From classroom to corporate chef, Adam Moore’s culinary journey
ADAM MOORE’S role as Corporate Chef for food distribution giant NAFDA represents the latest step in a long and diversified career, the origins of which he can trace back to a classroom question when he was aged just 13.
“We were asked what we wanted to do in 10 years’ time, and that set me thinking about what lay even further ahead – so I decided to do write down a list of goals I wanted to achieve in life. I came up with 283 and I remember they included wanting to be a teacher, work in theatre, and be a chef. I had been studying sound and lighting at school, I love teaching which is part of my family history, and I was always interested in food. So I started thinking about becoming an apprentice chef, completing my apprenticeship, owning my own restaurant one day. That list has been the foundation of my life to this day – I still have the original framed, and as my goals change I cross them out, or as I achieve them I tick them off and have a little celebration every time I reach another milestone. I’d say I’ve gotten through 80 per cent of them now. I do think setting the list down opened up some doors I wouldn’t otherwise have gone through – like the Order of Australia commendation, which wasn’t on my list but which I got through my charity work.”
As Adam progressed through his career, he discovered family connections with the food industry which he hadn’t known were there. “I thought no one in my family was particularly food oriented - it wasn’t until I walked into Arnott’s to take up a role there that my grandmother told me she had worked for Weston’s biscuits, and there on the wall at Arnott’s was a picture with her in it. My other grandmother had worked at Cerebos in food manufacturing for many years, and when I was employed as their corporate chef I met staff members there who had worked with her and remembered her. My grandfather was a butcher and I have his original meat cleaver, so now I realise there was always food in my blood, it just was never talked about at the time.”
Having decided to pursue cooking, Adam sent out some 400 applications for an apprenticeship – “I wanted to hit every venue I could think of, but in the end it came down to just two interviews, with Qantas and Novotel Darling Harbour. I had to do cookups and a physical exam and I went and bought a bottle of champagne and said to my mum, I think there will be cause for celebration, I think I’m going to get a job. Novotel called and told me I had the job and about half an hour Qantas called as well but I had to turn them down.”
Adam spent four years at the Novotel which is where his love and passion of cooking was really ignited. “My head chef was Reinhard Roithner, a very stern Austrian, and the sous chef was Deepak Rao. You could not get a bigger contrast than a European trained master and an Indian chef, so I was very lucky to have the influences from both of them. Reinhard was a hard taskmaster, but my knowledge of food comes from him because he would make us read pages out of Larousse for homework on weekends, then we’d come in on Monday and he’d test us on them. We all had to enter competitions by the hundreds – any competition or scholarship that was going, you were expected to apply for and if you didn’t you’d know about it. We were even expected to know the TAFE course that we were studying before we went into class, because we were meant to lead by example through asking questions, and if we didn’t perform Reinhard would talk about it with the principal. He would hire three or four apprentices every year and he was so dedicated to bringing staff through the process.”
This baptism of fire was continuous and even extended to Adam’s work-free days. “Wednesday was my day off and I lived in Penrith, but Reinhard made me come into the Sydney Fish Market every Wednesday because on Thursday, Friday and Saturday we had a seafood buffet and he would spend about $300,000 every week on seafood – that’s how epic the scale of it was. He would get me to take down all the prices from the different competitors and then arrive at eight am, tell the buyer what we wanted and negotiate the best price. At nine am we would sit down and have a coffee, and from then until lunchtime I would fillet fish on my day off! I did that for the full four years of my apprenticeship and I think I only missed three or four days because I was at TAFE. My love of fish is phenomenal now as a result and I know it inside and out because of that experience. That’s the sort of apprenticeship I had, from a deep mentor, a brilliant man who would spend the time with you.
“Deepak was also a guiding spirit who made sure that apprentices were included as part of the team – we had a massive team of everyone from butchers to ice carvers, back in the heyday of hotels.”
But after four years, things started changing – “The European chefs started retiring, pre-made products started coming into the kitchen, and I had to make a decision about my future. Reinhard got me into a traineeship as a hotel manager with the Accor chain, I did a lot of front of house and became an assistant hotel manager and worked with the group until just before the 2000 Olympics. They were short of chefs within Darling Harbour and asked me if I would go back to being a chef for NBC American media, and I became the personal chef for NBC during the games. It was at that point
I began seeing the media world in a different light and became interested in that. It also showed me that deep down inside me cooking was still what I wanted to do, so I went back to food.”
The next stage of Adam’s career started at Masterfoods where he was employed as a salesperson, but says he got off on the wrong foot. “I was going in thinking I had to sell like a salesperson instead of as a chef. After that, I ended up managing a steakhouse restaurant. That’s where I started to define my broader skillset in terms of sales, marketing and my skills as a chef. I obtained my pastry qualification, my butchery qualification and I was doing a charcuterie course while at the restaurant as well. It was a great learning curve because as you train up the staff you learn a lot about yourself.”
Adam eventually had the opportunity to buy out the owner and later sold the restaurant at a profit. “Then I said, what am I going to do now? And I saw an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald for a person to work in sales at KR Castlemaine. I went and got the job and started back in sales, and all the mistakes I’d made at Masterfoods I learnt from and did the opposite. So I became a much better salesperson and really built up my profile in the business because I was offering solutions to chefs.”
Adam then moved into his first corporate chef role, for George Weston Foods. “This was a fantastic foray which defined what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I was doing product development, sensory research, marketing – all my skills were covered off. I was designing products, getting people excited about what we did, and it really changed my working life.”
From George Weston, Adam went to Campbell Arnott’s where he spent three years in the corporate chef role there. “That’s where I learnt about the retail side – I made a lot of trips to the US and worked with celebrity chefs, it was one of the best jobs I ever had. From there I went to Cerebos where I spent four years in the same sort of role as at George Weston.”
At the same time, Adam threw himself into competition judging – “I think it helped me to feel more connected to the industry, as a corporate chef I wanted to ensure I still had relevance. Through the judging I began being invited to talk about trends and insights and I found myself becoming an influencer on people’s decisions about food. And of course as a corporate chef you are creating products and brands that consumers and end-users are using each and every different. At one point I saw a statistic which said that every seven seconds a consumer is touching a product which I’ve worked on and that blew my mind.”
Of his many positions in the industry, the corporate chef role is clearly the one Adam most relishes. “As soon as I had the jacket on people started coming to me for advice. At Campbell Arnott’s and George Weston, the R&D side was very extensive and that’s why when I create a formula or product today I know what needs to go into it. And at the same time I’ve been able to work on some of the biggest brands in this country and potentially the world.”
Adam also sees mentoring as a key responsibility. “I’ve been privileged to have had lots of mentors in my career, so that is something I want to be involved with in the future. If these young kids are not tapping me on the shoulder and asking questions, then I must not be doing the right thing. If they’re not engaged or interested, I need to ask myself what have I done wrong?
“What I love most is being involved in the creation of brands and products that will carry into Australia’s longterm future. Australia is very lucky in that we have so many access points to great produce, but we’re losing some of our brand identity. When I talk about our future and food security, I point out that we really need to have food production that stays in our country.
“I want people to know that their food comes from a good place, and at the same time I want to encourage the next generation to come through. It’s important that people want jobs in our industry – if that’s not the case, we’re going to be in trouble, so we need to make sure. In a sense the industry is futureproofed, because no matter how smart machines get they can’t smell, they can’t taste, and they can’t touch, and everybody has to eat.
“I basically see myself today as a food advocate – I want to reach out to companies and governments and make a positive contribution to the future of food. To do that I need to maintain and grow my knowledge as well as help build everyone else’s. The ultimate aim is to ensure that when you pick up a piece of food it actually tastes like it’s supposed to.”