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Award stalwart calls it a day

IT MUST be a lovely feeling knowing that you’ve won something so many times that you can win no more. It must be great to have achieved so much that you’re awarded an award for the amount of awards you’ve received. Welcome to the world of Alain Fabregues owner and head chef of The Loose Box restaurant set in the sedate Mundaring hills.

Mr Fabregues isn’t being vain when he states that he stopped entering The Loose Box in the Fine and Occasional Dining section of the Gold Plate Awards “to let others compete”.

He’s simply telling it like it is.

The Loose Box took out the Gold Plate award for Fine and Occasional Dining award so may times they finally received the most prestigious award given by the Catering Institute, who run the Gold Plates, the Prix d’Honneur.

The Prix d’Honneur is reserved for the best of the best and is generally received when a restaurant has won a particular category for four years consecutively. The Loose Box won an unprecedented six years in a row.

The award has only been given to three restaurants since the Gold Plates began over 30 years ago; Mead’s Fish Gallery for Seafood, Ville D’Este for Mediterranean Dining and of course, The Loose Box for Fine and Occasional Dining.

In the nicest possible way winners of this special award are politely nudged in the direction of award winning sidelines, so that new generations of restaurants can also have their moment in the sun.

“It’s fair that every body should have a turn at it, a shot at it.”

Alain Fabregues motivation for opening the restaurant was simple enough; he was a young chef and basically, didn’t really want to work for anyone else. And so began the first Loose Box in 1979, in 1988 the restaurant moved to its current location and today Alain Fabregues employs 43 people.

“At the beginning I just wanted to be a chef and run my own operation. Then after a few years you say well, ‘I want more, I want to enter a competition and win’ and so I did.

“I became Chef of the Year many years in a row, and then your first Gold Plate and your second Gold Plate.”

As you might expect winning a Gold Plate did increase business at The Loose Box and by the time they had won their second or third place, the restaurant was booked solid.

But according to Mr Fabregues the Gold Plates are beneficial in far more ways than just bookings - it does wonders for morale.

“What’s good about the Gold Plate Awards is that it is a very transparent competition.

“At the end of the competition for example you can elect to see the people (who judged your restaurant) and they will tell you where you have won points and where you have lost points.

“It’s very good because they establish the judging criteria and you can have access to it.

“So you can say, ‘Okay I failed there so next year we can work on that’ and it can help you a lot on what you’re doing.

And, as Mr Fabregues points out, the Gold Plate competition is the only major competition that allows those being judged to review their judgment.

“Very often you win or you loose a competition, but you don’t know why.

“But with the gold plate it is different, they can bring you back the judging sheet, on which night you have been judged, and what happened and show you the bill.”

So have the Gold Plate awards helped the famous Alain Fabregues?

“Very much so,” said Mr Fabregues, “All those little things make a difference.”

He also added that having access to the judging sheets after the competition also helped him to train his staff better.

“If there was a problem with the staff, you could sit down and go through it with them.”

As they stand today, the judging sheets used by the Catering Institute cover 10 sections, including over 120 subsections.

And on a rather sad note the Loose Box era, as run by Alain Fabregues, is coming to an end. The restaurant has been put up for sale and in all likelihood will change hands soon. But fear not Fabregues fans, because the master chef is taking his cuisine to the streets. After a well earned holiday with wife Lizzi and daughter Natalie, he plans to open a food factory and sell instant a-la carte meals in your local supermarket.

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