From Dublin to Sydney, Colin Fassnidge made a life for himself as one of the city’s finest chefs. With two successful restaurants, cookery books and a place on the My Kitchen Rules judging panel, he’s a role model for anyone looking to live and work in Sydney. Here, he tells us how it all happened and what he makes of the hospitality industry today.
Where did your initial passion for food come from?
My parents were great cooks, so our house revolved around food and I think that’s where it started. Obviously, in Ireland, it was cold, so we had a lot of stew to keep us warm, liver and onions, kidneys, and a lot of offal – that’s probably where I got my love for offal. I think that evokes passion and love and then you go onto professional kitchens and you realise that it’s not all about love, it’s about work.
So do you cook similar dishes to them?
I think any chef with their own restaurant cooks what they grew up with or what they love, otherwise it all just becomes the same and everyone would be cooking fillet steaks.
After working alongside Raymond Blanc in England for two-and-a-half years, how long was it before you decided to move to Australia?
When I finished, I went back to Ireland for a few months, and I knew a guy who was working with me at Blanc’s and he was moving to Sydney, and he said “Why don’t you come out for a holiday?” So I came out and just ended up staying. I didn’t really have plans; I didn’t really wanna be a chef! I wanted a break and I wanted to travel, I didn’t expect to be cooking but then I landed in Sydney!
How long before it became a permanent move?
I landed in ’99 and I started working at a restaurant and they sponsored me after a few months. I worked there for a year, and then I transferred my sponsorship to another restaurant, and it was like two-and-a-half years and then I hired a lawyer and went for my residency, and then I became a citizen.
You’ve been running the kitchen of Four In Hand in Sydney for about 10 years, have you been able to see the industry change in Sydney during this time?
It’s a lot less up itself! It’s a lot easier to eat out, a lot cheaper, but you can eat really great food cheaply and get great service, whereas years ago it was a bit more stuffy. And there are so many nationalities as well; it’s a melting pot, which is great.
How does it compare to other cities around the world?
I would compare it a little bit to San Francisco. I went to Paris last year to do Omnivore, a food festival, and I didn’t really want to go because they’re quite caught up in the rules of cooking, similar to London, where they use the same ingredients for one dish, whereas Australia is still finding itself. Sydney’s a lot more exciting.
What’s your ethos on food?
Nose to tail – we buy the animal whole and try to use all of it. We also offer value for money, we don’t want to rip people off or do anything too trendy, and people enjoy what we do.
What advice would you give to someone from Ireland or anywhere overseas that wanted to use their skills and bring them to Australia?
We sponsor a lot of Irish and English because they’ve got a good work ethic – the Aussie chefs haven’t really got a good work ethic until they go to Europe and then come back. It’s a different working atmosphere in Europe, they work hard and fast, and I’d say to just bring that working attitude with you, because you’ll get a job easily; they love chefs from Europe.
What skills and experience would you be looking for for your own kitchen?
It depends what role you wanna hire. It’s more the enthusiasm to learn, because we’ve had guys with experience and CVs that are great, but had no enthusiasm, which is no use to me. And I’ve had guys that have a crap CV, but want to learn. If you’re coming to Australia, come to learn, come to make it better. What really shits me is the ones that say “Oh, it’s not like back home.” But then, don’t come here. We don’t wanna hear that.
What are the biggest challenges when moving to Australia, making a success of it and keeping that success?
The biggest challenge might be to have too much lifestyle! That’s why everyone lives here because you work just as hard as you would in Europe, but you’ve got this lifestyle. And to keep it, you just work hard and realise it’s not all about the money. Use the guys that can teach you something – it’s a lot better than getting the high paid jobs that serve crap food, because in five years time you’ll still be doing crap food.
What do you do to enjoy the work/life balance in Australia?
I’ve got two young children and I live at the beach, so a lot of it revolves around that, especially in Sydney. There’s a lot of outdoors time and I spend a lot of time on my motorbikes. It’s just like any coastal area where it’s sunny. There’s a lot of time around water. I do scuba diving and a bit of spear fishing and swimming.
Speaking of your children, you obviously have a full life in Australia, would you ever go back to Ireland?
I went back in September to film a travel show around Ireland and it was good to go back, it’s come on leaps and bounds, it’s actually a great country to live in, but it’s still not got the breaks that we’ve got over in Australia. But, the weather is the big thing. I’ve worked in London for many years and everyone’s miserable, it’s cold and it’s wet. Whereas here, I drive to work on my motorbike and I’m just wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It’s 9am and it’s hot. The weather puts you in a better mood.
Witness Colin’s skills first hand:
Four In Hand
105 Sutherland Street
414 Bourke Street
By Charlotte Mellor