Nigel Munzberg, Executive Chef, Royal Adelaide Golf Club
Please tell us how food and cuisine became a part of your life.
My great grandfather Paul Ludwig Munzberg migrated via ship from homeland Germany to Australia and settled in the German hamlet of Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia. He arrived in Port Adelaide on the ship Hesperus on November 17, 1884. His son Frank Munzberg, my grandfather, was a fourth generation farmer who was well known in the valley as both a local grape grower and apricot and egg farmer. So in a matter of speaking, food and wine is a part of my family heritage and flows through to my journey to source quality fresh produce and ingredients to use in my cooking.
As a young boy, my family and I spent many weekends visiting relatives in Tanunda, one of the most famous wine regions in Australia. One of my fondest memories would be visiting my nanna. We would spend a day exploring the region, then return to her home to find she had spent the day baking, which was all done on an old wood fired oven and stove. The kitchen table would be filled with German fruit cake, streusel cake, Berliner (jam donuts), bienenstich (bee sting cake), and various other baked German delights. The smell that filled the kitchen was amazing, and I believe this is where I got my passion for baking and the art of bread making.
Where did you do your apprenticeship?
I did a four-year apprenticeship at the Hyatt Regency in Adelaide, South Australia from 1994 to 1997. As part of the training in the hotel, the apprentice chefs would rotate to different kitchen departments every six months, giving us a broad exposure to fine dining, banquets, bakery, pastry, casual dining and room service in the hotel kitchen outlets. As a young developing chef, you became extremely proficient in various kitchen environments, individual sections, and their service styles.
While working at the Hyatt in Blake’s Restaurant, I worked with a Chef de Cuisine, James Fien, who had worked with Paul Bocuse in France, and James encouraged me to travel and pursue my cooking vocation abroad which lead me to travel to London, United Kingdom. I lived in London for a year from March of 1997 until mid-1998.
I worked at the Hyatt Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge, London as part of the opening team for the Grissini Restaurant, a modern Italian signature restaurant of the hotel. The second restaurant where I worked was The Rib Room Restaurant, a classical English restaurant specializing in Aberdeen Angus and Adam Rib cuts.
Departing the Hyatt to pursue a promotion at the Dorchester Hotel in Hyde Park, London, I cooked in the Grill Room Restaurant, a three Rosette Restaurant acknowledged by the AA Best Restaurants in Great Britain and Ireland. While at the Dorchester, the hotel was voted as one of the top 20 hotels in the world. I also had the opportunity to work at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand, Westminster Borough, London, which gave me further insight into large hotel kitchen operations and the food scene in London.
Where else have you worked overseas?
I was invited to be a guest chef in the Compass Room Restaurant at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Hong Kong, which had a spectacular view of the harbor, especially at night. This opportunity had the unique challenge of conveying your message to the kitchen brigade when only a few staff spoke English and I didn’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin. Demonstrating the preparation, cooking and presentation of each dish overcame this barrier, showing that food can transverse cultural and language barriers to bring people together. The kitchen team and staff at the RHKYC were extremely professional and friendly, making it a truly memorable and enjoyable experience.
On another trip, I flew to Kuala Lumpur for an event at the Traders Hotel, part of the Shangri-La Hotel Group, and cooked a one-off dinner attended by Australian Consulate officials who were living in KL. The menu was designed to showcase Australian produce matched with wine from the McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia.
What led you to Royal Adelaide Golf Club?
As an amateur golfer, I was aware of Royal Adelaide Golf Club as being Adelaide’s premier golf course with a highly regarded reputation in the Australian golfing scene. A few colleagues in the hospitality industry made me aware of the opening for a Head Chef at RAGC, and I started the process of submitting my initial application. The General Manager of RAGC, Andrew Gay, contacted me to discuss a time for an interview which ultimately lead to my securing the Head Chef position at the club and, as they say, the rest is history.
You have been here now for just over a year. How have the members reacted to your style?
I believe that my style has been well received by the members. It really comes down to creating the right style of menu and cuisine for the appropriate dining occasion. The members are always looking to experience new dishes on a regular basis, so I enjoy the positive feedback from them about the new cuisine. Cooking to me is not a process - it’s a passion!
Who are some of the mentors you have had during your career?
Chef Peter Doyle from the est. Restaurant in the Establishment Hotel in Sydney was a guest chef at the Rocks Restaurant while I was the Head Chef there, and I learned a lot when he visited. I also worked at Blake’s Restaurant at the Hyatt with Chef de Cuisine James Fien who had a direct influence on my career path as a young aspiring apprentice chef. James had worked overseas with Paul Bocuse and shared his strong classical French cooking influence which he learned in Lyon.
When I left Australia in 1997, the kangaroo was starting to come onto the menu.
Now it is a feature on Australian menus. How did that happen?
With the changing diner perception of kangaroo as well as chef innovation, kangaroo has become a staple on Australian menus. It is a very healthy meat with very low-fat content, with similar texture and cooking characteristics to venison which can be two to three times the price. Due to the low level of marbling in the meat, it must be cooked medium rare for optimum eating. With the ever increasing cost of Australian beef, kangaroo is a great alternative and is readily available at a reasonable price. Kangaroo has become one of the most popular Australia's game meats.
What was the inspiration behind the Kangaroo Mulberry and Ganache combination that you have prepared for Golf Kitchen?
My inspiration for this dish comes from drinking a nice aged glass of South Australian Shiraz possibly from the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale regions. When you start to break down the flavors that can be found in red wine, you will often hear it described as having elements of fruit, pepper and chocolate. I have drawn on that with the use of the juniper spice which has black pepper as a main ingredient.
The Mulberries in the game add the fruit element to the dish and the chocolate ganache adds the smooth velvety feel to the palate. When you combine all of these elements with the game flavor of the kangaroo and the textural crunch of the apple and parsnip fritter, I believe that you have an exceptionally well balanced dish, drawing from inspiration found in a nicely aged bottle of Shiraz.
You have a very decorative style in your presentations. Where did that influence come from?
In part it comes from my belief that dining is about creating a pleasant environment and creating artistic food which is pleasing to the eye, so the presentation is an important part of the dining experience. The way a dish is plated creates an emotional response which, when combined with the taste, smell, texture and even sound, can contribute to the complete sensory experience.
You never stop learning when it comes to food, so I’m always looking for new inspiration and food ideas which I can utilize in my cuisine. One of my favorite ways to gather inspiration is through dining out which gives me a great opportunity to enjoy various cuisine styles and especially gain ideas on dish presentation.
One of my most preferred forms of research is my library of recipe books from famous chefs in Australia such as Peter Gilmour, Greg Doyle and Peter Doyle, or Michelin star chefs from overseas like Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White and Ferran Adrià.
Inspiration comes from all around us…