Rawsons Restaurant at The Epping Club recently took out the silver medal at the prestigious Saviour Australia National Catering & Restaurant Awards for Excellence.  The Drop sat down with internationally acclaimed Executive Chef Nick Whitehouse to discover his food philosophies and discuss how food is the driving force behind the Club’s business success.

Prior to joining the Epping Club, UK born Chef Whitehouse has had a notable career, learning his art at two London Michelin Star restaurants. He even did a stint as the personal chef for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their UK tour.

Nick made his way to Australia in 2009 working at Koi, Wildfire and the famed Peter Kuruvita’s Flying Fish restaurant at Pyrmont. He also appeared on the local TV show MasterChef “The Professionals”.

Nick had never worked in a club before joining the Epping Club a year ago, but was attracted by the vision club CEO Peter Saez had for food operations and the creation of a true destination restaurant.  He said it has been an educational process for both the customers and the chefs alike, but their strategies are paying off.

Nick is a passionate chef and lives by two mantras when it comes to food – strategy and innovation or point of difference.  He says great food doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money, just brain power and some labour.

He is intent on building a great kitchen and restaurant team. He wants longevity from his crew and their total buy-in.  He believes in taking his chefs out of their comfort zone – encouraging them to try and test out new ideas, new products, new flavours and new ways of doing things, every day. In return, he backs and supports those chefs to take the next steps in their career paths.

Nick recently created a ‘Young Guns Dinner’ event where every chef on his team got to create a dish on a degustation menu.  Each chef had to design, cost and manage their dish from concept through to creation with Nick overseeing operations and troubleshooting flavours to ensure the menu flowed for diners.  Each chef was recognised, not only on the menu but also personally introduced to the diners throughout the meal.  It is a great concept and was a huge success, engaging both patrons and chefs in a celebration of food.

Nick’s kitchen is also very waste conscious and he continually encourages his chefs to develop ways to use every bit of produce as much as possible. That could mean creating at least four dishes from cut off leek tops to reimagining fish bones and scales, but all chefs in the team are continually challenged and engaged.

In keeping with Nick’s philosophies, all the food at Rawsons is made from scratch. They even churn their own butter. The only exception is the bread they get from a local organic bakery.

Dining at Rawsons is an experience – from the moment you walk through the door, you can feel this is no ordinary “club” restaurant.  Front of house staff are hand-picked and trained to be part of that experience, totally in tune with the restaurant’s concepts and highly knowledgeable about each night’s menu as well as the notable wine list.

The most popular dish on the menu is also the restaurants most profitable – a house-smoked rump cap. A nice touch (and smart marketing technique), see staff offering a tasting of this beautiful beef dish for first-time diners if they haven’t ordered it from the menu.  Nick also makes a few soufflés each dinner service to be used as a similar bonus tasting. It is a low-cost thing to do, but has a massive impact on the patron’s experience, creating a significant “wow” factor and a memorable moment and almost guaranteeing a return visit.

One of the other innovative things they do at Rawson’s is a chefs table. A discreetly camouflaged room behind a wall of wines houses a special dining experience within the restaurant.  People can either ask the chef to create them something specific based on a theme or leave it up to Chef to come up with something uniquely spectacular, just for them. It’s highly immersive and a very hands-on food experience that allows dinners to get “up close and personal” with the Executive Chef.

Apart from Rawsons, Nick also oversees the clubs Brasserie & Events Centre.  Events are an important and very profitable part of the Epping Club business model.  Catering for weddings, school formals and functions, conferences and other corporate events, food is again a major driver of this business arm.

Marketing Manager Melissa Gillooly said Rawsons has really opened up the market for them and attracts a lot of non-traditional club goers.  She has even created a loyalty program, solely based on food and beverage.

Melissa believes in spending the money to get exceptional food shots and says that Instagram has been a primary component of their marketing success. Apart from weddings, high school formals have become a profitable business line.  It has built close relationships and repeat business, were the club understands and even pre-empts customers needs.

Melissa also says that wine degustation menus every two months or so, help to build their brand and introduce the product to new customers.

So, what’s in store for Rawsons and the Epping Club in the future? Chef Nick is excited by the prospect that his projects are now fully staffed and looks forward to developing new dining experiences.  On his wish list is a dessert bar, a sushi bar, a more segmented dining space incorporating casual benches as well as more intimate fine dining spaces. Nick is also keen to explore things like a roof garden as well as a casual, takeaway option.

We look forward to more great things to come, as well as many more awards, for the Epping Club.