Anthony Dole, Executive Chef at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club on the cover of Golf Kitchen Magazine with an aerial view of the Clubhouse and the 18 hole from the East.
I am an Australian native and lived in Melbourne for 18 years, and it is the birthplace of my two daughters. We moved to the United States in 2002, and when I started my business Golf Kitchen in 2014, I had longed for the day that I would be welcomed behind the gates at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club. It has been an extraordinary experience getting to know Chef Anthony, he is talented and pleasantly humble for someone with such a substantial culinary background. I hope you enjoy his story and recipes. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us about your life before The Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
I was born in Sri Lanka and migrated to Australia in the 1980s when I was 11. Although my parents wanted me to be very successful, they never pressured me and were supportive of what career path I chose. Food was a big part of my life due to my family’s multiple cultures, and it was always exciting at the family dinner table.
I finished high school, with excellent grades, and while I could have gone to any University I wanted, I felt it wasn’t for me. During my senior years at high school, I had started working at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) as a runner taking care of the Corporate Boxes in the southern stand. I really enjoyed working with the hospitality team and the interesting guests that would come to experience the sporting events. The food that I helped prepare was a big new exciting world for me, very different from what I knew. It was fascinating to observe how the chefs turned everyday food into delicious, food into delicious, flamboyant, eye and palate-pleasing creations. I became very good at my job. The Executive Chef, Peter, was delighted with my work ethic and asked me if I would be interested in an apprenticeship. When I could not decide, he insisted I go to the interview regardless. To my surprise, the recruiters at Spotless Catering rejected me and told me bluntly that I wasn’t suited to be a chef. That was a bad week at the MCG, and everyone knew it! Seeing that I was upset, Peter asked me what happened. “I didn’t get the job.” “No worries,” he said, “would you like to go and help out the chef at the Art Center, he is looking for someone to work at the Christmas functions?” I said, “Ok, why not.”
Arriving at the Art Center for my first shift, the Chef David yelled at me, “what are you doing here?” – That was an unexpected welcome! Alongside the kitchen brigade, I worked endless hours over three days, and when all was finished, I asked if I was getting paid. Chef David said, “we will see you next month.” Confused, I asked, “what do you mean?” With a winning smile, he answered,” you are starting your apprenticeship.” Astonished, I went back home to tell my parents, who were delighted for me. My dad encouraged me to give it a go, as I could always enroll in Uni afterward if it didn’t work out. That is where my culinary career began.
GK: How long did you stay at the Art Center?
I spend the first year of my apprenticeship working in a restaurant called Treble Clef, then moved on to the Caulfield Racecourse. I loved the excitement of working at the racecourse. The head chef, Odi, remembered me from my first days back at the MCG, and he took me under his wing. The kitchen was huge, and we were doing substantial upmarket events for the racing. While I was at Caulfield, Spotless Catering got the contract for the Formula One at Albert Park, and we split the catering between the two venues. When Formula One was on for the week, we would have to cater the food, and it would all be delivered to the site. I stayed here for a year, and then Spotlight transferred me to do my third and final year of the apprenticeship at Leonda by the Yarra, an upmarket function venue specializing in weddings. After a while, I wasn’t sure if catering for functions is what I wanted to do. Airing my growing frustration to my friend, Chef Louis he asked,” what are you doing? This is a function room, you are so talented, and you need to go out into the world and experience different food from different cultures.” I asked him, “how do I do this? “He goes, “you should go into a big hotel chain, because that way, you can travel around a lot and network.”
After I finished my third year, I resigned and took a position at the Carlton Crest Hotel in Albert Park.
GK: Tell us about your time there.
Oh, dear, it was terrible. The Chef was this crazy Austrian guy named Alex. He put me through the mill, I couldn’t do anything right. The German sous chef, Dirk, was more friendly. I told him, “I can’t take this type of treatment, I want to quit.” Dirk said he was leaving soon and going back to work in Germany, he asked me if I wanted to come and work with him. So, three months later, I was on my way to Germany to work in a 900-year-old castle for Chef Alex, who had earned himself two Michelin stars. Everything was in German, but lucky for me most German people learn English at school and could understand me. On my first day, they put me in the Larder section, and I remember I was making a salad, and I had one hand on the bench, and I was making the salad with the other. Alex came over screaming at me, “Why are you using one hand! You have two hands, use them!” To this day, I tell my staff that they are given two hands for a reason.
I learned a lot from Chef Alex, different techniques, how to cook game such as venison and wild boar, goose, and seasonal cooking. He changed the menu daily, and everything had to be perfect. I did two seasons there, and I loved it. I had met my girlfriend (and later wife) Silke in Germany, and we decided to move to London for work. I knew a lot of colleagues and friends from Melbourne who worked there, and my first position was at the Washington Hotel in Mayfair. The Chef Russell was incredible and had worked at many Michelin starred establishments. The hotel had been purchased by an affluent Indian gentleman who wanted to make a lot of changes. I stayed there for almost two years and then moved to the Rydges Hotel, which was near Kensington Palace. My friend Chris was the Executive Chef,, and he asked me if I wanted to help him with the opening of the hotel. I stayed a year and then went to the Mayfair InterContinental. This was a challenging position, I was working under Chef Michael, who had trained under Paul Bocuse. I started off as a Chef de Partie and was later promoted to Sous Chef. The year after, the hotel was purchased by the Radisson Group, and they began to downsize. I took the opportunity to move on to my first Head Chef position at the Novotel at Tower Bridge, part of the InterContinental group. I also got married while I was there, and it was at this time that my wife and I decided it was time to settle down, and we made plans to move to Australia.
GK: Did you have a position in advance?
No, my wife had been working at Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridge’s, and she was tired of the long hours. We both needed a break and decided to take some much-needed time off in Australia. She fell in love with the country, my parents, and my family and was happy to move here permanently with me.
My first position after my return to Melbourne was at the Como Hotel in South Yarra. I had to take a step down a level, but then I met Chef Marcus from Crown Casino, and he offered me a position at Number 8 Restaurant and Wine Bar in Southbank, which is now the Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal. I stayed there for two years. During the last few months, Marcus came to me and said: “there is a gentleman that would like to talk to you.” He was older and quite underdressed (not really adhering to the restaurant’s dress code). I asked him, “Is everything ok with the food?” and he answered, “I love coming here, I love what you are doing here. Would you like to come and work for me?” He told me that he was opening several restaurants under the brand Blue Fire Group and needed several Executive Chefs. I took the position and found myself jumping from restaurant to restaurant, helping with openings. This turned out rather stressful, long hours, and still not what I wanted, I longed to settle down and have more job security.
GK: When did you transition to the Golf world?
I left Blue Fire when I was offered a position at the Yarra Yarra Golf Club in Bentleigh, East Victoria. They had just renovated the clubhouse and wanted to change the culinary landscape. They wanted to move away from traditional food to more modern fare, plus a lot of functions and weddings, this is the direction they wanted to go. I don’t think I was ready for Golf at that time and after a short period at the club, I went back to the Blue Fire Group. They were opening 17 more restaurants and sent me to Brisbane to move dining/entertainment cruise boats there. I was not happy this time, and when I had a disagreement with the owner, I walked away.
I planned to take six months off to be with my family – we were now proud parents of twins!
But one day out of the blue, a well-known Chef called me, and said, “I am opening Eureka Towers, and I am looking for a Chef, would you be interested?” I agreed, and it was a fantastic experience being on the 89th floor! The hours, however, were very long, and it was taking a toll on my family, I knew had to change my way of life.
I took a job at the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria in Williamstown, and they were doing a significant renovation of the clubhouse. I wasn’t happy there either as I had to work two jobs to support my family. My second job was at Fenix for Gary Mehagan and his Chef Dan, whom I had worked with in Europe. He told me that The Royal Melbourne Golf Club was looking for a new Executive Chef.
GK: What year was that?
It was 2011. I went home to tell my wife about the position. She reminded me that I was getting older and needed to find a secure job and settle down. So, I sent in my resume and didn’t hear back for quite a few weeks. Then, Andrea Watson, the Assistant General Manager called: would I like to come in for an interview? After the meeting, I was sent to CEO Paul Rak’s office. Looking at him, I said,” I have seen you somewhere before, I just can’t think of where?” He immediately responded, “you are Charles’ nephew.” I was astonished! When I was 12 years old, my Uncle Charles used to be a cleaner at Royal Melbourne, and I would sometimes come to help him out and earn some extra cash. Mr. Rak remembered me from when I was cleaning he locker rooms: it was quite an emotional experience.
After the interview, Andrea said it will take a few weeks before she’ll get back to me. I thought ok, and I got into my car to drive home. Not even five minutes later, she calls me back and says, “do you want the job?” I said, “Yes!” That was late 2011, and I have been here ever since.
GK: Tell us about your team.
It’s a fantastic place to work, I have a great team, and a lot of support from the management and I finally found my grounding. I am working for a professional organization with all the help I could wish for, and I feel like I have a second home. I do spend a lot of time here, but I really enjoy every day.
GK:How did you find the transition initially?
Coming from a restaurant background where it is very hectic and last minute, I found that I am more organized and calmer: there is no more screaming and shouting. People are not in a rush here, and they prefer things done correctly. I can access great produce that I usually couldn’t obtain elsewhere. I get to cook what I enjoy and try new creations for our members. I like a lot of comfort food but healthy and fresh. I want the members and guests to be relaxed, the Golf is stressful enough out there, so if they come in, with a bad mood and I can make them happy with a nice meal, whether it’s a sandwich or a five-course meal, I can leave at the end of the day feeling satisfied.
GK: When you started here, did you bring your own team?
The Head Chef had left, and the Women’s Australian Open had just finished. It was late October and the busiest time of the year with major events coming up. A week later, the sous chef left also, but luckily, I had quite a lot of connections, and I started to build my team.
GK: Tell us about your food style at Royal Melbourne.
I am classically French-trained, and I have a strong Asian influence as well. I keep things simple but with a twist. I enjoy taking old favorites and changing them around a bit.
GK: Do the members have an influence on the menu?
They do, and when I’m out in the clubhouse, they always let me know what they like. We have a lot of events here, which is good. I try a lot of things out, and the menu changes often. I enjoy coming up with new ideas, and so does my team. I love it when the members give their input, and I get to know what their palate is like. At Royal Melbourne, guests like to have lighter and healthier options.
GK: How has the menu changed from 2011 to now?
When I first started, there was a lot of deep-fried food, dense food, now it is much lighter and healthier, we have more salads and steamed items. We have a lot of older members, and they like smaller portion sizes, which is good for us. With smaller portions, we can have higher quality ingredients and be more creative.
GK: Tell us about the Presidents Cup?
We started to prepare for the Presidents Cup in 2017!
We want to highlight Australian and especially Victorian fare. I want the guests to experience what the members experience, and we have developed menus to showcase the flavors of the Australian Summer.
There will be two sections in the clubhouse, downstairs for the Members and their guests’ and upstairs for Presidents Cup Commissionaires Hospitality guests. We have been running the Sandringham Golf Course across the road and will be utilizing that area for parking. Eventually, that will become the home of Golf Australia and Golf Victoria and the home of Junior Golf Australia. Everyone at Royal Melbourne is excited to be a part of this incredible event.
GK: Tell us about your relationship with Mr. Rak? I know it was a challenging time for Royal Melbourne and Golf globally when he passed. How did he influence your time at Royal Melbourne?
He was a straightforward guy and very kind. He knew everyone at Royal Melbourne by name knew everyone at Royal Melbourne by name right down to the dishwasher. He knew my kids’ names and kept up with what they were doing with their schooling and free time. He always found the time to get to know the staff and genuinely wanted to know about their lives and dreams. He was always the first person here, even when I thought I was here first, he was still here before me. One time I got in before five am. and he was already here, I asked, “what are you doing here so early?” He answered, “waiting for you.” Then he made us both a coffee, and he sat in the kitchen to hear about my days’ plans. It didn’t matter how bad my day was as he always supported me, and that made me feel confident.
GK: What was his influence over the menu?
He allowed me to create the menu’s, but he did not like mushrooms at all. He would have lunch with the staff every day and enjoyed the family and club atmosphere. He could eat at any restaurant in the world, but Royal Melbourne was home to him, and we were all his family. He is sorely missed.
GK: Anything else you care to share with us?
I am at the club for many hours, and without the love and encouragement of my wife, Silka and my children, and the support of my parents, sister and extended family, it would not be possible.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank all the team at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, friends and chefs who have worked with me through the years. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I look forward to more culinary adventures to come.
Western Australian Scampi and King Tiger Prawns. Recipe by Anthony Dole, Executive Chef at The Royal Melboure Golf Club, Black Rock, Australia.