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Profile: Nomad’s Jacqui Challinor

Jacqui, your menu has a strong Mediterranean influence. Tell us about your heritage and how this translates into the dishes you create.  My mum is Maltese so I grew up on Mediterranean flavours. Authentic food with a focus on quality produce and big flavours is what drives me, these are the things I think about when I’m creating a dish.

Nomad is known for your in-house pickling, charcuterie and homemade breads.  Do you think part of Nomad’s success is the farm-to-table approach you have championed in your kitchen? There is a strong focus these days on the origins of the food we eat, and rightly so. I think one of the reasons why Nomad is successful is because of the hands on approach we take to creating dishes. Our guests know that the food they are eating is made from scratch, in house with the best quality ingredients we can source. Something that may take them 30 seconds to eat might involve 3 days of preparation beforehand.

The baked trout wrapped in vine leaves is an all-time favourite and the Wood Roasted Pork is sublime.  What is the best-selling item on the menu? Our biggest sellers would have to be the zucchini flowers with truffle honey and pecorino, the kingfish ceviche with finger lime and avocado and the spiced cauliflower with cashew and house made labne. No matter how I serve the lamb, it’s always our highest selling protein closely followed by the trout in vine leaves.

In an era of celebrity chefs, you have managed to maintain a relatively low profile.  Do you eschew ego in the pursuit of authentic and imaginative food? I didn’t get into cooking to become a celebrity chef, I do it because I love it and if recognition follows then so be it. I don’t seek the spotlight, I hate public speaking and to say I’m camera shy is an understatement. My biggest priority is to ensure that my staff are happy, the kitchen is well run and the food coming out of it is the best that it can be.

Tell us about how Nomad ensures sustainable practices in the foods you procure and the suppliers you work with. At Nomad, we are very conscious of the impact we have on the environment. We recycle all of our waste, we use environmentally friendly chemicals and try to reduce our footprint by buying as locally as possible. I’ve been to the farms to visit our producers to see how the animals are reared and I’ve been to the abattoirs, it’s important to me to see the process from start to finish as a way of appreciating the process and ensuring that I am buying ethically.

You work with a huge team in the Nomad kitchen.  How do you maintain grace under fire and motivate your crew to produce their best work, dish after dish? I have a team of 20 that I manage and it’s not easy. One of the hardest aspects of my job is learning how to manage the different personalities within the team. In my experience, losing your cool doesn’t make a situation any better. If anything, the negativity filters down the team and it’s hard to get everybody back on track. If something isn’t going the way it should or the team is losing focus, I’ll be stern to make a point but try and save the conversation until after service when I’ve cooled down and can have a constructive conversation. Yelling and screaming doesn’t encourage people to learn from their mistakes.

What do you enjoy to cook yourself at home? I very rarely cook at home to be honest! I’m always at work and when I’m not at work I’d rather somebody else cook for me. When I do get in the mood it’s often comfort cooking, braises, roast chicken and veggies or pasta.

What do you love about being in Surry Hills? I love the little restaurant community we are developing around our little area of Surry Hills, more restaurants and cafes mean more foot traffic and a great vibe to the area. Plus it’s just away from the hustle and bustle of the CBD which I really like.

The media often focuses on you being a woman in a male-dominated industry.  How do you respond to this?  I’m all for highlighting success in any industry, whether it be male or female. I would much rather the focus be the restaurant, the food and my achievements as a chef not the fact that I’m female.  I completely support women in the industry and it’s great to see some really talented chefs step into the spotlight but I just find it quite demeaning when that’s all people want to focus on. I’ve been running a 160 seat restaurant for 3.5 years and received 3 consecutive chefs hats, we make beautiful food from scratch and Nomad has been going strong in an industry that’s sees restaurants close almost on a weekly basis. I want that to be something to focus on, that’s an achievement, not the fact I’m a woman.

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