Josh Kerr re-joined Spice Temple Melbourne as Head Chef in February 2020. Within a month the Covid-19 induced lockdown kicked in, but the Scottish chef used the enforced hiatus to his benefit and cemented his knowledge of Chinese cookery.
One such pastime included hunting for old Chinese cookbooks, such those from the Wei-Chuan cooking school series. At other times he absorbed the cookbooks of Fuchsia Dunlop and Carolyn Phillips. He even found himself re-watching the original Iron Chef series from the 1990s: “it’s so dated but I love it!” he says.
He also researched the world of Baijiu and Chinese spirits, including reading the works of Derek Sandhaus on the topic, and found himself relating to Chef Michael Rosenblum, an American ex-pat living in China, after listening to his Tedx talk on the concept of authenticity in cooking. “It was really interesting to hear his experience and trials with being taken seriously as a chef of Chinese cuisine as a white American,” Josh says.
When Josh wasn’t immersing himself in these topics, he volunteered with Hope Delivery, which operated from Rockpool Bar & Grill and donated meals to out-of-work hospitality professionals and other individuals who found themselves in need.
Prior to re-joining Spice Temple as Head Chef, Josh was no stranger to the team having started at the restaurant as a second-year apprentice in October 2012. He moved up the culinary ladder, taking on roles as Chef de Partie, Junior Sous Chef and Senior Sous Chef. Josh has also worked with Sand Hill Road group and immediately prior to his return to Spice Temple, he worked with Trader House Restaurants.
Josh describes his culinary direction as being inspired by tradition and history. “I’ve been more inspired and intrigued by cuisines and cultures that have this sense of reverence towards food, including China, Japan and France,” he says.
In Chinese cookery he enjoys the shift towards lighter flavours and dishes that summertime brings, including the arrival of flowering garlic chives, which are one of his favourite ingredients. Another favourite ingredient is Australian bamboo: “which is time-consuming to prep but really worth it. Fresh bamboo is such a unique flavour and texture.” Otherwise, he loves working with seafood of all types, including amazing produce from Victorian fisherman, Bruce Collis.
“I also love using all the different types of dried, pickled, fermented and preserved pastes used in Chinese cooking. It’s so different from what I grew up with in Scotland,” he says.