If ever proof was needed that the Brisbane restaurant scene has what it takes to compete at an international level, then doubters need look no further than the executive chef at the multi-award-winning Urbane Restaurant in Mary Street.
Renowned Argentinean chef Alejandro Cancino was lured to Urbane in Brisbane’s CBD earlier this year after the eparture of former executive chef Kym Machin.
Twenty-eight-year-old Cancino, who began his culinary study when he was just 15, brought with him experience working on five continents under the guidance of head chefs at some of the world’s most famous restaurants.
The globetrotting chef has since proven his talent to Australian culinary critics by winning the title of Best New Talent at the 2013 Australian Gourmet Traveller Awards in Sydney, after only four months in the job.
And Cancino wasn’t the only winner at the recent awards.
The already much-lauded Urbane was itself listed number 25 in the Gourmet Traveller 2013 Top 100 list, thanks in part to Cancino’s menu, which features local and national seasonal produce as part of a sophisticated fine dining experience.
Cancino said his nomination for the Gourmet Traveller Best New Talent award came as a complete shock to him, but said the best reward was simply being able to cook and provide his diners with the best experience possible.
“I didn’t know [about the nomination], a friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook,” he said.
“It makes me feel appreciated for what I am doing, but nothing changes, you have to come, work, and what matters to me is what happens in the kitchen, [and with] the team.
“I think [Urbane customers] expect a unique experience and that’s what we try to do.”
Cancino said he loved being in Australia and in Brisbane especially.
“I moved to Australia in February, I always wanted to come to Australia.”
“People believe that Brisbane is a very small city and that it is no match [for Sydney or Melbourne], but I see a few good restaurants and it will get better and better.
“There is a clientele for it.”
Cancino said the transition from being an apprentice in Argentina to becoming an in-demand understudy across the world was quite sudden.
“At the end of the two-year course [in Argentina], I got a scholarship in France, so I spent three months in France,” he said.
“After France I went to the UK, then I spent two-and-a-half years in Spain, then a year in Mexico, then back to the UK for two-and-a-half years.”
Cancino said he spent two years working in Tokyo as well as spending a short time at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2011, which is widely recognised as the world’s best restaurant.
He said his first stint in the UK was at a “very small restaurant – only me and the chef”, which was an environment that taught him to thrive under pressure.
After being named Young Chef of the Year UK in 2008, Cancino said he quickly moved bigger and better things, including stays at Mugaritz in Errenteria, Spain, and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford, each of which boast two Michelin stars.
Yet despite the variety of destinations that he has worked in, the chef said he had no particular preference for any culinary style.
“I have a mixed background; I started working in a French restaurant, then modern Spanish, Italian… so whatever is good, it could be French, Italian or Japanese,” he said.
Cancino is also very proud of his family-orientated introduction to professional cooking.
“I always liked to eat good food, but no one in my family was gourmet or anything like that, so I think slowly I started getting stuff for myself, like salads for myself, or even cook for my family and try to do it as nice as possible, and then one day [I was told] you can get started to become a chef and I was like ‘good’,” he said.
With so much experience under his belt, Cancino said he would love to eventually open his own restaurant “in the middle of nowhere, between here and the Sunshine Coast”.“I am happy every day with what I am doing.”