17 July 2023

Five minutes with Daniel Fountain, Red Nectar, Helensburgh

| Graeme Burrill
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Chef Daniel Fountain in his kitchen.

Daniel Fountain in the kitchen at Red Nectar, Helensburgh. Photo: Graeme Burrill.

Who are you?
My name is Daniel Fountain. I grew up in Como West, started my apprenticeship working for a catering company and then moved up from there. I’ve been in Helensburgh now for a good 15-20 years.

What’s your business?
The business name is Red Belly Catering and the name of the restaurant is Red Nectar. We’re modern Australian, trying to create a nice environment for people to come and enjoy themselves without typically stereotyping ourselves as fine dining. We’re modern Australian dining, that’s casual and nice.

What is modern Australian food?
It’s a combination of different cultures. As Australia is very multicultural, I try and influence other countries in the food to create what we classify as modern Australian.

Why did you become a chef?
I rebelled against my family. They wanted me to be in the Armed Forces or to be a tradesperson and I just didn’t want to do that.

What do you love about cooking?
I enjoy food, everyone’s got to eat. But I think my main happiness is seeing everyone walk out happy from the restaurant. That’s the main thing for me.

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How did you learn your trade?
I started with a catering firm where I did my apprenticeship and from there, I branched out. I started operating places by myself under the guidance of other chefs, and then made the move into the city (Sydney) and I was there for 26 years working in different establishments. These were four-star, five-star, fine dining, a bit of everything.

Is the role of a chef more than we think?
It’s not just about food, it’s not just about cooking in the kitchen. There’s a bigger aspect to a chef’s role, like a proper qualified chef. It’s getting to know the customers, getting to know the business aspects, the finances, the alcohol side of it. So much more, even chemicals. You’ve just got to get into everything, and people think that a chef just walks in, cooks some food and goes home. But it never stops like that, it’s a 24/7 role.

How far ahead do you go with your planning?
It depends, coming close to the festive season I have to think a month in advance, and that’s the tough role. Knowing how much food to order, how much food to have on the premises. Organising the staff to work around the business and that’s where it becomes it’s not just a chef’s role, it’s an admin role really.

Did you get taught these additional skills during your apprenticeship or was it learnt during your career?
I’ve been in the industry now for 36 years and there are things that I’ve picked up, places where I’ve seen mistakes made and you don’t do that ever again and you improve on that. I’ll never say I’m the best chef around, but you’re always learning something every day to improve your business.

Why did you open Red Nectar?
The main reason was I felt Helensburgh needed something a bit nicer in town for people to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, events like that. Also, to spend more time at home close to the family because when I was in the city, I didn’t see them much. I was basically in there a lot.

When someone comes to the restaurant, what’s your hope after their meal?
It’s from the minute they walk in the door. I expect all my staff to treat them like they will treat their own family. To give them a nice experience and talk to them, for them to enjoy their meal and hopefully they’ll go away and tell other people to come.

You’ve been here 15-20 years, what do you love about Helensburgh?
A lot of my background with my family is country, rural country. So, when my wife decided to look at a place to buy here, it kind of made me feel like my family who live out in the rural areas, but without having to live in a rural area. The whole basis of my company name (Red Belly Catering) was based on the National Park, so we went from there.

Do you cook at home?
All the time. If I have a day off work, my wife doesn’t. She wants me to cook.

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Favourite dish to cook at home for the family?
My son’s favourite dish is crumbed pork fillet.

Any tips for us cooking at home?
Just cook and enjoy what you like doing. There’s no rule of thumb. Anyone can be a good cook or chef. It’s just a matter of being able to cook the right thing. And that brings happiness to your family.

What special events are coming up soon at Red Nectar?
The next one is Christmas in July between the 18th and the 22nd. We decorate the restaurant and we have some classical turkey and ham, roast pork and dishes along those lines. Then we’ve got our wine appreciation night and our degustation night, which are probably our most popular events. The wine appreciation night is more of an educational event. We do little dishes that match with certain wines and I come out and talk about the food and the wine. You can ask questions and I help as much as I can. The degustation night is multiple small dishes and you have the option to pick the food component, which could be seven, eight or nine courses. You can have that, or you can do food and wine that I’ve chosen to match the dish.

Red Nectar is at Level 1, 121 Parkes St, Helensburgh, phone 4294 9361, go online or to Facebook

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