Frenchman Franck Verschaeve, Head Chef at CH James is classically trained from a fine dining background, and has brought his skills and verve to the cafe scene. Franck has been receiving a stream of acclaim for his dishes that bring technique and verve - with fine dining techniques applied to cafe dishes. Everything at CH James is made from scratch, with Franck having control over the whole kitchen process, including making his own jams, sauces and relishes.
We caught up with Franck Verschaeve and asked him about the Melbourne culinary scene and his role at CH James...
Q. Franck, tell us about your culinary background.
Franck: Since an early age I've been a chef. It's my passion. Starting in France I worked in many fabulous kitchens including a two Michelin star restaurant, and was trained in a great cooking school there. Here in Australia I've worked with Philippe Mouchel, as sous chef at The Windsor, Head Chef at Centonove in Kew, at Circa, Pope Joan and now at CH James. In recent times I toured France with Luke Nguyen for his SBS cooking series.
Q. Franck, what is your philosophy of food/cooking?
Franck: Keep the food simple and honest, while bringing out the flavours. Bring loads of technique but keep the food simple, not over produced. Always use fresh and seasonal produce.
Q. What do you think of the culinary scene in Melbourne?
Franck: Great, I love the cultural diversity. This is a culinary scene that is completely open. It's open to new ideas. Melbourne has become a great food centre of the world. You can mix many influences here. You can create dishes here that start with Asian influences, then move to Middle Eastern and North American influences in the same kitchen. I like to take the best of different cuisines, for example the nuances of spices from Asian cooking. The diversity displayed in the Melbourne culinary scene is amazing.
Some of the restaurants of Melbourne blow me away. Apart from the food here at CH James, I enjoy Estelle and Merricote in the north, as well as Cumulus and Bar Lourinha for example.
Q. What are your major influences in cooking?
Franck: While I obviously bring my French influence to cooking, I also love to bring Asian influences to the kitchen. I enjoy a fusion approach. In terms of people, I was strongly influenced by a teacher during my schooling in France. This teacher was well travelled and opened my eyes to great ideas and things of life. I have made many friends in the kitchens of Melbourne and still keep in touch with my chef friends.
Q. What makes a great cafe dining experience?
Franck: Simply, the chef needs to put "heart" into the food. No shortcuts. Talent and vision is needed, but a key element is sheer hard work. We make everything from scratch.
Q. Franck, what are your hobbies and interests?
Franck: As a passionate chef my hobbies and interests are related to food. I used to be into soccer but not as much anymore. When I'm not in the kitchen I like to go mushroom picking, fig picking, and food foraging. In terms of fitness, I enjoy riding my bike, including cycling to work.