Ian Curley Industry Check-in

9 November 2021

The hospitality industry has long been built on hard work, long hours, and sheer grit & determination to get it done, especially in the kitchen. These past couple of years have really tested the industry and its resilience, particularly those in Australia’s ‘culture capital’, Melbourne.

As Australia begins to chart a path back to normality and hospitality businesses around the nation begin opening again, we spoke with well-known chef Ian Curley. Ian is a 35-year veteran of kitchens, both here and internationally. We are very excited for his session at the upcoming Chef Success Workshop, on Sunday 27th February 2022 where he will be presenting "The Business of Food".

Originally heralding from the UK, Ian wanted a career that would allow him to travel the world. After starting his career in the kitchens of London, he settled in Australia. Over his 25-year tenure in Melbourne, he has been at the helm of some of the city’s best-known institutions; bringing his European fare with classic French underpinnings to their menus. After a nine-year stint at The Point Albert Park, he has spent more than a decade with the European Group (The European, City Wine Shop, Siglo, and more). Ian also now has his own restaurants- Kirks Wine Bar, French Saloon; and has a thriving consulting business. He knows his stuff!

The Chef Success Workshop is running as part of Foodservice Australia. Proudly sponsored by Chef’s Hat & Cookers Bulk Oil System. Early bird tickets are $75 including a networking lunch and entry to the Foodservice Australia tradeshow.

Q&A: Ian Curley Industry Check-in

The past eighteen months have been really challenging for hospitality, especially in Melbourne. How have you navigated this? Have there been some positive, rewarding points for you during this time?

Financially, it’s been devastating but it’s given me resilience. I have had the opportunity to spend more time with my family, and my consulting business has been doing ok. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the situation at hand. I will certainly be implementing some changes moving forward, to try to create more balance for myself and my staff.

What do you see are the opportunities for hospitality as we navigate our way back to being open, and moving forward?

We must think seriously about allowing foreign workers back- it has been highlighted that they were underpinning the industry. We are all navigating a serious staffing crisis, which will hinder recovery.

Training is incredibly important. We need to train the young to understand that hospitality can give you a great career- it’s so much more than just a part-time job. We will all need to rebuild, and there is amazing opportunity in that. This will allow us to create a more sustainable, desirable industry with more work/life balance.

What do you see are the challenges for the hospitality industry over the coming years and how do you think we can navigate them?

Staffing challenges and higher wages are going to hamper growth. All businesses will need to adapt to this, or they will perish. Again, training will be the key to navigating this.

Do you have any suggestions for things we can all do to help get our beloved hospitality industry back on its feet and flourishing again?

We need to have a think tank and listen to what the future generation wants. The current model that the industry functions on is outdated and not viable. We need to adapt and evolve to survive.

Customers can support the industry by enjoying as much in-house dining as they can. And remember to be kind and patient with the staff and venue- they’re all doing the best they can.

You will be presenting a session titled "The Business of Food" at the Chef Success Workshop on Sunday 27 February 2022, as part of Foodservice Australia trade show in Melbourne. What are two strategies chefs and managers can easily implement to better manage their food costs, and help make the business more profitable?

In the kitchen, look at what ingredients you’re using. High-cost items like wagyu and caviar sound great on the menu, but really impact cash flow. Look at using other, more cost-effective items. Speak with your suppliers about what’s in season to ensure you’re buying at the best price, or what specials they have and build a menu around that.

Another key point for any business is to understand labour laws. Pay your staff and other obligations correctly, and factor all of this into your costs and budgets.

You are an ambassador for Chef's Hat, a major sponsor of the Chef Success Workshop in Melbourne. Tell me a little about how you came to be in this role?

In my time in Melbourne, I have always shopped there- they have long been the go-to, one-stop-shop for the industry. I am negotiating to have a section named after my restaurant, in lieu of how much money I have spent there. Watch this space!

Lastly, are there any young chefs or operators that you see a bright future for, and think everyone should be watching?

Yes, but until I employ them, I can’t tell you who they are as then they’ll inflate their salaries.