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!
I wake up at 7am, and the first thing I do is hit the coffee.
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.
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.
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.
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 is a cup of fresh lemon verbena or mint tea and a book. Occasionally a shot of Japanese whiskey sates me nicely.