Interview with Award-Winning Executive Chef Sean Hall from 6HEAD

6HEAD Executive Chef Sean Hall 6HEAD Executive Chef Sean Hall

This year, Sydney’s premium waterfront steakhouse 6HEAD was born. A world-class restaurant overlooking the harbour delivering seasonal, uncomplicated food and magical experiences.

We had the pleasure of chatting with their Executive Award-winning Chef, Sean Hall about the ethos of his culinary journey and how all of the elements have come together to form his artistry in the world of cooking.

1. Growing up on your grandfather’s cattle farm and learning about different cooking techniques, what sparked the idea of becoming a chef?
Growing upon a farm and being around meat, I’ve always had an interest in cooking. During high school, I was active in sports and I had to make a decision on whether to go down the sport route. It wasn’t until England 3 years later where I was based in the Lake District working there. There were 3 food outlets in an a la carte kitchen where the food was great. It was art more than food. I felt alive in the kitchen                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

2.You did an apprenticeship at Langdale Estate, worked under the guidance of chef Graham Harrower and Neil Dixon and worked with the Jamie Oliver Group in the UK, what would you say were the highlights of your culinary journey so far?
In the first kitchen I was in, I worked with talented Michelin-star chefs at an early age in my career. I was taught by the best of the best. I was taught the right ways and the right things. I learned basic techniques, how to do sauces right, where the produce came from, why certain produce came from a certain area, and how to set the foundation.

I wasn’t too sure about Jamie Oliver Group coming from a fine dining start, but I wanted to see what it was all about. I realised it was much more than just putting ingredients together and not being as refined, it was about understanding nutrition and flavour. I was learning from the past, learning how nonnas did that, the process of brining which opened up my eyes and falling in love with the farmer who cultivated the land, washed and prepared the food. All I do is the easy part, which is to cook it. Farmers do all the work for you and there are great producers in Australia. The Jamie Oliver Group basically shifted the food movement, and people are cooking a lot more at home.

So there are two contrasting sides from my experience. I learned about the foundation from Langdale Estate, and I learned about nutrition and flavour from my time at the Jamie Oliver Group.

6HEAD restaurant, The Rocks NSW 2000 6HEAD restaurant, The Rocks NSW 2000

 3. How would you describe your cooking style?
Very basic. It’s not about trying to showcase techniques but letting produce speak for itself. Yes we do smoking, yes we employ various other culinary techniques, but in terms of meat we stick to basics. We want to ensure that people experience natural flavour. Most chefs mask their food with spices and you lose the flavour of the beef. I am all about showing what’s out there and showing it in its most natural form.With seafood, we like to sous vide lobster and cure Kingfish with salt, lime and gin. We try to keep it very basic. Great recipes are out there which allow the product to speak for itself.

4.Tell us the story behind 6HEAD. What influenced you to open up a premium steakhouse restaurant in Sydney?
The location was important to us. So we had taken the heritage from the site itself (The Heritage Building) and the story behind it to try and create a menu around it. I’ve been there for years and years. We chose this building because of the story behind the herds of 6 cattle, so steak is what we do. And because it’s overlooking the Opera House, next to water, naturally the inclusion of seafood made sense.

Inside the restaurant, we have kept the original form of the building with ropes from ships and made 1500 knots pay tribute to the 1500 people First Fleet. It pays tribute to the history and there’s also a ship on display – a small wooden sculpture. The function menus are also named after ships.

5.What is your favourite dish on the menu and what would you pair it with?
Being South African, I love meat. I eat a lot of steak. On the menu, we have an AACO Fillet – one of the best pieces of meat I’ve ever tasted in my life. A great product as a standalone. I would also recommend the Collinsons and Co, the meat purveyor is small and boutique.

If you have the sharing option, rib eye on the bone. It’s an underrated cut and the flavours are next level, soft and silky. What we do is we do a veal reduction over a two-day period, get all the flavouring out of the bones and we pair it with a green salad on the menu. It’s a light and fresh salad infused with lemon oil, green garden dressing variety of mixed herbs, fresh yoghurt, and eighteen-month old parmesan.

When we created the menu ten months ago, we had ideas about curing fish as we are near the water. When we tested it out, there was a 30 second silence and we all knew that this was it, we’d hit the nail on the head. Feedback has been phenomenal.

We have a fantastic South African wine list. If I were to pair wine with meat, I would go for red wine, preferably Italian. Tuscan wine carries well with meat. Australian wine is also phenomenal like Barossa which is fruity and heavy. Something light won’t do justice to the meat. You need something that carries a lot of body. 

6.What is the most exciting thing about being an award-winning Executive Chef in Sydney?
I love what I do. I love the chef movement. Chefs are voicing themselves. Getting out there. A lot of chefs are going back to basics. I’m fortunate to be young and in Sydney with all this happening. It’s an exciting period right now. Producers are walking through the door with mushrooms, making their own cultivated ice cream, and supporting other producers.

From an outsider’s perspective, Melbourne is where the food is more refined, with top-end restaurants. What’s happening in Sydney is that chefs are doing and listening to the public and aren’t scared to push the boundaries using more local ingredients. From a consumer’s perspective, they appreciate that and it ultimately means it is more affordable to eat out for a Sydney-sider.

6HEAD restaurant, The Rocks NSW 2000 6HEAD restaurant, The Rocks NSW 2000

7.When are you happiest at work?
In service. When guests are here, I tend to walk through the dining room area during the evening asking for feedback. Customers are happy to see the chef. I like to listen to them talk about the food. It’s constructive feedback and helps us understand so we can change and tweak the menu if we need to. To see their happiness, seeing their reaction – it’s special that we created a moment and a memory for this person. Chefs can forget that. Without our customers I wouldn’t be here. I want to keep myself motivated, to grow and get better within the next 6 months. 

8.What’s the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced in your entire career?
Definitely opening 6 HEAD. A lot of delays, points where you are creating a menu for Summer, thinking about the certain amount of produce needed, going back to the drawing board and redeveloping again which resulted in us not not being able to open between February and April. We had to go back again, having to call chefs. But it was fun and I enjoyed every moment. Sometimes I ask myself “how did you get through that week?”. It involved putting the pieces together again, taking risks, trying out new concepts, and we just didn’t know if it was actually going to work.
We spent time in Melbourne with meat suppliers testing on more than one occasion. Tastings, kitchen layouts, doing site visits. It was humbling to watch it form into something special in 10 months. 

9.When you’re at home, what is your favourite dish to create in your spare time?
I love BBQing when the sun is out. Getting the fire and the spit outside. My partner is a vegetarian, so I have to be very creative. I love going to Farmer’s Markets picking out random veggies and creating roasted cauliflower, chutneys, and bringing it all together and socialising with loved ones. I also experiment and think “I can use this for the restaurant”, it’s a never ending mind game being creative. As for weekdays, pasta is my quick go-to dish. I would make a hearty ragu with fresh tomatoes.

10.What piece of advice would you tell young aspiring chefs?
I’m somebody that understands you, and can mentor you. Be extremely passionate and be humble. It’s definitely not easy. You’ll work long hours in a very small environment and the pressure is always on. Do a lot of research. And it helps to have someone standing there behind you, wanting to see you grow.

I’ve been cooking since the age of 15. Professionally, I was being mentored by people who saw who I was and they pushed me forward. There was a lot of pressure and looking back 10 years later, I can now see why they pushed me. That’s why I get up every morning. It’s fun and exciting. I get to learn.

11.Any future plans with 6HEAD and what’s next for you?
6HEAD is at the beginning stages and will now be the focus for the immediate future. We need to get it settled and stable in the Sydney food scene. Loving it the way you do, elevate and evolve the Group, introduce different senior chefs, improve all of our restaurants. We’re all about our people and give them lots of opportunities to grow and develop, For me, I’ll work on understanding more of the business aspect, and evolving Seagrass. Do we look at opening 6HEAD #2 in Melbourne? Let’s see what happens with the first one though, get that established and respected. I want to stay happy in Australia, stay here longer, and stick true to my beliefs.

6HEAD is also one of our beloved restaurant partners. If you’d like to learn more about their philosophy or their menu, you can find everything on their website. Don’t forget to redeem your Restaurant Choice gift card from our leading retailers across Australia.