used to come in an hour early every day just so I could get the prep out on time. My experience at this restaurant made me a lot faster and gave me a lot of skills and discipline. I was with that kitchen for one year and then they made me the sous chef at another restaurant they owned.
What did you have for dinner last night?
I had a sausage roll – a very Australian thing to do. I got it at McGettigan’s.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I enjoy going to cafes. I like Amongst Few (Palm Strip Mall) – it’s nice and quiet and good place to visit on my day off. I enjoy their breakfast-style dishes like eggs on toast. They also have nice juices and coffee – I am always looking or nice coffee – people from Melbourne like their coffee. I might also go into Nola – I like their entrees and sharing plates. The mains are more seafood focused as it’s a more New Orleans vibe and I am not a huge fan of seafood.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
I like using a lot of herbs – mainly dil, chives, parsley – and lemon. I like to use herbs to freshen up dishes and using a lot of lemon zest in dishes because it brings a bit of light to the dishes.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I would definitely be with my friends and family. I would like it to be at an expensive restaurant with nice cocktails. I love cheese – and I will never give up any type of cheese – so lots of cheese platters – better still I would love to have a cheese buffet. Wouldn’t mind some steak and pasta too. You gotta go all out!
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
I have thought of maybe going to Canada. It has nice friendly people there and I think I have something to offer them from my background – like café-wise. I have been to America quite a few times and sometimes their cafes and coffee are not up to the mark – depending where you are – as compared to Australia. So, if I went to Canada, I could help a restaurant upgrade what they have.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for and what would you cook them?
I like cooking for my friends and family because they are the ones I don’t get to see. When I was home I always cooked for my mum and brother but now I don’t get to cook for them anymore. I would put on a roast (lamb or chicken) family style sharing meal with salads and a nice dessert – my mum likes apple crumble. The food I cook would be more home style as I don’t get it often here as I am not cooking at home – its like I would be cooking for them something I miss.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
Probably the potato gnocchi – it has a lot of veggies, and it’s got parmesan and buffalo mozzarella. People might think it’s a bit ‘carby’ but its got a nice balance of vegetables and its good for me to eat.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
I just try and stick to having everything fresh in terms of ingredients. I have tried and stopped a lot of frozen stuff coming in – and try and bring in fresh stuff. Not buying in too much but making most of the things from scratch.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
Not sure! Maybe something like honey – because its soothing and calming. My nickname is Candy – so maybe I am sweet.
Best culinary tool? A knife. We use it for everything, every day. If could be different styles of different knives – but generally if you have a good cook’s knife that is the main thing you would use all day.
A chef that inspires you? I have always liked Jamie Oliver when I was growing up. He was always on the TV and he always had a good personality and cooked with passion. He always cooked things that people wanted to cook – so I was always watching him on TV.
Favourite cuisine? I would say Italian. It just has classic flavours.
What’s your favourite comfort food? Spaghetti Bolognese. It’s a dish I always had once a week while I was growing up.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given? It’s probably by one of my close friends – Rosalie. I wasn’t sure about moving to Dubai as I did not really know what this place was like – I was very nervous to come and live and work here. But she told me to just go and see what its like, and you can always come home.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? A cheese toastie – buttered bread with nice cheddar cheese and into the toaster.
What is the one cooking tip you swear by? It’s more like a technique I would say – its about controlling the heat of the pan when people are cooking. I have watched friends cooking but not heating their pan properly or enough or too much. You can figure out the heat by the feel of it – put your hand over the pan and feel it or if its too hot you will see its smoking. If it’s too low and you put in something in and don’t hear a sound then you know its not hot enough.
THIS OR THAT
Curly fries or regular fries?
Hot sauce or barbecue sauce?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Rice or Mash?
Soup or salad?
Lunch, Breakfast or Dinner?
Fried egg, omelette, or scrambled?
Crème brûlée or molten chocolate cake?
Ketchup or mayonnaise?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!