Scott Pickett’s rise to chef stardom has been stratospheric. At 18 he won gold in Australia’s prestigious Salon Culinaire competition. He cut his teeth under Phillippe Mouchel at Paul Bocuse, and then had trials with Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White in London, before settling at The Square under Phillip Howard. It was there he earned the nickname ‘The Digger’.
After representing Australia at the Bocuse d’Or, and working on a luxury yacht, he branched out on his own in Melbourne. At his Estelle Bistro, ESP and Saint Crispin restaurants, he has become renowned for his inventive use of native Australian ingredients. As he prepares to share his knowledge and experience as mentor for the Pacific region at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018, he spoke to Fine Dining Lovers about hard work, letting off steam, and Gordon Ramsay's sage advice.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef – what inspired you and what obstacles did you overcome to achieve your dream?
From the moment I first stepped into a kitchen at 14 I found my home – my 'stainless steel asylum' as it was back in the ‘90s. I’ve never done anything else and probably never will. Its where I feel comfortable, its where I’ve grown up, its where I like to be.
What was your biggest triumph as a young chef, and is there anything you would consider your biggest failure?
My biggest triumph as a young chef was representing my country at the Bocuse d’Or. Competing taught me so many new and different skills, which I’m hoping to pass onto the S.Pellegrino young chef, John Rivera. My biggest failure would have to be not being as focused and committed when younger. I’ve always worked extremely hard, but I burnt the candle too. I probably didn't make the most of some opportunities because I was busy doing other things…
As a mentor, what do you expect from your young chef, and what do you think you can offer him?
I’d expect him to be focused, committed, dedicated, and to try his best whilst enjoying this amazing opportunity. I’d like to offer him support, guidance, a little bit of world knowledge and direction.
What would victory in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition mean for a young chef?
Winning the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition would open up a lot of doors for the young chef, hopefully giving them opportunities to visit and work in some of the great restaurants around the world, and exposure to the best of the best in the culinary world.
Which is most important, natural talent or hard work?
Natural talent is a wonderful thing, but comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Nothing beats hard work. Talent isn’t just enough if you don't use it properly!
As a young chef you travelled to London and had a pretty intense time, including a close encounter with Gordon Ramsay – what can you tell us about that experience and what did it teach you?
I was fortunate enough to meet Gordon Ramsay a few times whilst I was working at The Square in Mayfair with Phil Howard, although I was only a young fella and I’m sure he doesn't remember! I actually did a stage at Royal Hospital Road in ‘99 and Gordon was lovely, very welcoming and accommodating for a young Aussie. At the end of service he sat down with me, gave me a beer and also some solid advice about the restaurant scene in London. What I should do with my time in the UK and a couple of home truths about taking the step up to work in Michelin star restaurants. It was inspirational and much needed.
Tell us why they call you ‘The Digger’.
It's a nickname I was given at The Square. Brett Graham was there also and we are obviously both Aussies, so when Rob Western got sick of two chefs answering to the call of ‘Skippy’ I was honoured with the name ‘The Digger.’ It became an alter ego for many years, but not so much anymore.
How do you let off steam these days?
As I get older, and the pressure of life, work, business and the industry start to increase, I have looked at other ways of minimising stress and dealing with the pressure by meditating and exercising more often. It's a wonderful way to put life and food into perspective.
Tell us about some of the native Australian ingredients you cook with and why it’s important for you to use them.
We use an assortment of native ingredients in the restaurants, mainly to showcase their flavour and to look at cooking what’s around us here in Australia. The food we cook has a sense of purpose and place, and is inextricably linked to our environment.
What are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?
I’m working on a wood-fuelled restaurant in South Yarra, opening early next year. I love projects and different cooking techniques, so it’s exciting to be learning new skills and developing new dishes.