Kerby Craig is a chef who believes in honest hard work and finding inspiration on the plate, not the screen. This young chef received his first hat at just 26 while working as head chef at Koi. Since then Craig found further acclaim with both Bar Ume (Surry Hills) and Ume Burger in Barangaroo. Here you’ll find a menu made up of the chef’s years of Japanese cuisine experience. We sat down with the young chef to learn what it takes to achieve success in the food industry.
“ The Ume Burger is the prize jewel for me. That’s the quintessential Japanese burger. It’s based on the Mos Burger in Japan. We took that at Ume and made it into our own thing.
Eating is the best way to find inspiration. Not fucking Instagram — Instagram isn’t a source of inspiration and younger chefs need to realise that. They see it, they copy it and they don’t understand it. Eating out is the best form of inspiration, you can learn so much from it.”
A willingness to work
“I got to where I am today through hard work. Through blood, sweat and tears! A lot of studies and a lot of grind. That’s always been my philosophy — if you work harder than the person next to you, you’re going to get promoted. Opportunities come, and you need to know when to say yes or no to things. It comes down to how willing you are to work and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to get to where you want to be.
A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t want to work on a Sunday’, or ‘when I’ve finished my 40 hours, I don’t want to work anymore’. The thing is, if you want to get ahead, the person next to you probably isn’t going to stop when the bell chimes, so you’d better push harder than him/her.”
Work, work, work for free
“I love cooking. School was never my thing and I never really would have gone. I was always career focused and I worked 3 jobs just because I wanted to work and learn more. I used to work for free on my days off. I worked for free at butcher shops to learn butchery and I worked for free at fishmongers so I knew how to fillet a fish. Through that, you disconnect from your friends and family because they don’t live like that. They work Monday to Friday, 9-5. Of course, I still have the same friends and family, but there’s a difference in lifestyle. I missed out on a few social interactions but I did what I wanted to do. So I don’t have any regrets. I’m exactly where I want to be because those were my choices.”
“On a regular day off, I wake up and head to a nice cafe like Q on Harris. The owner is an ex-coffee guy from Alchemy who’s taken over the kitchen in Ultimo. It’s Japanese inspired. He does this really awesome Matcha Cheesecake and he also does fried chicken with shichimi (which is a Japanese spice). They use single origin Indonesian coffee — that’s the sort of place I’d like to start the day. From there I’d probably go somewhere like Chinatown and eat in a Chinese Noodle House or maybe a dumpling shop, maybe BBQ King. I love Asian food. For dinner, I’d probably go somewhere casual. Maybe a burger shop. It just depends on what I’m vibing on the day. I wouldn’t eat a burger for lunch and then eat fried chicken for dinner. I’d break up the cuisines. It’s got to be different otherwise it’s boring. So my ideal food day would be full of contrasting dishes and flavours. I’d advise aspiring chefs not to take a fucking shortcut. It doesn’t work. A really good chef said to me once: ‘if you want to be a good chef, do everything the hard way’. Like, nobody should be taking a head chef job when they don’t have the training. You know, thinking that you can learn everything off YouTube — it’s not the right way to work. Reading cookbooks is great, eating out is great but you don’t learn intuitive cooking from doing it once.”
Bring Jesus home for dinner
“There are certain things where I’ve thought I was wasting my time, but I wasn’t. For example, I was a pasta chef for a year and a half because I really wanted to learn how to make it. I did it 6-7 hours a day; we made everything from scratch every day and then threw it in the bin. I will never forget how to make pasta after that. You could just throw some flour and eggs at me and I’d know what to do. When you do it right, it becomes intuitive. I think too many people are in a rush, so patience would be the key for me.
If I could invite anyone to dinner, the first person I’d say is Jesus because I want to know whether he was the real deal. I’d also take Escoffier, someone who wrote a crazy amount of recipes. Another person I really admire is Renne. Then I think I’d want to invite a philosopher like Socrates or Plato just to see what they would think about it and their unique worldview. I want people that would have a rich insight about food and the social aspects of bringing people together.”