When Australian chef Matt Golinski travels, there’s nothing he loves more than meeting local farmers. Often on the road in his role as Gympie Regional Food Ambassador, he makes it a priority to meet the people behind the food being grown in every region he visits.
“I’ve been to a lot of different farms in my travels, everything from chickpeas and blueberries to garlic and macadamias,” says Matt. “Seeing the process from growing through to harvesting, processing and packing, is something I really enjoy. To me that’s really fun, and I value all the relationships with growers that I’ve formed along the way.”
A lifelong love of food
Growing up on a tropical fruit farm on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Matt was surrounded by food from a very young age. “Food always interested me,” he says. “I discovered what I wanted to do very early on in life, so I’ve been lucky in that sense. I cooked all through high school and I’d cook the family meals at night.”
Matt made a big impression early in his career, being promoted to head chef of the restaurant he was working at throughout his apprenticeship the day he completed his training. And his star has continued to rise. He has worked as head chef at Noosa restaurant Ricky Ricardo’s and was an original cast member of the hit TV cooking show, Ready Steady Cook. He ran his own catering business and is now working as a consultant chef while juggling his role as Gympie Regional Food Ambassador, making festival and event appearances, doing speaking engagements and recipe development.
A produce-driven approach
When it comes to menu creation, Matt is all about good produce. “The starting point is always fresh produce and what’s in season,” he says emphatically. “I look at what’s around, how long it’s going to be around, how long the menu will be running for, and then I write the menu accordingly.”
This is where Matt’s time spent with growers really pays off. “The more I understand how something is grown, the better I use it,” he says. “From a menu creation point of view, I like to have all that information in my head when I put those ingredients on the menu.”
Matt’s also a fan of the rising popularity of farmers’ markets. “Because there’s so much public support for farmers’ markets now, it’s become viable for smaller producers to sell direct to consumers. It’s really nice that this has happened. I think that’s where the food industry has changed a bit in recent years, it’s great,” he says.
Not just the chef’s hat
One of the ingredients of Matt’s success is his genuine love of all aspects of the chef game. “It’s not just the cooking side of being a chef that I love, I really enjoy the organising and teaching side of it too. There are so many different facets of the job, including a lot of people management. Some days you have to be a counsellor or a mediator for other staff – but I’m happy to wear all the hats – I love the people as much as the food, most of the time, ” he smiles.
Brought up with macadamias
Macadamias were part of Matt’s childhood. “I grew up sitting under a macadamia tree,” he says fondly. “I had two rocks under my macadamia tree and that’s where I would spend a lot of my time as a kid, smashing them open and eating them. They’ve always been a part of my world.”
While macadamias provided childhood entertainment, they’re now an ingredient Matt loves to use whenever he can. “From a chef’s perspective, macadamias are great because they lend themselves so well to sweet and savoury applications. Their versatility is what I love about them most. I love using them in pesto – they add a really great flavour. And of course they’re fantastic on their own. You probably wouldn’t sit down and eat a kilo of too many other nuts on their own, but you could easily knock over a kilo of macadamias, no problem!” he says.
Matt has taken the time to get to know some of the macadamia growers in his local area. “I can call them and ask for three or four kilos of macadamias, and they’ll drop them over to me. I always know they’re going to be amazing and fresh,” he enthuses. “I’ve seen macadamias being harvested and processed and there’s a lot of hard work involved. I’m really glad these growers do what they do, and it’s great to see some young people getting into farming now too.”
A macadamia moment with Matt Golinski
I have two – garlic and olive oil, but the quality is important. If you’ve got good quality garlic and olive oil, there’s so much you can do.
How closely do you follow food trends?
I avoid them like the plague! My entire style of cuisine is completely produce driven. So if I’ve got figs for example, I’ll try and do as little as possible to them because to me, they’re already beautiful and I don’t want to turn them into a foam or a gel. But what I am loving is that trends seem to be moving towards locally grown produce and showcasing that on the menu. I hope that continues to grow. We’ve done the foams and gels and soils. That sort of thing has its place and there are interesting modern techniques that come out of it, but to me the most important thing is what’s grown in my area and how I can present it for what it really is.
What’s your favourite way to enjoy macadamias?
We’ve got some excellent macadamia producers around Gympie that do some great value adding. I always enjoy receiving the samples they give me of roasted, salted and flavoured macadamias. But I really loved them in a dish I created recently where I served them with prawns and lots of different Aussie bush flavours – finger lime, lemon myrtle, wild foraged sea succulents. It was such a delicious combination of flavours and the macadamias were really important in delivering that textural crunch the dish needed.
Australia! I’ve travelled quite a lot and every time I go overseas, I always look forward to getting back to Australia for the food. We have such great produce here, and I love the way Australians prepare food. It suits our lifestyle and climate and we have so much great seafood. My second favourite would be Turkey – they love their food and have great ingredients. Their food is real and natural. But Australia is definitely my number one.
I eat really healthy food at home. I make a lot of salads using ingredients I’ve grown in my garden. I pick fresh produce every day. I eat really seasonally, so when peaches or strawberries are around, I’ll gorge on those, and then when they’re finished in my area, I won’t touch them again until the next season.
What’s your favourite TV show or movie?
My favourite movie of all time is The Karate Kid – the original version. Whenever I have a new apprentice start, their first week’s homework is to go home and watch it. The lesson in it is if you repeat something over and over, you hate doing it and for ages you don’t know why you’re doing it. And then once you’ve done it for four years, you realise why. Whether it’s peeling prawns or chopping vegetables, you suddenly realise you’re really fast at it and you do it really well.
Do you have a favourite quote from The Karate Kid?
“Daniel san, concentrate. Close the eyes. Think only of the tree.”