From the first moment he stepped into a restaurant kitchen, Scott Pickett knew he wanted to be a chef. “I fell in love with it,” he says.
He was 14 and had got a job at a winery restaurant near his home in McLaren Vale, South Australia. On a Friday, he’d catch the bus after school to the restaurant, don a bin-bag poncho, apron and gloves, and spend the next three hours in the wash room, a three-metre square box, scrubbing dishes. “They would save all the dishes for me,” he says. “It would be absolutely chockers.”
Dinner service would start, and with it, another wave of dirty dishes would descend on the teenage Pickett. He would emerge from the sink sometime after 9pm and spend a precious hour working pastry before finishing off more dishes by midnight. Some nights, he’d still be there when the baker and his sons turned up to bake the bread, and he’d be roped into helping them until the early hours of the morning.
He’d be back on Saturday at midday to work a 12-hour shift, and back it up with a busy Sunday lunch service. “I’d do about 25 hours in three days, and then I’d go to school all week,” he says.
Pickett has gone on to work under some of the industry’s most talented chefs and in some of the world’s most esteemed restaurants. Today he’s the respected restaurateur behind Estelle, ESP, Lupo and South Yarra eatery Matilda.
He learned the ropes from some of the industry’s best, serving two years of his apprenticeship at Jarmer’s Kitchen, an acclaimed Adelaide restaurant run by Peter Jarmer. In Pickett’s description, Jarmer was the “the Jacques Reymond of Adelaide during the 1980s and ’90s. He was the one who took fine dining to the next level in South Australia.”
Pickett finished his apprenticeship at Salopian Inn in McLaren Vale, 10 minutes from his family’s farm at Kangarilla, before moving to Melbourne. He worked first at the Hotel Windsor and then at Paul Bocuse under legendary French chef Philippe Mouchel, who remains Pickett’s friend and mentor.
In London, Pickett worked at The Square, a two-Michelin star restaurant then run by Philip Howard. “I always thought that I was pretty talented … but it brought me down to earth very quickly,” he says. “I’d never seen that level of intensity. I thought that I worked pretty hard, but at The Square, we worked from seven in the morning to midnight five or six days a week.”
His experience working long hours and enduring the rigours of a high-intensity Michelin star kitchen stood him in good stead when, in 2011, he opened his first restaurant, Estelle. Pickett threw everything he had into the project. “We mortgaged everything … [and] did all the renovations ourselves,” he says. “The day that we opened, we had $84 to our name.”
In the early days, there wasn’t a job that Pickett didn’t do. “I’d do the accounts, the payroll, the super, the bills, the ordering, the cooking, the cleaning – everything,” he says. While he was working at the restaurant until midnight seven days a week, his wife was at home, running the household and caring for their two children, then aged five and three.
He’s grateful for the skills he acquired in his six years at The Point in Albert Park before he launched his own business. It was better than any university degree, he says. Because he oversaw four separate outlets at The Point, each with its own business model, he learned everything he needed to know about business management.
If Pickett has a philosophy, it’s to do the basics well. “I try to remember that we’re in the hospitality industry, that our job is to be hospitable, as silly as that sounds,” he says. “We smile, and we look after our guests. We try to make sure that our product is of the highest quality.
And a final tip? “Buy the best produce and cook it well.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with AAMI Business Insurance, supporter of the Broadsheet Kitchen. AAMI Business Insurance is the trusted insurer of over 60,000 small businesses. You can get a quote online today.