Scholarship winner Tobias Raley takes on Heston Blumenthal's kitchen

TALENT: Tobias Raley, sous chef at Gosford's Fish Dining, won last year's Brett Graham Scholarship.
TALENT: Tobias Raley, sous chef at Gosford's Fish Dining, won last year's Brett Graham Scholarship.

London is calling Fish Dining sous chef Tobias Raley. 

Last year’s winner of the Brett Graham Scholarship is following in the footsteps of chefs the calibre of Troy Rhoades-Brown, Garreth Robbs and Chris Thornton and will complete a stint at Graham’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant The Ledbury. 

The ambitious 24-year-old has, however, gone one step further and scored an additional month-long internship at another London restaurant – Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. Raley flies to the UK in August for what promises to be a life-changing experience. 

His career success to date is all the more remarkable because it happened by chance. After graduating from St Edward’s College in Gosford, Raley had his heart set on a university degree in maritime logistics.

“I had always liked food and enjoyed cooking but I never thought of pursuing it as a career,” he told Food & Wine.

“After studying for a while I realised university wasn’t for me and I started working as a waiter at a hotel. Our chef walked out one day and the manager said to me ‘I reckon you could do that’. I wasn’t so sure, but I gave it a go and I loved it. After cooking for a couple of months I told my boss I liked my job so much that I was going to quit and get an apprenticeship.”

Raley landed a job at modern Italian restaurant Bombini, Avoca Beach, learning the ropes from owner and chef Cameron Cansdell. While working at the Berowra Waters Inn he was lured back to the Central Coast by Cansdell, who was opening a new restaurant –  Fish Dining – and wanted Raley to be involved. 

“He told me there would be good career development opportunities for me there, and a few months later he offered me the role of sous chef,” Raley said. “It was a big step – I pretty much went from apprentice straight to sous chef.”

Raley decided early on to look north to the Hunter rather than south to Sydney to further his career prospects, which is why he applied for the Brett Graham Scholarship. It was established in 2003 as a partnership between Hunter Culinary Association and TAFE NSW and is named after Graham, one of TAFE NSW’s most successful alumni. 

“I try to stay connected to the Hunter scene because Sydney’s is almost impenetrable,” Raley explained.  “Hunter Culinary Association does a lot for apprentices and chefs.”

He is nervous but excited about his London adventure.

“I think it’s more fear of the unknown than anything. I know it’s going to be hard but I am there to learn,” he said.

“I’m trying to build a solid understanding of food so that one day I will be in the position where I can look at a venue and its location and decide what cuisine I think would work best there.”