Meet our region’s “Fathers of Food” – the craftsmen that dedicate their lives to producing and distributing smashing cuisine and hospitality across Townsville.
Success in the food and beverage industry does not come easy, and it can mean different things to different people. Some just want to make a living, while others may set loftier goals.
No matter the end game, one thing always rings true – champions of cuisine are daring, innovative and passionate. For them, food is more than just a biological need, but a completely different experience. As a result, these food masters have become local icons and are respected by even those with only a casual interest in food.
So while the practice of devouring good food probably doesn’t need an intro, we feel that the hands behind the scenes certainly do. Those who carve out those beautiful meals and dishes that largely go unthanked for their effort and art.
These inspiring stories of local, successful men in food and beverage provide an insight as to how some have excelled in this industry, and what they focused upon while doing so.
Owner – Essentially Fresh Deli & Catering
It’s easy to find time to spend with your family when you work with them, and Essentially Fresh owner Michel Flores wouldn’t have it any other way.
The former doyen of Michels Restaurant was looking for a change in 2013, so he purchased Essentially Fresh to begin his new chapter as the owner of a successful catering and gourmet deli business.
One of the first things Michel did was add a kitchen to the Belgian Gardens outlet, where he still happily mans the tools after almost 50 years in the industry.
And he does so with his family by his side, meaning he never really misses out.
“We are a small family business so get to see our family all the time,” he says.
“It is always important to keep a balance between work and family.”
When Michel first migrated to Australia from Casablanca in northern Africa, he took up a role as a commis chef in Melbourne. Since then, he has run a shopping list of successful businesses. He was a bit of a nomad in his younger years,
a trend that continues to this day with annual motorbike tours which have included trips to: Morocco, Peru, Bolivia, Italy, Butan, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Laos.
His itchy feet came from his father, a civil construction worker who paved the way for Michel’s lifestyle. As a younger man he loved travelling Australia, exploring the back roads and bush towns – until he happened across Townsville, which he has called home for almost 40 years.
The accolades have flowed in for Michel in that time, including some of the highest honours in the industry like the American Express Gold Plate and Restaurant and Caterers Lifetime Award.
So what makes him remain so passionate about the industry? What keeps Michel in the kitchen with his family and motivates him to seek out new business opportunities like Essentially Fresh?
“I love the industry and that is why I am still working. I enjoy the fast pace and working alongside others with the same passion”.
It is this example of leading by example that Michel loves, and one of his favourite rewards is seeing the success that it breeds.
“I have had many chefs work with me that have gone on to open and run successful businesses and I am regularly in touch with many of them,” he said.
And Michel’s advice for newcomers to the industry is simple: “I may be old fashioned, but hard work and consistency is the key.”
Michel Flores now caters from his Bundock Street delicatessan which caters for all occasions and locations. Our deli provides a large range of Australian and imported cheeses, small goods including ham off the bone, olives, quality lines, Michel’s Gourmet Ready-Made Meals, coffee and local and organic fresh fruit and vegetables.
74A Bundock Street, Belgian Gardens | 07 4724 2929 | essentiallyfresh.com.au
Owner / Managing Director – Jean-Pierre Artisan Bakery
Hearing Jean Pierre Danoy’s charming and thick French accent, you wouldn’t think he had called Australia – and Townsville – home for almost 30 years.
Perhaps it harks back to the 1980s, when he migrated to North Queensland from his native France to help his parents with their business Le Café de France.
Today, he is a proud Townsvillian. But the lessons learned working with his mother and father in those formative years will always be the cornerstone behind the owner of JP Artisan Bakery’s success.
After two years under his parents’ wings, Jean-Pierre flew the nest to open his first solo venture, which now has (previously)seen outlets at all our major shoping centres, and now, a wholesale set-up on Pilkington Street.
From a small, boutique shop that began life in Colonial Village on Ross River Road, JP Artisan Bakery now boasts over 100 items on the menu. These delicious – and often experimental – offerings fuse French cuisine with North Queensland produce and tastes to generate something truly unique.
While Jean-Pierre has three decades of success under his belt (including almost every Baking Industry Association you can name), he is noticing that locals are becoming even more receptive to trying something beyond the typical bakery offerings.
“Townsville has become more mature and sophisticated in regards to cuisine over the past few years, and we have seen some great restaurants, cafés and bakeries emerge,” he says.
“I think, with the popularity of all the reality cooking shows, people are a lot more willing to try new concepts and this is expanding from the big cities to the more regional places”.
“My hope is that we may see a lot of eclectic little cafés pop up as people take advantage of the wonderful, out of the way, unique spaces that are available here in Townsville.”
For those looking to emulate the success of Jean-Pierre, he has some simple advice. Two recent apprentices at JP Artisan
Bakery have claimed industry awards, and Jean-Pierre said learning from the best and discovering a good mentor would help any budding young cook or chef find their place in the industry.
“Educate yourself and find yourself a mentor so you don’t reinvent the wheel,” he says.
He believes it is important to never get complacent, with the master baker still finding motivation from others in the local market.
“I look at all the successful business people around me and get inspiration and ideas from them. Creating new and exciting products keeps me motivated every day.”
JEAN-PIERRE ARTISAN BAKERY
For 30 years Jean-Pierre Artisan Bakery has supplied Townsville businesses with quality artisan breads and pastries, including a gluten friendly range, through our wholesale bakery.
Providing high quality products, excellent service and offering 7 day delivery, Jean-Pierre Artisan Bakery can tailor products to suit every need, from made to order specialty products through to major functions.
89 Pilkington St, Garbutt | 07 4728 2940 | jpbakery.com.au
Executive Chef – Celsius Restaurant
Food is so much more than just something you eat, for executive chef Davis Kwarcianyi.
Like the first leaf drop of a changing season, like the delicate nuances of new fashion trends, the man behind the menu at Mercure Townsville’s Celsius Restaurant is always following the ever-evolving styles of food.
“Food, like fashion, has its seasons,” says Davis.
“What’s in one season is out the next. You have to be adaptable and change to the latest trends if you want to keep customers interested.”
To this day, Davis has no idea what inspired him to be a chef to begin with. But it was his dream from the youngest age he can remember.
Starting out by banging pots and pans around the family kitchen, Davis has been a qualified chef for a decade now, working in the Accor Hotels network for over half of that time.
His journey began on the Sunshine Coast and has taken him all around Australia, including; the Hunter Valley, Thredbo, Cairns and now Townsville.
It has been a rite of passage for Davis, working his way up from a commis chef, to chef de partie, sous chef and to where he is now.
Given his love for the changing styles of food, it is Townsville where he feels most at home preparing his menus.
“Catering to all different types of people is what I enjoy most. I feel Townsville has a range of tastes between fairly simple and basic (which isn’t a bad thing), all the way up to fine dining and everything in between.”
Catering to large crowds is where Davis has gained enormous success, taking out the Queensland Award for Best Hotel Wedding Reception and also taking the restaurant to third in Australia in the same category.
With dishes like his current favourites; smoked brisket, coconut ice cream sandwich and pork belly, it’s easy to see why.
But Davis warns that being a chef is not all glamour and celebrations. He adopts a hands-on approach, which includes kitchen operation, paperwork, food preparation, ordering and washing dishes.
“No one is exempt from the dishes,” he laughs.
And he said anyone looking to enter the industry should adopt the same work ethic if they wanted to find their own success.
“It is not the easiest industry to work in, so be prepared to work hard and for what feels like little reward sometimes.”
Celsius Restaurant and Bar offers a relaxed, casual dining experience from inside airconditioned comfort to al fresco poolside dining.
Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner, our modern Australian cuisine is made from fresh and local produce.
166 – 194 Woolcock St, Townsville | 07 4759 4921 | mercuretownsville.com.au
Owner / Executive Chef – Jam
If it weren’t for family ties, Townsville’s own chef extraordinaire Matt Merrin may have never picked up the tools to begin with.
The owner/chef at JAM has been showered in distinctions, with the restaurant honoured with the coveted Australian Good Food Guide Chef Hat four years running, numerous Restaurant and Caterer awards and was also named National Breakfast Restaurant Winner.
And the journey began when Matt was a fresh-faced teenager leaving school looking for work.
“After completing year 12 at the age of 17, I was fortunate to line up a cooking apprenticeship working with family friends in their restaurant in Perth,” says Matt.
Moving to one of Perth’s premium restaurants Coco’s, Matt rose through the ranks to become sous chef. Wanting to broaden his horizons, he travelled to Melbourne where he worked for seven years.
His partner then swayed him to take a chance on Townsville, where he was the inaugural executive chef at Watermark Restaurant before setting up JAM in 2010.
A common theme in the industry is that balancing work with family life can be extremely tough. But Matt knows the value of this, taking some extraordinary measures last year to ensure all of his crew could enjoy time with their family.
“The industry is demanding, but the balance can work if you, family and friends want it to. So, after 25-plus years in the
industry I decided to give the team time off for Christmas. Now, we take two and a half weeks off to spend with family and friends.”
When it comes to that time off, Matt and his partner like to travel the world to seek out new culinary experiences.
“We both work long hours, this is our time to relax and discover new places, enjoy some time out,” he said.
“The Champagne region in France is a highlight.”
These experiences usually find their way onto Matt’s menus, with the owner/chef taking a lead role in all elements of the business including menu design and wine menu development.
After so long in the game, how does Matt maintain his passion?
“The food industry gets a bad rap at times, though my personal journey has been extremely rewarding. If you’re willing to work hard and have a passion, the industry can provide more opportunities than any other in so many ways.
“I love the industry and having an amazing team certainly helps. If you want to start up your own hospitality business, make sure you have lots of experience first.”
JAM is an award-winning restaurant. Our passion is in showcasing modern inspired menus while providing a high level of personal and professional service. Food is at the heart of what we do. Restaurant, private dining room, function room.
Winner: AGFG 2017 – 1 Chef Hat
Winner: Gourmet Traveller Wine List Award 2017 – 1 Glass.
1 Palmer St, South Townsville | 07 4721 4900 | jamcorner.com.au
Executive Chef – Townsville RSL
What is the recipe for success when it comes to juggling a decorated career as a chef and a thriving family?
For Townsville RSL executive chef Pat Senent, the advice is easy: “Keep it simple and stay humble.”
The culinary craft is something that runs in the Senent family. Pat has been married for 40 years to wife Michelle (also a chef) and has three children, two of which work in the industry as well. One of them is even Pat’s sous chef.
And when it comes to the kitchen, everyone is part of Pat’s family as he provides a guiding hand to ensure they deliver the same level of excellence and success.
“The main thing for me is to enjoy your work, watching your apprentices grow and excel,” Pat says.
“Seeing your staff engaged, committed and wanting to go the extra mile and going home at night knowing that we have achieved the thing that counts the most: creating a memorable experience for all our customers, is rewarding.”
The proof is in the pudding, with Townsville RSL collecting a raft of awards in recent years including: Clubs Queensland Chef of the Year gong; Townsville RSL named 4TO’s Best Restaurant and; Townsville Food Magazine’s People’s Choice Award for Townsville’s Best Steak.
Back to the family theme, Pat’s journey began after he was inspired by his mother’s cooking.
“She is a brilliant cook and we never missed out at meal times. My love affair with food started then and I have never looked back”.
Pat worked as chef de cuisine (executive chef) at the Cordon Bleu Restaurant Brisbane, chef de cuisine at the iconic Breakfast Creek Wharf Seafood Restaurant in Brisbane for almost 13 years, chef de cuisine at the Metropole Townsville for seven years and has been at the Townsville RSL for almost 18 years.
He has a hands-on approach, taking charge of all food prep for the various restaurants, banquets and outlets in the RSL, purchasing food, maintaining quality and ensuring staff performance is always monitored and improved – just to name a few of his tasks.
Arguably one of the most important of his tasks however, is developing menus – and we can happily say that Pat has put together another brilliant one, with a brand new spring menu having recently launched at Lavaracks Restaurant.
And Pat loves the Townsville food scene, listing Matt Merrin (Jam Corner), Michel Flores (Essentially Fresh), Don Haddon (Townsville TAFE), Craig Smith (Michels Restaurant), and Michael Brine (A Touch of Salt) as some of his personal favourite local chefs.
LAVARACKS AT TOWNSVILLE RSL
When it comes to food, Lavaracks is the jewel in the crown of the Townsville RSL.
The award-winning restaurant serves premium grade meals in an elaborate, yet comfortable, setting. Lavaracks has been designed to offer an affordable dining experience and has served this up with award-winning flavour, loyalty and style since 2003.
139 Charters Towers Rd, Hermit Park | 07 4759 9500 | townsvillersl.com.au
Owner / Manager – Chico Rio
Townsville’s dining scene is flourishing with a range of dynamic – and delicious – multicultural offerings.
At the centre of that is Brazilian restaurant Chico Rio, located in the heart of the Townsville CBD on Flinders Street.
It is a meat lover’s paradise, with a raft of dishes served in the ‘churrascaria’ (Portuguese barbecue) style and served up in unlimited rounds until you just can’t possibly fit any more in.
And trust us, you will find a way to fit a lot in because it is that delicious. Gluten free and vegetarian options are also available, making it a place for everyone. On weekends, you will also be treated to live samba dancing performances, because this place drips atmosphere like the meat drips deliciousness.
Behind the churrasco you will find owner Ranga Wijesooriya, who has a heart-warming story of growing up as a boy in Sri Lanka and dreaming of becoming a chef.
So in 2012 he began that journey, travelling to Townsville and completing his Commercial Cookery and Diploma of
Hospitality courses at TAFE.
He learned the ropes at a few different restaurants, but extracted the wealth of his knowledge and experience working as chef at Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Townsville.
“It gave me the wings to fly,” Ranga says.
Then, a chance meeting presented him the opportunity to take the reins of Chico Rio, where he is now the owner and manager.
“I had ambition to open up my own restaurant and the former owner of Chico Rio gave me this amazing chance. Without thinking a second time, I said yes”.
Gazing down Flinders Street and across the Ross River, Ranga smiles at the happy customers soaking up the multicultural offerings available in Townsville today. It is this variety and vibrancy that Ranga says makes the local scene something truly special.
“We have plenty of different cuisine here and I’m proud to say we are the only Brazilian restaurant in town,” he said.
“Personally, love to talk with people. I always meet new people to talk to every day, which I really enjoy”.
“At the moment, we are getting amazing customer reviews on our Facebook page and I think the biggest award we have achieved so far is getting so many good comments from our beautiful customers.”
It is an inspiring story of success, and Ranga said “commitment, passion and hard work” were the ingredients behind it all.
“I love food and I have passion for food. It keeps me motivated every single day and I never get bored,” he said.
Chico Rio Churrascaria is creating a little piece of Rio in the heart of Townsville. Traditionally marinated and flame grilled meats known as Rodizio de Churrasco are offered in a continuous service, carved at your table by passadores (waiters).
At Chico Rio not only do we specialise in traditional Brazilian BBQ meats but we also have a special vegetarian and sea food menu.
247 Flinders Street, Townsville City | 07 4772 1073 | chicorio.com.au
PETER, MICHAEL AND MARK BRINE
Family Owners / Operators – A Touch of Salt
Call them the triumvirate of success, the family that has positioned A Touch of Salt as one of Townsville’s leading restaurants.
It is a team effort for the Brine family, with father Peter taking up the post as restaurant manager and wine connoisseur, while his sons Michael (executive chef) and Mark (catering and events manager) take the other key responsibilities.
Even the name of the restaurant is a fusion of family names, put together using daughter-in-law Melissa’s surname (Touch) and Brine, meaning salt water.
Their skillsets complement each other just as well as the food does the wine, which is what makes A Touch of Salt such a
success. They feed off each other’s energy and provide a harmony many other restaurants could only dream of.
“We are lucky we are a family-owned business, I have a solid team,” says Michael.
Peter said the synergy also allowed them to take critical time away from the business to work on improvements.
“You have to give yourself time off to work on your business and not in it,” he said.
Michael believes the one thing they all shared was passion for the industry, which bleeds into their work and fuels their motivation.
“You really have to love what you do. If you want to be successful as a chef, you really have to have a passion for food. Being creative also helps. The main key is definitely passion.”
To coin an old saying, the proof is in the pudding.
A Touch of Salt has been awarded One Chef Hat by the Australian Good Food Guide in 2016 and 2017 and The Brisbane Times Good Food Guide. In the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide People’s Choice Awards 2016, A Touch of Salt ranked in the top 10 restaurants in the entire state.
The family has also reaped Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence Winner gongs four years running – and the list goes on.
But Michael said there was no magic formula, with the menu evolving every day.
“Produce has changed in the last 12 years, so has innovation. It keeps you on your toes all the time,” he said.
“The food industry in Townsville is 100 per cent better than it was 12 years ago when we started, and the quality of produce has come a long way”.
“Never stop learning. Never stop evolving. Its important to keep up to date with everything that is going on.”
*PS, if you want a conversation starter, ask Peter about his days playing for Middlesbrough FC in England.
A TOUCH OF SALT
Whatever the special occasion, A Touch of Salt will leave a lasting impression. Overlooking the Ross River in the city heart, A Touch of Salt blends an ever-evolving menu with an extensive wine cellar and an uncompromised approach to service. You can choose to dine in the airconditioned comfort of our contemporary restaurant or under the stars on our waterside balcony.
86 Ogden St, Townsville City | 07 4724 4441 | atouchofsalt.com.au
Co-Owner / Executive Chef – Michels Restaurant
In the hectic world of hospitality, managing family life with work can be a demanding task.
But Michels Restaurant and Catering co-owner Craig Smith always manages to carve out time to ensure his home life is as rich as his professional one.
“I love getting down to watch my son play AFL and I take my youngest daughter to swimming on a Monday,” says Craig.
“My eldest daughter is studying medicine – I am very proud of how hard she has worked to achieve her goals”.
And Craig wants to see more young people enter his industry, where he has forged a long and successful career.
“I would like to see more younger people in the industry who have the passion and drive to take our industry into the future,” he said.
Craig’s journey began in Melbourne, where he started his cooking journey at a Spanish restaurant. Two years later, life brought him to Townsville where he continued his culinary quest at Spinnakers on the Breakwater.
Craig pushed north to work for a range of international restaurants in Cairns before taking the plunge and heading abroad to further refine his craft.
He called Bermuda home for nearly six years, working as a junior sous chef and then taking on the role of sous chef at the exclusive Elbow Beach Resort.
Throughout that time, Craig ventured to all corners of Europe, soaking up all the knowledge that he could before heading home to set up Portobello’s in Port Maquarie.
He gained immediate success, featuring in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide five years running.
The lure of tropical paradise brought Craig back to Townsville, where he opened the kitchen at Ibis on Palmer Street before eventually buying in to Michels eight years ago.
“The industry in Townsville is finally starting to evolve here and the food scene is becoming very exciting,” Craig said.
“I love food and the science of food. Its fascinating, the challenges of the diverse job.”
And Craig has some simple words of advice for those looking to make their way in the industry – be prepared to work hard.
“Owning your own business can be very rewarding however, it is hard to step away and take a break,” he said.
Which is exactly why he always creates that time to ensure the right balance between work and home life.
Michels Restaurant is a French style bistro serving simple,
sophisticated cuisine. A long-time favourite with locals, Michels is Townsville’s restaurant destination. Proudly a multi-award winning restaurant, recognised by the Australian Good Food & Travel Guide and Trip Advisor. Let our passionate and experienced restaurateurs, Craig Smith and Tanya Roberts, captivate your senses and take you on a sophisticated escape from it all.
7 Palmer St, South Townsville | 07 4724 1460 | michelsrestaurant.com.au
Owner / Fishmonger – Ingham Road Seafood
A decade ago, his name was simply Mark Partland.
But after taking a leap of faith on the hugely popular Ingham Road Seafood business, today everyone calls him Mark the Monger.
It was an opportunity too good to resist for Mark, when the seafood outlet hit the market ten years ago.
He had worked in the hospitality industry as the branch
manager of a wholesale liquor business, and saw enormous potential for improvement at Ingham Road Seafood. He wasn’t wrong.
“Even though the seafood industry was new to me, the same business principles apply – good strong customer service and quality products,” he says.
It was under Mark’s stewardship that Ingham Road Seafood was honoured with the coveted Queensland Seafood Business Award and it was a mutual love between his business and the Townsville community that was at the core of their success.
“Getting to meet a wide and varied number of the people in Townsville is what I enjoy the most,” says Mark.
“Seeing people appreciate the quality product that we strive to supply. Seeing our product enjoyed by so many over the festive season and sourcing premium North Queensland seafood from our wide range of local suppliers.”
The best part of working in the seafood industry, Mark explains, is the variety. No day is ever the same and coming up with
interesting ideas for his customers is what keeps him motivated.
“Creating new dishes for our customers every week keeps me going. Presenting products in store in a variety of ways, always looking for new ways of doing things and then hearing the positive feedback from our customers.”
When it comes to advice for others looking to tread the same path, Mark said it is important to surround yourself with good people.
“Have a strong, core group of staff and passion for your industry. Have that drive to succeed and be prepared for plenty of hard work and commitment.”
Mark works hard, adopting the life mantra ‘nothing comes easy’, but knows the importance of family as well. He enjoys taking time out to recharge and go for time away with the family, and also has some very interesting past-times.
“I am currently training to participate in Fight for your Cause in October, I enjoy regularly going to the gym,” he said.
And Mark admits that one of his favourite hobbies is beekeeping.
INGHAM ROAD SEAFOOD
Our local, family owned business has long been established as one of Townsville’s leading fresh seafood retailers.
Come in and check out our extensive range of beautiful, fresh seafood… you won’t be disappointed!
Open every day of the year for your convenience.
159 Ingham Rd, Townsville | 07 4721 1464 | inghamroadseafood.com.au