Andrew McConnell is a Melbourne-based chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, cookery columnist, butcher shop owner and, recently, keen veggie gardener.
Since opening his first restaurant Dining room 211 in 2002 he’s helped create a particularly Melburnian style of eating, one that combines elements of fine and casual dining and features meticulously sourced ingredients, precise cooking, flexible menus and sharply designed dining spaces.
Andrew’s current stable of businesses is a diverse group that, together, tells the story of how he likes to eat. There’s award-winning fine diner Cutler & Co. and his pub the Builders Arms Hotel with its Chinese restaurant Ricky & Pinky.
There are wine bars Marion and Cumulus Up, a modern Asian diner Supernormal, French bistro Luxembourg and influential all-day diner Cumulus Inc. There’s also Meatsmith, his Fitzroy butcher shop that retails meat he sources from the same small, artisan producers he uses for his restaurants and wine bars.
Influences in his cooking career have come from people and places. Early on, Andrew worked for some of Melbourne’s biggest names – Bill Marchetti and Greg Malouf among them – but it is chef Tansy Good, whom he cooked for at her acclaimed restaurant Tansy’s in the 1990s, he believes is the one who really taught him how to cook with finesse.
Extensive experience living and working overseas has also been integral to the kind of cooking and the kind of businesses he’s become known for. He spent four years in Europe working and travelling before scoring his first head chef job in Hong Kong where he worked for three years before moving to Shanghai for two years. The influences of those places and experiences, plus his ties to his home town, can be spotted in all his restaurants today.
Andrew recently became the owner of his first vegetable garden and has been seriously bitten by the gardening bug. Rather than use it to try and supply his restaurants though (“my growers are better at doing that than I am”) he’s using his patch of dirt as a way to relax and to experiment with growing different vegetables and herbs, different flavours, that might one day end up on one of his menus. It’s another in a long line of influences.