A former public servant who swapped international relations for home-grown cuisine has been named a finalist in the Best New Talent category of the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards.
Three years ago, Bar Rochford head chef Louis Couttoupes spent a day in the kitchen of a Paris restaurant, terrified yet thrilled, and came home to Canberra knowing where his future was.
And it wasn’t writing briefing papers in Prime Minister and Cabinet offices.
He got in touch with someone he knew when the bar in the Melbourne Building was opening in March 2016 and started at the bottom washing dishes, but was also told to bring a nice pair of pants so he could be a waiter on Friday and Saturday nights.
Over time, he spent more and more time in the kitchen until, when the head chef left, owner Nick Smith tapped him to take over.
For Couttoupes (no, he’s not French but from Greek extraction) it was an instinctive feeling in the kitchen that made him feel at home.
He grew up in the inner west of Sydney in a family that always loved food and cooking, and he started exploring and testing the boundaries at home.
It was a friend who really set him on the path to change and gave him a new focus on food.
“She saw something in me and encouraged me to try to do something different,” he said. “She talked me into the Paris kitchen and expanded my horizons when it came to food,” he said.
Muse, chief critic and fan club – he says he wouldn’t be cooking without her.
This willingness to experiment is reflected in an inventive, innovative but unpretentious menu that relies heavily on the quality of locally grown produce.
“We work locally with producers who grow really great stuff. We try to work seasonally with them and because we get such great produce, we don’t need to be fancy – we just cook it honestly and simply,” he said.
The kitchen is also a place where ideas are encouraged to percolate and other staff, who have also come from different walks of life, contribute.
And Rochford is primarily a bar where a broad range of clientele come to have a good time.
“What we’re trying to do is break down the barrier between somewhere you come and have a great time with mates, or the DJ comes out when they’re playing soul on a Saturday night, we want to retain that, but we also want to be somewhere where people can come and just settle in with out of town friends or mum and dad on a special occasion and have decent quality food,” Couttoupes said.
Vegetables have a strong presence on the menu and Couttoupes takes pride in doing the unexpected with them and creating new experiences for people.
It fits with the Rochford culture where the wines aren’t from the usual suspects and the cocktails are classic mixes with a twist.
Being a finalist came as a shock to Couttoupes, who acknowledged the great things being done around the country but also here in Canberra in recent years.
“Hospitality in Canberra has changed beyond recognition, places are opening up with really creative, interesting guys and girls doing amazing things,” he said.
Winners will be announced and celebrated at an exclusive awards event held on Wednesday 22 August in Sydney at the celebrated French brasserie Restaurant Hubert, and published in the new edition of Gourmet Traveller’s annual Restaurant Guide, presented by Vittoria Coffee, on sale with the September issue on Thursday 23 August, 2018.
Three finalists have been announced in each of the seven hotly contested categories: New Restaurant of the Year, Bar of the Year, Best New Talent, Wine List of the Year, Maître d’ of the Year, Sommelier of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year.
The coveted Restaurant of the Year award will be announced on the night, along with the peer-voted Chef of the Year and Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality.
New Restaurant of the Year
- Rosetta, Sydney, NSW
- Laura, Mornington Peninsula, Vic
- Bert’s, Sydney, NSW
Bar of the Year
- Jacoby’s, Sydney, NSW
- Galah, Melbourne, Vic
- Liberté, Albany, WA
Best New Talent
- Oliver Edwards, The Summertown Aristologist, Adelaide Hills, SA
- Ali Currey-Voumard, The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery, New Norfolk, Tas
- Louis Couttoupes, Bar Rochford, ACT
Wine List of the Year
- Franklin, Hobart, Tas
- Gerald’s Bar, Melbourne, Vic
- Blackbird, Brisbane, Qld
Maître d’ of the Year
- The team at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Melbourne, Vic
- Michael Nicolian, Continental, Sydney, NSW
- Sarah Feehan, D’Arenberg Cube, McLaren Vale, SA
Sommelier of the Year
- Emma Farrelly, State Buildings, Perth, WA
- Ned Brooks, Paper Bird, Sydney, NSW
- Jane Lopes, Attica, Melbourne, Vic
Regional Restaurant of the Year
- Igni, Geelong, Vic
- Brae, Birregurra, Vic
- Laura, Mornington Peninsula, Vic