We are pleased to introduce you to the new Head Chef at Velvets Restaurant at Two Tails Wines, the talented Jodie Thornber. Jodie has an extensive background in cookery with many years of experience as Russell Crowe’s very own Head Chef! Velvets is very lucky to have bagged such a well travelled and experienced chef. FOCUS had a chat to Jodie, to see what’s on her new menu …
When did you first become interested in cookery as a career?
I’ve been cooking at home since I was about 10 years old and have always enjoyed creating new things and discovering new tastes. At age 15, I decided I wanted to make a career of it.
Can you tell us about your experience/ career as a chef?
I did my full chef’s apprenticeship at a local café here in Coffs Harbour. I then went on to work at an Australian fine dining restaurant at Rutherglen, which was my first experience with wines and wineries.
About 18 years ago I was asked to help out at the Crowe’s property here in Nana Glen, cooking for family and friends over Christmas. I was invited back again the following year, and then in 2002 I was offered a role as Russell’s personal chef, where I spent the next 14 years. I’ve been incredibly lucky to travel the world with Russell working on film sets and have met some amazing people over that time. I’ve even had my food in movies! After having a break to recharge and spend time with my family, Madonna and Barry offered me the opportunity to come to Velvets, and I’m absolutely loving it here.
Do you have a favourite experience you can share with us about your time working with movies?
Whilst filming Cinderella Man in Toronto, I was using the kitchen in my apartment to prepare food for a movie scene the following day. Unfortunately, I forgot to turn the stove off … which set the fire alarms off and resulted in Ron Howard standing out on the footpath in his pajamas at 3am!
Tell us about the menu at Velvets. What type of dishes can we expect to see?
The menu is inspired by traditional Spanish tapas. The dishes vary from main items such as the Black Standard Beef meatballs in a spicy romesco tomato sauce, to sweet and tasty dessert items, like the Crème Catalana, which is a Spanish style brulee with honey, figs and a praline toffee. The tapas style of eating is designed to be shared, so you get to experience a range of tastes and textures, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a dish all for yourself if that’s what you want!
I understand you use a lot of local produce on the menu?
All of our menus are based around seasonal produce and are sourced from our local area. We obtain beef from the Orara Valley, and fresh local seafood from the waters off our beautiful coastline. Additionally, we source things like honey, oil, garlic, farmed mushrooms, blueberries, milk and dairy all from the Coffs Coast and hinterland.
What is your favourite dish on the menu currently and why ?
My favourite right now would be a new menu item, the hand of octopus served with a sautéed garlic spinach, crispy sweet potato and a zesty sour cream dressing (pictured). I enjoy the contrast between the succulent tender octopus and the crispy sweet potato, and I just love the way it looks on the plate!
When it comes to special events and functions, what can you offer your guests?
We’re able to offer a complete range of function and special event experiences, from small intimate gatherings to birthdays, corporate events and even weddings, completely tailored to meet your needs and budget.
Where do you source new ideas from?
I enjoy reading about cookery and source lots of my ideas from books. Of course, these days the internet is a wonderful resource for researching and developing ideas, but most of my inspiration comes from actually coming into contact with new tastes and experiences. I take everything I learn and adapt it to my own tastes and likes, so that the dishes that you are served at Velvets Restaurant are very much my own.
What would you say is the biggest influence on your cooking ?
I’m not sure that I could pick out a particular thing that has influenced the way I have developed my cooking. Having been fortunate to travel extensively, I’ve enjoyed lots of different foods from different cultures and have definitely taken lots of learnings from those experiences.
Wine matching is important for restaurateurs – tell us about your wine choices.
I love the range of wines produced from the grapes grown right here at Two Tails. Our Chardonnay is particularly well matched with seafood or fish in a rich sauce, such as our Spanish garlic prawn pot with chorizo, and for the meat lovers I’d recommend our Chambourcin to go with the grilled lamb cutlets with drunken figs, or the baby back pork spare ribs.
How often do you change the menu?
We will be changing the menu seasonally to reflect dishes more in keeping with the time of year. We’ll introduce new dishes to reflect the beauty of autumn, and the freshness of spring. Of course, we’ll keep the favourites that everyone knows and loves.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with?
I’ve always loved seafood, so anything involving that immediately has my attention. I’m particularly proud of the new mixed grilled seafood plate with prawns, salmon and squid with a chili and lime glaze. I’m a bit of a sweet tooth, and the new sweet tapas tower is hard to serve up without making an extra little bit for myself!
Throughout your career – what famous chefs have you admired and why ?
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Marco Pierre White, and love his approach to “shared’”style meals, just like the tapas that we offer at Velvets. It’s this type of food that I really love to cook, so I’d have to say that he has been an influence.
What do you enjoy about living on the Coffs Coast?
What is there not to enjoy! Our amazing beaches, to our beautiful bushlands, all so close to home.