Sam Cromwell is executive chef for the RD Jones Group, based in Adelaide. He is responsible for 12 of the group’s ever-busy kitchens, overseeing more than 100 chefs in Adelaide and Melbourne.
We caught up with him in the group’s flagship venue, the historic The Gully Public House & Garden in the foothills of the Adelaide Hills. His polite and softly spoken demeanour hides a burning passion for excellence and a business sense that is razor-sharp.
What do you love most about your job?
I have the ability to have an impact on a large number of people. We have more than 100 chefs working with us. Since I took over four years ago only four members of staff have moved on. Training is a cost to business. Staff have never been more important than now. To have systems in place that create and maintain our venues to be desirable workplaces is good for everyone.
What systems have you put in place?
Well, for example, we developed a system of recipe cards. Every part of the process is laid out in numbered steps. Every ingredient is weighed to the gram. Even liquids. We do not reduce wet dishes by volume, instead the chefs place the pot on the scale. We measure the reductions of stocks and other dishes by weight. Some of our team have English as a second language and these recipe cards take all the guess work and stress out of food preparation.
The menu in the bistro of The Gully reads like a list of top hits. They are all winners.
We developed that new menu during COVID lockdown last year. We were shut doing takeaway – really, only in reality, to keep our staff on. Something essential to us. I believe that with thought and skill you can make any dish a winner for both the customer and the business, even comfort food. My wife and I were walking the streets letterboxing the menu. I’d cook the dishes with the team and run them up to the bottle shop and hand them over to the customers.
How do you make a winner dish?
We developed dishes that looked and tasted like something a good home cook would serve. But better. Much better. For the roast pork we took pork Scotch fillet and cooked it sous vide with some seasoned apple at a low temperature for 14 hours. For service, it is trimmed, char-grilled and finished in the oven to order. It works for us as the pork costs less than a third of beef fillet. We get another dish by taking the off-cuts, tossing them in flour and deep-frying them until crisp and serving them in a sweet Thai sauce with a Thai salad. Other times of the year we use the pork trim to make a ragu with red wine and serve with hand rolled gnocchi.
How does a chef learn all these skills?
I started in a hotel restaurant in Adelaide, The Sebel, with a strong focus on fine dining. The training was excellent. Our work was recognised in the Nestlé Golden Chef’s Hat Awards several times. I moved on with the restaurant owners to Windy Point, one of Adelaide’s well-known approachable fine dining restaurants with a glass canopy and a view of the city and the stars. I was part of the opening team at Tasca Tapas in Glenelg,I have done estage (internship) at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld and opened the Moseley in Adelaide.