Senior sous chef for one of Melbourne’s most successful catering companies (The Big Group), Tom Capell’s rare combination of talent and toil have taken him to global culinary heights. We chatted to him about his career journey – and even got him to share what world-class chefs really think of reality TV cooking shows.

Journey to the top of the food industry

How did your adventures in tourism and hospitality begin?

Since the age of 14, I’ve been working in kitchens – I started out washing dishes at the pub in Wye River on the surf coast during school holidays, before I progressed to cooking.

I chose to study my Bachelor of Business at Victoria University for its great reputation in the tourism and hospitality industry. During my final year of uni I concurrently completed my chef’s apprenticeship with a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery. I was incredibly busy but the teachers were so supportive, always pushing me to achieve my best.

How else did you kick-start your career?

I made invaluable connections with industry professionals during my degree, and during cooking competitions at TAFE, I also made networks with professionals and apprentices from other schools.

The work placement year at Cable Beach Club Resort, Broome in the third year of my business degree was another great opportunity to work in the industry and make networks.

What are some of your biggest ‘pinch-yourself’ career achievements?

Cooking in a hatted restaurant (Longrain) cooking for an Iron chef in Philadelphia and being nominated for apprentice of the year across all trades in my final year of studies.

I also worked in Philadelphia (USA) for 18 months – it’s an incredible food city with young, up and coming chefs and restaurants. I took away a lot of great experiences and ideas.

Tell us about your current role

I’m the senior sous chef at Melbourne-based catering company The Big Group(external link). We are the main caterer in the Birdcage at the Spring Racing Carnival and have various venues including Luminare in South Melbourne, Mural Hall above Myer CBD, Ormond Hall and the Glasshouse. I love the variety that my role offers.

Are reality TV cooking shows like MasterChef and MKR selling a lie?

They certainly paint a glorified picture. I see young people coming through the ranks now who think it’ll all fall in their lap. This is unfortunate, as we need chefs who are more competent, and have ideally completed a work-based apprenticeship.

MKR seems incredibly staged – the only thing contestants seem to gain from that experience is an inflated ego! There have been some fantastic cooks to come out of MasterChef, as an apprentice I was jealous of the opportunities they were getting, but I’m glad I took the pathway I did. It taught me a lot about hard work, dedication and having a passion for what you do.

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