Sunday, July 03, 2011

Exclusive: Behind The Scenes at The Point Albert Park

WARNING: The following contains many gratuitous images of food porn. It may cause you to become hungry, drool or worse still, snack on junk food. No responsibility is taken by this website and you proceed at your own risk

The Point Albert Park restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne. Executive chef Scott Pickett, is one of my favourite chefs. So needless to say that when I was offered an opportunity to watch a fully operational Saturday night dinner service in the kitchen, I quickly accepted. You may remember reading about my kitchen stint at Steer Bar and Grill, but let me tell you, this insight into The Point further opened my eyes about restaurants.

Let me give you an overview of the restaurant's operation on a Saturday night. The main a la carte dining area seats about 80 people, and it's always booked out on a Saturday night. They have a wedding reception upstairs, which serves up to 200 diners, and two function areas downstairs, which can also do another 80-100 each. It's a pretty full on service. For this particular night that I was there, the restaurant was full, there was a wedding function and one other function downstairs. I believe all up 350 people needed to be fed that night. There are 12 chefs all up in the two kitchens (9 upstairs in a la carte, 3 downstairs for function). All hot food is prepared in the upstairs kitchen.

You can see how crazy it can potentially get, and as I witnessed, it does get to a slight controlled/chaotic balance that is teetering and can go either way. Fortunately, as captain Scott is well experienced, the ship rarely capsizes and always sails away safely into the night to fight another day.

Let me give you a history of Scott Pickett's very full life. He's a Melbournian by birth, but his family moved to South Australia for his father's work. Having left school at age 14, he always knew that he wanted to be a chef. It sounds rather cliche saying that in the Masterchef age, but Scott actually followed that path, rather than trying to find a shortcut through the glamour of TV. He started his working life as a kitchenhand in a local winery restaurant. For him, while others find the kitchen quite hectic, he said that even at that young age, he felt "at home" in the kitchen and there was an "inner peace". The kitchen was what he coined his "stainless steel asylum".

From that point, Scott went on to learn his craft in many kitchens under the tutelage of many wonderful chefs. His philosophy was to always stay at each kitchen for at least 2-3 years, so that you can learn how a place operates and then start to put your own mark on it. He learnt from some wonderful teachers such as Peter Jarma and Phillipe Mouchel, who taught him that you had to be disciplined, dedicated and professional. Stints overseas at the two Michelin restaurant The Square with Philip Howard taught him to have an intensity and work ethic while also improving his cooking skills. When Scott finally came back from overseas, he worked with the likes of Donovan Cooke. His appointment as executive chef at The Point finally resulted and he has helped the restaurant flourish to two hat status. His latest project also includes The Estelle, which is a smaller eatery that he owns and Ryan Flaherty is cooking at.

What I've learnt from Scott is that to make it in the food industry takes a hell of a lot of hard work, to perfect one's skills both in terms of technical knowledge and kitchen skills, and to lead and drive a team. More on that a bit later where I'll share my observations for the night.

Scott is ably supported by his team, starting with head chef Jade and sous chef Ben. Jade started a course in hotel management but found that he was loving the cooking aspect far more so decided to become a chef. He originates from South Africa but saw an opportunity to come work in Australia and took it. Ben always thought he would be an industrial designer but a chance illness from one of the chefs at a local restaurant that he was doing shifts at meant he got to cook, and he fell in love with it.

Pastry chef Sharon, and chef de partie Andrew and Simon all love their job, even when I asked them about the crazy hours and emotional and physical rollercoaster that they're on each night. For Sharon, I also asked her what it's like to be a woman in a mostly male domain. She personally hasn't found any issues but did agree with me when I said that some women tend to overcompensate and try to act more manly.

Jonathan is a "mature age" apprentice. He decided to leave a corporate job to start an apprenticeship where he's making $300 a week. I think most corporate workers would think $300 a day is only medium pay, and my lawyer friend is making $300 an hour. It is a weird perspective sometimes. Michele is from Italy and is traveling in Australia for a year and working in various kitchens. Lastly, Daniel too gave up a very well paid corporate job because he decided he wanted to work in the kitchen as that was where his passion was. I told him he was crazy, but respected him for it. Take note Masterchef contestants. The next time you cry into the camera claiming that food is your dream and that Masterchef is your way into it, suck it up and have the conviction to back up your words. Take the lead of Jonathan and Daniel and quit your jobs and start an apprenticeship in a commercial kitchen. Apologies to Steve, Stephanie and Mohan who I didn't get round to interviewing.

Onto the food. Again, let me apologise for some of the shots as obviously it was a functioning restaurant and I took snaps as quick as I could without getting into people's way. Also, heat lamps are great for heating food but terrible for white balance in photos. I tried to fix the photos post editing but my skills are still lacking.

Having eaten many times at The Point, I knew that the food was delicious and very intricate, but to see it being made was a whole other experience. The Charcuterie Platter that I always order took quite a while to prepare. I thought that it might be pre-done and waiting in the fridge, but nope, it was made on the spot. Again, I tasted this dish on the night and it was as good as ever.

Salad of King salmon, watercress, crumbed sweetbreads and snails

Honey glazed heirloom carrots and pine nuts
Poached egg, soft polenta, black truffle and brioche crumbs
Garden salad, French vinaigrette

Beef appetiser
Pea soup appetiser
Western Australian marron bolognese

For me, watching the mains get served was the most insightful. Many elements (meat, sauce, salads, condiments) had to come together at exactly the same time for not only each dish to work, but the whole table's meals to be served at once. At Steer Bar and Grill, each station had their own docket printer, and I noticed straight away this wasn't the case at The Point. I asked Scott about this and he said that was the first thing he got rid of. There was only one docket machine, which was the one he had. Everyone else in the kitchen had to listen to him. I was doubtful how well this would work, but I was shown that this should be the way in all kitchens. Just like a football team has a coach and a captain that the team listens to, so should the kitchen. Scott called out the timings of the items and the chefs would all respond to acknowledge that they heard their section's order. Scott said the lack of a machine meant that his chefs concentrate on what he says rather than giving a casual yes and rely on looking at the dockets themselves and trying to work out the timings without knowing exactly what the other sections were doing, usually resulting in mis-timed elements.

In terms of the layout of the restaurant and the efficiency of it, there were only a couple of minor issues that I could find, such as the placement of one bench that blocked the flow of traffic a little and some of the steak condiments could be placed differently so the wait staff can get it themselves. Otherwise, it was a very efficient kitchen and in contrast to what I saw at Steer, where I identified over 30 refinements that the kitchen could make to increase efficiency. I was also surprised at how clean the kitchen operated. I had fallen under the assumption that you just let fallen items stay on the ground because that's what happened at Steer. I was sure this wouldn't work well in a busy kitchen and my views were reinforced when watching The Point's kitchen. You pick up items that fall to the ground as it's unsafe and also restricts pathways.

Onkaparinga Valley venison, chestnuts, baby beets and black salsify
I got to try this venison and it was so tender and delicious. I was impressed with how Scott was able to check whether it was cooked to the right temperature inside using the back of his hands. That's experience showing as the thermometer proved him right every time.

Aylesbury duck, burnt mandarin puree, heirloom carrots and fennel

600g pasture fed Cape Grim Chateaubriand, mushrooms, bacon lardons, shallots and spinach

Wild barramundi, crisp potato collar, sauce gribiche and horseradish
Beef Tasting Plate, individual portions of Sher Wagyu, Hopkins River grain
and Cape Grim pasture fed beef

Slow cooked Wagyu beef cheek, potato souffle and poached quince
The cheeks were sublime and so unctuous. They melted in my mouth and I really liked the pairing with the poached quince.

Quail lasagne and pine mushroom consomme
Steaks, cooked to order

The steaks are one element that The Point is famous for and they certainly churned a lot of these out all night, each one cooked exactly to order. I did not see a single dish of anything come back into the kitchen, extremely impressive.

Compressed watermelon, cranberry jelly, mint granita and goats cheese sorbet
I was so fully after eating so much all night but I managed to sneak in a bit of dessert. I tried some macarons, not too bad, and the passionfruit curd, which was excellent. This dessert below also looked really good, and I must go back to try soon.

So that concludes all the food part of this post. It was indeed a wonderful night and I saw the full operation of the kitchen. What I didn't photograph but was also occurring on the benches around the kitchen were the plating up of hundreds of plates of food for the wedding and function. It was like a well oiled production line where everyone got involved, driven by Scott, and started plating the wedding food at such a fast pace. There were wait staff swarming around the kitchen all night carrying food around. The energy during the 3-4 hours of service was so high and pulsating. However, once things started to slow down, I felt my body suddenly drained. The adrenaline was all used up and the heat and lack of water really caught up with me. I said to Scott that I likened it to running a marathon each night. There's so much concentration needed and the constant changes in activities really tires the mind. I can't believe that people will do this every night, willingly. It really is a job of dedication and I really respect all the chefs for their hard work.

Externally, I watched the dining area and it was peaceful and serene as usual. Each time I ducked my head out to that area, and then back into the kitchen, I couldn't help but laugh. It's like the analogy of the duck floating gracefully across the water when the feet below are flapping madly. Next time I, and I also encourage you, are at a restaurant, if the food is good, make sure you tell the waiters to compliment the chefs as they deserve every bit of praise.

I would like to thank The Point, Scott and the whole team, front and back of house, for allowing me such an insight into their world. I'm happy to say that I will be back at The Point often, but always as a diner as the kitchen is far too much work for me. A special thanks to Julia from Tink PR for helping to arrange this exclusive event for me. Keep up the great work guys, I'll be seeing you soon.

My previous reviews of the restaurant
Review 1
Review 2
Review 3
Review 4


  1. Oh my God THAT looks DELICIOUS!!!!

    I love this line:

    "Take not Masterchef contestants. The next time you cry into the camera claiming that food is your dream and that Masterchef is your way into it, suck it up and have the conviction to back up your words."

    Brilliant post!


  2. Loving this post! Well done Thanh!

  3. See.. I would eat all of that. If you have seen the back of the kitchen and would still go eat there it says something. Front & back are such different things.

  4. That's right Kat. Even after seeing how the kitchen operates, I'm still willing to go, which says a lot. They work very clean.

  5. This is a great restaurant and one of my favourites. You did a very nice and good review. Maybe i will see you there sometime.

  6. Wow, you weren't kidding about the food porn!! The Charcuterie Platter looks so amazing!

  7. I love the hectic environment but hate the smell...!
    Loving all the food. One day I will make it down. :)

  8. Penny, I really hate the smell of the frying oil too. I can't stand that oil smell.