Spotlight on: Amanda Gale
· 16 May 2011
Her post as executive chef of COMO Shambhala Estate takes her from Bhutan to Bali and beyond. During her recent trip to Singapore, the advocate of wellness cuisine shares why the term ‘organic’ isn’t merely a fluffy label to her.
epicure: You trained in Sydney for many years before moving to Bali. What was it like working with Neil Perry of Rockpool?
Amanda Gale: Very inspiring. He was very driven by the quality of products and constantly emphasised fresh produce as the cornerstone of good cooking. We worked with artisan tomato and mushroom suppliers, sourced amazing Thai ingredients from north Australia and acquired great seafood. Even as a self-taught chef, Neil created a fantastic dining experience at Rockpool. It always felt like everyone was there for one purpose and a common goal: to please the customer. I spent eight years with Neil and I still carry much of what I learnt from him today.
You met fellow Australian chef Kylie Kwong in Rockpool. Any thoughts on chefs still being a largely male dominated profession?
It is still a male dominated profession but it’s a non-issue because I don’t think it really matters. Being a chef wasn’t what I set out to be, I just fell into it after I saw it as a way out of university. I was advised to stay out of the kitchen because I might “spoil my nails” but I started in Peter Doyle’s kitchen at Cicada in Sydney and developed a real love for the job. Passion, not your gender, is what will set you apart.
What determined your culinary philosophy of organic superfoods?
As the executive chef of the COMO Shambhala Estate, I work with our resident nutritionist Lacey Hall a fair bit. It’s an interest and desire on our part to seek out new ingredients (chia seeds for example) and what their beneficial properties are. Wellness plays a big part too because the estate is a residential health retreat where guests can sign up for cleansing and holistic treatments and we want to provide tasty meals that are nourishing and restorative.
What drives the menus at the COMO Shambhala Estate?
The cuisine is very light and not over the top. I try and keep it as simple as possible and rely on the inherent flavours of the produce to keep things pure. I enhance a dish by layering ingredients with different textures, throwing in a few natural spices, mixing colours for an aesthetic appeal and always including a fresh component.
You were previously the chef at Cy’an in COMO’s Metropolitan Hotel, Bangkok. How has your culinary style evolved?
Cy’an was more technique driven because it was a fine dining establishment and we were focused on elevating dishes to almost an art form. With sous vide, more precision and a stricter backend in the kitchen was called for. I used to say that I was a very easy chef to work with if everything was done perfectly! It was a different level of cooking but while I do miss the fine dining aspect, I don’t prefer it more than what I am doing now because developing wellness menus and focusing on the core of healing foods are equally rewarding.
What do you say to detractors who argue about pesticide residues, premium prices and other criticisms of organic foods?
Supporting the local organic economy, the health of the earth and environmental sustainability are bigger issues than pesticide residues and premium prices. Larger social effects trump nutritional benefits sometimes and a one-track focus on organic products should never be the end means. Getting an organic certification is a lengthy process of testing aqua ducts and soils, and could take up to five years, hence there are producers who may not be officially licensed but are still concerned about the depletion of our lands and oceans. It’s a good idea to chat with your local farmers, learn more about their practices, connect within the culinary community and be mindful of our diets and responsibilities at the same time.
Any misconceptions of the organic movement you would like to set straight?
They have the same calories as their non-organic counterparts! And it does not form the basis of a cuisine, it’s only a descriptor for produce, ingredients and dishes.
5 things you didn’t know about Amanda Gale:
My three favourite superfoods:
Acai berry, pomegranates and quinoa.
My guilty pleasure:
Sorbets and ice creams. More so since the warm weather in Bali is the perfect reason to indulge.
The chef I admire most:
Mario Batali. He’s not the healthiest cook but his bold personality is very evident in his flavourful Italian cuisine.
I wish more female chefs…
Stayed in their career.
One kitchen appliance I couldn’t live without:
The Vita-Prep Blender. It’s got the motor of a lawn mower!