Peter Dufty would be really uncomfortable with that tag, but there’s an element of truth in it.
From Versace to raw (and we’re not talking clothing), Pete’s one of Gold Coast food’s quiet achievers – a classically trained ‘master chef’ who has jumped the culinary fence from haute cuisine to healthy eating, leaving behind 30+ kg on the way! It’s amazing to watch such ‘Pygmalionesque’ change not only in his restaurant, Caffe Republic, but also in Peter’s own physique. He doesn’t go banging on about it, you won’t see his photo splashed on billboards beside the Light Rail, but that doesn’t make his journey any less significant. Slowly we’ve watched a healthier person emerge butterfly-like from his physical chrysalis. We ask Peter about his story…
GFGC: Many chefs have mothers who either cook very well or very badly. Which was it for you? Where did your food journey begin?
Peter: [laughs] Well, both my parents shared the cooking responsibilities, creating a passionate environment for real food. I really became interested in being a chef at high school in Home Economics, as it was known then, when I realised that I could make a career out of cooking. I realised that if I became a chef I’d always have a job and I could travel as well. That was my dream.
GFGC: What have been some of the defining moments in your culinary journey?
After working in Brisbane at Avanti (Italian), Fridays Riverside and then at [the highly influential all male ‘sanctum’] The Queensland Club, where I was finally qualified as a chef, I followed every chef’s rite of passage and worked in London for a year. It helped me to realise how well off we are in Australia [with chef training]. Our level of skill here is really high. Despite the UK’s reputation, there’s a lot of cooking going on there without cooks even having an apprenticeship. We’re streets ahead!
After I came back I worked in Cha Cha Char, and then in fine dining – Restaurant Bespoke, Peppers Spicers Peak Lodge (which won the SAVOUR Restaurant & Catering Award while I was there), and Palazzo Versace, where I was Chef de Cuisine (master chef) working with Executive Chef Steve Szabo.
In 2009 my wife Leena and I decided to start a business of our own for lifestyle reasons. That’s when we bought Caffe Republic.
GFGC: There’s a 2012 meal we had at Caffe Republic that beeped on our radar: ‘Mushrooms on toast’ featuring four different types of mushroom! Soon afterwards, you started advertising the nutritional composition of some of your dishes (fat, carbs, sugar etc.) Nobody else was doing that. What brought about the change?
[laughing] Yeah, I remember that special!
We’d been involved in a lot of things up until that point – getting the business up and running, having kids… Things we’d done were great, but they’d taken their toll. We were in our early 30s, so we figured it was time to concentrate on ourselves, to bring the balance back into our lives. I started training at Vision Personal Training Bundall with Michelle Edwards, and took a look at performance and how I could fuel my body better [with Jeff Osborne].
GFGC: So that’s when you adopted a basically Paleo diet?
I’d rather call it a lifestyle, not a diet. I’d tried diets before, but this encompassed a whole philosophy, a way of life. Did you know that the word ‘diet’ actually means ‘way of life’ in Latin and Greek?
[Looking it up later, ‘diet’ is from Latin diaeta, from Greek diaita mode of living, from diaitan to direct one’s own life.]
For me, it means that we need to move (I try to get an hour’s exercise every morning), get enough sleep so that our bodies can recover and heal, drink plenty of water, limit our intake of alcohol, and eat a high protein, high (but good) fat diet, with no refined sugar, dairy or wheat (especially no gluten), with food in as natural a state as possible (50% raw if possible) in 5 – 6 smaller meals per day.
[We talk a bit about the old food pyramid drummed into our heads, with its low fat, high carb mantra, and how research has turned that theoretical model on its head. Peter gives me a quick summary of the origins of a paleo diet: basically, cavemen were on the run along the plains hunting to kill food. When times were lean, they ate a few berries which their bodies stored as energy…
Then the conversation turns, as we skim over the latest research which points the finger away from fat as a bogeyman to inflammation and inflammatory foods as a main cause of disease.]
We’re only beginning to see nutrition as preventative medicine. It’s just the start of this movement. We’ve so much more to learn…
GFGC: It’s been a tough time for some restaurants. How has the market responded to the changes in your menu?
Much of Caffe Republic’s menu is still the same as it was when we took over. Regulars have their favourite dishes, and consistency of product is the key – all handmade, sourced from local producers, organic where possible. But everything on the Specials Board is paleo, as well as everything in the display cabinet and 2 or 3 desserts. You can see the nutritional information displayed for those dishes.
It’s really helped business, because the word has got out and now people from the gym come and eat here, as well as others who want a healthy meal, plus knowing what’s in it! We found the gap in the market.
I’ve also held a series of dinners [with Jeff from Vision] where we focus on healthy food choices, teaching people how to make the recipes on the dinner menu, as well as a talk about a specific lifestyle topic. They’ve been received really well.
GFGC: You say that 2013 has been the best year of your life.
Yes, in every way. I feel more focussed, I sleep better, enjoy higher energy levels and a better attitude to life.
It’s funny. People see me and say, ‘Are you the same bloke?’ [laughs]
Initially, I started changing my lifestyle for selfish reasons, but now it’s about other people as well. I can’t really tell anyone what they should be doing. I can only tell them about what has worked for me; the great results that a change in lifestyle has brought me.
With more information coming out about lifestyle, more research shedding light on nutrition, I also feel that I have the confidence to talk more about my philosophy and to make greater changes to the café’s menu, giving other people the same opportunity [to enjoy this food].
GFGC: So, could 2014 be the year of our first paleo café?
[laughs] 2014 will see big changes to Caffe Republic’s menu – lots more alternative paleo specials.
The idea is to get people healthy without them even realising it, because the food not only looks and tastes great; it is good for you.
[We talk some more about personal battles, the wins and losses of two fighters in the arena of life…]
And so [he turns to me]…What can I do for you?
Caffe Republic, Shop 1, Bronberg Plaza, 138 – 162 Slatyer Ave., Bundall Ph: 07 5539 3060
Open: Mon – Fri 6.30am – 4pm; Sat – Sun 6.30am – 3pm
NOTE: This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.