Spanish born Alfonso Alés is the Executive at Jonah’s Restaurant and Boutique Hotel, Whale Beach.
Along with his team of skilled sous-chefs, Alfonso will introduce a new menu in June 2011 drawing on southern European influences for guests to enjoy while taking in the unsurpassable views of the Pacific Ocean and Whale Beach for which Jonah’s is renowned.
Drawing on his Spanish heritage and international culinary experience, Alés brings a personal style steeped in the love of simplicity, purity of taste, respect for the season and sustainability of produce to the menu. Diners will be spoilt for choice with the introduction of a new a la carte and a revised terrace menu.
“Our goal is to develop a menu where fresh, seasonal ingredients take centre stage. We also want to create a sense of community among our diners, whether they are guests at Jonah’s or locals from the area,” says Alés.
“We are proud to welcome Alfonso Alés to the Jonah‟s family”, says Jonah‟s General Manager Brad Daymond.
“Alfonso’s talent and passion promises to take diners on a unique culinary journey.”
Boasting an impressive résumé, Alfonso Alés arrived to Australian shores via some of the world’s best restaurants including El BulliHotel with Ferran Adrià, Eugénie-les-Bains with Michel Guérard, and Château Cordeillan Barges with Thierry Marx. Most recently, Alfonso was Head Chef with renowned Australian Chef Tony Bilson at Bilson’s in Sydney.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Perfectionist, (a bit) obsessive, zealous.
What is your life motto? The real profession of a man is to find the way to himself. (Hermann Hesse)
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? Success is subjective – it’s very personal. I think I’ve been very successful the very moment I chose my career, because I found a passion, I found a lifestyle and something that can be a way of living as well and not just a way of making a living. The journey is the real destination for me, it’s not about the awards you get; it’s about having a real appreciation for what you are doing each day and being happy you chose the right path.
How much time and effort did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Endless hours. Being a chef is a lifestyle, you don’t switch being a chef off for a second, if you’re not in the kitchen, you’re constantly reading about chefs, or restaurants around in the industry, or thinking about it or talking about it, and I obviously have a passion for it. There’s no easy learning. It’s always going to be hard, whether it’s the hours, or by sacrificing other things in your life or time for relaxing.
It’s not that I’m obsessed or that I have a one tracked mind. I’m also a very keen surfer, I love practising Aikido, I like reading and culture and many things, but being a chef is a big part of me.
What are the challenges in your line of work? The biggest challenge is the transmission of what you know and want to achieve to the people around you, to your team, how to get them to achieve what you expect from them and also to meet their expectations so they are motivated to work – it’s a two way road. Another challenge and also the most rewarding, is finding a way to help shape someone in your team to become a better professional, because that helps me to become a better professional too.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? You can’t progress if you don’t make a mistake – that is the number one rule. To progress you need to make mistakes and there is no way around that. I’ve made many mistakes in my life and career that have taught me invaluable lessons and helped me grow.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Michel Guerard, a 3*Michelin Chef and my mentor, once told me that you can’t really forget that the restaurant and to be a chef is a business. You have to have a clear view of what you are trying to do and at the end of the day you are working and cooking to give a service, it’s called hospitality and its about serving others; it’s not about yourself and what you would like to do and what is your taste – sometimes you have to sacrifice your taste for the taste of the majority.
You have to aim to please the most amount of people, but with your own personality. You don’t have to sell yourself and do things you don’t like, but you need to know if what you are doing is feeding your ego or serving the customers. That’s something chefs (especially young chefs) need realise as they see themselves in the world of media and celebrities, you can get trapped in the fake and plastic. You can be creative, passionate and dedicated but it is a business and you have to make people happy. That’s the point.
In your mind, is formal training essential? You can become one of the best chefs in the world without anyone teaching you how to cook, as long as you really put in the effort in finding it out for yourself. You don’t have to go to a school to become a really good chef, what you need to do is to question yourself every moment: how can I do this better? How can I do things quicker, more efficient or more practical and more professional? This can happen by going to a school, or in a restaurant or on your own with the commitment and reading – there is so much access to information these days.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Yes, mentorship is important and everyone needs masters in their life along their way. Mentorship is a way of giving back to the industry, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a chef to chef, it could be anybody. You’re father could be a mentor, your friend could be a mentor, as long as it’s someone that gives you good advice and it’s going to help you grow as a person and a professional.
What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? The first thing you need to do when you come into a kitchen, the number one rule is: to be humble and to open your mind and accept a bit from everyone and over time you will get to a level you will analyse what’s good advice. As a student you need to learn to accept and to accept that you have a lot to learn.
Number two is: be disciplined, to be committed and to be engaged. If you choose to be a chef you need engage with that decision and not say oh, let’s see how we go and change careers. It’s a marriage in a way. You can get a divorce if it doesn’t suit you, but at least give it a shot and be committed and be ready to be generous – with your time, patience and effort.
Remember houses are built from the foundation and not from the roof, so have a good knowledge of the basics of cooking if you want to develop a good technique in your cooking, otherwise you’re just going to be shooting aimlessly and trying to do something good without knowing what’s going to happen. Anyone can do a superb dish on one occasion, the problem lies when you have to do a superb dish feeding 50-100, twice a day, 7 days a week. A restaurant that is consistent is better than any other restaurant because it delivers the quality. You don’t have to aim too high, as long as it’s consistent.
What kept you going when you weren’t at your best? Everyone gets moments of doubt and you’re not sure that what you’re doing is right. The thing that keeps me going is the love for the profession and for being able to make people happy by doing something that I really love – that’s the encouragement. You’re not doing it for the money, for the celebrity or for your ego, rather to make people happy and to give you a lifestyle that allows you to do the things you love. It’s nice when you hear people say, “oh that was the best meal of my life” and its not looking at it as a big achievement that you want a medal at the end of the night (not for me anyway), it’s like all this effort was worth it. It’s not a competition with anyone; the only competition is with myself, and how to become a better professional and a better person along the way.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? No, I don’t think so. If it’s by luck it won’t last because nothing that is worth it is easy. it’s about determination, commitment and hard work.