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A Day In The Life Of Andrew McConnell, Chef And Restaurateur

A Day In The Life

There has perhaps been no figure as influential to Melbourne’s universe of food and restaurants as Andrew McConnell.

Every venue Andrew and his team open becomes an instant classic in the area – from Supernormal, the sleek modern pan-Asian cuisine in the heart of the CBD (Melbournians will remember the day those lobster rolls hit town); to Marion, the casual, sophisticated wine bar at the tippity top of Gertrude street, Fitzroy; to Meatsmith, the specialty ethical and sustainable butcher on Smith Street, it feels as though the hefty smattering of McConnell establishments across the city have always been there.

Between meeting producers, developing dishes, and spending time between his eight venues, we chat with Andrew about how he has learned to navigate his busy schedule.

7th June, 2019

Chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell starting his day with a coffee at Marion, his chic wine bar and eatery at the top of Gertrude street. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Andrew spends time at each of his restaurants every week, doing 3-4 dinner and lunch services as well as working on dish development. Here, he’s at Cutler & Co. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Andrew at Marion. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sally Tabart
Friday 7th June 2019

‘Reading to me is a treat, an escape. And with my schedule at the moment, it feels like a bit of an indulgence too.’ – Andrew McConnell.

Chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell has built up a portfolio of eight iconic Melbourne venues, and the man himself has become one of the most well-known faces in the Australian culinary scene.

Unsurprisingly, Andrew’s schedule has become increasingly demanding since he first started working for himself 18 years ago. To keep track of everything that needs doing, his ‘days need to be reasonably structured and efficient’. At least half the day has some formal structure, but Andrew likes to keep half his time free to ‘cook, develop, and respond to the needs of the restaurant and staff’. Keeping part of the day free of too much scheduling allows him a little spontaneity, something he finds important ‘given the ever-changing nature of restaurants’. He also still does a lunch or dinner service three or four days a week, where he’s in the kitchen getting his hands dirty.

Stepping back to gain perspective has been an important move in Andrew’s career, and can be credited to the McConnell empire’s successful growth and evolution. ‘Around 10 years ago I realised that I had the confidence to let go a little’, he reflects. ‘I have learned to trust and believe in the people around me to run the restaurants’. Relinquishing a bit of that control to his tight-knit team has allowed Andrew to get into the creative headspace that he needs in the kitchen. ‘It allows me the time to spend in the place that I love most’.

Although he’s been able to let go of some things, Andrew still spends a remarkable amount of time at each of his venues, and remains closely involved with every aspect. It’s no wonder they’ve seen such long-term success.

We recently spent some time with him, to learn a little more about how he does it all!

FIRST THING

I wake up at 7am, and the first thing I do is hit the coffee.

MORNING

The first few tasks of the day are generally helping get the kids ready, making breakfast (in winter it’s porridge, in summer it’s raw muesli), doing the school drop off or working out. I’m a morning person now, although not by choice.

I try to do a workout 2-3 times a week, or spend at least 10-15 minutes in the garden each morning.

LUNCHTIME

I usually work through lunch, or eat something on the go. I am tasting dishes all the time throughout the day so I rarely really feel like sitting down for a proper meal. I’ll eat a salad or a sandwich – something that I can eat standing and that isn’t too heavy. At the moment in this weather, it’s pho or ramen. If I am not eating and trying dishes when I’m in the restaurants, I’ll duck to Tamura Sake Bar for a bowl of noodle soup, Burnside for their epic salad sandwich or Sunny’s Bakery for a classic Banh mi.

AFTERNOON

The afternoon is filled with a lot of different tasks. They are when we do most of our menu and dish development. I have an afternoon scheduled in each restaurant throughout the week to meet with the chefs to review menus, produce, service, develop new ideas, and to look at the food evolution as a whole.

EVENING

I work 3-4 evenings a week, so will finish at either 6pm or 10pm. To unwind I like to spend time working in the garden. If I’m not at the restaurants, then I really enjoy having the time to casually cook dinner with a glass of wine in hand – I find it very good therapy.

When I have any spare time I like to read. Reading to me is a treat, an escape. And with my schedule at the moment, it feels like a bit of an indulgence too.

LAST THING

Last thing is a cup of fresh lemon verbena or mint tea and a book. Occasionally a shot of Japanese whiskey sates me nicely.

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Andrew spends a lot of his time tasting dishes, so rarely really feels like sitting down and eating lunch. Usually, it’s on the go. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Left: Andrew walking up to Cutler and Co on Gertrude Street. Right: Andrew meeting Oliver, a producer with a wonderful bounty from Ramarro Farm.  Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Right now I’m listening to/watching/reading…
Reading: The May Beetles by Baba Schwartz
Watching: Fleabag
Listening: Anything vinyl at the moment, I have just picked up a new turntable.

One important thing I do every day is…
Eat together with my family.

I get my best work done when…
I am in the kitchen. A few years ago I was frustrated with my schedule. I found myself sitting in meetings far too often, dreaming about cooking. Once I realised this was making me unsatisfied, I made some structural changes to my management team to free me up from a lot of the day to day running of the business. This was the best decision I made.

A philosophy I live and work by is…
If something is not making me happy or the people around me, then I need to fix it quick or make a change. Life is too short.

My productivity tip/tool is…
I like to take a few 10-minute breaks alone each day to reset and refocus on my work. I wish I could say I meditated regularly, but I am working on it. Setting a short window each morning and evening for email is most important otherwise I get sucked in and find myself going back to my computer all day.

Something I wish I knew before I learned the hard way is…
I am generally quite happy with how things have evolved somewhat organically over the last 18 years of working for myself. Many hard lessons were learned along the way, and they have been a necessary part of my journey and what I do now.

One of the biggest things I learned early on in my career was to really lean-in on the fear of being stagnant and allow that to inform reflection and evolution. It’s also very important to not let too much white noise get in the way of what you really want to do, and just go for it.

One of Andrew’s most beloved venues, Cutler and Co is celebrating its 10th birthday this month! A great reason to visit, and check out the spectacular new(ish) interior fit-out by IF Architecture.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net