Hiring, Hospitality, and the ‘Myth’ of Overnight Success—A Q&A with Matt Moran

Matt Moran and chef preparing food at Aria restaurant

Having grown up on a farm in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, food has always been an integral part of Matt Moran’s life. Now, with more than 30 years in the industry under his belt, and some of the finest dining establishments to his name, his passion for food and hospitality is as strong as ever. Indeed sat down with the celebrated Aussie chef to discuss the defining moment in his career, how 457 visas are affecting the industry, the one interview question he always asks, and what he’d request as his last meal.

What was your first job?

Well, my first role was actually helping dad out on our family farm located on the Southern Tablelands of NSW. I’d help him crutch, drench and mark the sheep, milk the cows, and help him slaughter our own meat. This is where I developed a real interest in food, butchery and farming.

In Year 10 we had to do work experience and I split my time between a bakery and a little butcher shop in Cabramatta. But the first job I had that was that defining moment in my career, was as a first-year apprentice at a restaurant in Roseville called ‘La Belle Helene’. I started there in 1985 aged 15.

What did ten-year-old Matt want to be when he grew up?

I think around the age of 10 I really warmed to the concept of working with food, but I didn’t know exactly what that “role/title” meant at the time.

And your children, do they want to follow in your footsteps?

Haha, not at all! Both of my kids are pretty academic, they’re good kids and work hard. But they’re still too young to really know what their path is. The only thing they’re sure about is that they don’t want to follow mine!

What are the biggest challenges you face when hiring for the hospitality industry?

I think one of the biggest challenges is getting people to understand that it’s a great industry in which you can have a thriving career—there are a lot of great opportunities out there. Wrongly, hospitality is often viewed in the light that it’s ‘the job you have while you’re studying for a real job’, and that simply isn’t true.

The Federal government crackdown on 457 visas was also a challenge for us. I understand the push to hire locally, but the reality is that particularly when it comes to chefs, there just isn’t the pool of talent locally so many restaurateurs need to look overseas as well.

Have you noticed any significant changes in the industry in the past five years?

I’ve noticed the influence of social media and TV shows has been a fantastic platform to inspire people into a career in hospitality.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in TV series such as ‘The Great Australian Bake Off, MasterChef Australia and Family Food Fight—and seen some great talent go on to have successful careers.

Having said that, it does give others a sense of ‘overnight success’. It took me over 30 years to get where I am today, so it’s important to look for candidates that are willing to do their time and set themselves up for a long, sustainable career.

What attributes do you look for when hiring?

Many things, but the key players are; cultural fit, potential, represents the brand, shares the same views/values/work ethic.

What’s the one interview question you always ask?

I like to ask this question straight up: “Do you want to do this job?” It sounds like an odd question to ask a candidate; however, it allows them to really think about the role, and also respond with an honest reason as to why they want to do it. I find with this question, they often reveal more about themselves, their priorities and understanding of the role than any other.

What’s the best motivator for employees?

Mentorships are fantastic and worth their weight in gold (especially in the early days), but I’d have to say most importantly, a great culture. A team that feels included in “the process” and valued will give you a lot back. We invest a lot in our teams and ensuring they feel valued as well as providing the opportunity for them to develop and grow with the business. You’re motivated when you’re learning.

What advice can you offer to aspiring young chefs?

Be hungry to learn and take responsibility to learn as much as you can. Observe your colleagues and how they do certain things really well. Ask questions, practice, build relationships, work hard and be passionate. It’s an incredible job, but it’s hard work at the same time—you’ve got to love it.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in business?

There are a few. Firstly, believe in yourself, your intuition and your vision. Then, get out of the way (surround yourself with smart people that do a better job for you than you can. Fill your weak areas with great people). Finally, transparency and honesty goes a long way.

Hospitality seems to be a fairly future-proof industry for jobs as far as AI goes, can you imagine a time where robots will take the place of people in the kitchen?

I hope not! Food prepared with love and care just tastes that much better.

Gravy being poured over pork

Is being able to cook well an inherent talent, or is it something that can be taught?

A bit of both, really. Anyone can be taught how to cook but if you want to be a great cook or chef, I do believe that talent needs to be there lying dormant. Hard work and practice establishes their career, but talent is what keeps the passion going.

What do you love to cook at home?

People probably think I hate cooking at home, but it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s one of my favourite places to cook and I do it often. We have a family farm that provides beef and lamb to my restaurants, so we do love a good roast or BBQ.

What would your last meal be and who would join you at the table?

Tough question! It’d have to be a spread of all the kings of food so I can indulge; caviar, foie gras, oysters, I could go on… Let’s just say it’s a long table of 100 so that everyone I care about, or who’s impacted my life positively has a seat at the table. That would be great.

Matt Moran's restaurant Aria