AUSTRALIAN GOOD FOOD GUIDE - Home of the Chef Hat Awards
Athol Wark

Athol Wark


Zimbabwe (was Rhodesia at the time). 


I am an award-winning Executive Chef with more than 36 years of professional experience in hotels, casinos, convention centres, resorts, restaurants and banquet settings offering a variety of cuisines. 

Bournemouth and Poole College in the south of England is where I completed my City & Guilds training as a Chef. I graduated top student two years running (never done before) and took my first placement on a world cruise liner the QE2, travelling from South Africa to Kenya, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and through to Alaska. This cruise gave me a taste for travel along with my love of food. 

From Chamonix in the French Alps to Moulin De L’Abbaye, a medieval monastery in Brantôme, from island resorts in Fiji to the bright lights of Miami and New York, I have travelled the world sampling local flavours and working with regional cuisines. My passion is recreating modern dishes by enhancing the taste with unique local flavours. 

Australia was a destination on my bucket list and the opportunity to open the Beaufort Hotel (now the Doubletree by Hilton) on the Darwin Esplanade arose in 1987. Living and working in the Territory gave me the inspiration and desire to make Australia my home. Working with regional produce and native Australian herbs and spices led me to work with ‘Wild Foods’.

In 2001, I moved to the Northern Territory to work as Executive Chef for the opening of the Alice Springs Convention Centre. 

In 2005, I won a fellowship from the International Specialised Skills Institute (ISSI) for my culinary work in value adding to regional produce. This fellowship gave me the opportunity to take Australian wild foods overseas to destinations such as Miami and Rhode Island. 

I have been the Australian Executive Chef at three World Expos in Nagoya, Japan; Shanghai, China; and most recently Dubai, UAE. I have also managed pavilions for New Zealand, USA and Brazil. Most recently I completed a contract at the world-renowned El Questro Wilderness Park in the Kimberley, Western Australia.
Have you always wanted to be a Chef? 

When I was at home in the school holidays, my Mum used to do a lot of lunch catering for visiting national politicians and dignitaries of the time, I got interested in what ‘food’ could become and what it was all about. I saw a relation to food bringing people together, whether it be business dealings or families and having a good time. 

This inspired me and was supported by my parents who said, "You will always travel, never go hungry, and you are good with people”. The best way to do that was to travel to England to study.

How would you define your style?
Local produce, fresh flavour, clean presentation and most importantly ‘cook from the heart’.

What is your feature flavour these days? 

Since coming to Australia - native Australian products – for example kutjera, lemon myrtle, wattle seed and spice blends such as Tanami Fire to name just a few

Obsessive-compulsive about?
Neat and tidy kitchen, quality and consistency.

Your greatest culinary influence:
I have travelled and worked across the world and each place has had an influence on my culinary journey but one place that helped my management abilities was the Crowne Casino in Melbourne when I was a Chef de Cuisine - the F&B Director at the time was Walter Wagner, the Executive Chefs were Massimo di Lucca and Todd Roydhouse and together they taught me structure, discipline and management skills.

Inspiration also comes from various Chefs such as Anthony Bourdain, Rick Stein, Jimmy Shu, Donna Hay, Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White and for me most importantly the Indigenous Elders that have shared their knowledge and stories of native produce with me.
What do you love about this business?
Building and training strong culinary teams and making guests happy. I also love that there are always new things to learn.

An ingredient you can’t live without?
Most ‘eyebrow-raising’ menu item?

Crocodile burger at the Japanese World Expo.

Signature dish:

I don’t have a ‘signature dish’ as such as the menus evolve over time, but one dish I do often make is pancetta-wrapped Humpty Doo barramundi with lemon myrtle, citrus salsa and micro herbs

What can diners expect when they eat at your restaurant and what makes the experience special?

Guests can expect dishes made with fresh local produce punctuated with native Australian flavours, ‘foods they can relate to along with a twist’; together the location, the service and the passion we put into what we create, make something special.

What do you think COVID has taught restaurants and Chefs about their diners and the industry in general?
COVID lockdowns have created a savvier diner, which means the industry needs to lift its game and communicate better with the consumer about limited menus and closures. 

COVID decimated our industry, through attrition of staff and loss of skills within the industry. Unfortunately, over COVID several issues arose due to lack of skills, poor performing Chefs and cowboys. 

Now is an opportune time to be optimistic, streamline operations, train staff and give our best and communicate with our staff and customers. For robust change to occur, I along with many others believe it is time to regulate our industry; attracting the right calibre of staff and thereby elevating our industry back to the professional level it used to be.

By being regulated can give assurance to employer’s applicants at all levels of the brigade system have the skills and qualifications in line with their level of brigade and can be valued for their true worth.

Tell us something no one knows about you?

I recently married my fiancé of five years and had the pleasure of having both my daughter and son along with UK family attend. I also love to scuba dive, but my fear of sharks is an issue…

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Teaching and assessing future generations, giving back to the industry as much as I can.