Chef Scott Pickett talks to BeanScene about using coffee as a vehicle for flavour, respecting origin, and the reality of being a business owner in Melbourne’s competitive restaurant scene.
Ten years ago, 12 coffees a day was a regular scenario for Scott Pickett. That was until a Chinese doctor took one look at his eyes and knew instantly his caffeine intake was through the roof.
“I’d never really thought about it, but I drank a lot of coffee. I’d have one in the morning, one at home, one on my way to work, one when I’d get to work, one when the waiters arrived at 11am, one before lunch at 12, one after lunch, and so on. It quickly added up,” Scott says. “Now I’ve cut down to three or four a day and no more after 3pm – I sleep a lot better and I don’t shake as much.”
What Scott does consume now, however, he drinks for enjoyment. He looks for strong pronounced flavours and a consistent crema, and starts the day with a double-strength latte with less milk as the day goes on.
“I know people will hate it when I say this, but I do love Nespresso. I am a fan and I’ll tell you why. My Nespresso machine gives me a very consistent, solid coffee first thing in the morning. It’s so much better than the dried powdered stuff, which my mum and dad still drink. They love it because they grew up on it,” Scott says.
“When I want a specialist coffee, and a really good one, I go to a great place like Tinker in High Street Northcote, or St Ali in South Melbourne. I’ve always loved what Salvatore [Malatesta] has done there. Before my restaurant Estelle, I was at The Point Restaurant in Albert Park for seven years so I’d always pop into St Ali around the corner for my coffee fix.”
Scott became accustomed to commercial kitchens from a young age when he started working as an apprentice chef in various South Australian restaurants. There, he quickly discovered how much coffee was ingrained in a chef’s world thanks to generous offerings from front of house staff. Although it wasn’t until Scott’s 20s when his appreciation for specialty coffee grew.
That appreciation is now evident through his own restaurants, including Estelle, Lupo and Matilda where Scott serves Nespresso coffee. Pickett’s Deli and Rotisserie at the Queen Victorian Market and at Melbourne Airport serves Dukes Coffee Roasters. The 150-seat venue will largely focus on coffee, salads, healthy fast food, and a big roast chicken rotisserie.
“We’re also really excited to change the landscape of fast food. When you think of fast food you think of burgers, fries, and chips, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Why can’t you eat something healthy for under $20 for lunch and a coffee?”
“We’re looking forward to working with Five Senses Coffee for this new venue, another great coffee brand. We looked at who we thought was in the top five to 10 coffee guys in Melbourne, then we did a tasting to determine what we liked, and we liked Five’s vision for the Deli’s big coffee counter, which will serve filter and cold drip coffee.”
Coffee is more than just a beverage to Scott, and he enjoys the challenge of incorporating it into his menus. Estelle features a take on the classic tiramisu but Scott is already thinking ahead to other ways coffee can be reworked with liquor and mascarpone. He has also used coffee as a savoury ingredient, such as in his own coffee-cured salmon recipe.
“We grind the toasted coffee beans with sugar and salt and you get the wonderful aromats through the cured salmon. It’s a really good marriage – slightly unusual but it goes really well,” Scott says.
A self-proclaimed saucier by trade, Scott perfected the art of sauce creation when he undertook classical French chef training in Europe. One of the first things he learnt was the basics of the ‘sauce tree’, which begins with water and three classic stocks: white chicken, veal, and fish stock. Then, it’s simply a matter of infusing flavour, how you do it, at what stage, and how it tastes. The approach to coffee, Scott says, is no different.
“In its basic and pure sense, coffee is flavoured water. It’s a vehicle for flavour, whether that vehicle is through a classic two or three group machine or a filter like a cold drip. It’s the same with different stocks in different sauces. You then build on that and explore the flavour profile,” Scott says.
France might have taught Scott his core sauce-making skills, but when it comes to coffee education, Scott says Australia is leading the world.
“I think France is still catching up to be honest. I really do think Australia is a world leader when it comes to our coffee standards and coffee culture – it’s on an international scale,” he says. “Our standards have become more refined, and the same has happened to our food culture. People have really challenged themselves and focused on it. Thirty years ago when I started in the kitchen, you didn’t have a dedicated barista to make the coffee in the restaurant. It wasn’t an art form or a science as such. It wasn’t as much a respected vocation as it is now. The same goes for a sommelier or a waiter, which can be great career choices.”
As for Scott, he chose a career as a chef after a life on the family farm in the South Australian town of Kangarilla taught him the value of the paddock-to-plate philosophy.
“I’ve always loved food, but farm life helped me understand where food comes from. We had calves, they grew, we looked after them, they went to the abattoir, they came home, they went in the freezer, we dry-aged some, we cured some, we ate them. It was the cycle of life,” Scott says. “Some people see it as the brutality of the food cycle, but it’s
This article appears in FULL in the June edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.