With 25 years of cooking experience under his chef’s whites and a career that’s taken him from family-run Italian restaurants and club bistros to the Fam, Youfoodz Executive Chef Aaron has seen it all when it comes to the food scene. The guy with the goods has graduated 28 apprentices in his heyday and now lends his expertise to the Youfoodz menu. Read on for the scoop on his delicious life and tips on how to make the most of what’s on your plate!
What do you do at Youfoodz?
I’m responsible for the product, developing our menu based on what our customers want – I spend a lot of time looking at reviews and customer feedback. I follow the food from start to finish, from sourcing ingredients to directing how the ingredients are cut, prepared, cooked, and packaged, making sure every element is up to scratch.
That customer feedback is integral. I don’t criticism as an insult; I take it as a way to constantly improve our product. People know food, and we make sure we listen to our customer.
The most important part of my role is making sure the flavours are spot on! I think that’s why people keep coming back.
Where did your passion for food and cooking come from?
My passion for food and cooking comes from the family experience. I remember as a kid after church, the whole family – there was 20 of us – would get together to eat lunch that my grandma had made. I always wanted her to bring out more dishes just so we’d all sit there a bit longer.
Then when we started going to the local Chinese restaurant at Katoomba, NSW, I was always fascinated about what was happening behind the kitchen doors. When I eventually started working in kitchens, the intensity, the speed, and the adrenaline rush of working in kitchens was what drove me too!
At the end of the day though, it comes down to the fact that food is what makes people happy and brings people together.
What and who are you inspired by?
It’s all about the produce! It’s awesome knowing that you can challenge ingredients these days. That’s why I think I suited Youfoodz so well is being able to turn around and go: “This is my ingredient and pantry list, what can I do with it? How can I make it different?”
Watching what my peers are doing also inspires me. Chefs are competitive and quite territorial, so it’s all about taking that classic dish and putting your own edge to it.
I was really hoping to meet Anthony Bourdain one day. He was my food hero; he had this quality about him to be able to connect with people and his team. In his book Kitchen Confidential, he explains the chef life exactly how we were living it. I really found that connection with him.
I’m inspired by Marco Pierre White as well. While he was brutal with his team in the early days, he knew exactly what to do and what not to do. He inspired the people who worked for him to always find ways to be better.
What have been some of your fave YF meals so far?
That’s a tough one. Satay Tenders with Green Chilli Rissoni was one of our biggest sellers for a long time. Now I really enjoy our Schnitty dishes.
I love the Slow-cooked Lamb Shanks too. To get the lamb shank in the container without the bone was a real challenge for us, but we did it, and it’s consistently one of the most popular dishes. The new Steak and Mushroom Sauce dish is something I’m really proud of too!
I’m really excited about the new menu; we’re taking Youfoodz in a completely new direction.
We’ve evolved from what we thought was Youfoodz to what our Fam now expect. We never want to just be doing the same thing. It’s all about evolution and innovation.
Spill the beans on your best chef-approved YF menu hacks!
Boost it with coriander and hit it with fresh chilli. Take it next level with a serve of six prawns pan fried with some sesame oil.
San choy bow it up – serve the mince in lettuce cups, or stir the mince and veg through some fresh noodles!
Make it meaty with some shredded BBQ chicken!
I love this one with a frosty margarita or beer on a Sunday arvo.
Simply toasted is the way to go for some extra crunch. Nothing beats that katsu curry mayo!
Favourite foodie destinations?
- Thailand for hot and smoky street food
- Fiji for its fresh and vibrant food
- Miami for its Cuban influences
- San Francisco for its fantastic for seafood – especially the clam chowder!
When you’re not eating Youfoodz, where do you like to go out to eat?
In Brisbane city, I love Cha Cha Cha for a good steak, and Sake for its modern Japanese food. Close to home, I’m a big fan of Rustic Olive in Redcliffe – good, humble Italian food and it’s BYO!
What are your top tips for entertaining?
- Make sure you’re well prepared; you don’t want to spend the night with your back to your guests.
- If you’re entertaining for a larger group, barbecues are always good, whereas if it’s a small group, I like to cook in the pan or oven.
- Supply the wine that matches the meal you’ve decided on.
- I like to cook meals that you eat with your hands – that’s why I like Thai food and Indian food (chopsticks, bread to mop up sauces etc.)
- Don’t overthink things!
What are your go-to dishes?
I’ve got a reputation for a killer mushroom ravioli. I also do a pretty mean crispy skin duck with house-made pancakes. I bone my duck, lightly boil it, put it on an oven tray, hit it with soy and kecap manis and 5-spice, and roast on 220 degrees in the oven.
I’m also known for my stuffed baby barramundi. I stuff it with jasmine rice (great aromatics) and garlic and ginger, lemon juice, and wrap it in banana leaf. I’ve also mashed banana and pineapple through the rice to take it to the next level! Combine mirin, soy, and finely-sliced chilli and over at the end, along with some toasted coconut!
[Editor’s note: Fam, these insider tips are worth their weight in gold!]
On Saturdays you’ll find me…
I’m a sucker for going out to the local football; I’m a mad Redcliffe Dolphins fan. I’m also socialising with friends, having a few beers at the pub, or at home entertaining.
If I could invite five people living or dead to my dinner party, they’d be…
- Anthony Bourdain
- Robin Williams
- Peter Sellers
- Mick Molloy
- Hunter S Thompson
That would be one heavy party, but I think Mick Molloy would bring things back down to Earth a little bit!
A good old-fashioned barbecue, with marinated meats, salads, and chargrilled veg!
My last meal would be…
I love my crispy pork belly and I’d have it with a simple apple slaw.
I can’t start my days without…
Coffee and saying goodbye to my beagles, Pinky and Bella!
If I wasn’t a chef, I’d be…
I’ve always wanted to be a writer or journalist. I have so much respect for Peter FitzSimons, Anthony Bourdain, and Hunter S Thompson for their ability to tell stories. That’s my style: quirky, out-there, and telling it how it is!