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Monday 20 December 2021

One to watch: Is this Australia's next culinary superstar?

Paddy Prenter is the new executive chef at ultra luxe Tasmanian resort Saffire Freycinet. 

It is native Tasmanian Prenter's first gig in charge of a major kitchen and he succeeds big names in the likes of Hugh Whitehouse and Iain Todd. 

Prenter has spent the past few years sucking up knowledge from some of the best kitchen operatives in the country 

His first menus, which I sampled recently, were formidably impressive and while many a great potential chef has fallen by the wayside, I am tipping stardom for Prenter. Remember the name. 
Somewhere back in history I was reviewing an inner city Sydney restaurant called Ultimo's  for the Daily Telegraph (a much better newspaper then than it is now). 

The details are lost in the mists of time but I gave a glowing review to the man behind the pans at Ultimo's - a now long-closed spot where the food was an intriguing combination of French and Japanese flavours. 

The food was stunningly good. 
Tetsuya Wakuda

I later received a hand-written 'thank you' note from the chef - a fellow called Tetsuya Wakuda, who went on to fame and fortune. 

Back in the 80s I also used to very much enjoy the food at Blue Water Gill, an eatery at Bondi Beach owned by the parents of a tennis player where the food, while very different, had a similar energy and vibrancy. 

That chef, of whom no one had heard at the time, was a fellow called Neil Perry. You might have heard of him since. 

Over the past three decades I've eaten fish and chips at Harry Ramsden's, street foot in dimly lit sois in Bangkok, and even munched on guinea pig in the street in Peru. 

I have also been fortunate enough to eat in restaurants with chefs whose names included Gagnaire, Puck, Tower, Loiseau, Lorain, Bilson, Thompson, Best, Bocuse, Ryan and Meneau, among others. So I have form when I say Prenter is one to watch.   

The chef, whose partner Imogen Hayes works front of house at Saffire's Palate restaurant, has several positives on his side. 

He knows best of Tasmania's best producers personally, has the budget to access luxury ingredients like sea urchin, truffles and abalone should he want to, and he has a top-notch team around him in one of the most beautiful settings in Australia. 

Launceston born, Prenter started working as a junior in Hobart venue The Grape.

He visited south-east Asia, Japan and South America as a tourist, taking several culinary ideas with him along the way.

On his return to Australia, he worked for Andrew McConnell at venues like Cumulus Inc and Supernormal There is no better learning experience for a young chef.

After coming back to Tasmania he worked at Westend Pumphouse, Post Street Social, Frogmore Creek, Tom McHugo's and the late lamented Franklin under David Moyle before landing at Saffire three years ago, where he honed his skills under the talented Todd, who has been his mentor.

His dishes have a freshness and charm, using the best seasonal produce while always supporting local suppliers.

There is a creativity and passion to his cooking and, like Tetsuya, all those years ago, his presentation skills are outstanding. 

I felt the same frisson of excitement eating his dishes as I did discovering Tetsuya all those years ago. His food is deft and playful and, most importantly, reliably delicious. 

Now he has the pressure cooking at the most exclusive restaurant in Tasmania, where you either need to be a house guest to dine, or know someone who knows someone.

"I've had a lot of menu input over the past few years working under Iain since July 2018, but this is my first menu launch," Prenter says of menus that may feature dishes like Stanley Bay scallops with yuzu, orange and chimi churri (top dish), soy braised abalone with kunzea (above) and organically farmed loin of venison with kohlrabi and cherries.   

Dishes using local sea herbs, honey made on-site, Robbins Island wagyu beef, and local seafood from Freycinet Marine Farm all feature heavily. 

"I think I am coming into my own and know the scope of what I am capable of n the kitchen," Prenter says. "I feel confident in my ability and am ready for the opportunity to show what I can do.

"I know the venue well, I know the clientele well and I also know the best local producers who can provide the ingredients I am looking for. We will be trying to source everything as local as possible using the relationships I have built up."

There are degustation and a la carte menu options, with all dietary requirements catered for on an individual basis - as you'd expect with seasoned guests paying upwards of $2000 per couple per night for an all-inclusive experience. 

"There is obviously pressure, but it is not a pretentious environment," Prenter says. "We want people to feel relaxed and we are all looking forward to being consistently busy from now on - and I have a great team with me."

Asked to describe his cooking style, Prenter says: "Modern Australian with some Asian influence, particularly Japanese" but we are not going to say 'no' to guests. If they want a cheese and tomato toasty they will get the best cheese and tomato tasty I can possibly make.

"Fresh and seasonal dishes are certainly what we aiming for but guests can request whatever they want and we will try to please them."   

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