Owner of Golden Fields, Cutler and Co, and Cumulus Inc, Andrew McConnell is one of the most influential Melbourne chefs of the last decade. We put him under the grill

When did you first realise you wanted to be a chef?
I used to be a roll boy in a bakery in high school. I just really enjoyed it.

What is one ingredient you can’t live without?
One? Salt. Potatoes. Nah, there’s too many.

Most overrated ingredient?
Truffle oil. I don’t like it, and I’ve never really used it.

What’s the most important tool in your kitchen?
My trusty knife.

What food can you, or will you, not eat?
Ham steak and pineapple! I think it’s the only thing I’ve ever eaten that has made me physically ill.

Describe the most memorable meal of your life.
It was in Japan. It was just a dish of abalone with shredded crab meat and a crab jelly – just those three things on a plate. It was the first dish that ever made me sigh out loud in public.

Any words of wisdom for apprentices?
Be patient. There’s no great hurry to become head chef. I think I worked for about ten years before I had my first role as a senior chef.

Who in Melbourne is doing food that excites you at the moment?
I’m always excited by Ben (Shewry’s) food at Attica - he’s got a great understanding of balance, technique and restraint – all three. And that, you rarely find. I also had some really amazing food at the Estelle in Northcote recently – those guys are doing some interesting stuff at an incredible price point. It’s what makes Melbourne dining so exciting.

Name five ingredients that can conquer the world?
Salt, butter, oil, vinegar and potatoes (I’m Irish).

Who was your food mentor?
Tansy Good was a big influence. I did my training at his restaurant.

What would your death row meal be?
A tin of anchovies and a Carlton Draught. (Nice)

What do you cook at home?
Oh God, I think avocado on toast has kept me alive for the past 10 years…

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I ate a salad in Korea last year with fried grasshoppers that had been arranged to look like a little garden bed with a bunch of animals. It was strangely delicious.

What’s next for you?
We’re developing a wine bar next door to Cutler and Co called Economic Industries.  My approach to cooking has always been to use organic or biodynamic wherever possible, so I want to apply that approach next door with the wine list.

Who won the Melbourne food awards?

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