It’s not your everyday career move: from a one-hatted French restaurant of undeniable pedigree to serving food at the local pub.
Yet chef Gavin Forman is unfazed. In fact, he’s excited at the prospect of taking the food at Shenanigans at the Imperial to a whole new level.
If the name is familiar, Forman was the man behind the Old George and Dragon Restaurant in East Maitland, for years the city’s fine dining benchmark, renowned for its succulent slow cooked dishes and lip smacking sauces.
“I was asked to come on board and lift the level of the food, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s a project … to take something and make it better.
“It has taken a few weeks but I’ve got the guys here saying ‘we’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over’, and that’s the goal.
“There’s a revolution in pub food going on – it’s happened in Sydney, it’s happening in Newcastle, and now we’re doing it here.
“I don’t care what other pubs are doing. That’s their business. We’re not in competition with them. As far as I’m concerned all we have to concentrate on is putting out the best food we can.”
In short, Forman is making this a place people want to come to eat.
He’s aware that by going up market (by pub standards anyway), he’s going to upset some people, but he believes there is a growing food culture in Maitland and that the city is ready for the change.
“We still do two schnitzels, but these days we’re buying the chickens ourselves, doing our own breadcrumbs and so on. Our chips are twice cooked, our sauces are all made here.
“We’re taking pride in what we put up, but it certainly takes more time.
“People see shows on television like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules, and they know good food when they see it. And that’s what we want to give them.
“But we also have a couple of burgers and some simpler dishes – but still made well.”
So, does that mean the slow cooked food he was renowned for is a thing of the past? Not quite.
“Funny you ask, because I’ve just finished a slow braised beef cheek that I’m going to put on our specials board and see how it goes,” he said.
“I want the specials to be just that – a bit special. The beef cheek will probably be $32 to $35 … something like that. My most expensive dish is $39 for a 400 gram rib eye with the bone in.
“They’re a bit more expensive, but they’re there for people who are happy to pay that bit more for a quality meal.”
So what about the wine list. Is that next on the agenda?
“I’d like to have a bit of a play with that,” he said.
Watch this space.