Josh Niland is changing the way seafood is cooked – and eaten – in Australia.
The acclaimed chef who grew up in Maitland has come a long way since cutting his teeth in a Newcastle hotel’s kitchen as a year 10 work experience student.
At the age of 17 an ambitious Niland moved to Sydney and worked at Joe Pavlovich and Luke Mangan’s successful Glass Brasserie. A year later he had worked his way up from a third-year apprentice to Junior Sous Chef at the award-winning Est. He then joined Stephen Hodges at Fish Face.
After marrying Julie the couple embarked on a working honeymoon, an experience that exposed Niland to kitchens the calibre of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck.
Back in Australia he worked at The Woods & Grain Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel and Fish Face before opening his very own small fish eatery, Saint Peter, in September 2016. It recently placed 11th on the Australian Financial Review’s Top 100 Australian Restaurants list.
Niland, 28, is the special guest at Hunter Culinary’s Association’s Spring Seasonal Lunch at Muse Restaurant on September 11 where he will give guests an insight into his unique approach to seafood.
“My first moment setting foot in a commercial kitchen was doing work experience at Sir Stamford Hotel in Newcastle on Honeysuckle Drive. I can remember how much my legs hurt after the first two days,” he tells Weekender.
“My love of seafood, though, came from working in the kitchens of Est. and Fish Face.
“I would be lying if I said my Mum and Dad found great pleasure in cooking – we all enjoyed home-cooked meals but cooking wasn’t really celebrated, it was just a necessity.”
Niland is passionate about sustainability and his “nose-to-tail” approach to seafood is regarded as groundbreaking in culinary circles.
His philosophy at Saint Peter? Unique simplicity.
“Fish is an expensive commodity, so it is logical as a chef and business owner to squeeze every cent out of the fish we get,” Niland says.
“Most times when preparing fish the offal often outweighs the fillets.
“This philosophy is not to be trendy – it is absolutely necessary from a sustainability point of view that no fish is wasted. This is allowing us to create a new way of thinking about fish and its potential and we now have a method of cookery for every part of the fish except the gall bladder.”
He is looking forward to returning to Muse Restaurant, having dined there last year.
”I absolutely love what Troy does at Muse. It is one of my favourite dining rooms and the service team is one of the best,” Niland says.
“I am really hoping to get hold of a big fish from up that way, fingers crossed something out of Nelson Bay, so I can showcase the potential of every part of a fish at the lunch. I’m really excited, it’s going to be a good challenge for everyone I think.”
Following Niland’s cooking demonstration, Troy Rhoades-Brown and the Muse team will prepare a three-course lunch served with matching Hunter Valley wines.
Hunter Culinary Association chairman Ben Neil says the seasonal luncheons are aimed at educating apprentices, members and guests about the new trends, produce and technology being used in the industry.
“Josh’s reputation certainly precedes him so it’s going to be a real treat to see him in action. He started his journey in cookery in the Hunter region and we are very excited to have him as part of this year’s event.”