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AS the executive chef and food and beverage manager of one of the State’s biggest function venues, Adrian Tobin is as passionate about his food as he is his people.

His dual roles and range of responsibilities at the WA Turf Club help drive his desire for success, and go some way to explaining his enthusiasm for competition.

Adrian and his team have enjoyed some success in the Restaurant of Champions competition, having entered four times in recent years. This year he was persuaded by his employees to head up the team for one final tilt at the top prize, coming away with the team’s second gold medal last month.

While there are plenty in the industry ready to criticise competitions of this type, Adrian believes they have value in team building. And he knows first hand that volunteering your time to cooking competitions can open some doors.

“Back then [when I first thought of entering competitions] we were hearing about the ‘bloody competition chefs’, but nobody was putting themselves on the line, it was young guys starting out,” Adrian says.

“I said: ‘I’m a sous chef at Burswood and I’ll have a go’. I got invited to try out for the WA regional team.”

He gained a spot in the Salon Culinare team and worked alongside a couple of chefs who provided him with great motivation.

“I was on this team with James Archer and Burt Lozey. I realised I’d have to lift my game to what they were doing,”Adrian says.

“We did alright and two years later we went to Singapore and won the competition.”.

While competing in Singapore, Adrian was identified by ‘talent scouts’ as being of sufficient calibre to head up the WA Turf Club cooking operations.

Adrian had spent most of his professional life as a fine-dining chef, working in the Savoy Hotel, several Sheraton Hotels, and the Burswood. Through his catering company, Consult-A-Chef, Adrian had experienced life outside the world of five-star restaurants, but he initially rejected the notion of working at the trots.

“I looked at it and, first off, said: ‘No, you’ve got to be joking’,” he says.

But the Turf Club was persistent, even dangling the carrot of a $1 million cheque to spend on a kitchen redesign, a job Adrian says he had always wanted.

“The carrot was the kitchen. When you are given the chance to design your own kitchen it’s hard to say no,” he says.

“There is also the variation. I get to do fine dining right down to buffets and hamburgers … we have everything here. We design menus every week, which is very unusual in this industry.”

So for the past seven and a half years Adrian has been the WA Turf Club’s executive chef and, for the past three he has also been the food and beverage manager. It’s a role he says is not easy for most chefs, but one that’s becoming more common.

“I think tying the food and beverage and the kitchen together as a team, and a happy one, was a challenge,” Adrian says.

“I have my own ides about what is a good team.

“For me it is when people want to turn up to work because they want to achieve and they want to achieve above the norm rather than turning up for the sake of a wage.

“If they are better than the norm then they should be paid better than the norm.”

Adrian is responsible for two restaurants, a committee luncheon room and 20 function venues. At any one time he can have three kitchens in operation.

His staff numbers vary from 20 to 1000, depending on restaurant bookings and functions, a fluctuation that places demands on his management abilities.

“We constantly gear up and gear down and yet we run at the same percentage cost in food and beverage as a normal restaurant,” he says.

“On Perth Cup day we feed 35,000 people, over $1 million in combined food, and it’s all serviced at about the same time of the day.”

In some circles Adrian is known as a tough man to work for. While he acknowledges his first few weeks at the WA Turf Club may have surprised a few people, he believes in being straight, honest, and fair.

“I was hard at first. Yes, I am a demanding boss but my people know me and what I like,” Adrian says.

“I’m straight and honest with them and they know if I am happy.

“It’s not a case of being tough. It’s being consistent and fair. Playing mind games gets you nowhere.

“We have a waiting list to get into the kitchen.”

Adrian says that creating respect between the wait staff and the kitchen staff has been an important function in his role as both an executive chef and food and beverage manager.

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