IN what is being hailed as a gastronomic coup, Mildura’s Quality Grand Hotel has secured the services of internationally renowned executive chef Jay Upul Perera.
Jay is reshaping the menu for the popular Spanish Grill, as well breathing new life into the hotel’s banquets and private functions.
Born in Sri Lanka, the new executive chef has work in many places around the world, including Japan and Singapore and, prior to coming to Mildura, he worked in Melbourne 17 years.
After the COVID lockdowns abated, he met with the director of company that runs the Grand Hotel and was offered the position of executive chef.
“I started my hospitality career in Japan and worked there for 20 years in various five star hotels and restaurants,” he said.
“During my time in Japan I learnt about the country’s traditional cuisine as well as some quite exotic blends of culture like ‘Nikkei’ – a combination of Japanese and Peruvian and Chilean cuisine.
It has become the latest gastronomic sensation to hit Europe’s culinary capitals and has now arrived in Mildura.
“A favourite in Japan is Kaiseki ryori, which is another traditional and sophisticated Japanese ‘haute cuisine’ which has its origins in the delicacies offered to the Imperial Court.”
Famous for its steaks cooked on the open grill over red gum and Mallee root coals, Jay is now also introducing some new Spanish Grill appetisers to “give customers an exciting dining experience which includes some of the Japanese influenced dishes that will bring an exotic mix to the table”.
“I have brought some new entrees and appetisers and so far the reaction from our diners has been very positive. They are really enjoying trying something different.
“These dishes have Japanese, French and South American origins, which people are excited to taste.”
Jay said that where possible he is sourcing local ingredients and continues to have the Grill’s beef and Mallee lamb supplied by local butcher Naz Tassone. The meat is aged before it goes into the Spanish Grill’s cool room.
“Apart from being the executive chef for the Spanish Grill, I am also responsible for Grand Hotel functions,” Jay said.
“We can cater for up to 300 people in the Ballroom and there are also several other function venues downstairs that provide for smaller numbers.
“When I was in Melbourne, I worked in a number of different venues where I catered for large functions at golf Clubs and reception centres, including weddings and debutante balls, school
graduations and formals.
“I am keen to see the Grand being the venue for debutantes and formals, gala dinners and corporate functions and so these are the things that I want to bring more of to the hotel.
“I have developed a range of new menus for each area which people will find very appealing and affordable.”
Jay said he and his wife are enjoying living in Mildura which he says has a rich dining culture and some very good restaurants which cater for a range of options for tourists and locals alike to enjoy.
“I like this area where the hotel is and the nearby riverfront,” he said.
“People are very friendly and there are some very good and indeed famous restaurants here and people enjoy the variety with Stefano’s and the iconic Spanish Grill and Bistro being primary among those.
“I will be changing my menu every six months. There will be a winter menu and a summer menu including local ingredients and fresh seafood from Adelaide, which is delivered twice a week.
“The quality of the raw tuna and salmon and other fresh fish and prawns being sourced from Adelaide allows me to make my traditional Japanese Sashimi and Sushi platters, which I am enjoying.”
With the hospitality industry often struggling to find staff, Jay is very keen to train young people and to encourage them to make a career in the sector, which he has so successfully done.
“We are opening doors for local people who would like to make a career in hospitality and we have several chefs in training who are studying at SuniTAFE and who also work here at the Spanish Grill,” Jay said.
“They came to Australia as international students and they are completing their courses at the same doing some work placement here gaining practical experience working in the restaurant.
“It is very hard to find staff and we are currently working to have some people come to Australia on a sponsored visa program and we have lodged two applications, one of which has been approved and that person will arrive soon.
“I am very happy to share my experience with the young people and to show them what a great career path being a chef can be.”
Jay has also been working on the breakfast menu in the Coffee Palace including introducing a free range nitrate-free bacon which is naturally maple and salt cured and double wood smoked for delicious flavour, which is sourced from Ballarat and sounds delicious!
The Spanish Grill is open 5pm (for 6pm serving) Tuesday to Saturday and the Coffee Palace from 6am to 2pm Monday to Friday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 8am to 2pm.