With the hospitality industry experiencing a serious shortage of workers, to see someone who has made a successful career as a chef is a great example of how rewarding the sector can be.
Mildura born and bred Adam Smith is such a person, who chose to forge a career in hospitality and is currently the chef at Mario’s Sports Bar bistro at the Mildura Grand Hotel.
Adam’s career in hospitality began in the tropical north of Australia, where he worked as a kitchen-hand at an island resort.
“I started washing dishes up in the Whitsunday Islands when I was 17,” Adam said.
“I didn’t like the kitchen-hand uniform – I wanted to wear the chef’s uniform!
“I didn’t get an apprenticeship up there but I got a ‘prep’ job, and that got me out of the dishwashing, and that was the start of my interest in cooking.
“When I was 19, I moved back home to Mildura and I was fortunate to get an apprenticeship at the Inlander, which was a very busy place in the early 90s and I did my first three years training while working there.”
Adam said that after three years at the Inlander he needed to move on to gain further experience in some different venues.
“I was fortunate then to be employed at the Grand Hotel by Stefano de Pieri, which enabled me to complete my apprenticeship and gain some invaluable experience working alongside Stefano,” he said.
“Being able to work with Stefano with his taste in food and his skills and knowledge and for me to be able to combine that with my abilities was a great experience.
“Stefano’s Italian style food combined with the more traditional western cuisine I had prepared a lot of, gave me the opportunity to hone my skills further and I learnt a lot from him.”
Adam said that he is very grateful to the Carrazza family for the opportunities afforded him over so many years.
“I am really grateful to them for the opportunity they gave me as an apprentice,” he said.
“The Grand Hotel was a really professional operation and it was a privilege to work for Stefano as an apprentice and I had a real pride in what I did there.
“There was a lot of pressure, because it was a ‘three hats’ rated restaurant at the time and so the food had to be excellent.
“I took care of many of the desserts back in those days. The experience gave me a lot of time to focus on my desserts to make them perfect and we had some really amazing food being created there.”
Adam is a trade qualified chef who completed a three year apprenticeship – Certificate 3 in Commercial Cookery.
During his apprenticeship at the Inlander, Adam attended the William Angliss Institute in Melbourne which is considered one of the best training schools in Australia.
“I was lucky enough to go to William Angliss and to be trained by some really good Melbourne chefs,” he said.
“I got to experience some really good things that I wouldn’t have had in Mildura. It gave me a distinct advantage to have that experience on my resume.
“Part of the training at William Angliss included working in their restaurant which was open to the public and the students did the waiter service and we would rotate and also do the food preparation at another sitting.”
Adam said he enjoys working in the industry which while it is challenging, it allows him to use his creativity in the preparation of the different dishes he prepares.
“I like the creativity side of it. No matter what you cook, it has your signature on it,” he said.
“The way I prepare something is different to the way another chef would prepare it and I add my artistic side and personal touch to it.
“It’s not like going to work and doing the same job everyday – it’s always different – and you can create a new dish or a special and so it’s ever changing in that regard, which is what I enjoy.”
Adam said hospitality can be a great career for a young person and in normal times, it’s a passport to enable travel to different places, where you can always find work.
“I really like to travel and move up the east coast to Brisbane and beyond. To be able to go from place to place and always have employment is great,” he said.
“I spent two years working at the Brisbane Casino and I also spent a lot of time around the Gold Coast and I also worked at the famous Airlie Beach Hotel.”
Adam said that it’s difficult to attract people to the industry and part of that is because of the low rates of pay for apprentices.
“I don’t think the salaries have really progressed in the hospitality industry and I think there has been a lack of apprentices for a long time,” he said.
“There was a time when every kitchen had an apprentice but that’s not the case now.
“It is a difficult lifestyle which doesn’t suit everyone. You have to work a lot of split shifts and work late nights and that can be hard on families.”
“That drives a lot of chefs out of the industry as they get older, because they find it isn’t working for their family, their wife and children, and so they find an alternative.
“They can go and work in a ‘servo’ and get paid a similar wage.”
Adam said in spite of that he would definitely recommend a career in hospitality which he says can be very rewarding.
Absolutely I would recommend hospitality as a career path,” he said.
“I think it is a really great industry and there are some great venues to work in. It’s given me a really good lifestyle. I’ve been able to travel and see the things I’ve wanted to see.
“Having said that pay rates for apprentices aren’t great, now the wages and conditions for a qualified chef are much better,” he said.
“For me it’s been worth the wait to get to the level I am at, and if you are passionate about what you do, someone will give you a good job.”
Adam said that one of the aspects of the job of a chef is to be well organised.
“Working in the bistro I’m close to the people and everything I do is on display and so I need to ensure everything runs smoothly and the food service is carried out in a timely and efficient way and the quality is good,” he said.
“I enjoy getting to know all of the patrons and we have a lot of regulars and so you want to do the best that you can, because you know they are going to back tomorrow or the next day, and so you are really accountable.
“I’m really happy to be part of the team at Mario’s Sports Bar – it’s a great place to work – its more of a happy family rather than a job.”