Inside the newly re-furbished Casino Canberra is modern restaurant Natural 9, serving up perfectly executed dishes full of flavour and fine dining class. To get a sneak peek into the inner workings of Natural 9, we caught up with Executive Chef David Black.
What’s an average day like for you as Natural 9 Executive Chef?
I get in the door at 9am, get everybody organised with all their prep, and then we get set up for lunch and work through the service for both the casino floor and the restaurant. Next up the second team comes in and together we work through the afternoon doing prep and getting ready for dinner service – there’s two different menus for lunch and dinner. We knock that out and finish up around 11pm but we continue cooking for the casino until it shuts at 4am.
Where do you start when coming up with a new menu or dish idea?
Inspiration can come at any time. I stand in the kitchen writing notes about how we can change things and I’m constantly thinking about how we can make things better.
What dish are you most excited about on the current menu?
Probably the Sake Citrus Cured Salmon with cucumber, lime sauce, sake and rose jelly, cream fraiche and grilled baguette – it’s colour and vibrancy, and the combination of the citrus and the sake is just amazing.
How did you get in to the industry?
When I was at college at Hawker, I’m a Canberra boy, they did a pilot program for school-based apprentices which I partook in, and when I was in years 11 and 12 I went to CIT and did one day a week there doing the Certificate III in Commercial Cookery. Growing up my uncle was also a chef and I remember he use to cook up a lot of seafood at Christmas time and so it kind of just evolved from there.
Have you always aspired to become a chef?
Not always, I’m very hands-on and I like to think creatively so if I wasn’t doing this I would probably be doing something like woodwork. But I love cooking, I really enjoy the industry and the culture. The hours are heavy duty but if you enjoy what you do it’s really good and you just find yourself surrounded by really positive people.
What is your stand-out career highlight?
About 18 months ago Tourism Australia invited me along with 80 other industry influences to Tasmania – reviewers, chefs, TV personalities. Heston Blumenthal came over before he launched Fat Duk in Melbourne and there I got to cook with the most amazing local produce. I got invited to a dinner too with Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore and more – that was definitely a highlight.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
Peter Gilmore, Ben Shewry and Mark Best – the kind of guys that, when I was a young apprentice they were lighting up the industry and now they’re the pinnacles of the industry. Cooking is so diverse so I like to be across what everyone is doing.
What sets Canberra’s food scene apart from that of other city’s?
Canberra is always working forward and I think that’s a great thing. It’s really come a long way in the last five years. Places like Temporada and EightySix have both had a big influence, and then you’ve got Aubergine which has always been on top of its game. We’re really advancing considering our smaller population. Just give us a couple more years and I think we’ll start to really challenge the likes of Sydney and Melbourne.
Why is it so important to support the region’s local growers and farmers?
We are so lucky to have the freshest ingredients at our doorstep. Just out of Canberra there’s Terra Preta Truffles not far from Braidwood. We’ve got some of their truffles here at the moment and it’s just great to support and celebrate each other. It’s hard to find the right suppliers and having them be consistent, and building that relationship.
Your passion lies within Australian modern cuisine, why that direction?
It’s just where my career has taken me, but I love being at Natural 9 now and working with these beautiful Asian flavours. I was actually brought up around a European style of cooking and trained with a French chef. Given how much I enjoy this industry, that’s why I took on the challenge of coming here and cooking with Food and Beverage Manager Chad Ogden in the Asian style. It’s bringing our two worlds together.
Located inside the Casino Canberra, Natural 9 is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Book your table today on 02 6257 7074 to sample the menu.