Words by Sean Melrose, interview by Shawn Sheather.
Fink Group Creative Director, John Fink.
Ever wondered who makes the moves behind Australia’s top
restaurants? Take a peek behind the curtain as we catch up with Fink Group
Creative Director and filmmaker John Fink. The Fink Group’s restaurants have
been a staple on national and international top restaurant lists, resulting in
a trophy cabinet that’s ready to burst. Perhaps the most well-known of the
group’s venues is Peter Gilmore led Quay; though there are a number of other
exceptional, stand-out venues lining the east coast.
We ask John about the Australian culinary scene, film
making, cooking at home and Christmas dinner.
Peter Gilmore outside of Quay. Photo: Nikki To.
AGFG: It looks like you’ve
got a really great support system in your parents and a couple of great mentors
who have positioned you to be creative in life. What do you draw on from your
Fink: Mum’s a filmmaker and Dad is obviously in the restaurant
game, so I learned different things from each. My Dad was working with his Dad,
so it’s almost by osmosis. We work very closely, we’re in the same office, so
we work very closely together on a daily basis, it’s very connected.
AGFG: How does it go at
Christmas time, who ends up catering?
Fink: Generally Dad’s down the South Coast around Christmas time,
I generally try and keep out of trouble’s way. If we do have a do, we’ll put a
paella on or have a barbeque and just sit around and relax. Nothing too
AGFG: You’re lucky to open a
newspaper in Sydney without you guys being on one of the pages, but one thing
that goes a little bit unnoticed in the industry is how much you actually do
for the children’s hospital and Cure Cancer, even Oz Harvest and the support
that’s there, does that come from the family aspect of the group?
Fink: It’s very much a part of the fabric of the Fink family, to
engage in social activity. It’s just part of the fabric of what we do. It’s not
just raising the money, it’s also the engagement in society, on a personal
level one of the charities that we continue to support is the Cambodian
Children’s Trust. We’ve continued to stay involved in CCT along the way, it’s
really rewarding; it’s not just a matter of having a dinner party and putting
your hand in your pocket, you’re actually heading over there and putting your
shoulder to the wheel. It’s really, really rewarding.
Peter Gilmore's famous Snow Egg at Quay. Photo: Nikki To.
AGFG: Looking a bit more
internationally, is it a concern that we’re losing a few at the top of the
industry? Are we not investing in our own guys enough?
Fink: No, I think there’s an ecology to the Australian dining
scene, Neil Perry is probably the most recognisable Australian Chef, he’s done
a deal with UPG [Urban Purveyor Group], Shannon’s [Bennett] done another deal,
I just see it as a part of the ecology of the dining scene and the fine dining
scene because there are some kids now that have just got so much energy. Look
Peter that guy’s [Chef, Josh Niland] still to have his 30th birthday. There’s a lot of talent out
there, it’s not that Neil has retired he’s just changing the way he’s working
which is fantastic, same with Shannon, he’s changing his focus. I think as that
starts to grow, we’re going to see the new guard, they are already at the wheel
but we’re just going to see it get better and better, it’s going to be a
refreshment of the scene and a changing of the guard. I’m all for it. I’m
looking forward to it.
AGFG: When you go away do
you try and get overseas?
Fink: My next holiday is sort of a working holiday, I’m going to
Battambang [Cambodia], either that, or just head down the South Coast, we’ve
got a little chunk of land on a river down in Eden.
AGFG: How do you find down
Fink: These days I really try and get home at night, because the
nature of my job’s changed quite a lot, I don’t have to be in the restaurant
all the time, I’m certainly in the restaurant as much as I need to be but I’m
not on the pans and I’m not on the floor. I just like to go home and cook dinner,
I love it, I love cooking. On the weekend, I’ll go to one of the organic
markets and get a whole bunch of gear, I’ll usually pick up organic free range
chicken bones and punch out a really big stock or if I can get two days off in
a row I’ll just go bush for a while.
Aged black pig pancetta, walnuts, grains, pickled mushrooms, pepitas and seaweed at Quay. Photo: Nikki To.
AGFG: Within the group that
you’ve got what’s one of the best experiences you’ve had at one of your
Fink: It’s hard because you can’t have favourite children, each
restaurant delivers a unique experience. It’s more about the company you keep than
where you’re eating. I went out one night with Steven Snow, Sam Christie and
James Ingram, we were going to get, I think it was Chinese or Lebanese, we met
for a beer and I said I know where we’ll go, so we went to Quay. It was
hilarious, we could have gone to Chinese or we could have gone to Quay, but it
was the company, we had a great time, great conversation, we all worked in the
industry, we connected on a friendship level very strongly, it was a lot of
The view from Quay. Photo: Nikki To.
AGFG: As a filmmaker are you
working on anything at the moment?
Fink: I’ve just finished shooting a film recently, which has just
reached the tail end of post-production. It will be hitting the festival
circuit next year, it’s just a 12 minute short film but it’s a good film, it’s
on dementia, it’s a dramatic short, it’s a big challenge for me because I
decided I wanted to make a short film with feature film sensibilities.
Everything about this film is thinking big. I don’t worry about what people
think, I just get out there and do it, if it’s a good film, it’s a good film,
and if it’s not, it’s not. There are so many factors to film making, it’s like
cooking, you can have all the ingredients but something can always go wrong.
AGFG: We now have a Brisbane
outlet, are there any more coming?
Fink: No, I’ve got no inclination to hit Melbourne at all. I don’t
have any inclination to leave the East Coast of Australia, Perth is just way
too tricky on the timeline, because you lose so much time just getting to work
with the time shift and everything. It’s a long commute. Darwin is still a
small town, even though there is a lot of commerce going through there. It
looks like we popped up overnight, we had two little restaurants now all of a
sudden there’s seven, but there was three years of development going on before
Fink Group restaurants can be found throughout the East
Coast, from Quay, OTTO, The
Bridge Room, Firedoor and Bennelong in Sydney, to OTTO in Brisbane and Beach
Byron Bay in Byron Bay.