Jamie's Italian is on a recruitment drive in Canberra this week, holding hands-on interview sessions on Tuesday where wannabe Jamie chefs were put through their paces.
Jamie's Italian general manager in Australia Karen Westfield said she saw about 25 chefs yesterday and expected to make offers to as many as 12 or 15 of them. Held at Three Seeds at the Fyshwick Markets, the interview session was the first of three, in which Jamie's Italian executive chef David Clarke, from Sydney, demonstrated typical Jamie dishes and chefs and apprentices were asked to re-create them.
The restaurant is being built in the site of the former Kingsley's Steakhouse on the ground floor of the Canberra Centre (the Pacific Restaurant Group, which owns Kingsley's, has the rights to Jamie's Italian in Australia), opening on to Bunda Street. Demolition began last week and Karen Westfield says the eatery would be open before the end of the year, with exact dates depending on progress of the building work.
With about 150 seats inside and 50 outside, the look and feel would be line with the Jamie's Italian restaurants around the world - more than 30 in all - "urban, industrial, lots of reclaimed furniture", built to a British design.
Karen Westfield said they had been inundated with applicants for 35-40 chefs and apprentice jobs in the new eatery. Also on Tuesday, she held interviews for front of house staff. About 18 people were interviewed, and also put through a practical test, like the chefs – in the case of front of house staff, they were asked to describe and present a dish.
The group has appointed a head chef for Canberra, who started work a fortnight ago at the Sydney restaurant ahead of the Canberra opening.
Karen Westfield said she had explained to the Canberra recruits that working at Jamie’s Italian was a rollercoaster, with tables turning over two or three times a service. “There are queues out the front door and you don’t know how you will get through the night, but you do … You get to the end of it and you say that was an amazing adrenalin rush. And you do it all again tomorrow.”
From the customers’ viewpoint, the empire aims to capture what people like about Jamie Oliver, with a fun, relaxed and informal vibe, and simple Italian food. Karen Westfield said one of the biggest selling dishes was prawn linguine ($26.50), made with fresh pasta, Spencer Gulf prawns, a homemade tomato sauce, rocket, fennel and chilli. The formula was also about a good price point: “We don’t pitch ourselves at the business who wants to wine and dine. We pitch ourselves at the receptionists and the secretaries who have only got $20 and want a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine.”
The 180-seat Sydney restaurant, opened in late 2011, does about 800 covers a day. A second Jamie’s opened in Perth earlier this year. The menus are largely the same throughout the Jamie’s empire.