Jerome Dalton, chef and restaurateur

You can’t teach passion and love on paper but it shows on every single plate ...

At the age of 15, Jerome Dalton knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. Growing up in Tasmania, the young lad was surrounded by locally grown produce, seafood and livestock. He launched his career with an apprenticeship in Hobart, before rattling pans around the country and indeed the world, working in England, Spain and South Africa before returning to Australia and launching Brisbane’s Dalton Hospitality. With a passion for preserving the environment, sourcing local and buying only cruelty-free animal products, Jerome has made a significant impact on the local food scene via his ventures Dalton Hospitality, USA BBQ & Bourbon Bar and Pop Productions. The Weekend Edition caught up with the busy chef this week to talk cooking fails and his favourite Brisbane hangouts.

You made your restaurant debut as an apprentice at the age of 15, how did you feel entering a commercial kitchen for the first time?
I was so scared! My head chef was brilliant but relentless in his training. He once made me come in on my first day off in three weeks to wrap a piece of cheese that wasn’t quite covered in the dairy section … That never happened again! There was many a tearful moment and some hard lessons!

Any major cooking fails from those early years you need to confess to?
Salt on crème brûlée instead of sugar – I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t burn properly. Oh, and pouring water into a hot deep fryer still full of oil when told to clean it. That was a massive mess to clean up at midnight after a long shift. I was left alone for that one.

What would you say is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learnt in your career so far?
There’s no elevator to success; you must take the stairs. It’s slower, harder and feels like you’re not getting anywhere near the reward you should, but you must just keep pushing yourself. This, and learning to find a balance in your personal life are the two hardest things to learn.

How would you say you acquired the skills and knowledge you have today – was it primarily from mentors, formal training or simply getting out there and doing it yourself?
Definitely from mentors. I remember feeling like my learning had stalled after becoming a head chef and not having anyone yelling at me. This is when the self-teaching, books, industry peers and travel come in.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given, received or ignored?
I’m not great at receiving advice; I like to make my mistakes a few times before they sink in. But the best advice I ever received was: if you’re going to do this, you must become better than the next guy and always work towards your boss’s job. One step at a time.

What can you tell us about your early experiences with food?
My grandmother was a cook for the Tasmanian Development Authority and I helped her in the kitchen, both at work and at home. She spent weeks preparing everything from scratch for the huge family Christmas meals and I enjoyed the sharing of food with family – this probably had an impact.

You began developing Dalton Hospitality while you were consulting for restaurants in Brisbane. What was your biggest challenge in setting up the business?
Setting up generic systems in the quality end of the food industry in my opinion doesn’t work. You can’t teach passion and love on paper but it shows on every single plate. People, people, people! If your team really cares, you can’t lose. We’re very, very lucky to have and retain the most amazing crew of professionals.

And what about the greatest reward?
Teaching the next generation of the hospitality industry and seeing them go on to be amazing, successful chefs, business owners and floor managers doing the same.

You launched USA BBQ & Bourbon Bar at Eat Street Markets before Brisbane had fully embraced the American barbecue trend – what’s your secret for picking (and setting) the next big food trends?
A crew with a healthy obsession with food and beverages allows us to be agile enough to move with what we like and keep us current. We really don’t follow trends – we cook what we like and our customers like. Everything comes around again in time.

You raise pigs and grow your own organic vegetables; what wisdom can you share with the public about the importance of food and environmental sustainability?
Local food travels less, is better quality, cheaper, supports the local community and creates jobs – what’s not to love? I’ve seen in my short years the fishing depleted, environment depleted and a lack of care for the things we as humans love and need, like fresh healthy food, air and happiness. I just don’t understand short-term gain at the expense of the future nor allowing large corporations to ruin our future. When it’s gone, it’s gone … Why let it happen? Get involved, get educated on the issues and discuss it – it’s important!

Pop Productions has been relatively quiet of late … Can you share any updates on future events with us?
There are some big things on the horizon – watch the Pop Productions Facebook page for more.

Only a Brisbane local would know … there are natural swimming spots within 30 minutes of the CBD, and every alleyway now has a great bar in it … Go check them out!

What does ‘success’ mean to you?
Happy customers, happy family, happy staff and going to bed knowing we did better than yesterday.

Perk up … The Tivoli in Fortitude Valley for a live show or gig.
Relax … in the bush four-wheel driving or sail boat racing with my cousin Murray of The Fishery, Milton.
Dine … Gerard’s Bistro in Fortitude Valley, e’cco bistro in Brisbane City or Wasabi in Noosa.
Indulge … Sheraton on the Gold Coast or Tangalooma.
Be inspired … any local artisan supplier or any good restaurant or bar with the right people around me.


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