Meet the chef: David Pugh Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

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What do you have for breakfast?

A Cavendish banana, two organic Weet-Bix with milk and honey and a cup of Dilmah tea.

What are the main challenges of working for a convention centre?

Creating menus suitable for two or for 4,000 which look and taste exquisite and extraordinary. Food wastage is a major concern today. We have reduced our food waste by 85 per cent, converting it to nutrient-rich organic fertiliser called SoilFood which is then distributed to Brisbane city parklands.

What’s the biggest conference you’ve had to cater for?

The 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) for 3000 people. The number increased by 1000, a week out from the conference.

How did you land your current job?

In November 2016 I closed my restaurant, Restaurant Two in Brisbane city. I fielded several offers, including one from my friend Martin Latter at the BCEC asking if I would be interested in a new role as Executive Sous Chef in the soon to be announced dietary kitchen. I accepted and in 2018 when Martin changed roles I was asked to apply for the Executive Chef role which was a dream come true.

What’s your USP?

I am a chef with extensive fine dining restaurant experience, so I am very food focused. It also offers something of a fresh approach and is a little unusual in convention centre catering.

What was your first job?

A pie factory in Auckland, New Zealand, where I packed hot pies off the line for the stores. My first job as an apprentice chef was at a local Motor Inn also in Auckland. On my first day I had to peel 60kg of large brown onions. I did cry a bit that day.

What has been the most unusual request in your career?

One that I made to a chef in a restaurant. I asked him to serve freshly caught snapper for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and I said I would supply the snapper free of charge and told him he could still charge his menu price. He agreed and on the morning of the dinner my dad, brother and I went out fishing and caught enough Snapper to feed all the guests. We scaled filleted and portioned the fish for the chef.

Favourite restaurant in the world?

My favourite restaurant in the world is Wasabi on the river at Noosa, a popular tourist resort on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. They craft beautiful Japanese-inspired cuisine using local seafood and their own farmed fresh vegetables and herbs. The experience there is always evolving.

What annoys you most about the catering industry?

It’s not so much what annoys me but more of a challenge for venues today and that is the growth in the numbers of special dietary requests for events. It can be up to 20% or 30% of all meals served at an event.  At BCEC we have tackled this challenge head on, establishing the first dedicated dietary kitchen in an Australian convention centre, which has been an outstanding success.

Favourite/worst ingredient

My favourite ingredient is line caught snapper from a place called 1770 north of Bundaberg. I have caught thousands of these fish over the years and I just love the flavour and texture. My worst ingredient is tripe, which I had to eat as a kid cooked in a white sauce. The coup de grace came when I was walking to school aged about 12yrs and had to cross about 30kg of tripe in the middle of the road fallen from the back of a butcher’s truck. I was scarred for life!

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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