A chat with Chef Mitchell Orr

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Our culinary future is in good hands. My thanks to Chef Mitchell Orr for an honest glimpse into his thoughts on cookery and life.

How did you feel Mitchell when you were announced The Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef at the SMH Good Food Guide awards recently?

Hearing my name announced was pretty emotional. To hear Leo Schofield talk about the history of the award and then hear Damien Pignolet describe the attributes he and the panel or judges saw in me was a very humbling and amazing experience. It was the biggest moment of my career and probably of my life.

Mitchell, can you remember the first time you cooked, was it at home or professionally?

I’m quite sure the first time I cooked would of been at home helping mum.

What got you interested in cooking professionally?

I don’t think I ever really thought about cooking professionally, I was just lucky enough to know it was what I wanted to do. After taking food technology and hospitality in high school basically so I could have an extra meal a few days of the week and cooking at home, so I could try different things to the usual meals mum would make (she hates cooking) cooking professionally just seemed like the logical path. Work placement and part time work confirmed that.

What do you like to cook at home?

I actually don’t cook at home that often as my apartment kitchen isn’t crash hot, and I love eating out when I have the chance. So other than my late night staple of steamed rice, lap chong (dried Chinese sausage) and fried eggs, I enjoy making risottos and pasta as they as simple and full of flavour. You can always create a tasty risotto or pasta from the basic stores in your pantry.

What are the major influences in your culinary style?

The major influences on my culinary styles are polar opposites. I love Italian flavours and the history that goes with those classic dishes and flavour combinations, but growing and learning professionally at a time when cuisine is evolving at such a rapid rate I can’t help but be interested in these advancements. I love revisiting classic dishes and flavour profiles and presenting them in new and different ways. As I’m not bound by, but still respect, the traditions and values of Italian cuisine it’s always fun to create new dishes that aren’t necessarily “Italian” but still contain those amazing flavours.

Who are you cookery mentors?

I probably have three main mentors, Thomas Johns, Giovanni Pilu and Martin Benn. Thomas really helped spark my interest in new techniques and thinking outside the box. Giovanni has taught me a lot about respecting produce and traditions and taking pride in them, and Martin has really made me want to refine my skills as a chef as well as teaching me about subtle balances in dishes and staying on top of the curve with what’s happening in food around the world.

Daniel Puskas also inspires and pushes me and is always a good sounding board to talk about food with; he is a true friend but I think he’s too young to be a mentor.

(Outside of cooking) what’s fun for you?

Outside of cooking I love sports, though I don’t get much time to play (golf, basketball, netball, soccer), music and busting some moves, keeping active and fit, sneakers, as well as reading about food and of course being on the other side of the kitchen and eating out.

Does technology play a part in your life: online, the Internet, twitter, music, pics – and – how does that relate to your food life?

Technology is a major part of my life, probably too much so sometimes. The Internet is an amazing resource and a great way to stay connected to what’s going on in the world of food and with fellow chefs.

Of course twitter plays a part!! I’ve been on twitter for about 8 months or so I think. Though my followers almost doubled when I won the award hahahahah

Music is a big part of my life, everyday I’m listening to something, on the way to and from work, on my days off etc etc.

They all play a role in that they educate, motivate and inspire me. I love seeing and reading about what other creative and like-minded people are achieving and experiences. It pushes me to better myself.

What does the future hold Mitch; what would you like for your future in cooking?

I hope the future holds some amazing things for me. Guys like Puskas, Phil Wood (Rockpool), Dan Hong (Lotus) and Jimmy Parry are all doing some awesome things and have seen and experienced some wicked stuff around the world. So these guys leave big shoes to fill, they and all the previous winners are the reason the award has so much prestige. So hopefully I can live up to the standards they have set.

I’m really looking forward to travelling and staying in the States and Italy next year. That’s sure to be an amazing experience and hopefully I learn a lot and get to bring it back and create something unique in the Sydney dining scene.

I’d love my own place one day. I can see all the pieces to the puzzle. It’s just a matter of fitting them together.

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