Ronny Ghantous is Executive Chef with 16 years at the helm of the Gallagher Hotels pub group and designs menus for their 12 venues, so he needs to keep on top of kitchen trends.
Ghantous travels overseas regularly with owners Pat and Angela Gallagher, heading to food shows on the US East and West Coast, as well as Ireland, looking for inspiration.
Travelling led to the development of the Gallagher group’s Mister G’s New York steakhouse, in Double Bay, where big chunks of protein are a focus.
“We’ve got a charcoal, chargrill, closed oven called a Mibrasa. It sits at about 400-500 degrees with the door closed and we get eye fillets out medium in 7-8 minutes, beautiful flavour and smoky. Big 1kg T-bones come out in 12 minutes. It’s tricky for the Chef, they have to open and close (the dampers). It’s a massive furnace in there,” he says.
For Luke Powell the humble roast has no place at LP’s Quality Meats in Chippendale. As Chefs attempt to ramp up their offerings, the standard grilled steak is being pushed aside in favour of new preparation methods, cuts and techniques.
“We’ve started doing a rib-eye from Richard Gunner (Fine Meats) in Adelaide. We call it a prime rib but only on Saturday nights.”
First, the bones are removed from the rib and then thrown into the smoker for about 12 hours. Then the rib-eye gets rubbed all over with mustard and peppercorns and is smoked for about four hours. After resting, a big slice of the rib-eye is served alongside one of the smoked bones.
“You eat a big steak, you want a big knife and lots of mustard,” says Powell, who uses a massive American built smoker.
Experimenting with new dishes, sauces and equipment – plus designing menus – also takes up a significant amount of Ghantous time, but he is never far from the pass.
“I do quite a bit in the kitchen, service wise, but I’d do 30-40 per cent of my week on (experimenting),” he says. “We’ve got a spare kitchen upstairs at The Union (in North Sydney), which is used predominantly for functions, so I’ll have a play and try to get things done there. Do up a different burger, see what it’s like.”
“And when we’ve got the menu to change, everything is already tried and tested. There’s not a lot of forward and backward, so the customer doesn’t get our mistakes.”
In the pub space, he says, there is always someone breathing down your neck, ready to take customers away, so he needs to offer the traditional, and not always with a twist.
“There’s definitely a change in the culinary scene where you have to keep on top of it. You have to visit the trade shows, even if you pick up two things and you’ve spent five hours in the place, they are the two things that someone else who didn’t go has missed.”
Just as he must keep on top of advances in the pub business, dishes such as the traditional pub burger also have to be bang on, he says.
“I’ve always said that to the Chefs. This may just be a burger, but for me, to get it right is more important than the dish that stands out, is whizz-bang with all those special ingredients. If you can’t get a burger right, then that’s what the people judge you on.”