Norbert Szlama is a chef who likes to experiment with flavour and technique. Focus spoke with him about his passion for the local area and his new role at Element Bar …
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
Believe it or not, but an opportunity I saw two years ago brought me here. The beautiful nature that we have here is very attractive to the eye. This is why tourism is so high in this area. Where tourism as industry is dominant, there is a big demand for what I know best – hospitality.
Did you always have a passion for cooking?
Yes, absolutely. I realised and acknowledged it in my teenage years. I was always around the kitchen helping my Mum, who has inspired me and I think led me into the science of cooking. She never really wanted me to become a chef, but now I think she is really pleased with the result. She always used to say that cooking makes her relax; that’s how I feel too. Cooking makes me forget all the negatives.
My passion for cooking has increased unbelievably in the last couple of years, and I like to try new cooking techniques such as molecular gastronomy.
Where are some of the places you have worked?
I am very proud of all the places I’ve worked, as all of those places helped me to gain knowledge, experience, to help me to become who I am today. The place that gave me the most experience so far was The Lane.
I have come across situations and challenges that made me not just believe, but to know that everything is possible.
What do you love about the job?
The motivation of my team, how devoted they are becoming, how their skills are getting stronger, how professional they are becoming, how we are working efficiently as a team in order to make the business grow bigger and more successful.
I love to create new meals, menus that fit exactly into a theme and to meet expectations. I love to create meals and a menu that don’t just simply fit in the theme, but there is a demand for. I love to innovate in the kitchen – to bring in new trends to keep up with the times that we are living in.
Can you tell us a couple of highlights of your career so far?
Becoming Sous Chef on the six star cruise liner, Seabourn, after climbing the ladder. Working at award winning restaurant chain Garfish in Sydney. Becoming two times number one on Tripadvisor as business owner with restaurant The Lane. Being co owner at Thyme Square Café, Sydney.
Where are you working at the moment?
I am currently the Head Chef at Element Bar on the Coffs Jetty Strip, working with a fantastic team who are all very passionate about great food, creating an amazing customer experience and a wonderful authentic and relaxed atmosphere for people to enjoy.
If you could eat at any restaurant in the world, which would it be and why?
I think the dining trend is changing very fast at the moment. Fine dining restaurants are not necessarily places where you can get great food or enjoy great service and atmosphere.
I like wine bars, bars, modern pubs. If I would have to name some, they would be in England, such as York and Albany. I love the innovativeness – the limitless imaginations of the chefs.
What are you plans for the future?
In the near future I would like to fulfil my vision at the Element Bar. We have achieved great progress in the last couple of months, and we will be building on this positive momentum. I think we have an absolutely fantastic team here; I think we can achieve some great results. I personally would like to see Element Bar as a must visit place in NSW; Coffs Harbour is an iconic spot.
In the long-term future, I would like to see myself overseeing several restaurants in a top management level position.