Over a hot stove
Audi Australia welcomes its newest ambassador, celebrated Ides Chef, Peter Gunn.
Form very humble beginnings, Peter Gunn has become an award-winning chef and is considered one of the great innovators in the industry. He spoke with Audi Magazine on the eve of joining the brand as an ambassador.
25 March, 2019
When two-hatted Ides head chef Peter Gunn started working in a small restaurant in his native New Zealand at 17, he had never even stepped foot inside one before.
“I ate McDonalds and KFC a lot of times, but had never been to a restaurant,” he recalls.
Cutting his teeth with his first job at a Chinese takeaway in the early hours of Friday and Saturday nights and working in the cafe of his local swimming pool in the days afterwards, Gunn’s first foray into food might seem easily forgettable and even menial in the context of his now extensive and illustrious career.
But those humble pocket-money earning jobs had a bigger impact on this 33-year-old father-of-two than one might think, cultivating a work ethic that would make him the man, and the chef he is today.
“I ate McDonalds and KFC a lot of times, but had never been to a restaurant"
“It was the only job that really presented itself and it was from 11 o’clock at night to 6 o’clock in the morning on Friday and Saturday nights. I was 16"
“I got the Chinese Takeaway job through one of my mum’s friends,” the new Audi ambassador said. “It was the only job that really presented itself and it was from 11 o’clock at night to 6 o’clock in the morning on Friday and Saturday nights. I was 16. You can image on Friday and Saturday nights in the middle of the city what kind of people are going to this place.”
To supplement his income he picked up a job at the swimming pool cafe, cooking toasted sandwiches and deep-frying chips, but work was only available on Saturday and Sunday mornings. “So I was finishing school, going home and having a couple of hours sleep, working overnight at the Chinese takeaway until 6am, going back out to where I lived to start work at the swimming pool from 9am until 3 o’clock, going home and having a couple of hours sleep and then repeating that again. It lasted surprisingly long, I did that for maybe about six months. For me as a 16-year-old, there was something about travelling into the city for work that was really something, something that none of my other friends were doing, even though it was just a takeaway, I really enjoyed it.”
In the same vein that his entry into the food world wasn’t planned, his culinary training wasn’t either.
He and a couple of friends applied for a course at TAFE equivalent Polytech after getting kicked out of school — “I left school for not really going to school. From their point of view, there was no point in having me there”. He was accepted.
As seemed to be par for the course is Gunn’s life, he left his next decision up to chance, flipping a coin to see if he would travel to Sydney or Melbourne.
It landed on Melbourne, the city he has resided in ever since, and a prestigious career in some of Victoria’s top restaurants followed – a first job in Melbourne at Ezard, a stint at The Royal Mail with Dan Hunter, three years as Ben Shewry’s sous chef at Attica and an award for 2015 San Pellegrino’s Best Young Chef in Asia Pacific.
As seemed to be par for the course is Gunn’s life, he left his next decision up to chance
For two-and-a-half years Gunn juggled his job at Attica with running the Ides pop-up
But in 2013 it was time to branch out on his own. He opened a monthly pop-up restaurant called Ides after an attempt at launching a catering business with the same name failed to yield a single job.
It took off. Ides was booked out months in advance and was forced to turn people away.
For two-and-a-half years Gunn juggled his job at Attica with running the pop-up, before his wife Nirvalla – pregnant with their first child, a son Oden, now five – begged to have him back.
“She said ‘you need to focus one of them,’ and the easiest and smartest thing to do would have been to get rid of Ides and continue to collect my paycheck and be surrounded by all these amazing people, but I went the other way and decided to give it a crack and see how we go.”
In March 2016 Ides became a permanent two-hatted dining institution on Smith Street in Collingwood, known for its technique-driven dishes that are full of flavour.
He hasn’t looked back since. But for all his accolades and experience, ironically Gunn says he isn’t in the game to produce delicious food. So what is he passionate about if not the food itself?
“I excel when I remove myself from the daily situation,” he says. “My ultimate drive isn’t to make delicious food, it’s the act of being involved in the kitchen. There is so much more than just to cook. I really enjoy those processes of ordering and being able to systemise things to get other people to be able to control those systems as well, that's what is rewarding for me.”
It was a discussion inside the Audi VIP tent he was catering for at Taste of Melbourne two years ago that he realised what he truly wanted in life.
“My ultimate drive isn’t to make delicious food, it’s the act of being involved in the kitchen"
... all I want is to just have a great restaurant and I probably want two of these cars ...
“I met a someone who was going to help me with my PR at an Audi function and it was the first time we’d ever met and I said ‘all I want is to just have a great restaurant and I probably want two of these cars, one for me and one for my wife, I think I’ll be good if we can achieve that’. She said ‘that's just too easy’ and we started working together off the back of that conversation.”
As Audi’s newest ambassador, Gunn, is at a momentous time in his career.
“The funny thing is, I’m already an Audi owner. So once I get the car as an ambassador, then yes, I’ll have the two Audis, I’ve officially made it.”
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