A love of food and cooking has taken chef Praveen Leelavathy around the world.
The journey began at Kerala in southern India, where he was born and raised, and has taken him to the Hunter Valley via Dubai.
He was appointed executive chef at The Legends Grill, Chateau Elan at The Vintage, in April.
"As a child I remember eating food made with love by Mum; straight from pan to plate or pots to plate, and always hot and fresh," he said.
"I had dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot, however ended up studying science and then went to hospitality school in early 2000. My uncle was an executive chef at the Marriott Hotel in Dubai and, after working in a few hotels and restaurants in India, I moved there in 2004."
While working in kitchens with Marriott International, Kempinski, Four Points and Armani hotels, as well as Atmosphere in Dubai, he gained experience in cuisines ranging from American steakhouse to Italian, Mediterranean, South American, Asian and French.
During that time he worked with chefs the calibre of Jason Oakley, Dwyane Cheer, Doxis Bekris and Massimiliano Sperli.
Leelavathy enjoyed competing in Emirates International Salon Culinaire competitions. Notably, he was first runner-up (best gastronomist) in 2010, and runner-up (chef of the year) in 2014.
"Competing helped me to create, think out of the box, stay up-to-date with market trends, focus on quality and consistency, gain a competitive mind set, and to be more patient," he said.
"After spending more than 15 years in Dubai, though, I became tired of the fast-paced pressure cooker lifestyle. I visited Sydney with my wife Anupriya in 2018 and decided to relocate after that holiday."
The change of pace in Australia has given him a new perspective on his chosen career and allowed him to experiment with new ingredients and techniques.
"Cooking is an act of love. A science. An art which needs passion, dedication, sacrifice and a constant quest for improvement," he explained.
"My best reward and satisfaction is to make people feel good through the food that I cook, present and serve. My philosophy is not to damage the products I use, whether it's meat, vegetables or seafood. I don't want to change it to something that cannot be recognised when eating.
"I love organic cooking and genuine local produce, and I love cooking with wine. There are infinite things to explore."
Leelavathy enjoys working with foie gras, Italian white truffle, Caspian caviar, Australian lamb and beef, Japanese Wagyu and Kobe beef, Hunter Valley wine and cheese, scallops, langoustine, and chanterelle mushrooms.
His signature dish is the 36-hour braised beef short ribs with peas, parsnips, oxtail ravioli and port wine jus.
"My menu at Chateau Elan consists of great seasonal produce sourced from this region and different regions around the country. My goal is to try to use as much fresh produce as possible and get the best out of every season."
The Legends Grill is closed due to COVID restrictions and will re-open on July 30.
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