five questions with Serge Dansereau
meet serge dansereau
… also known as the head chef and part owner of Bather’s Pavilion, Balmoral.
I am a couple of minutes early for my lunch with Serge – just enough time to breathe in the fresh sea air and marvel at the sun’s rays dancing on the rippled water. There is very little surf at Balmoral Beach, one of the many reasons my parents brought my sister and I here as children. I never did enjoy getting my hair wet. Before I turn to enter the restaurant, a double storied cream masterpiece from the 1920s, I remember my 12 year old self peering into the windows of the cafe and restaurant, watching the ladies of Mosman with their perfect hair and capri pants leisurely taking their luncheon at crisp linen covered tables. I am perhaps a little more unruly than their usual clientele, with hair blown asunder and cheeks reddened by the wind, but am welcomed nonetheless and sit down with Serge and the publishing crew at Harper Collins to a most excellent meal of sashimi, lamb and crisp apple brulee.
With a butcher for a grandfather and dairy farmer and chef uncles, it seems the act of producing food is in Serge’s blood. Starting out as a dishwasher in Quebec, he quickly caught the taste for the chef’s life and, upon moving to Sydney in 1983, began to reinvent the art of fine dining in Sydney after being appointed as the Executive Chef of Kables just one year after starting there. In June of 1999 (and not before battling long and hard with council and residents alike to inhabit the worn down Pavilion) he opened the Bather’s Pavilion Restaurant, the more affordable Cafe and more recently the Kiosk, providing seasonal beach-side fine dining and turning the quiet Balmoral Beach into a culinary destination.
Serge is affable, with a quick knack for good conversation and a clear penchant for the luxe, but not without generosity. I’d brought my slightly battered copy of one of his first books, “Bather’s Pavilion” in the hopes of having it signed, which he did with aplomb, and on seeing my eyes linger on his entree, which was served as an alternate drop, offered to switch with mine.
and this is what we asked him
1. What is your first port of inspiration when designing the beautiful dishes served at Bathers Pavilion?
My approach is to seek the produce that is in season and I develop dishes incorporating the best available to me. I am fortunate enough to purchase directly from the market as I have an employee whose sole job is to go every day of the week to source our fruit and vegetables at Flemington Markets. When he returns to Bathers’ with his load of produce he also updates me on any produce that are coming up, reaching their peak or on any new crops about to be ready. We have close links with local growers who will plant specific crops for us which helps in writing menus that will show ingredients in their prime.
2. Having moved from Quebec to Sydney, what was the food or ingredient you missed the most? (And have you been able to find it since?)
I would be tempted to say maple syrup but I am able to source it from a French Canadian importer who understands my need to get the right quality. If I have to pick an ingredient not found in Australia but one that I was able to get in Canada it would have to be “fiddlehead”. They are the soft start of ferns found in the forests of Canada, they are green and interesting and could compare themselves in a sense to asparagus.
3. You recently traveled to Monte Carlo for the 25 year celebrations of Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV, as one of only three Australian chefs invited. What was the highlight of your trip?
I have to say that was it was a marvellous and totally unique occasion being invited with 200 other world leading chefs from Joël Robuchon to René Redzepi, Pierre Troisgros, David Chan and many other incredible chefs. The highlight had to be the dinner with Prince Albert, Princess Charlene and Princess Caroline with the food and wine served to an incredible level. The best produce was served like foie gras, white truffle, caviar but also beautiful local ingredients like local prawns, organic vegetables, superb goat’s cheese and quince. It was certainly a once in a lifetime experience.
4. What is your go-to dish for dinner when you’re too tired to cook? (Mine is baked beans on toast).
My standby easy food is a toasted tomato sandwich; I always keep tomatoes in a bowl in the kitchen and sliced on toasted sourdough with plenty of mayonnaise, sea salt and cracked pepper it is a perfect fast meal.
5. What is the one food or drink that you just can’t stand (and why?)
The one ingredient that I just cannot eat or adjust to is dried desiccated coconut. I always say you could torture me and I would still not eat it! I like fresh coconut but in its dry form it reminds me of having a full mouth of horse feed.
Seasonal Kitchen: Classic Recipes from Australia’s Bathers’ Pavilion (RRP $59.99) is a celebration of Australian seasons, produce and good food written by Serge Dansereau and photographed by William Meppem and is currently available for purchase online and at book stores nationally.