By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group
He was acknowledged by industry for his fine dining creations but for NSW Chef of the Year, Darleys Restaurant executive chef Lee Kwiez, “it’s all about the yum’’.
His top chef gong was one of five major awards received by Escarpment Group in the Blue Mountains at the Tourism Accommodation Association (NSW) Awards of Excellence in July.
Other Escarpment Group awards included Regional Superior Hotel of the Year for Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant, Regional Deluxe Hotel of the Year for Lilianfels Resort & Spa and Front of House Employee of the Year for Lilianfels duty manager Meagan Iervasi. The world-famous Hydro Majestic Hotel Blue Mountains at Medlow Bath also received a highly commended for Redeveloped Hotel of the Year.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger, himself a career executive chef, said: “We are very proud to have the top chef in NSW leading our restaurant team. The innovation from his kitchen is exceptional and I am particularly impressed with how he is embracing local and regional food in the menu.
“However, the award for Darleys Restaurant shows that the outstanding dining experience our guests have come to expect is the result of an excellent team of chefs and wait staff at the restaurant.
“Darleys is a beautiful restaurant – the refurbished décor and gorgeous view, the customer service and the fantastic food is world-class.’’
A Colo High School alumni who grew up on a large rural property at Freemans Reach in the Hawkesbury, Kwiez’ culinary career inspiration was cooked up at home.
Mum was cooking shepherd’s pie when I was 14/15 and I thought `I want to be a chef’, then I did work experience at Maxwell’s Table at Kurmond and stayed on to Year 12,’’ he said.I finished school on the Thursday and started work full-time at Maxwell’s Table on the Monday.’’
During his career, Kwiez has travelled the world working in kitchens in Switzerland, Hayman Island and Canada before returning to Sydney where he worked at several restaurants including Milson’s Restaurant.
He was responsible for raising the Woolwich Pier Hotel from number 13 out of 20 to 18/20 in the Good Pub Guide, ranking it one of the top seven pubs in NSW.
“Flavour. Simple. That’s why I love being a chef,’’ Kwiez said.
“Food has got to look good obviously but if it looks pretty and you can’t eat it, I’m not interested. It’s all about the taste – it’s got to have the yum factor.’’
Kwiez has embraced the national focus on local and regional produce, choosing for his menus from produce grown in the 6000sqm kitchen garden at the Escarpment Group-owned Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges property at Blackheath wherever possible.
“Freshness, seasonality and locally grown: that’s my aim in the Darleys kitchen wherever possible,’’ he said.
What can’t be sourced from the Parklands garden is bought from local and regional suppliers from a 100 mile radius of Darleys Restaurant.
The range of produce is enormous, from Dutch carrots, nasturtium flowers and tomatoes to quince, pears, apples, plums, kale, broccoli and more, even the occasional catch of yabbies.
You think `Great, we can make a soup, we can make a salad’,’’ Kwiez said.You go online, you look at cookbooks, you look at what other chefs are doing, you look at three Hatted restaurants. Then you make a little salad or something and tell the customers it’s from the dam up the road – Parklands Pond Yabbies, there you go.’’
Kwiez counts former colleague Saffire Freycinet head chef Hugh Whitehouse (they were apprentices together at Maxwell’s Table and Kwiez took over Darleys from Whitehouse) as a mentor who inspires his own culinary creativity.
While Kwiez is the recognised talent of the Darleys kitchen, he also credited his team for the exceptional standard of food and service at the multi award-winning restaurant: “I’ve got a great team – it’s not just about me. Without them I couldn’t do this.’’
Away from the restaurant kitchen, the father-of-three loves simple flavoursome food: “ A nice steak or sausages as long as you’ve got a big salad to go with it. Or roast chicken with roast potatoes in rosemary and garlic and a big side of greens, that’s my favourite thing with maybe a nice sauce from the roasting juices of the chicken. You can’t beat a good roast chicken.’’
Darley’s Restaurant, Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Lilianfels Ave, Katoomba, is open from 6pm to 10.30pm Tuesday to Saturday. Reservations: (02) 4780 1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Awards – Lee Kwiez
- Woolwich Pier Hotel: Sydney Morning Herald Good Pub Guide 2012-Three schooners award (18/20)
- Milsons Restaurant: Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide – One Hat Award
2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000
- Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide – One wine glass award 2009, 2008, 2007
- Gourmet Traveler wine awards – -Two glasses 2004
- Gourmet Traveler food awards – -two stars 2006, one star 2005
- Jaspers Restaurant: Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide – One Hat Award 2001, 2000
Awards – Darleys Restaurant
- Regional Restaurant of the Year 2013 – Tourism Accommodation Awards for Excellence 2013
- Fine Dining Restaurant Award – 2010 Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Awards for Excellence – NSW Regional
- Australian Hotels Association (NSW)Hall of Fame. 2010
- Best Regional Restaurant – SMH Good Food Guide Awards – 2010
- Two Chefs Hats – SMH Good Food Guide Awards – 2010
- Regional Restaurant of the Year – AHA (NSW) Awards for Excellence – 2009
- Two Chef’s Hats – SMH Good Food Guide Awards – 2009
- Hotel Restaurant of the Year – Hotel Management National Awards – 2007
Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media