Award-winning chef George Diamond oversees multiple venues and a vast staff in order to give patrons a brilliant dining experience. By Frank Leggett
George Diamond is group executive chef at Trippas White Group, overseeing 36 venues in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra. His role is to oversee all kitchen operations and develop menu strategies for each particular business in this extremely diversified group. Venues include SkyFeast, Bar 83 and Infinity at Sydney Tower, Portside and Yallamundi Rooms at the Sydney Opera House, Australian Institute of Sport, Australian War Memorial and Canberra Grammar School—to name just a few. Trippas White Group has also recently opened two stylish venues in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, Reign and Esquire.
How do you manage so many different venues and cuisines?
You need the ability to manage people and yourself. Since our business is so diversified, it’s imperative to recruit the right individual and talent for each position. It’s also important to understand the concept of each venue.
Our two new restaurants in Sydney’s QVB have very different feels. Reign is a champagne parlour and bar that’s light and airy with a female energy. Esquire is more of a whisky bar that has a dark-toned supper club feel. We designed the kitchens and employed chefs that can follow the exacting food briefs of each concept.
I don’t micromanage; I just oversee everything while mentoring and supporting our staff. Creative freedom is important for all chefs but they need to respect the culinary concept.
What’s it like working for a large company like Trippas White Group?
It’s an absolute pleasure. Our staff are very passionate, and the culture is fantastic. Every day offers different experiences, challenges and opportunities. One day I might be visiting HammondCare at one of our hospital facilities, looking at the most recent processes. Then I might visit Infinity in Sydney Tower to discuss the menu with our talented executive chef.
You won Chef of the Year at the 2020 New South Wales Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence. Are these awards important to you?
I was very honoured to be included as a finalist after being nominated by my managing director and peers at Trippas White Group. I’ve never been a person who seeks accolades but it’s an absolutely wonderful thing when it happens. It’s also a great validation of the talented executive team with which I work. They are experts in their field, and we all complement each other.
Is there one thing all your kitchens have in common?
Yes, they’re all spotlessly clean! We require our venues to adhere to a very rigid food safety program. Initially, I announced in advance when I was visiting but soon changed that to completely random inspections. We do monthly internal audits that includes a 174-point system. If there’s a maintenance issue or a food safety issue, the venue has 24 hours to get it repaired or upgraded. We give them 48 hours if a new piece of equipment needs to be ordered. It keeps everyone on their toes.
Tell me about your head chef conferences?
When I started in 2017, all the group’s head chefs would be flown to Sydney and sit in a room and talk for 10 hours. I felt we needed a more inspiring way to run this event with more interaction. Now we might go to a farm for a day, do some foraging and enjoy a wonderful lunch. We invite a variety of suppliers to bring their high-quality products in order to encourage the chefs to expand their menus. These conferences have been a real success, making our restaurant culture more dynamic, the menus more interesting and encouraging connections between our chefs.
How badly did COVID-19 affect the Trippas White Group?
Even being such a diversified group, we were faced with the negative impacts that were felt across the board—just like everyone else in the food and hospitality industry. It was wonderful to have the government support the sector and wonderful that they continue to do so.
We had about 300 staff on JobKeeper but a lot of our staff were not eligible due to being a sponsored employee, not having worked for 12 months or for some other reason. There was about 1000 staff who couldn’t work or feed their families. Our executive team decided we would provide a number of meals each week, free of charge, for every staff member. I set up a production kitchen in Sydney with a team of 15 chefs. Every week we would produce thousands of meals. We did that for three months until we reached a point where our business started opening up again and we were able to put our staff back on the payroll.
How do you make a restaurant great?
The most important thing is consistency. If you’re consistently good, consistently produce great food and consistently provide amazing, attentive service, then you have the best chance of succeeding. It doesn’t matter if it’s a high-, medium- or low-end business—it’s all about making sure your product and service is consistent. You also need to find a gap in the market where you can slot in your business. Do your research, find a competitive edge, know your market and understand what they’re looking for. Create something that’s innovative using the best ingredients. Know what local produce is out there, what’s in season and the various price points. It’s about ensuring your customers feel special and meeting their expectations each and every time.