Mark Donald is the senior sous chef at the award-winning Bentley restaurant and bar, located within the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel in Sydney, Australia. He talks sun, seasons and visas with Janet Harmer
What attracted you to live and work in Sydney, Australia?
I had been wanting to travel after Hibiscus and my partner Madelaine is from Tasmania, so we decided to head to Australia.
I had organised a job at a restaurant before I flew out, but unfortunately that went a little sour. I then joined the team at Bentley.
How did the Bentley job come about?
A couple of guys I had previously worked with had also worked at Bentley and said I should check it out. I did a few trial shifts and they offered me a job as they had just lost a senior member on the team.
How easy was it for you to obtain a visa?
I had lived in Australia in 2005 on a working holiday visa, which you are only allowed once, so the process this time wasn't easy. My only option was sponsorship, via a 457 visa, which involves the employer paying for your temporary residence, and in return you promise to work for a set amount of time. It involved a lot of paperwork and was a total ball-ache to be honest, but once it was approved, it was a great feeling.
Describe the style of food served at Bentley
It is modern or contemporary Australian. Brent [Savage, the chef-proprietor] has an unique cooking style. We use a small amount of native ingredients, like bush tomato, quandong, desert lime and lemon aspen. But, like many other Australian restaurants, Bentley also pulls influence from a lot of other styles and cultures. Brent is a major figurehead on the food scene here. We are serving kangaroo fillet right now with pickled quandong, beetroot, spring onion and native pepper.
What are your key responsibilities?
Primarily, it is to adhere to the standards set before me. I jump from section to section where needed and liaise with suppliers. Another big part of my role is listening. Everyone has their own issues and sometimes the chefs have no-one to chat to because of the hours we work, so it's good for the guys to vent with someone.
What are the key challenges of working in Sydney?
I still struggle with the seasons. For example, strawberries from one part of Australia will be at their peak and then slowly deteriorate, and then they will be absolutely stunning from another state, whereas back home it's a once-a-year deal. With temperatures at 40°C, it's hard for anyone, but I'm a ginger Scot. You should see my lobster impression!
What are the best aspects of living and working in Sydney?
The weather in general is pretty glorious. It's nice to have a swim or go to the beach on your days off or jump in a boat and dart around the harbour. I enjoy cooking on my barbecue at home on my balcony, in my bare feet and Speedos.
Are there any bad aspects?
It's a big journey to get back home, and even though it's "only a day away", the reality is that it costs a lot to go back or for people to visit. The crisps here aren't as good as back home either.
Describe the dining-out scene
I love eating out in Sydney. There's a large number of Asian expats here, so there are a huge amount of exceptional places to get a cheap plate of dumplings or an amazing bowl of laksa. Going out for breakfast is a big deal and it's cheaper here to go out for a high-end meal.
Are there many British employees working in hospitality in Sydney?
There's quite a few of us. I work with another Scottish guy called Colin, who I worked with in Scotland. It's a huge city, but the restaurant scene is pretty tight so everyone has a contact and friends dotted about somewhere. We meet up and talk about the rain back home and how we could all go for a packet of chocolate Hobnobs.
Is it easy for the British to obtain jobs in hospitality in Sydney?
I think it's easy for anyone if you can provide the goods on your trial. Everywhere seems to be struggling for chefs because there are so many restaurants in a country far bigger than the UK, but with only a third of its population.
How long do you intend to remain in Australia?
I think I'll be here for another year or so at least, but ultimately I'm looking to run my own place. Whether or not it's in Australia is something I am undecided on.
2014-present Senior sous chef, Bentley restaurant and bar, Sydney, Australia
2012-2014 Senior sous chef, Hibiscus, London
2010-2012 Chef de partie, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Perthshire
2010 Stagier, Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark
2006-2009 Chef de partie to sous chef, Stravaigin, Glasgow
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