Agile with balcony
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Q&A with local head chef, Shaun Quade

23 January 2018

We spoke to the head chef at Lûmé about the dishes and the experiences he creates at this Melbourne restaurant, just ten minutes from the T&G Building.

1. When did you become a chef?

I started my career at a fish and chip shop in my hometown of Toowoomba, after spending my high school years working at McDonalds. From there, I spent my early years in the kitchens of Urbane, Quay, Biota and The Royal Mail Hotel.

I’m not a formally trained chef. I studied the basics but it got boring very quickly — I preferred to read and research and learn on my own. I’m obsessed with things that I am passionate bout, and to be honest that’s probably been a huge advantage in getting my career to where it is today. It’s funny because some people would perceive that as a personality flaw, whereas I feel like it’s an asset!

2. What was your inspiration to become a chef?

 I like art and music. I feel like cooking is another creative outlet, but a sustainable one. If I weren’t a Chef I’d probably be in a band, eating 2 Minute Noodles and struggling to pay my rent.

3. When did Lûmé open?

We opened in August 2015. But it was a very different restaurant back then because I opened with another business partner, who left a couple of months later. It was a stressful time because it came as a total surprise, but it was also a blessing because it gave me the opportunity to really make Lûmé what I’d originally envisioned it to be. That’s when I found my current business manager and things truly took off. So in reality, Lûmé as we know it opened in January 2016.

4. Why did you choose to open it at such a prestigious and unique location?

I wanted Lûmé to be a bit off the well-beaten track, but still close to the CBD. The South Melbourne demographic is an eclectic mix — you’ve got radio stations, production companies and high-end advertising agencies juxtaposed with cute little townhouses and housing commission flats. I really like that diversity.

I live on Flinders Lane in the Paris End of Melbourne CBD myself, so wanted a venue that fit with the things I love about Melbourne; accessibility, eccentricity, beautiful architecture and history.

5. What sort of clientele do you serve at the restaurant?

We dedicate a ridiculous amount of time behind the scenes to analysing our audience and improving how we cater to them. Some people might think that it’s insane; the lengths we go to in order to find out what dishes individual guests prefer, the wines we should order in for when they dine with us…that’s the basis of what we do. We want to create the most enjoyable, customised experience we can for our guests, and that takes a lot of time and research to work out.

We’re really inspired by restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park in that regard. However, we find that the Australian market is not so keen on that kind of personalisation — compared to LA where the demand for what we do is huge. At the moment, around 78-80% of our diners are coming from overseas, which is really interesting. Our primary clientele are from China, Singapore, the United States and London. We get a lot of destination diners who base their holidays around food, which makes total sense to me, because that’s how I plan my trips too.

6. What’s your favourite menu item?

I tend to get bored easily, so my favourite dish is usually whatever I’m working on at the time. As soon as it’s finished it’s like, “challenge over, I’m bored. Next!” At the moment I’m really enjoying working on the plant-based dishes and the vegan menu. That’s the food I like to eat at home.

7. What is the most popular item on the menu?

The Pearl on the Ocean Floor, because people recognise it from that episode of MasterChef where some contestants cried while trying to make it. We generally don’t cry when we make it at the restaurant, though. I find that our diners appreciate that.

8. If you could open one restaurant overseas, where would it be and why?

My partner and I are opening a second Lûmé in Los Angeles in 2018. I’ve been really drawn to the location for two reasons: firstly, Californian produce is utterly incredible. People there have access to such beautiful, abundant local ingredients year round — some of which I’ve never worked with before, which is exciting to me as a chef. I’ve been increasingly moving toward plant-based cooking and using seafood as opposed to meat in my menus, which aligns with the Los Angelean way of dining. We’ve reflected that in Melbourne as well by developing a dedicated Vegan Tasting Menu, which we’ll be launching this Summer.

The second reason I’m interested in Los Angeles is the momentum behind the dining scene over there. I’m lucky that my partner is an economist, so she has a knack for spotting a market trend from a mile off! A lot of international chefs have announced new venues in Downtown LA over the last 12 months or so, and the industry over there is really taking off. We’re predicting that this is going to grow exponentially over the next few years — especially with the announcement of the Olympics and the associated investment into city infrastructure that will be taking place between now and the Games.

9. What is the most unique dish you’ve created in your career?

So far, I’d have to say it’s the Meyer Lemon Tree, which incorporates virtual and augmented reality technology to create a fully immersive experience. It’s designed to take diners out of the restaurant and into our Yarra Valley orchard, where they can see, smell and hear all the elements that go into the dish before finally tasting it.