A chef who has worked in top-end restaurants in London, learnt his craft in rural Japan and headed up the kitchen at the Gold Coast’s Palazzo Versace might not be who most people would expect in a major hospital kitchen.
But those stops are just part of the extensive career journey of classically-trained chef Don Christie, who recently joined Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service to lead kitchen teams across all sites.
Don spent the early part of his career in kitchens in Sydney, London and Hong Kong during the British handover before heading to Japan.
“I found myself in rural Japan working at a traditional ryokan near Sendai, at a place called Obanazawa – where I really started to understand more about fresh produce,” he said.
“I learned the narrative around fresh on a plate and fresh is best, about same-day cooking and not cooking things in big batches, and chasing the seasons as well – not cooking strawberry all year around, but cooking when it’s at its best.”
After spending time working at other international locations ranging from luxury resorts in the Philippines and Vietnam street stores, Don returned to Australia where he has spent time revamping the Port Lincoln Hotel, opening the chain of Betty’s Burgers across the nation and managing the kitchens at Sanctuary Cove Resort and Palazzo Versace, on the Gold Coast.
His most recent role involved running 15 restaurants at Ayers Rock Resort – which won the Golden Plate last year, both for the best restaurant and the best tourism-orientated restaurant in the Northern Territory.
After reaching the top of the hotel restaurant business, Don felt it was time to find a new challenge.
“The main attraction was to do something different. I didn’t feel like I was able to achieve much more in the hotel space after running the best hotel in Australia at Palazzo Versace,” Don said.
“The chance to do something different with my established skillset and lift the standard in hospital food is pretty inspiring, to be quite honest.”
Changing the expectation about food in hospitals is a big motivation for Don.
“We need to stand for more than expected – that’s our underlining theme,” he said.
“The training in the kitchen will be more than expected for a hospital kitchen staff member, the food on the plate will be more than what people would expect, the suppliers will be challenged to do more than expected.”
Being able to provide training, experience and career pathways for locals is another driver for the seasoned chef.
“I want our kitchen teams to have every opportunity to build a career and know that we will support them no matter what they do,” Don said.