Turnberry chef has community at heart

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TWO MONTHS out from the end of 2012, and it has already been a mammoth year for Turnberry.

Besides hosting the Senior Open Championship for the seventh time in July, the culinary side of the award-winning resort’s offering has celebrated some prestigious highlights.

And executive chef Justin Galea is also approaching his own milestone - 20 years since his cooking career began.

But Turnberry was originally one of the last places he had planned to end up.

Having joined Turnberry in 2001, Justin quickly worked his way up the ranks from Chef de Partie - in charge of the larder - to his current position overseeing all of Turnberry’s food and drink offering.

But the Australian chef had initially seen his stay at the hotel as a temporary phase, having been recruited to the Carrick resort while travelling “via five-star hotels“.

“I took one look at Turnberry and thought, wow, but when I first started cooking I absolutely hated hotels,” he said.

It was while waiting for a restaurant to open up that Justin’s connection to Turnberry began. His mate invited him to help out in the kitchens, and he has never looked back.

Since then Justin has been involved in a number of momentous Turnberry events, but having established the hotel’s newest dining experience - the James Miller Room - as a restaurant less than two years ago, Justin was overwhelmed to achieve Turnberry’s third AA Rosette in September.

“I actually shed a tear,” he said. “It was a justification that we know what we are doing. An affirmation that Turnberry is back to where it should be.”

With Justin at the epicurean helm other Turnberry greats, including the popular afternoon tea and exclusive dining experience Chef’s Table, have also grown in notoriety and uptake.

And despite his short-term intentions for his partnership with the Carrick landmark, Justin has taken ‘local’ to heart. And not just in terms of food.

While it would be easy for him to work his magic from behind closed kitchen doors, instead Justin makes a point of meeting with and chatting to his customers.

“It is very important to me,“ he said. “If I am head chef at Turnberry I want people to know that I am here. I want them to know that the guy they are paying good money to dine with is actually cooking their meal.”

But Justin’s outreach efforts are not restricted simply to paying diners. Together with his predecessor Ralph Porciani, Justin will begin work with the Academy of Culinary Arts’ Adopt a School programme in the New Year, delivering food education to schoolchildren in the Carrick area.

And it is a project that he is evidently excited about. “Sustainability and food is a big thing, but sustainability and people is even bigger. We have a duty of care to the community,” he said.

But perhaps Justin’s desire to work with children has its origins somewhat closer to home.

Justin now has a permanent link to the area in first daughter, Elsa Belle, who was born on August 12.

“She’s the apple of her daddy’s eye; a real chef’s daughter,” said Justin.

“I never thought I would end up somewhere like Turnberry but I am very very happy to have,” he said. “I love what I do very much, and I still pinch myself everyday when I walk into work.”

And for all Turnberry’s refined elegance and luxury, Justin has not lost his fiesty Aussie roots. “To this day I still tell everyone that I am not a hotel chef but a restaurant chef!” he says.