Uday Huja, Nineteen at The Star
I am of the firm belief that dinner should not be a transactional exchange ...
Let us introduce you to the new chef on the block – Uday Huja. He has a Corgi named Chapati and loves fried chicken with waffles. Now that we’ve got the all-important “do you like dogs?” and “what’s your favourite snack?” questions out of the way, we’ll continue the introduction. One of the Gold Coast’s most esteemed dining spaces, Nineteen at The Star, recently announced the appointment of Uday as its new executive chef. The internationally renowned identity has quite the colourful background, and while he is no stranger to star-studded service (he has catered distinguished events like the first-ever White House State Dinner for newly-elected President Barack Obama), his passion extends well beyond the kitchen. Uday is a strong believer that food is only one part of the show – albeit a very important part. He is determined to create a stronger connection between the chefs in the kitchen and guests in the restaurant, in a bid to make dining out more than just a transactional exchange. While it’s early days for Uday in his new role, we thought it was time to have a chat about his plans for Nineteen and delve deeper into his food philosophy.
We’ll start by taking things back a bit. Were you always destined for a career as a chef? Do you remember a light-bulb moment you knew this is what you wanted to do?
For as long as I can remember, food has been an important part of my life. Growing up, the discussion at the breakfast table was “what is for lunch?” and at lunch, it was “what is for dinner?”. As a young kid I was in charge of the grill, and I would stand out in my backyard rain, hail or shine to fulfil my role as grill master – my dad even built me my own special grill!
How would you best describe your personal philosophy on food?
Keep it simple and use some finesse! I believe that each dish should have one voice and one main ingredient or item of produce that is the central feature of the meal. The accompanying ingredients are like the supporting cast, they are there to enhance and elevate the characteristics of that main feature. To achieve this, I tend to limit the number of ingredients I use in my food. My goal is to create a memorable experience for the guest by not overcomplicating beautiful quality produce.
You’ve recently been appointed as executive chef at Nineteen at The Star (congratulations!). What are you hoping to bring to the venue, in terms of your own style, techniques and personal approach?
Ultimately, I want to build an ongoing relationship with our guests. It is my role to be able to take guests on a journey and provide them with an incredible dining experience that drives them to come back and visit the restaurant again and again. I am excited to be able to apply my culinary knowledge, travel journey and cultural experiences to a lens that highlights Australia’s finest ingredients and produce in a unique and exciting way.
Can you delve a little deeper into your plans for the future direction of Nineteen? What can diners expect to see?
I am of the firm belief that dinner should not be a transactional exchange. I want to create moments that are unique to the guest’s experience at Nineteen at The Star and in doing so build a relationship between the guest and the restaurant. I want to encourage an open dialogue between the chefs in the kitchen and guests in the restaurant. There are a lot of foodies are out there who are interested in how a kitchen works and how incredible food is prepared – and our open plan kitchen provides a relaxed environment for these mutual passions to be shared and discussed.
Let’s look at the bigger picture. How do you view the current status of Gold Coast’s dining scene?
The Gold Coast dining scene continues to grow in the right direction and even in the last 8 years since I’ve been in the country, The Australian dining scene has evolved so much. Restauranteurs and guests alike are investing a lot in the foodie scene and encouraging the Gold Coast to become a well-known dining destination. I am very proud to be a part of it. Coming from the American dining scene and seeing what is happening here in Australia, I can tell you that the whole world is looking at us and what our chefs are doing. I believe it is one of the most forward thinking places and is home to some of the best culinary operators in the world.
What is best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Uday, you should spend more time listening and less time talking.” ~ My father, Satyendra Huja.
Any hidden talents outside of the kitchen that you can share?
I love to draw my dishes in a little journal that I keep with me, I find it extremely calming and relaxing. One day I will decorate a cookbook with them.
Who will we find you cooking for at home?
My family and our two dogs – a Corgi named Chapati and a Finnish Lapphund named Dimmi.
What is your ultimate midnight snack?
Fried chicken and waffles. The relationship between sweet and savoury is irresistible.
Finally, what are your three key ingredients for a weekend well spent?
Family, dogs and the beautiful Gold Coast beaches!