It was with Cheong Liew at Neddy's in Adelaide that Tim Pak Poy first worked in a commercial kitchen. He recalls Cheong saying to him in 1983, "This is the university of food, you are expected to contribute and expected to discipline yourself". And the words of the master were heeded. Tim Pak Poy demands of his staff in Sydney what was demanded from him years ago in Adelaide. "There is no hierarchy at Claude's, I haven't found it conducive to good food and good service."
Mind you, he does admit that he didn't really understand what was going on at Neddy's in his first weeks in Cheong Liew's kitchen. Not from lack of intelligence, but from lack of language - "The first job I was supposed to do was taking over from his sister. They communicated in Cantonese and I used to go home and say 'Mum, I don't know about this, I don't even understand what the chef is saying to me when he asks me to do something'".
He began to understand after a few weeks and stayed with Cheong for 2 years. Cutbacks after the effects of fringe benefits tax came into force led him to Sydney. "I went to Anders Ousback because he was a large caterer at the time, and I got a job washing dishes. "I was there a little while then the chef got sick and I said to Anders, I can look after that for you, and we started doing some nice food. Then the executive chef left and he asked me if I could look after the kitchen. I was cooking with a pencil and a telephone all day long, and I thought 'This isn't all that it is cracked up to be, I just want to cook".
A holiday to France intervened and when Tim came back, after casual work to pursue romance, he got a job at Bilson's when it first opened. He worked there for six months and then asked Damien Pignolet for a position at Claude's because "I had heard that he ran a very good business, which was true. I worked for him for ten years and then bought the business from him." Tim admits to learning an enormous amount from Damien and before that from his family and from Cheong. "My sense of hospitality came from my Dad and my family. Cheong taught me a sense of occasion; in his kitchen there was so much to learn and to understand. There was a spark of interest in cooking from my father and when I got to Cheong, he fanned it to fiery passion, he started my journey. Damien, however, was exactly the same as my father - incredibly together, incredibly thoughtful. Damien loves attention to detail. He is a great aesthete, a lover of fine music.
Damien was then the owner and chef of Claude's which Tim now owns. Under Damien and now under Tim, Claude's is acclaimed as one of Sydney's finest restaurants. It is small, has a fixed-price menu and offers a limited choice of dishes. Everything is prepared exquisitely. The food is derived from French classic cuisine but many innovative dishes have been developed here. There are usually five cooking, four in the small but perfectly organised kitchen downstairs, and the pastry cook has her own well equipped pastry kitchen upstairs open to view from the dining room. The downstairs kitchen is not on show but is still impeccably laid out with rows of implements and pots hanging from the roof; the staff in starched whites and the atmosphere intense and quiet. During service there is neither the room nor the time for talk or for tantrums. As Tim says, "it is a non-hierarchical kitchen, people take pride in what they do, but if the buck has to stop it stops with me. But apart from that, they work as equals."
But these days Tim has had to learn about delegating responsibility to senior staff as he is now running two businesses, Claude's and the dining room at the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Rose Bay. The club is a revolutionary change for Tim. It is a large dining area, prices are relatively low and it caters to a lot of families with children and food habits which he's not previously had to include in his cooking repertoire, such as chicken schnitzels and chips. For all that, he seems to be thriving on the challenge. He wants to set up an outside barbecue, to organise entertainment, to introduce a range of coffees, interesting sandwiches; to cater to 3 generations at one table, and have them eating 'simple but delicious food'. "I want to keep Claude's and do this. It's the next area of my 'apprenticeship', the next challenge...the next step of the journey is to communicate with a broader range of people."
White coffee ice