Chefs Cory Campbell and Rob Cockerill will be flying the flag for Newcastle at this week’s Taste of Sydney Collective. The four-day festival (November 8 to 11) involves top chefs, restaurants, artisans and performers engaging in themed collaborations.
Cockerill grew up in Mudgee and moved to Newcastle when he was 17, working at Three Monkeys Cafe on Darby Street before going overseas and “grinding it out in London’s kitchens” for Soho House Group. But the keen spear fisherman missed home and returned to Sydney with a clear goal in mind – to work with Peter Gilmore at Quay.
“I walked straight into Quay’s back kitchen after I landed from London. I told Peter how much I admired his approach and told him that I was going to work for him. He paused and said ‘When can you start?’ That was 12 years ago,” Cockerill said.
Gilmore taught him, he says, “absolute refinement of detail and the total respect and seasonality of ingredients”. In July 2015 Cockerill accepted the head chef role at the newly reopened Bennelong at Sydney Opera House, working with executive chef Gilmore. For Taste of Sydney Cockerill is making an asparagus stracciatella and tomato chutney salad, as well as blue swimmer crab congee.
Campbell started his apprenticeship at Peppers Anchorage in Port Stephens before heading to Europe to work at Copenhagen’s Eraora, then at The Square London alongside fellow Novocastrian Brett Graham. He worked at the acclaimed Noma for four years, and from 2009 to 2015 Campbell worked with Shannon Bennett as head chef at Vue de Monde before returning to Newcastle for brief stints at One Two Seven Darby and Reserve. But an offer from Matt Moran – the head chef role at Barangaroo House – lured him back to Sydney.
“It’s definitely different to the 30-seat restaurant I was planning on in Newcastle but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Campbell said. “I’m lucky enough to be creating culinary experiences suited to every taste – casual, pub fare at House Bar, experimenting with beautiful Australian produce at Bea and my take on Aussie tapas as Smoke. We don’t keep to the four seasonal menu changes a year. Our changes happen about every four weeks so you can dine at Bea every month and experience something new.”
For Taste of Sydney Collective, Campbell will be making glazed ocean trout with pickled shaved choko, choko remoulade and micro herbs. Also, Munthari glazed kangaroo skewer with mountain pepper mayo. And has he ruled out a return to Newcastle? “I don’t rule out anything. Although we’re settled in Sydney, it’s always great to come home.”