Taking over the reins as executive chef from Stefano Manfredi at the beginning of this year, Dean Jones talks past, present and future at one of New South Wales’ more beloved boutique hotels.
What’s different at the restaurant since Stefano Manfredi has left?
The restaurant itself has had a bit of a facelift inside and out. We have enclosed the verandah, which has added to the usability and has become an instant hit with customers. It’s now the place to dine day and night, but with the same al fresco feel as before. The new floor-to-ceiling glass louvre windows frame the garden beautifully and the kitchen garden has been replenished for the winter season, according to what grows well through autumn and the cooler months.
Do you still have a close relationship with him?
Stefano is one of my mentors and someone whom I have great respect for. It’s always good to have people to bounce ideas off and I know I can do that with him.
How would you describe your food?
It is a reflection of my experiences, with a strong Italian focus on seasonality, preparation and combination of flavours. Bold flavours but simplistic. Doing the classics well and also using the Italian way to prepare unique Australian produce with a modern take.
Is there one dish we should make sure we try?
The spaghetti with sea urchin butter, bottarga and brown butter crumbs. In my opinion, it’s a great example of the last question.
What are the biggest challenges with a restaurant in a hotel?
The biggest challenge for me is keeping things interesting for in-house guests and balancing that with a busy restaurant. If we have people staying for three or more nights, it’s nice to be able to offer different food items on the menu.
You have a kitchen garden at Bells. how realistic is it for restaurants to grow their own food?
I think it is realistic to grow your own food. It’s not easy, that’s for sure, but you get out what you put in. You have to be proactive and always planning for the next season. At Bells, we keep all our kitchen green waste for compost, always putting back what we take out. I personally think it’s better to grow more of one item and have that truly be on a menu for the whole season, than to grow too many different things that won’t sustain a menu.
What do you think the next big food trend is?
I believe everything goes around and comes back again; it won’t be long before you see formal dining making a strong presence once again.
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