Categorised | Food & Beverage

Sydney Seafood School turns 20 this year!

Twenty years is a long time in the food world.

In 1989 Atlantic salmon had only been farmed in Tasmania for a few years and aquaculture (then confined to a very few species) was just starting to be heralded as the way of the future. Although Sydney-siders were becoming more interested in food, the average palate was still at best quite uneducated and at worst quite staid. French was the largest category in leading restaurant guides and Asian flavours, taken so much for granted today, were still quite exotic. The NSW fishing fleet caught plenty of whiting, bream, snapper and flathead to supply the local market. But in doing so, they also netted a fair amount of octopus, squid, red mullet, crabs, and other species with which shoppers weren’t familiar, at least not familiar enough to take them home and cook them. A large part of the fishermen’s catch was unwanted and sold as bait or for next to nothing to those who did appreciate them.

So the NSW Fish Marketing Authority opened Sydney Seafood School, with a mission of showing Sydney-siders how easy it is to prepare a wide variety of seafood species at home, and so help create demand for this largely untapped wealth from Australian waters. Twenty years later it’s regarded as Australia’s leading cooking school, teaching over 12,000 local, interstate and overseas food-lovers how to cook a huge variety of cuisines, and hosting classes with Australia’s leading chefs. While seafood is still its focus, there’s no longer any need to convince most people to try cooking with mussels, octopus or crabs; in fact abalone, sashimi, pipis and sea-snails don’t daunt many of the food-savvy cooks who fill classes most weekday evenings and weekends.

Food is as much about visual appeal and texture as it is about taste … after all we eat with our eyes first. So to celebrate its 20th anniversary Sydney Seafood School has undergone a major refurbishment. The new look is certainly broad on eye-appeal and a feast of textures: with stunning sandstone sculptures, a wall lined with Icelandic fish leather and other walls covered in detailed chalk drawings of various seafood. Rich oak wood panelling, an aubergine-hued granite bench top, sleek stainless steel and lots of glass complete the Michael McCann-designed look.

Some things haven’t changed of course. Chef Peter Doyle (now Executive Chef of est. restaurant) appeared on the first program and will be teaching on the School’s 20th anniversary program. Master Sushi Chef Hideo Dekura, who taught his first “Understanding Sushi & Sashimi” class on 31 January 1990, still conducts regular workshops at the School, and Seafood Barbecue, also on the first program, is now the School’s most popular class, filling 6-8 times a month (although the recipes have changed a little over the years). While a trawl through the School’s archives reveals recipe kits for classes by Damien Pignolet, Owner-Chef of Claude’s (now at Bistro Moncur and also a presenter on the 20th anniversary program); Tony Bilson, Owner-Chef of Bon Gout (now at Bilson’s); and Philip Searle, Owner-Chef of Oasis Seros (now at Vulcan’s in Blackheath).

The 20th anniversary program, which runs from November to February, was released today and reads like a Who’s Who of Australian chefs. David Thompson, a regular on the School’s program of classes before he relocated to London to open Michelin-starred restaurant Nahm, is back in town to conduct three classes based around his new book, Thai Street Food, while Cheong Liew, hailed as the ‘father of fusion’ is visiting from The Grange Restaurant in Adelaide to present a class showcasing his unique cuisine. Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry, who rarely conduct cooking classes, were more than happy to make an exception to help the School celebrate this milestone birthday. The list goes on with Justin North, Matthew Moran, Guillaume Brahimi, Peter Gilmore, Christine Manfield and Peter Kuruvita all conducting classes in November.

Janni Kyritsis, previously of MG Garage and Berowra Waters Inn and now semi-retired, just can’t stay out of the kitchen. He’s been a behind-the-scenes consultant on the School’s recent renovation and, always keen to mentor young chefs, is conducting a class in November with his ex-sous chef Lauren Murdoch, now at Ash Street Cellar. “When Janni suggested doing a class together with Lauren, it started me thinking,” says Roberta Muir, who’s managed the School for the past 12 years. “One of the great things about the Australian hospitality industry is the camaraderie between chefs, so for our February program we’re running a series of ‘double act’ guest chef workshops. Giovanni Pilu from Pilu at Freshwater and George Francisco from Jonah’s are kicking it off. They’re both northern beaches boys who’ve relocated from overseas and cook by combining a little of their homeland with the best Aussie produce. They’re good mates and are very excited about teaching a class together.” Other double acts in February include Damien Pignolet with Jason Roberts (who was his Executive Chef at Bistro Moncur before leaving to pursue an international career); Chui Lee Luk (Claude’s) and Melbourne chef/food historian Tony Tan, who come together over a common love for Southeast Asian food; and two of the founders of CIRA (the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia), Armando Percuoco (Buon Ricordo) and Lucio Galletto (Lucio’s). Other chefs joining in the celebrations in February are Peter Doyle from est., Mark Best from Marque and Mark Jensen from Red Lantern.

The Special 20th Birthday program of classes can be viewed now at

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