Niland speaks at Sydney MAD Monday, opening first with his background. At eight years old Niland was diagnosed with cancer of the brain. As a father of two today, he shudders at what his parents must have gone through, but in the face of adversity, Niland learned resilience. That is, in his own words, the ability to copen when things are going wrong.
Niland speaks of his early experience at Steven Hodgson’s Fish Face restaurant, where on his first day, he was thrown in thrown in at the deep end when the head chef stormed out of the kitchen leaving it to a 19-year-old Niland to take over service.
It was the beginning of a mentorship with Hodsgon who shared his life’s work with Niland telling him all about fish – from how to scale and gut a fish correctly to the miniscule details of the difference in flavour profiles between species.
All he learned he brought to his own restaurant Saint Peter, which he opened initially with three chefs. When it became apparent that the demands were too much for such a small kitchen team, he hired another three chefs in an attempt to strike a better work life balance for his employees.
With a higher wage bill and more resources at his disposal he developed a system of using the entire fish in his kitchen – from gill to tail. He was able to offset higher costs by reducing waste and increasing profit, but more importantly he was able to see his philosophy work in the kitchen.
So successful was this approach, that Niland opened Fish Butchery, next door, a way to share the quality fish with his customer but also to expand the kitchen space.
Niland continues to test himself and aim for ever-higher standards at Saint Peter, the difficult start to his life has served him well. Resilience sustains this chef through the adversity of restaurant life at the top of the game.