Gavin Chin left a private school to join Mindarie Senior College’s schoolbased apprenticeship program and follow his dream of becoming a chef. Priscilla Fouracres reports on the multiaward- winning chef working at Perth’s prestigious Jackson’s Restaurant who knows he still has a long way to go to get to the top.
Gavin Chin always assumed he would go to university to pursue a white-collar profession like medicine, engineering or accountancy. But in Year 11 he realised his heart wasn’t in it. “I didn’t feel excited about going to university to study anything like that,” Gavin explains. “I was most comfortable in a kitchen environment because of my upbringing. My dad owned Hong Kong Palace in Malaga and my mum had a restaurant in Ballajura.
“Since I was 10 or 11 years old I helped out in the kitchen with cleaning. Then I got involved in cooking on the woks and working in the front of house taking orders and waiting on tables. I was surrounded by the chef atmosphere and the hospitality life. It’s what I wanted to continue in my own career.”
Leaving a private school and the routine of studying hard to get into university was a big decision. “There are so many people who hate their jobs because they became doctors or whatever to please other people,” Gavin says. “They are unhappy or they decide to do something completely different and make a career change. Why not make the right decision in the first place?” So Gavin followed his heart after convincing his parents of the merits.
“The industry has changed since my parents owned restaurants. It is a proud industry where chefs are looked up to and sometimes even seen as celebrities. It is no longer considered a domestic job. In Australia the trades are not the low bar of the labour skills. Australia welcomes trade skills.”
So in Year 12 Gavin dropped his TEE subjects, studied English, maths and science so he could graduate and concentrated on getting the most out of his workplace training at the Moon Café, a pasta and pizza bistro. “That started my apprenticeship and after I finished high school I went to TAFE and Hospitality Group Training to complete my apprenticeship for another three years,” Gavin says.
He worked at Tiger Lil’s and Matilda Bay Restaurant where he qualified as a commis chef, a basic chef in larger kitchens who works under a chef responsible for a
particular line of production such as entrees, mains or desserts. He won awards during each year of his apprenticeship including the Chairman’s Ambassador Award in
2007, Most Outstanding 2nd Year Apprentice award in 2008 and the John Cox Memorial Trophy for Most Outstanding Apprentice in his final year in 2009. He was also runner up in 2006 for WA Apprentice of the Year during his school-based training.
He credits much of his early success to the support he received from teachers at Mindarie Senior College and from Iain McDougall from Hospitality Group Training. ”The teachers weren’t figures of authority but more like friends who were there to help you when needed,” Gavin says. “They were always available. The physics teacher even helped me with social studies homework one day by explaining some things to me. And Iain was a big help during my apprenticeship.”
After qualifying as a commis chef Gavin left Matilda Bay Restaurant and returned to Tiger Lil’s: “They were looking for a sous chef, the second in charge under the head chef. I felt it was a great opportunity for me to learn not just cooking but how to run a kitchen in a cost effective, efficient way,” Gavin says.
While he learned how to turn a profit and developed leadership skills, he realised his cooking skills had reached a plateau. Because he wanted to learn more about cooking for fine dining restaurants he set his sight on working for Jackson’s Restaurant, a winner of the Restaurant and Catering Institute of Australia’s National Award for Best Modern Australian Restaurant. It is also currently featured in Australian Gourmet Traveller’s top 100 restaurants in Australia.
“I wanted to learn classical cooking and how things are done traditionally. Jackson’s is the best place to do that. The way they do sauces, the way they roll a loin of rabbit, the way they prepare the vegetables is very technical and complicated. So going to Jackson’s was the perfect place. If I have a solid foundation of cooking, wherever I go I can improve, get a job and do well in the industry.”
Gavin sees working at Jackson’s as the first stage of his career. “Matilda Bay Restaurant gave me a general idea of the basic skills and Jackson’s is refining these,” Gavin says. “My next stage would be to go to a more modern restaurant like French Laundry in America’s Napa Valley in California and then move on to another top restaurant called Alinea in Chicago. It has a very modern gastronomical, new-age way of cooking. Further in my career, after travelling and working in top restaurants, I’d like to come back to Perth where my family is and open my own restaurant.”
He knows it is a long road with no guarantees: “I hope it all goes well,” he adds cautiously. He is quick to point out that there are more qualified and deserving chefs at Jackson’s. But judging by his success to date, he has the creative drive and determination to do the hard work to achieve his goals.
Priscilla Fouracres - Department of Education - School Matters