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Food talk with Australia’s culinary brand ambassador

LifestyleFood talk with Australia’s culinary brand ambassador

Tourism Australia’s culinary brand ambassador, Chef Tony Howell was recently in India to present exquisite meals featuring modern Australian cuisine. As part of J.W. Marriott’s “All Things Nice” initiative, the globally renowned chef hosted a five-course dinner in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Having garnered a reputation for being one of Australia’s best chefs, Howell rightly serves as the face of Restaurant Australia—a campaign by Tourism Australia to establish the country as a culinary destination. Currently, he also runs an acclaimed restaurant, Cape Lodge in Margaret River, Australia.

Born in Western Australia, Chef Howell discovered his love for cooking at the age of 14 while working at a Mexican restaurant.  He said, “All I wanted to do was go surfing when I was 14 years old. So I got this job in a Mexican restaurant to save money to buy surfboards. It was while working in that restaurant that I discovered how much I enjoyed being in kitchen—the bond between chefs, the hard work and the stress, but most of all the camaraderie. It was the perfect mix of something that I enjoyed. The environment was extremely fun.” From there he went to bigger and better restaurants and learned from the best chefs in his city. Fast-forward 30 years, today Chef Howell is known as “Australia’s most
coveted chef”.

Chef Howell has worked across Western Australia. He started an apprenticeship when he was 16 years old at Perth’s, the best restaurant in Australia at the time. His learning curve then took him to a French silver-service fine-dining restaurant called Luis. Next, he got a four-year degree from a culinary college. He has worked in Western Australia’s finest restaurants, and he has cooked at special events alongside some of the world’s most talented chefs, including Heston Blumenthal, Alex Atala, Rene Redzepi and Sat Bains.

In 1996, Chef Howell moved to a small Western Australian town, Margaret River, and never left the place after that. He said, “I went there to help out a friend in a restaurant for three weeks while they were short-staffed, and I never left.” He has been working at the five-star hotel Cape Lodge in Yallingup, Western Australia for  the past 15 years. His food innovations there fetched the restaurant a number of awards and accolades over the years.

According to Chef Howell, his biggest career milestones were reached when the restaurant Cape Lodge got listed in Condé Nast Traveller’s “Gold List Best Food Category” in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2012, when he was the head chef there. He was also flown to Los Angeles, US to cook alongside Curtis Stone at his restaurant, Gwen, at a special event for Tourism Australia.

For Chef Howell, Australian cuisine is all about using indigenous produce, using the best, fresh, and sustainably sourced ingredients. He said, “At Cape Lodge, I buy locally sourced, sustainable and seasonal fresh produce that’s been grown and raised with care and minimal intervention. I like to cook with clean and fresh flavours that don’t overpower the protein. I like the produce to speak for itself.”

The celebrated chef wants to use his position to spread the word about Western Australia’s high quality produce, which he claims makes his job as a chef easy. This desire also forms the kernel of Chef Howell’s responsibilities as Tourism Australia’s Culinary Brand Ambassador.

Elaborating on the same, he said, “I represent Western Australia and its produce. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I feel honoured and humbled to be trusted with that responsibility.” He informed us that Western Australia has exquisite black Manjimup truffles that are as good as the French truffles. The region is also known for unique seafood, exotic fruits and vegetables.

He thinks Australian cuisine is also diverse with influences from nearby Asian countries, as well as influences from diasporic cultures—the British, the Italians and the Greeks, Vietnamese and Asians, and so forth.

About his forte, the modern Australian cuisine, he said, “It is exciting and as Australians, we’re quite lucky in some respects that we don’t have a strong culinary tradition, so I guess we’re free to be creative and inventive, more so than perhaps chefs are in other cultures.”

In regard to his visit to India, Chef Howell is happy with the experience. He said, “It was fantastic. I am really proud of the dishes we served to the guests and the feedback we received was amazing. It’s always so nice to hear someone say that the lamb was cooked perfectly.”

When it comes to heading a kitchen, Chef Howell has a clear mantra. “Every kitchen has challenges—stock doesn’t arrive on time, staff shortages, mistakes in the kitchen and so forth, but it’s how you overcome those challenges which brings out the difference between a good chef and a great chef,” he said.

The esteemed chef has been a part of numerous television cooking shows, including MasterChef Australia as a guest chef in 2011. He also hosts Channel 7’s popular lifestyle programme Fresh TV. Moreover, Chef Howell has appeared in global food and travel magazines.

Chef Howell told us that he would like to come back to India in future and also wants to do more television work and ideally mix that with his other passions—travelling and adventure. He signed off by saying, “If anyone out there wants to make a cooking show with me riding a motorbike to remote villages all over the world, meeting and cooking with locals using their produce, give me a call.”

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