December 9, 2022
Spicers Peak Lodge, perched atop a mountain in Queensland’s Scenic Rim, has welcomed a new Executive Chef who shares his passion for the land, people and produce. Karl Reyes has fully embraced The Lodge and The Peak Restaurant which was awarded two chef’s hats in the 2022 Australian Good Food Guide. “There’s a sense of exclusivity at the Lodge,” says Karl, “we engage with our guests on a very personal level, which really appeals to me.”
Martin Hamilton, the General Manager of Spicers Peak Lodge, describes Karl as a remarkably hard worker with an incredibly calm, respectful attitude. “Our new Exec Chef Karl joined us in July 2022. He spent time in the Homage kitchen at Spicers Hidden Vale, so we knew he was good fit. He has a fabulous energy, and he’s very personable with his team and guests,” says Martin.
Karl embraces a simple, refined luxury in his cooking, with clean flavours, and an almost nostalgic respect for traditional ingredients and techniques. “I just love to cook and eat; I have Philippine heritage so I love pork; I also love French and Italian food, as well as Japanese and Korean.”
As much as Karl favours the deep, rich, homey flavours from slow-cooking and braising, “making a broth or jus is an integral part of a dish that binds the whole plate together,” he says. Karl also embraces fresh, simple dishes like sashimi, the intense but clean flavours of Thai food, plus preserving and preparing food through fermenting and pickling.
Karl has some remarkable cooking experiences across several unique regional venues. In 2021 he was Sous Chef at Daydream Island Resort in the Whitsundays, and in 2020 he was also Sous Chef at The Estuary Restaurant at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, near the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
Toshi ‘Seiji’ Hayashi, now Head Chef at The Estuary, was Karl’s first Sous Chef as an apprentice. “Seiji showed me the importance of camaraderie and hard work, and how to hone basic skills into a strong foundation,” Karl said.
For six years until 2020, Karl had some unforgettable experiences working non-consecutively for Belmond Hotels (part of the LVMH Group from 2019), the last three as Executive Chef in Myanmar at Belmond Governor’s Residence a colonial-style mansion dating from the 1920s. “They have shown me luxury service with a focus on being personable, attentive and detail oriented, and opened my eyes to the highest level of hospitality.”
Karl apprenticed at La Rochelle Restaurant in Tokyo and the OE in Sydney from 2004 to 2008. “When I was 22 years old, I worked for the Iron Chef Sakai in Shibuya,” says Karl. “I learned the finesse and precision of Japanese and French cooking, the attention to detail and the culture of respect. Respect for produce, respect for hierarchy and structure, and respect for the process of creation and execution.”
“One of my favourite dishes on the dinner menu is the miso Atlantic salmon with fish bone broth and braised daikon,” Karl says. “Seafood generally represents some of my favourite proteins. The flavours are of the ocean, unique and delicate which are accompanied by the essence of Japan – miso, soy and ‘dashi’ for that touch of umami.”
With the remit to showcase the best ingredients Australia has to offer, Karl and The Peak Restaurant kitchen team work in close partnership with passionate and tireless local producers to ensure the ingredients sourced are fresh, sustainable and in-season. “Australia has some of the best producers and products in the world,” Karl reckons. “To be able to protect and support our local farmers and producers is an honour and a responsibility.”
The chef’s garden at Spicers Peak Lodge is tended to by Myriam and Chuck, who grow a wealth of herbs and vegetables, including rosemary, bronze fennel, red sorrel, fennel, brassica, kale, society garlic, snapdragon, rainbow chard, viola, pansies, rhubarb and salt bush.
“I love any local produce,” Karl says, “I can’t get enough of locally grown mushrooms from the Scenic Rim, organic cauliflower and pumpkin for soups and what I call the building blocks of cooking – butter, tomato, onion, garlic and soy sauce”.
From the Peak Restaurant dinner menu, Karl also recommends the complexity of the mushroom medley with shiitake jelly and porcini cream, and what he describes as the ‘feel good’ richness of the meltingly tender wagyu beef ragout over pappardelle, with parmigiano reggiano, on the lunch menu. “The ragout takes me back to my apprenticeship days,” Karl recounts. “We had pasta for our after-work meal, and the slow-cooking is central to the heavily Spanish-influenced Filipino cuisine I was raised on.”
Karl has a dedication to seafood in all its forms, but also has a passion for secondary cuts of meat like beef cheeks, lamb shanks and of course pork belly or collar. “Matt Kemp, an English chef from Sydney that I worked for, gave me the best-selling book ‘Nose to Tail Eating’ by Fergus Henderson, Karl explains. “They both opened my eyes to taking secondary cuts and offal and making them amazing.”
Local producers Karl supports include 9Dorf Farms chicken and eggs from Lilydale, about a two-hour drive away, and Rose City Premium Meats who supply local pork from nearby in Junabee, southeast of Warwick.
Karl has also been discovering the joy of the Lodge’s wine cellar and the nearby Granite Belt wine region. “Our sommelier Sam has introduced me to some amazing wines, and he’s slowly expanding my understanding of the different grape varieties.”
Growing up in the Philippines, Karl said that being a chef was never an option for a career as he always wanted to be a doctor. “But my passion for food and cooking started from a young age,” says Karl. “We love to eat; we love to cook for others and we just love food.”
When Karl arrived in Australia, he was still pursuing medicine, but found that he could work and study at the same time. “One day I was at a university open day, and a guide asked me ‘If you could do what you love, what would it be?’, and the first thing I said was cooking.”
“I chose to become a chef because in my experience, food is not just an essential part of people’s lives, food is a window to someone’s culture and upbringing,” said Karl. “Food is common ground that helps people to bond, and when it’s done right with passion, it can be one of our best experiences.”
From 2013 to 2015 Karl ran his own business in Darwin. ‘Kings’ being English for the Spanish name ‘Reyes’, and ‘Heart’ being English for the Spanish word ‘Corazon’, his mother’s name. “My father and my family were big influences in my cooking adventure when I was a kid,” Karl explained, “one of my strongest motivations is showcasing my heritage and to make my family proud.”
From being an apprentice to becoming a business owner and an Executive Chef, Karl’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge has seen him take on techniques and ingredients from diverse cultures and chefs. “Wherever I’ve worked, I feel that to be able to work effectively and efficiently, we must be considerate, even when we need to be firm, and be as honest as possible,” Karl says.
Karl mentions that he’s been influenced by Nick Honeyman, the chef and owner of Paris Butter in Auckland and Le Petit Leon in France, and Victor Liong, the chef and owner of Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne. “Nick, Victor, Ewa Grolewski and my colleagues at The Observatory Hotel in Sydney gave me the most amazing experience and the gift of becoming my second family.”
Karl is passionate about mentoring the upcoming generations of chefs and hospitality workers. “I was blessed to have amazing people and well-established companies to mentor me when I was an upcoming chef,” explained Karl.
“I think our industry needs certain types of people to be able to teach high standard services, mentor and give back to the next generation,” he said.
When Karl was working in Myanmar, he volunteered as a guest-teacher at an apprenticeship program called Swiss Contact, where he accepted apprentice bakers in his kitchen to do work experience and he hopes to be able to do the same through Spicers.
Karl has some words of wisdom for chefs and diners alike: “Food is a storyteller, it’s a window to people’s culture and personality, and a tool to connect us all.”