Tracey and Ashley Hughes with their father
Some people know, from a very early age, exactly what they want to do in life.
Ashley Hughes was one of them. At age 15, he left school determined to become a chef, commencing an apprenticeship with Greg Doyle and Steve Hodges from Pier and completing it at Bennelong restaurant with Janni Kyritsis and Gay Bilson.
In 1996 Ashley left Sydney to work overseas, collecting stints at L'Escargot (Marco Pierre White), River Cafe (Rose Gray), Zafferano (Giorgio Locatelli) and La Cinzanella (the Locatelli family's one-star Michelin restaurant in Milan). He returned to Sydney in 1999 and in the following year, when he was only 23, he and his sister Tracey opened their first restaurant, Alio, offering dishes from the south of Italy.
This year Alio will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. Grab Your Fork asked Ashley ten questions to find out more...
Don't forget to scroll down for details on an exclusive Freebie Friday competition for readers.
Ten Questions with Ashley Hughes, Head Chef and Owner, Alio
1. What food makes you think of your childhood?
Dad cooking barbecues, Mum's roast dinners with baked vegetables and homemade gravy. These always evokes memories of my childhood. Whenever we had a roast, my Dad and my older brothers would always finish it with gravy sandwiches!
2. What first drew you into becoming a chef?
Food has been a big part of my life right since childhood. My aunt had a restaurant for over 30 years. My sister Tracey and I spent many a night in the kitchen just watching the chefs cook - our parents would have to pull us out of the kitchen to join the family at the table.
Ashley Hughes, left, with his sister Tracey, front,
and his older brothers and father
3. You’ve worked in kitchens with Greg Doyle, Janni Kryistis, Gay Bilson, Marco Pierre White, Rose Gray, Jamie Oliver and Giorgio Locatelli. Who has been your biggest influence and why?
Rose Gray of the River Café. She changed the way I thought about food, and taught me to respect it. Her food philosophy starts from when, where and how the food is grown and extends right up to how you cook it. She definitely changed my career for the better! But then I've been lucky to work with many great chefs - they have all undoubtedly contributed to making me the chef I am today.
4. At age 23, you opened your own restaurant Alio, fronting as both head chef and co-owner. What were some of the biggest lessons you learnt about running a restaurant in the early years?
One of the biggest challenges was being one of the youngest staff members! There's also a huge difference between working incredibly long hours for someone else, and working long hours for yourself. When you get home, or on your day off, you can never really switch off. You're always on call - especially when alarms go off in the middle of the night or if the restaurant suddenly becomes unexpectedly busy. In that sense, I definitely had more responsibility than the average 23-year-old.
5. Why did you choose the name Alio?
When we were deciding on names, there were five business partners - two English and three Australian. We decided on Alio because it was a twist on an authentically Italian word (Aglio - meaning garlic), and it was also short and easy to remember. In some ways, it represents our product - an Italian foundation but with something a bit unique and different added to the mix. To us, naming a restaurant was like naming a child - you can spell it how ever you want. Today Alio is a brand that represents us and the ten years we have spent building the restaurant.
6. What do you know or think about food blogs? Have you noticed more people taking photos of their dinner?
I am always happy for people to photograph and review my food as I'm proud of what we put on a plate! I think food blogging is fantastic - food and gastronomy is constantly increasing in popularity and blogging is a great grass roots contribution to the foodie movement.
As long as a food blogger has the attitude of coming to dine out and enjoy the experience we are all off to a good start. When people come in to primarily critique the experience and pick holes they often find themselves looking for faults instead of being constructive with their outlook. There is an art to food writing and critiquing - there has to be a balance and mutual respect between restauranteurs and food bloggers.
Ashley and Tracey Hughes as kids
7. Tell us about your biggest cooking disaster. Go on, the bigger, the better!
Given the styles of kitchen and chefs I have worked with, not a lot of cooking or food disasters come to mind. Usually it's more a case of equipment failure. In saying that, I have seen an apprentice strain a stock down the sink whilst reserving the bones!
A few weeks ago, after prepping all day and putting my sauces and pasta into a fridge, we took our staff break then came in to find the fridge thermostat stuck on minus 20 - all the food was frozen! The only thing to do was have all hands on deck to re-make half a day of my work in an hour.
But saving the best for last - at the River Café in London, I used my tea towel to brush the excess flour off the top off an electric pasta machine. The rollers grabbed the tea towel and proceeded to burn out the motor of the machine. That was a certified disaster and it's safe to say I will not do that again.
8. What’s the secret to good pasta?
Alio! Love, care and attention to detail when making it. Use good quality ingredients like organic free range eggs, good flour and so on. Lots of practice helps, too!
Ashley and Tracey Hughes today
9. How has Alio changed over the past ten years, and what are you hoping to do in the future?
My food has gone from being a representation of great chefs that have influenced me, and evolving to something uniquely my own. I suppose it's similar to an artist being influenced by an art movement, and then creating a movement in his own right. I feel a lot more of 'me' is represented in the menu today, and I'm proud of this.
10. What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time? And more importantly, what do you eat?
Golf, golf and some more golf! After that, dinner with my wife. I tend to eat simple and healthy food. I enjoy predominantly Italian-inspired food, or the simplicity and freshness of good Japanese, BUT I always sway back to Italian.
To celebrate ten years of Alio, Ashley will be running a series of pasta-making masterclasses and Grab Your Fork has a pair of tickets to give away to one lucky reader. Oh yes it's Freebie Friday!
Two tickets to an exclusive pasta-making masterclass with Ashley Hughes on Sunday June 27, 9.30am-1.00pm at Alio in Surry Hills, Sydney.
The class will include a hands-on lesson on how to make potato gnocchi and pumpkin ravioli from scratch. You will also watch Ashley make his signature rotolo and risotto dishes before ending the course with a relaxed sit-down banquet-style lunch featuring all of the day's creations.
HOW TO ENTER:
All you have to do is fulfil the requirements below:
- Leave a comment on this post and tell us: what's your favourite pasta dish and why?
- And then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading "Pasta" and include your full name and a copy of your published comment from this post.
The Alio Pasta-Making Masterclass competition closes on Saturday 29 May 2010 at 5.30pm AEST. The winner will be announced on Grab Your Fork on Monday 31 May 2010.
>> More Grab Your Fork competitions to enter:
- Win a Royal High Tea package for two worth AU$135 (Entries close Mon 26 April)
- Win a copy of The Salt Book (Entries close Tue 4 May)
- Win a place at a masterclass with Tetsuya Wakuda (Entries close Tue 4 May)
- Win one of five magic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs umbrellas (Entries close Mon 24 May)
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4/23/2010 12:01:00 am