Her Bar welcomed new head chef Nada Thomas last month. She’s bringing a European focus to the restaurant and wine bar, with a strong emphasis on shareable fun. We caught up with the Turkey-born chef to hear about her approach to cooking, highlights of the gig so far and her plans for the venue.
What’s your new job title?
Head chef at Her Bar. I lead a small (but mighty) kitchen team.
Can you tell us a little bit about your previous experience?
I grew up in Izmir, Turkey. I loved Turkish cooking shows (patisserie chef Emel Başdoğan was my favourite), and my dad used to buy me shake and bake cake mixes. I became really serious about being a chef when I moved to Australia in 2004. I worked at Magic City in Camberwell, then Scusami in Southgate and at The Press Club as senior pastry chef. Then, I moved to Cecconi’s as head pastry chef, where I stayed for nearly 10 years.
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Cecconi’s very quickly became my home away from home, but I was itching for a change when [an] opportunity to join HQ Group [the Melbourne-based hospitality collective that owns Her, Arbory Afloat and BKK, among other venues] came about. I was lucky enough to champion the Turkish Riviera iteration of Arbory Afloat alongside my brother Salim Gafayri. From there, I joined BKK as senior sous chef, where I worked closely with head chef Sungeun Mo. I loved working side by side with Mo and I can’t wait to continue working with her in my new role.
What are your ambitions for the menu at Her Bar?
For every dish to value simplicity, with no smoke and mirrors. Each is a celebration of local market farmers and suppliers – it’s uncomplicated, approachable and reliable. Our new menu will draw inspiration from across Europe, leaning into the simplicity of Italian, Spanish and French cooking. That being said, you can take the girl out of Turkey, but you can’t take Turkey out of the girl.
What’s on the menu? What are you most proud of?
The menu is [primarily] made up of snacks and small plates, with a handful of mains and larger dishes designed to share. It will change every other week. Throughout spring and summer, you might see half-shell scallops with romesco and kipfler; ricotta on toast with lemon and Ortiz anchovies; lamb skewers with Moorish spices and sumac; and grilled Wagyu tongue with guindilla peppers and sauce gribiche.
How would you describe your cooking?
From the heart. I won’t serve anything that I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with my mum. Everything I create is designed for enjoyment. Nothing excites me more than seeing people enjoy themselves while eating, and that’s all I can ever hope for in my menu.
What are you most proud of?
The collaboration and partnership of my team. Seeing them grow, learn and work together to create something spectacular has to be the best reward for any head chef. Most of the dishes on our new menu have been a collaborative effort from all areas of the kitchen. It’s something quite special.