A master of the flame and a gun in the kitchen, Jake Kellie has dished up edible art in venues all around the world.
Now, as he prepares to open the doors to his very own restaurant in Adelaide, the award-winning chef reveals why you should always play with fire.
Tell us about your style of cooking.
My signature is cooking over fire – a style I first began to develop while working at The Commoner in Melbourne. I was 23 at the time and we had a small food fire oven which I loved experimenting with. We used to cook smoked chickens out of it, which were a hit. This led me to participate at the Dark Mofo Festival, where I cooked over a bookshelf of fire for a large event. Soon after that I moved to Singapore and took up residence as the head chef at modern barbecue Burnt Ends, voted one of the world’s 50 best restaurants.
Take us through some of your career highlights.
One of my proudest moments was being named as an Appetite for Excellence Young Chef of the Year. At the time I was working with and being mentored by Scott Pickett, and it was a pivotal moment in my career. It eventually led to my residence at Burnt Ends in 2017, and the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star the following year. Participating in the San Pellegrino World Young Chef competition in Milan, where I placed second, was also a career highlight. My parents flew out to watch the awards and it’s a moment that will stay with me forever.
How important is presentation in your field of work?
I definitely consider cooking over fire a form of art. It goes far beyond burning coals and cooking a piece of steak. There are so many elements that come into play, such as the way you manage the fire, how you keep the heat consistent – it even comes down to choosing the best type of wood to burn to produce the best coals and flavour. I use a temperature probe on everything I cook and make sure that he heat is brought up slowly and consistently.
What takes a dish to the next level?
At the very core of it, what makes a good dish great is respecting the flavours and presenting really delicious, well seasoned food. A dish can look visually appealing and may use unique ingredients, but if you don’t have the right balance of acidity and flavour then it really won’t satisfy beyond the eye. If you want to explore different cooking techniques, it’s important to always put the produce first and keep the integrity of the flavour.
What’s your favourite dish to cook for friends and family?
If I can’t cook over fire, I tend to stick to traditional recipes such as a good Sunday roast. My partner is pregnant and has been craving pasta, so lately I have been making a truffle risoni on repeat. It’s comfort food and a dish that I used to cook a lot during my time at Estelle (Melbourne).
For budding chefs and home cooks, what’s the biggest mistake you can make in the kitchen?
One of the most common mistakes is under seasoning or not getting the balance of flavours right. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making classic dishes or experimenting with new flavour combinations, remember to season the dish, whether that means adding enough salt, acidity, umami, sweetness or savoury – make sure you marry the flavours together.
Tell us about your new soon-to-open restaurant in Adelaide?
It’s called arkhé and it’s set to become Adelaide’s first open-flame restaurant. The kitchen will be run entirely by fire, with no gas and electricity. It means that every dish will be touched by fire in some shape or form, even down to our smoked ice cream and cocktail offerings.
The entire dining room will be based around an open kitchen, which features a dual-cavity wood oven with four elevation grills and a big open hearth. The experience will be as much about the food as it will be about the atmosphere and being able to feel like you are part of the action.
What kind of food can we expect to see on the menu at arkhé?
When people think of cooking over fire, they often associate it with steak. However, arkhé will offer much more than that. It will really be about showcasing all the incredible local producers that South Australia has to offer. Think fresh mozzarella with slow-roasted tomatoes and hojiblanca olive oil; southern rock lobster with burnt citrus, butter sauce and chives; and smoked milk ice cream with barbecued currants.
For the meat lovers, there’s dishes such as 65-day, dry aged Mayura Station ribeye; grilled lamb ribs with wheat beer glaze and saltbush; and my personal favourite: smoked pig trotter empanadas.
For a taste of what Jake Kellie is cooking, be sure to book a table at arkhé when it opens in the relaxed Adelaide suburb of Norwood later this year.
Lead image: Jake Kellie in his new Adelaide restaurant prior to renovations. Photo by Duy Dash.