When Shane Laurie is under stress, trying to meet the demand for the meals he is cooking, he looks cool, calm and collected, says Mal Forde, his employer at Pippi’s Cafe and Restaurant in Yamba.
“It’s a bit of a cliché to say, but he gets in the zone; it doesn’t matter how many tickets are up there, how many meals we have in front of us, he just deals with it. Everyone else in the restaurant, front of house, back of house, is in a fluster but Shane just deals with it.
“And that’s something that you can’t teach someone.”
Shane has just completed his chef apprenticeship. It took a year longer than usual, but he’s one happy man to have achieved his goal. “I just love the adrenaline,” he says. “Just cooking, being in the kitchen.”
He says that he likes to cook food slowly, “pretty much anything; seafood, bush tucker – I’m trying to learn a bit more about bush tucker, stuff I haven’t done before, like piggy faces. I find them down on the sand dunes; they are just like a little pink berry. You can make syrup out of it, sauce, ice cream, desserts.”
Shane has been teaching himself how to prepare bush tucker, however, his Nan, Yaegl elder Aunty Lillian Williams, has passed on her knowledge, too, he says. And there has been some guidance from Nambucca man Clayton Donovan, host of ABC TV’s cooking show, Wild Kitchen. Donovan grew up on Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung land and is Australia’s only Aboriginal hatted chef.
“Now in my professional career to be able to connect [bush food] to the contemporary sense of food I’m interested in and include it in all the different fusions of food is really exciting,” Donovan once told ABC reporter John Donegan.
“I find it really important to make these foods more of a hero, like they are in my heart.”
Mal knew that Donavan was a bit of a hero for Shane, too, and rang him for some advice to help lift Shane’s enthusiasm. But Donavan put the pressure back on Shane to make the call.
“They were on the phone for about half an hour. Shane came back and was like a kid who had just visited Santa Clause for the first time,” Mal says.
“He told me that Clayton wouldn’t give him any recipes, wouldn’t give him any ideas. Clayton said, ‘Shane, you will have to work it out yourself’, and he did. The kangaroo that we have is Shane’s recipe; and every component that goes with it. We’ve had people who have had kangaroo before, from overseas and different places; and they reckon that his is by far the best.
“You can’t teach someone that either. That’s just natural ability.”
Mal is effusive when praising his young charge. “I worked with a fella … who did his apprenticeship at the Hilton in Adelaide and worked there for 21 years. I reckon Shane would literally run rings around him. It’s so natural how he prepares food.”
Mal’s wife Karen chips in: “We call it ‘art on a plate’ because that’s what it looks like; if it’s not 100 per cent perfectly cooked and 100 per cent perfectly presented he’s not going to put it up.”
Shane was previously apprenticed to Nick Cassidy at The Bar and Grill on Yamba Hill, then at the Yamba Shores Tavern. “I had about a year off and then I came back to Yamba and met Mal at the Tavern; then Mal gave me a job here,” Shane says. “They [Mal and Karen] have helped me out heaps; they helped me to get my life back on track. Mal got my apprenticeship back up and running and sent me to TAFE, and I got my certificate. It’s really good being able to come in and help them out.”
Shane says he is proud of what he has achieved: for himself, his community, his peers and his three-year-old daughter, Akeelah. He loves his work and aspires to one day open his own restaurant, which, he says, would be called Art on a Plate.
Or maybe, just maybe, he could follow in the footsteps of Clayton Donovan. “I met him at NAIDOC Week,” says Shane. “I asked him for any tips and he just asked me to play around with a roo – so I just played around with it and put it on the menu.”
Michelle Dowding from Nortec, which facilitated Shane’s employment, said: “There is a real shortage of chefs throughout northern NSW.
“This profession provides many career opportunities, especially for those with a creative bent and who are passionate about food.
“Shane has a natural creative ability and learnt a lot on the job through his mentor, Mal.”