Local Flavour- Bommie Restaurant Posted by Reef Magazine - 3 September 2018 By Jessica Teas It’s Friday morning and executive chef Trent Dawson’s kitchen has no gas, a potential hiccup for the dinner service at the Hamilton Island Yacht Club and Bommie restaurant. Dawson, however, takes it in his stride. “I’ve got the plumber here now,” he says, calmly. Perhaps it’s a bit of the English reserve he picked up while working at Michelin-starred Juniper in the UK. More likely it’s both a bit of that and the mettle that comes from years of grinding it out in high-pressure kitchens, which is exactly what Dawson did before taking the helm at Bommie. Executive Chef Trent Dawson at Bommie Restaurant. Photo by Kara Rosenlund. However, don’t call what Dawson’s doing here “modern Australian”. A gas outage mere hours before Friday-night service might not rile him, but this phrase does, and some would argue that the man has a point. “The beaten-to- death term ‘modern Australian’ doesn’t really describe anything to anybody,” says Dawson. He has a vision, even if it doesn’t come with a label yet. At Bommie, he says “there’s a massive focus on local seafood” and “it’s food that’s rooted in high-end, classical techniques, but more simplified on the flavour profile. And it’s just not afraid to go in whatever direction suits the dish.” This means combinations such as coral trout with green chilli, yuzu avocado, spanner crab, carrot and chia, arranged in a spare manner that draws your eye to the vibrant colours and contrasting textures arranged on the plate. Seafood focus: langoustine, Barossa hen, pistachio garlic liniment, snow pea juice, crisp chicken skin, langoustine custard. Photo by Kara Rosenlund. It’s artful yet unpretentious. “My entire career, I’ve been told by chefs, ‘Take the greatest ingredients you can and do very little to them.’ And for my entire career, I’ve rebelled against this and played with my food and that sort of thing. And then I had the epiphany recently that they’re absolutely right, so I’m going in that direction. These days I just want to see people walking out with a big smile on their faces. As long as my guests are smiling when they leave, I’m a happy man.” Any ingredient that fits this criterion is fair game. “We put a dish on the menu the other day with butternut pumpkin or squash,” says Dawson. “We chop it up, roll it in ras el hanout and roast it until it’s beautiful and golden and caramelised. We serve it with a smoked almond, paprika, green olive and basil-flower dressing. We’re making our own crème fraîche, and we’re letting it sit for two more days than you usually would, so it’s really quite sour, to counterbalance the sweetness of the pumpkin.” From an age when most kids would be worrying about first kisses and footy at the weekend, life in the kitchen called to Dawson. Entree: Tuna, watermelon, young coconut, seawater jelly, yuzu wasabi ice cream, kombu jam, bonito sponge. Photo by Kara Rosenlund. “My grandmother was a very good cook and I spent a lot of time cooking with her when I was younger. I got my first job when I was 13, in the kitchen at Blue Note in Brisbane.” While there, he worked his way up the ranks the old- fashioned way, putting in the hard yards that any chef worth his salt does before hitting it big. “I started washing dishes and then plating desserts,” he says. “Then I started making salads. And about three or four years after that, I said, ‘Uh, I’m leaving school to go do this full-time.’” The first stop in his apprenticeship? Brisbane’s Tables of Toowong, under French chef Michel Bonnet, but his formative years came later, says Dawson. “I really started to have an understanding about where it could take me when I moved to England and began working at Juniper.” It was there that he learnt the art of experimental cooking under the wing of chef Paul Kitching. “He just didn’t bother with classics in any way, shape or form. He just did exactly what he wanted, when he wanted to, and it definitely changed my direction a bit.” Main: Wagyu cheek, oysters and umbles, charred alliums, umami broth, pickled shiitake, daikon.. Photo by Kara Rosenlund. After returning to Brisbane, he found a mentor in George Diamond of Siggi’s, before he landed at Songbirds on Tamborine Mountain, in the Gold Coast hinterland, a restaurant that was hatted for the “hybrid Japanese-French cuisine” dreamt up by Dawson in the middle of the rainforest. “If we didn’t go out to feed the kookaburras a whole container of meat every night, they’d sit on the ceiling fans in the dining room and pick food off people’s plates,” he recalls. “It was a really interesting place to be.” A short professional detour followed. “I was working at a place in Brisbane called Cha Cha Char. I did it to prove to myself I could, because I’d always worked in little four-men brigades and wanted to see how I function with 20 people.” Serendipitously, it led Dawson to take a job at Mariners on Hamilton Island, where a chance meeting in the harbourside restaurant he now calls home landed him the role of executive chef. Dessert: ‘Wine Flight’ champagne jelly, riesling mousse, shiraz sponge, chardonnay lavender macaron, rose ice cream, yuzu, grape, muscatel, moscato. Photo by Kara Rosenlund. “I came to dinner at the Yacht Club during that time [while working at Mariners] and I remember saying about the executive chef, ‘I like what he’s doing, but if the job ever comes up, I want it... ’” Three weeks later, the dream role was Dawson’s. He says, “I’m just totally in love with the restaurant and we’re on our A game, bringing new things to the party and pushing forward.” The interior of Bommie Restaurant. About the Author 'REEF Magazine – Hamilton Island & the Great Barrier Reef' is a magazine that showcases all that Hamilton Island has to offer, from events, to an exciting array of activities, attractions and more. You can pick up your complimentary copy of 'REEF Magazine' at any Hamilton Island hotel, and you can also access some of our feature articles right here on The Island Blog.