Alejandro Cancino, chef proprietor, The Urbane Group
Happiness is being surrounded by the right people ...
At just 29 years of age, Argentinian-born chef Alejandro Cancino has already notched up a rather impressive couple of rungs on his resume. As co-owner of The Urbane Group, the man dubbed Australian Gourmet Traveller’s Best New Talent and Queensland Good Food Guide’s Chef of the Year in 2013 is now sharing his internationally honed talents with the blessed bellies of Brisbane. While Alejandro concedes he didn’t inherit his passion for cooking from his parents, he was drawn into the kitchen at a very early age, driven by an intuitive desire to experiment and tinker away on his edible creations. The young Argentinian’s ambitions pulled him from his home country at the age of 18, leading to an international apprenticeship and stints in some of the world’s finest venues. A yearning for the laid-back lifestyle led to Alejandro’s arrival in Australia, as he took over duties as executive chef of local institutions Urbane and The Euro just a few years ago. Alejandro took time out of his busy schedule this week to fill The Weekend Edition in on his past achievements, his future goals and his predictions for the Brisbane dining scene.
What first drew you into the kitchen?
I loved good food so I started to cook my own at a very early age. Then I found out I could study to be a chef, and so here I am!
Did your family have an influence on your cooking style?
As a kid I didn’t have much food influence. Food then wasn’t really interesting, to be honest. Sorry, Mum!
You’ve worked in internationally renowned venues, such as the Michelin-starred Bulgari Hotels in Tokyo and the world’s fourth ranked restaurant, Mugaritz in Spain. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in the kitchen so far?
Don’t waste! There’s so much effort and energy focused on each ingredient, from the soil to the water to the farmer to transport – and then to waste part of it? No …
What do you love about your job?
There are some days when everything works out. Things taste good, the produce is perfect, the energy of the team is good, the customers are happy and the few things I had to sort out are done – I love that! It doesn’t happen very often, but when it happens, it makes my week!
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
The way a person is should be their biggest achievement, in my opinion. It take us all our lives to be how we are – some people learn a lot in life and they’re kind, respectful and happy. I also consider my family and loved ones my greatest achievement in life.
What’s a key piece of cooking advice you can share with our readers?
Cook from scratch.
You left home at the age of 18 to take on a three-month cheffing scholarship. What can you tell us about that experience?
It was really fun! The college was full of young people from all around the world. It was the first time I worked overseas and the first time in a good kitchen. It’s funny, I met up with a few of the friends I made during my apprenticeship in Sao Paulo in January this year while I was travelling through South America.
What inspired your move to Australia?
The lifestyle and the weather.
What are your goals for Urbane and The Euro?
To give our customers a good experience and to inspire our staff to do well.
Where do you see the Brisbane dining scene heading in the future?
There are a lot of casual restaurants at the moment, which I think is a good formula for success: cheap, informal and simple.
You spend your working hours crafting meals for the good folk of Brisbane, but what’s the best meal someone else has cooked for you?
I can’t name just one, I’ve had many … One of them would be at Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo.
The kitchen can be a hectic place. How do you like to unwind in your spare time?
What is your idea of complete happiness?
To be surrounded by the right people and to be doing the right thing.
How do you define success?
Being happy with what you’re doing today and heading to where you want to be tomorrow.
What are your words of wisdom?
Follow your dreams.