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A Day in the Life: Australian Venue Co Executive Chef Telina Menzies

We catch up with Telina Menzies to get a glimpse into their day and understand what it’s like to work for one of Australia’s largest hospo groups. We also highlight the inner workings of an industry-leading back-of-house crew and tell you how to get involved.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in running one kitchen – let alone 60 – but it’s an every day occurrence for Australian Venue Co (AVC) executive chef Telina Menzies. In order to get an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes and learn more about some upcoming opportunities with AVC, we joined Menzies for part of their day at Yarra Botanica – the group’s multi-level, floating bar on the Yarra River.

Menzies is a hospitality veteran with close to 25 years experience in the industry. Originally from Western Australia, they’ve done stints at The Hyatt, worked in London and were already overseeing five venues with The Publican Group (which AVC later acquired) at just 26 years old. When the acquisition happened, Menzies was running 16 venues. These days, they’ve grown into a senior role with AVC, overseeing 60 venues across three states – a testament to where hard work and a supportive employer can get you. When we arrive at Yarra Botanica, Menzies is on the roof deck making phone calls and scribbling notes for the day.

“I don’t have an office myself,” Menzies says as we sit down to chat. “I like to be on the ground, in-venue, living and breathing things with my team, I think that’s important. Plus, visiting a different venue each day is exciting for me.”

Menzies says they take a fresh approach to each day because they’re always spent in a new venue, working with different team members.

“I see my role as working for the team, not the other way around,” Menzies says. “My focus is training and development in all areas, so life skills, cooking knowledge, management skills – I try to support my chefs with advice and mentoring.”

Part of Menzies’ approach to development involves building menus with chefs, doing tastings and discussing ingredient combinations. We get to witness this first-hand as we head downstairs to the kitchen, where Menzies is catching up with some of the venue’s chefs.

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When we walk into the kitchen, AVC senior head chef Jay Hennayake and Yarra Botanica head chef Cameron Tan are there to greet us. Menzies takes a casual, hands-off approach that demonstrates a level of trust in their team to both formulate and execute menu ideas.

“What are we making today, Cam?” Menzies is standing in the corner, observing closely but conscious as to not look over Tan’s shoulder while he creates. Tan is preparing three new menu ideas – mussel toast, a ceviche dish and a deep fried halloumi plate. Menzies is happy to let Tan explain the concept behind his dishes as he creates. While Menzies’ demeanor is laid-back, there’s plenty riding on the success of a new dish – Yarra Botanica turns out 1200 plates in a service to go along with thousands more drinks. After plating and a taste test, everyone is happy.

“Cooking isn’t rocket science, it’s mostly down to common sense. Some of the best chefs in the country – even the world – never had formal training,” Menzies says. “It’s all about getting into a venue where you’re learning, there’s a positive culture and you align with a chef or mentor who is willing to teach you, and that’s what I’m trying to create in all our venues.”

Tan explains his ingredient choices, flavour profiles and inspiration behind each dish, and Menzies is complimentary. It’s clear that Tan is trusted to run his own kitchen and have creative control over the menu, aspects that Menzies says makes their job enjoyable.

“I’m pretty lucky to have an amazing team of chefs around me. Our head chefs are all super talented, so that makes my life a lot easier when I’m dropping into venues.”

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With the tasting wrapping up, it’s time for a produce delivery from Scicluna’s – a local, family-owned fresh produce wholesaler. CJ Scicluna arrives with a sizeable box of fruit and vegetables, greets the team and begins talking them through the delivery – weaving a yarn about glow-in-the-dark asparagus along the way.

Menzies, Tan and Hennayake pass around and sample fresh tomatoes, garlic, baby cauliflower and more, while Scicluna explains how to prepare each ingredient. It’s clear that Scicluna has a wealth of knowledge to offer – from making menu suggestions for each piece of produce to explaining which specific part of a broad bean flower is best to eat. He’s open and friendly towards the team, and more than happy to accommodate any questions they have. Menzies says the connection with Scicluna is just one of many rewarding relationships they’ve formed in hospitality.

“A lot of us in the industry talk, look up to each other, admire each other and follow each other, so those conversations around ways we can work together are always happening organically,” Menzies says.

“To get to that stage, use your days off to study somewhere else, put your hand up to do a charity event, push a little bit harder to do something different. That’s how you meet other people, network and build valuable connections.”

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For the next part of their day, Menzies is heading to State of Grace – AVC’s moody restaurant and cocktail bar a short walk from Yarra Botanica. They’ll be checking in with the venue’s new head chef, who has just stepped into their first leadership position. This prompts Menzies to reflect on the early stages of their career, offering some advice to their younger self and other aspiring chefs.

“Take your chances! I got opportunities to travel for work to Chicago, Bali and Singapore over the years. I turned them down, and I wish I had taken those opportunities because they don’t come around very often,” Menzies says. “I was a little scared at the time, but I think fear is a great motivator. Sometimes if you’re scared of something it’s a good thing, because you’re driven by the fear of failure.”

AVC is currently hiring for hospitality staff across many of its venues. While fear can be a great motivator for Menzies, they say prospective AVC employees have nothing to worry about, regardless of their experience.

“We hire for will and train for skill. Hospitality people are all very likeminded, we’re drawn to each other. When you get us all together in a room, we’re creative, we’re super passionate and we fuel each other,” Menzies says. “It can be daunting starting something new, but give it a shot and you’ll find your people here.”

If Menzies’ career pathway sounds like one you’d be interested in, you’re in luck. Australian Venue Co is hiring across several different positions and venues. You can check out job opportunities here.

Photography: Ben Moynihan

This article is produced by Scout Jobs in partnership with Australian Venue Co.

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