2 May 2023

From London to Goulburn: gastropub chef makes his mark on the local culinary scene

| John Thistleton
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Paul Carr

Paul Carr learned the basics of cooking from his time working 16-hour days in London for little return other than experience. Photo: John Thistleton.

A European-trained chef is in Goulburn building a following for his Sunday roasts and restaurant-quality food in a local pub.

Arriving two weeks ago at the Southern Railway Hotel, Paul Carr is checking out seafood at FishCo Fish Market wholesalers in Canberra, different cuts from Marulan Meats and trialling bigger, shared dishes.

He is serving dishes like scotch egg, toad in the hole, seafood pie and enormous steaks.

About 15 years ago, then aged 16, Paul entered his first commercial kitchen in London at a time when pubs were shedding their reputation for lacklustre offerings and creating a new style of gastropub (combination of gastronomy and pub).

He then worked in Spain and the Netherlands, before coming to Australia.

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“That is the route we are going down here,” Paul said. “Dishes are still to be discovered, at the minute we are running a lot more on the specials board, five or six different items each week,” he said.

This will continue for about three months before he settles on a regular menu on a nose-to-tail cooking route, which he had done in both London and Amsterdam.

“If an animal’s life has been sacrificed for a meal, we may as well use the best of it, rather than just using the scotch fillet from a cow or just using the lamb shanks from a lamb. This uses everything,” Paul said.

“And we would like to encourage the feeling of sharing and experience. I don’t think there is anywhere in Goulburn that offers big sharing plates or something that can be enjoyed as a group of people,” he said.

Not on the menu but worth sharing is Paul’s culinary journey from London, where he eventually tired of 16-hour days and being “paid in pennies and in experience”.

He decided to move into sales and enjoyed the income, travelling to Spain to work as a champagne sales representative. But he soon missed cooking.

Befriending the head chef at a beach club restaurant that had just lost three staff, Paul offered to work on a trial and scored a permanent job.

“It was Mediterranean cuisine so a lot of seafood, a few big cuts of steak in a very busy beach club,” he said.

However, with Spain being a seasonal destination, “the jobs tend to finish during winter periods. You are lucky to get something all-year-round in Spain”.

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Once the work petered out, Paul looked up a budget airline for inspiration for where to go next.

He randomly chose Amsterdam, which turned out to be a stroke of good fortune for someone keen to be a top chef.

“I worked closely with a guy [called] Dean Baker, who had moved to Amsterdam a few months before me. He was Gordon Ramsey’s youngest head chef in May’s Bar and Grill in London,” he said.

Dean worked for a large hospitality group, which included a steak house, high-end Japanese and Indian restaurants and a burger joint.

“I ended up working in the steak house and Dean was looking after that restaurant, he took me under his wing, he taught me a lot of things and after two years we were approached by a local businessman who was famous in the area and had a few cocktail bars and wanted a place that had food as good as the drinks,” Paul said.

Dean had the freedom to bring the staff of his choice, which included Paul. He opened a nose-to-tail smokehouse called the Beefsteak Club, and another two restaurants followed over the next two years.

Paul was climbing up the ladder, so when Dean left to return to London, he was appointed head chef.

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“In the three-and-a-half years in Amsterdam I feel like I got a 20-year chef’s career working so closely with Dean, he really taught me everything and I am forever grateful for that,” Paul said.

He recalls being super happy, but he wanted to escape the cold weather – which is why he decided to come to Australia.

Having secured employment in Cronulla, he arrived in April 2020, narrowly missing the COVID-19 lockdown.

Soon after his arrival, the hospitality industry shut down and he spent two hard years in a new, strange country.

“When restrictions were lifted, I had been able to get a sponsor and processing of my visa was extremely fast because there was no one else in the country as fresh as me making the applications for a visa,” Paul said.

The rapid response was a silver lining for Paul, who ended up taking charge of three restaurants and now wants to make his mark on Goulburn’s culinary scene.

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