Wage theft is an open secret in the hospitality industry (a current example in Adelaide is “modern slavery” according to international working definitions). So it’s refreshing when head chef Brendan Wessels shouts it out without being asked. “Our industry seems to be stuck in the past in many ways. Especially when it comes to investing in people, ”he told Broadsheet. “The profit margin in restaurants is so low… that’s why there is so much pressure on owners and chefs to cut corners. In the end, we don’t pay the staff properly. In the end, we don’t buy the products we should. In the end, we don’t support the farmers the way we should. “
Wessels (formerly Restaurant d’Arenberg Cube) will lead the kitchen team at Aurora, which is part of the new multi-story art eatery Light on Light Square. It’s slated to open next week and joins the already opened Little Mission Cafe and The Lab, a multi-genre music and art space. According to Wessels, the nonprofit Light Social Enterprise, founded by philanthropists Nick and Sophie Dunstone, is determined not to compromise. This means paying employees fairly and training them well. “We don’t have any owners who say, ‘I want every penny I can so I can buy a new Jaguar.’ We have to do this financially sustainable because we want to prove that the model can work, “he says.” This is different from a lot of experiences I’ve had in the past, which is why I’m so intrigued … you don’t have to fall back on negative industry practices. “
But Aurora isn’t just a political statement; It is a love work. South African-born Wessels enjoys a specially made braai on which he grills proteins and vegetables (an early preview suggests fire-licked squid, broccoli, shallots, chicken and fish). “It’s a big part of my culture … It’s like a grill, only ten times better,” he says. “It’s a wood fire grill that we actually designed and built for Aurora. It is very exciting for us to teach our employees to cook with fire. “
The restaurant offers two menus (a la carte options and a tasting menu), and while the final details are pending, expect subtle influences ranging from Korea and Japan (think miso and nori, or ponzu marinade) Seafood with yuzu) to the Middle East (e.g. bulgur wheat or Ras el Hanout), the Mediterranean (such as peperonata and semolina gnocchi) and Australia (Australian salmon and tufts of salt).
With the care of Richard Gunner (who, according to Wessels, has “encyclopedic knowledge of products”) and Simon Bryant (a “pioneer in sustainable food sources”), Wessels has found suppliers who match the Aurora ethos. As we walk through the office space on the upper floor, Wessels points to a mind map attached to a wall. It outlines the principles suppliers must meet before the restaurant will work with them, and covers the quality of the products, the location, and working practices. Farmers like supplier Kasim Erkoc (from K & R Produce) deliver vegetables.
“Every week I buy fruit in the supermarket and every week I hate myself. They are terrible and I am so distraught and angry. The end of the world – and it just shows how complacent we have become about food, ”says Wessels. “Kasim’s carrots taste like carrots, his tomatoes taste like tomatoes … His products are absolutely exquisite.”
Aurora opens on February 24th at 63 Light Square.