Ask Peter Howard AM

Posted on July 15, 2019 , No comments

The old saying that everything old is new again has never disappeared. Constantly we see fashion showing old designs with a new twist to suit us in our era. The same is true in the world of food and wine and especially for us cooks/Chefs.

Last week I was very happy to be a judge at the HTN & ACF Apprentice Chefs’ Culinary Competition run annually by ACF (NSW/ACT) and HTN at Ryde TAFE and I was impressed with the ability of the competitors. It was a very well conducted competition with judges from ACF, LCB and TAFE.

The judges discussed the fact that techniques that are time honoured were on show. Techniques that I was taught in 1970, nearly 50 years ago at East Sydney Food School, the forerunner to Ryde Campus. And the competitors using these techniques were 2nd and 3rd apprentices.

Gnocchi being made by hand and piped into the simmering water – excellent. There was a brilliant example of a Lemon Meringue Pie with excellent short crust pastry; and I watched in awe as individual Pavlovas came together by hand. It made me very happy that a young apprentice would whisk the meringue with a balloon whisk and not an electronic implement.

Look I know it is slower than mechanical and it is good to do it but a machine which is certainly quicker. However, to be able to prepare food using older methods shows knowledge, skill and patience.

Knowing what to do comes from training and having that knowledge is crucial to being an all rounder and that is what training is meant to provide – a cook/Chef who can adapt to any cooking situation. If you watch Heston enough you will know that he uses time honoured cooking techniques as a basis to the magic he performs.

Perhaps you may be tired of training and learning but as you age and continue cooking, you will never forget what you learnt and come to be very glad you were taught. The winner of competitions 3rd year category had brought with him all the bells and whistles…suos vide and other modern implements but he still used technical knowhow with the modern appliances.

Yesterday, I proudly turned out a choux pastry to make Cream Puffs and that process took me back 50 years to when I first learnt how to make that brilliant pastry with its unique properties. Extraordinary and all done by hand; the Cream Puffs were just delicious. Learning and training in all methods and ages is the best thing to ever happen to you in cooking.

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard AM

Cooking Competitions – Peter Howard AM

Posted on June 14, 2019 , No comments

I was never very good at cooking competitions but have always admired Chefs who do compete. Competing Chefs require planning abilities, organisational skills and nerves of steel to perform under pressure. They are confronted with an environment they are not used to and mostly they are cooking in front of an audience. They could not be further removed from their comfort zones.

Yet 32 Chefs from around the country will front up to compete for the Chef of the Year Competition at the FSA Exhibition in Melbourne from June 23 – 25th., 2019 with the winner being announced at 4pm on the 25th in the competition area. There are many heats each day.

Each year the competition gets more demanding as the competing Chefs try to win the $6000 grand prize as Chef of the Year 2019. Come and see them in action and it is my pleasure to be one of the MCs again this year.

I have often questioned the need for competitions – we cooks and Chefs are in a very competitive business regardless of where we end up cooking. In every meal service we are applying the pre-requisites of competing. We are getting our dishes up in a defined time and every meal we serve up is being judged by our customers. Just like a cooking competition isn’t it?

read more
MinaCooking Competitions – Peter Howard AM

Ask Peter Howard AM

Posted on April 22, 2019 , No comments

Training, one way or another, in the Hospitality Industry has been a big part of my working life. Not only was I trained at East Sydney Food School in the very early 70ies (1970 through 1972) I went on late to be a trainer (teacher) at Ryde on the early 1980ies for nearly a decade.

Both of these experiences reinforced my belief that training is crucial if we are to maintain the high standards of service we have in Australia. And we do have high standards which makes our customers amongst the luckiest in the world.

It is in the embracing of multiculturism that we have achieved such a diverse range of ethnic cuisines and services on offer around the country. We have to be trained to use some of the ingredients and cooking methods…in my case, it was basic French cuisine I was taught in my starting days. And I was taught/trained brilliantly at the forebearer to catering colleges in Australia (East Sydney Food School).

It seems to me that there are two ways we are trained – one is at home for our social behavior and the other is for our industry training. The latter is available although it is very different to the days I trained to be trained.

However, it is still training that we do these days and HTN are so strong in their beliefs in training.

That and many other reasons, make me very proud to be the Patron of this modern group training company.

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard AM

Modern Skills for Smart Chefs

Posted on April 9, 2019 , No comments

What do employers want, beyond prepping, cooking and organising production? Here’s a bunch of 2020 skills that set you apart from most cooks and chefs – what do you need to improve?

Upgrade your digital skills. You know all about mobile phone, but what about spreadsheets for costing recipes, checking menu profits and organising the stocktake? Learn how to read reports from a POS system, and be ready to take good photographs for marketing and training. Start to use online rostering, and maybe you’ll be one of the first chefs to use digital order screens in the kitchen?

Learn to use the latest control systems. Combi-ovens, refrigeration, power consumption – more and more equipment can be managed remotely. They all have sophisticated electronic controls, and many are now connected to a PC or app. A lot chefs avoid this – you can be the smart operator.

Learn how a business works. Learn how to understand a Profit & Loss Statement, and what parts of it are influenced by the kitchen. If you’re given a food cost budget, make sure it’s explained to you, and ask for the food cost percentages to be prepared weekly.

Learn about modern menu marketing. A clever menu not only looks and tastes good, but also maximises profitability through layout and pricing. Menus may also need to work for takeaway, online delivery services, on a digital display and an order kiosk. If you cater for tourists, add good photos to the menu essentials.

Take a positive approach to healthy menus. Food that doesn’t rely on huge amounts of sugar, fat and salt, and a ‘no problem’ approach to allergies. As the world gets fatter and less healthy, many people ask for better options.

Become a food safety expert. Food safety plans, HACCP and tighter Workplace Health & Safety rules are all part of a modern kitchen. Build up your skills with extra short courses, and learn about temperature control systems. You may even want to become a Food Safety Auditor for a future career move.

Understand how to reduce utility costs. Implement energy and water saving measures to reduce costs eg: equipment washing, use of chemicals, use of hot water, use of ventilation etc. A practical ‘green’ approach makes a big difference to the bottom line.

Develop modern people skills. Build your experience with teamwork, personality types, anger-management, negotiation, delegation and effective meetings. Modern kitchens are like the United Nations, and you need the ability to work with everyone: Irish, Filipino or Italian, younger or older, gay or straight, male and female. You are a modern hero when you take the diversity that’s available and use it to create a high-performing team.

Learn how to talk to the boss. Sometimes called ‘managing upwards’. Work out the best way to make your case with senior management when you need more equipment, staff changes, different work hours or even a raise. Make an appointment, prepare some written notes, be ready to talk about the financial side and sell the ‘benefits’ of your request.

By Ken Burgin,

read more
MinaModern Skills for Smart Chefs

Ask Peter Howard AM

Posted on March 29, 2019 , No comments

After months of heat and humidity here in the sub tropics of the Sunshine Coast, we are getting the first glimpses of Autumn. It is cooling down at last.

If we didn’t know it from our weather, we are reminded that the cooler times are on their way just by shopping and seeing the pears and apples on sale that herald a new season and eventually Winter. Oh, and don’t forget the importance of Easter in signaling the change too.

Although it is hard to recognise seasonality these days as we can buy any fruit and vegetables all year round, it is very noticeable in supermarkets as the displays of seasonal items increases. You will also see there is an increased emphasis on seasonal dishes in food and associated magazines.

On TV, different meals and dishes are offered by food advertising and on TV cooking shows – all steaming and inviting; traditional stews and casseroles, soups that brim with enticing flavours and nutrition. Nutrition is something we sometimes forget about as Chefs, but we do have a responsibility to serve the most nutritious dishes we can while appeasing our customer’s needs for flavor and fashion.

One more point of note on seasonal foods/dishes is that they are generally more profitable which makes them more appealing to operators.

I was very happy to see Chef Karen Doyle come into the Presidency of the National Australian Culinary Federation (ACF). I know that she is a great industry person and she supports apprentices and HTN. She steps into some big shoes that Chef Neil Abrahams left when he retired. Thanks Neil for all you did for the ACF National and all you do for Industry.

Congratulations Karen and well done ACF.

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard AM

Ask Peter Howard AM

Posted on February 18, 2019 , No comments

I am in the middle of moving house and I think everyone dislikes this process as much as I do. However, there is no way around it. Soon it will be just another move.

On the upside, I have seen the benefit of the many services available when you move and couldn’t help but think or compare the services that are used with the services we provide in our business of cooking. We service the needs of our customers.

Indeed, when we were homeless for a couple of days, we found the local pub to be excellent for down to earth meals and service that made us feel at home. So many other services that we take for granted, just like we are taken for granted in what we do.

The guys who moved our furniture were amazing – they were four brawny guys who took so much care of our precious personal stuff; their service was brilliant. Same for the guys who came to take away the excess rubbish – again another excellent service. Nothing was too much trouble. And then there is the changing over of services for the new home…the electricity supplier, water provider and so on.

I guess the main thing I got from this whole adventure is that we are in the hands of people who provide services and that reminded me of all the years I cooked and worked in the industry, I was providing a service that my customers were there for. Just as you are now.

And if you want to know if your service is appreciated how about the fact that Luke Mangan has just received his OAM for recognition to all the service he has and does provide to the industry. Well done Luke and congratulations.

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard AM

Ask Peter Howard – Mental Health Awareness

Posted on January 3, 2019 , No comments

Getting older does a few things for you. As an old chef/cook who has worked in kitchens for over four decades, I am lucky to have very good health and no back-aches. I appreciate my good health and realize that it is one of the best wishes I can give and so I wish you good health for this oncoming New Year.

Naturally when I talked good health that also means good mental health; in our industry we see an un-proportional amount of mental issues. I have spoken about this before in my blogs and have acknowledged my mental illness, PTSD; although my disorder did not come from the kitchens but from my days in the Vietnam War, fifty years ago this year. As we, at HTN, are involved with the R U OK? group I join the cry to encourage you to ask your mates at work if they are OK? It is a very good thing to do.

Another thing I have noticed through my many years in and around the industry is just how well accepted multiculturalism is by we cooks, chefs and workers in the Hospitality Industry. I think that is because we work with people from all over the world. We have come to accept the different cooking styles and flavor combinations and techniques that make us global in our attitude to food; it is also that global attitude our customers have come to expect with foods of the world.

The way we serve multi-ethnic foods has made us so well known in the world. For example, just look at the international success of Maeve O’Meara’s Food Safari and all the different ethnic cuisines featured in that fantastic TV series. It is truly a melting pot of cuisines which we love as much as our customers do.

But then, you work with people from around the world and just think how well we work with each other regardless of our origins. If we can mix and work so well in the kitchens and on the floor, why can’t we extend that behavior, that philosophy, into our society?

Along with wishing you good health for the New Year, I wish you and everyone Peace.

By Peter Howard

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard – Mental Health Awareness

Ask Peter Howard AM

Posted on December 6, 2018 , No comments

Once you’re a cook, you’re always a cook. No matter how much distance you want to put between you and your job, or former job, it is very hard to escape the cooking scene and appreciation of it..

I am a cruising fanatic and I love it for lots of reasons. However, each time I am on the open seas, I am amazed at how the food just keeps coming – not only one or two dishes but multiple dishes on menus that change every day and for each meal period.

On my latest cruise from Tilbury, London to Sydney via the Caribbean and Panama Canal, the ship was at sea for 30 days which means there’s not a corner shop to drop into just in case.  All the time I am kept wondering how the chefs do what they do it as there is not ever a shortage of fresh fruits, salads, vegetables, meats in fact, all parts of the expansive menu were covered.

On the ship, MV Astor for the CMV, the crew in the galley was mostly Indian plus a couple of other nationalities. One of the many aspects of the ship I found so delightful is that it was an older ship and a classic liner. The wait staff was a delight to watch as they were European trained and truly excellent. Oh and the curries were sensational needless to say.

What I am saying it that it makes an old cook, like me, really proud and humble to see these guys, with their skills well and truly on show. Their pride was on show and rightfully so.

Thanks guys.

Happy Christmas to everyone and I look forward to seeing you all in the New Year.

– Peter Howard AM

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard AM

Ask Peter Howard AM

Posted on October 2, 2018 , No comments

Spring is well and truly here and soon we will be heralding Summer and I will be thinking about ways of eating for the hot months of the year. So I start with looking at ways to eat more healthier to achieve weight loss. I always think of food in this country as being healthy and it is – until we start cooking and examining what we add to it.

As people who have to feed other people, let’s think about the amount of fat we add to the dishes we are cooking and let’s think about the balance of the dishes we serve up. Let’s think more about salads with complex protein and good dressings. What about using the variations of protein we can cook with? – sure I love meat as much as the next person and have spent much of my career in promoting it. However, more and more our clientele is requesting meatless meals.

When I wrote my first book on diabetic cooking (2006), I discovered Tempeh, an Indonesian fermented soy product which is high in protein and a good way to go for less fat. I was fascinated to see the use of this product in a recipe from the hands of one Sassy Chef, Alison Taafe called “Eat for you Life” an extraordinary book on really healthy eating.

Recently I was in Brisbane and was watching Alison cook at a trade show – I have watched and admired her for over 2 decades – she is an amazing Chef and presenter. She now heads up the Institute of Culinary Excellence and she is dedicated to making young people cook brilliantly – and she does. But back to her book and healthy eating, it is what I need to get myself geared up for a long holiday – by the way you can contact Alison and get her book on – do have a look.

Talking of young Chefs – how good it was to see Jessica York win the Peter Howard Culinary Scholarship for this year. The team of HTN provided another exciting dinner and the whole night, with Michael Bennett at the controls with Mina doing his magic as ever, was just brilliant.

Soon, I will take a break and go to London and while there, I will meet up with an old friend, restaurateur Caroline Taylor who runs the very fashionable Novikov Restaurant. I am hoping that Jessica will spend some time at this exciting restaurant in Mayfair. Caroline is a real adventurer in that her first restaurant was in London many years ago and called Sydney – some may know as she was GM at OXO for many years.

So while I am looking to eat healthier and watch my weight, I know I will up against it as I cruise back to Australia for 47 days. Oh well, I can but try. In the meantime, you can think about healthy alternatives for your customers.

By Peter Howard AM

read more
MinaAsk Peter Howard AM

R U OK? – By Peter Howard AM

Posted on September 6, 2018 , No comments

Stress, tension – being under the hammer! Recognise these terms? They are all a part of our being cooks and Chefs. There is nothing like a very busy service period to bring on those three pressures. Somehow we learn to deal with these pressures and sometimes that pressure takes its toll on us – it can be called burnout, it can be called many other things but basically it means we sometimes do not cope.

HTN is committed to looking after its apprentices with their mental health and their well being. There has long been a stigma attached to the term mental health but now days it is a term that we hear so often. And for people suffering with a mental health issue, it can be a very serious, debilitating issue.

For me, I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I have been able to learn to understand it this dreadful affliction which started for me in the Vietnam War in 1968; I did not know I had PTSD until 1998 when it was diagnosed and I started the long road to partial recovery. I soon learnt that there was plenty of ways by which I could be aided/advised to help me face up to what learnt is a mental illness – a term I have come to accept.

Given that the symptoms of PTSD can be confused with what we recognise as everyday parts of the cooking business – such as hitting the booze too much, drug abuse, mood swings and negative reactions to stress and tension, I did not recognise the symptoms of PTSD. Certainly, I was always drinking way too much alcohol, I was always overreacting to stress (my nick name was Peter Panic) and my mood swings made me not nice to be around.

After all this, I have come to realise that so many of my mates were there for me and long before the marvelous institution of R U Ok? We mates did stick together as they became just that – supportive mates and after all the people we work with become our mates. As such we need to look at the people we work with and ask them if they are OK? it is what we do as decent everyday Aussies.


By Peter Howard AM 

read more
MinaR U OK? – By Peter Howard AM