Growing up on a property on the outskirts of a rural Blue Mountains town, Joel Bickford’s less-is-more approach to cooking is rooted in a lifelong connection to nature and a deep reverence for his ingredients and their unique regional qualities.
In a career spanning more than 25 years, he has honed his craft at esteemed establishments in Sydney and regional New South Wales including Bel Mondo, Restaurant Arras, Biota Dining and Gantry Restaurant & Bar.
Joel has been executive chef at Aria in Sydney since May 2018. His reinterpretation of the menu at Aria has allowed him to embrace a cooking style that highlights seasonal Australian ingredients, with a razor-sharp balance between simplicity and extravagance, deference and innovation.
He was named Daily Telegraph’s Chef of the Year in 2015 and was more recently awarded Chef of the Year at the 2018 Savour Excellence Awards.
This year is Aria’s 20th birthday and there has been a soufflé on the menu since day one. To celebrate, book via TheFork to dine at Aria until the 18th of October and you’ll receive a limited edition, complimentary spring soufflé to accompany your meal.
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef? Was it a lightbulb moment or something you were always destined for from a very young age?
I started working in kitchens after school from the age of 13. I just liked the buzz and the energy, so once I left school it just seemed like a natural progression to stay in hospitality.
What are your strongest memories of your first kitchen job?
The sense of being part of a team and the massive personalities in the kitchen. I was quite a shy kid so this environment was confronting and fascinating at once.
Is there anything you wish you had done as a young chef, but didn’t?
It was a mistake not travelling and cooking abroad when I was young. I have travelled extensively now but I would have learned so much more about my craft ingredients and about myself had I cooked abroad years ago.
Who is your greatest cooking mentor and what did that person teach you?
I think my time at Biota dining in Bowral cooking alongside chef/owner James Viles definitely redefined the way I cook and the way I think about cooking. Working at such a unique restaurant allowed us to learn a lot about our environment … our biota... and its offerings and how we could incorporate that into our cooking.
How would you describe your cooking style at Aria? And what are the dishes that best represent it?
I think it’s quite hard to describe a style, especially your own. However, as with most chefs, it really does come down to choosing your basic ingredients and maintaining the integrity of those ingredients. I love to cook what I love to eat: beautiful produce cooked simply and presented in a way that showcases that beauty. So that might be amazing fresh Murray cod with mussels and fennel or Torello veal with pan fried sweetbreads, two of my favourites.
What’s the experience you want diners to have at Aria?
I guess as hospitality professionals first and foremost we want to provide a really memorable experience for our guests, something that they can’t get anywhere else. From the moment they arrive and are greeted at the door, to the moment they leave, we want all our guests to feel welcome and comfortable in our hands, coupled with great service and food, and a view that is arguably the world’s best.