Some people go away on the weekend to indulge in hobbies like surfing or fishing, but for Andy Allen, a good time involves joining his mates in the kitchen to cook up a feast for 150 people.
This weekend, Andy will joining chefs Darren Robertson and Peter Clarke at the Yalumba Farm Gate Lunch event, happening as part of Tasting Australia 2021.
Given Allen is currently in the process of filming the final episodes of MasterChef Season 13 in Melbourne, this entire week is shaping up to be somewhat of a pressure test.
He will jet to Byron Bay for a wedding on Thursday, then the Gold Coast Friday night, before heading to Adelaide on Saturday morning for a drive out to the Barossa Valley.
A co-owner of The Three Blue Ducks’ stable of seven restaurants across the east coast, the Sydney-based chef is prolifically busy and yet seems completely unflustered.
“This weekend’s particularly busy, but as long as I’m having fun and working with great people, it just seems to work,” says Allen.
The chef’s easy-going nature has helped him stay cool under pressure in the kitchen, in front of the camera and while running a fast-growing business.
However, he credits most of his success to the people that surround him.
This is Allen’s second season as a MasterChef co-host, and it’s been almost a decade since the apprentice electrician-come-celebrity chef won season four of the show.
At the time of his win, everyone wanted a piece of the marketable young chef.
“Coming out of MasterChef in 2012, some people look at you and think of how they can work with you to make money,” he says.
“At the time, you just think it’s amazing that these people want to work with you, but it took me probably eight or nine months to just pull back and think about what I wanted to do.
“Surrounding yourself with really good people is super important.”
It was while competing in season four that Allen struck up a friendship with Robertson, the Tasting Australia 2021 food curator, who featured in an episode highlighting the Three Blue Ducks’ flagship restaurant at Bronte.
“I literally went on [MasterChef] as a dare in 2012 and came out a winner. I probably didn’t realise what it meant for me until I met the guys at the Three Blue Ducks, because it helped me to realise a career path,” says Allen.
“We just connected really well.
“I was taken aback at how the boys handled themselves in the kitchen and there was this really casual nature about them – they didn’t take themselves or their food too seriously.”
Several months after winning MasterChef, Allen was invited by the Three Blue Ducks to cook in their pop-up restaurant at Falls Creek during the snow season.
“I spoke with Mark (Labrooy) and he said, ‘Mate, I’ve got four weeks of cooking down in the snow; we’ll snowboard by day and we’ll cook by night,’” says Allen.
“I went down, I just instantly fell in love with it as soon as I got into kitchen. It was a really tiny kitchen, only a 35-seater restaurant, but I just loved the energy and the challenge that you faced every day. It was just something that drew me in.”
Since that snow season, Allen has helped The Three Blue Ducks to grow from one restaurant into seven, including three new restaurants at the end of last year.
“It’s been both the hardest work I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding as well,” he says.
“Life continues to change every day, being appointed one of the new judges last year that kind of skyrocketed everything again.”
With a lot to chew on for the time being, Allen says he’d never rule out a restaurant in Adelaide in the future.
“She’s a pretty fair wingspan that we’ve got going on down the east coast, but I love Adelaide and South Australia, so I’d never rule anything out.”
The 33-year-old chef relishes the opportunity to cook at festivals and events, particularly for the chance to collaborate with others.
“I think there’s always a stigma about chefs and restaurants that they’re really competitive against each other, but it’s not the case,” he says.
“After what we’ve been through, everyone in the hospitality industry’s really banded together to support one another.
“I’ve got such great friends that are doing Tasting Australia right now; there’s a really awesome sense of community among chefs, so you jump at any chance you get to do these events.
“I’m looking forward to catching up with Daz. With my schedule and with Daz being up in Byron, we don’t get to cook with each other as much as we’d want to. Peter Clarke’s been great in organising what’s going on at Yalumba, and we’re definitely looking forward to cooking together and getting a lunch sorted.”
The 170-year-old winery hosts intimate events throughout the year, but it is rare for it to host such a large gathering.
“We’re super pumped to get there because it just looks incredible. I hope we get some good weather and we can we can turn on a show.”
Yalumba marketing manager Jessica Hill-Smith is a sixth-generation family winemaker and a descendant of Samuel Smith who founded the Barossa winery in 1849.
Hill-Smith says tickets to Tasting Australia’s Yalumba Long Lunch sold out quickly, showing that such events are in hot demand.
The event will be held on long tables inside the winery’s Signature Cellar.
“It is the most beautiful time of year in the Barossa at the moment, all the autumn leaves are out in full colour and you’ve got reds and yellows and oranges just sweeping the landscape, so we will be bringing autumn inside for this farmgate lunch,” Hill-Smith says.
“When I met with Simon Bryant and Nick Stock, we had this idea of farm gate picnic out at the winery and that is how this concept came to be.
“Both Andy and Darren have really elevated that casual dining experience where they hero local and seasonal produce in a casual and inclusive way. That’s exactly the kind of event we wanted to host where everybody would feel welcome.
“It feels a really proud thing to be a part of because the showcasing what South Australia does best.”
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