Skye Faithfull 2017 Winner

Cooking is fun for Balthazar head chef Skye Faithfull. So is food because it’s intended to be enjoyed by all.

“I certainly enjoy being in the kitchen and I love cooking,” she said. “It’s like watching science unfold in front of you. I love it.”

Faithfull, 29, has come full circle, returning to the kitchen where she started as an apprentice, then headed up in 2013 before she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the year and had to give up her job. She was 25. It’s been a long journey back. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a double mastectomy and a double reconstruction.

“It’s genetic and I found out half way through radiation that I had the gene,” she said. “I tried to come back to work during radiation, then had to step out again to have the surgeries. I was off for all of 2014 and then worked casually at a few places, including Mrs S, and for a year full-time at COMO The Treasury in the pastry department under Rika Shiina, then got offered the job at Balthazar.

The long-standing city business lunch haunt frequented by powerbrokers in its heyday was taken over by No Mafia’s Dan Morris and Emma Ferguson 18 months ago, with hospitality veteran Nic Trimboli retaining equity but taking a break seat.

It’s moved with the times, revamping the legendary wine list with about 100 titles and a creating a new menu with modern, not-too- cheffy, confident food.

Five starters, six mains, four desserts, a couple of sides and oysters, of course.

“We’re trying to work closer and closer with producers and farmers,” Faithfull said. “There’s Wagin chicken, grass-fed Blackwood Valley beef and lamb, rainbow trout that’s sustainably farmed in Pemberton, Rottnest scallops and, at the moment, oysters from South Australia and Tasmania.

“The menu has to be something that people want. At the of the day, that’s what we’re here for. To make sure people who come to the restaurant leave happy and full.”

Faithfull’s style is modern Australian and draws on her mother’s Anglo-Indian heritage in her subtle use of spices. Cumin gives a lift to all sorts of dishes. Then there’s an ice-cream made with nigella seeds. At one stage there was emu in a dry spice mix with coriander, cumin, cayenne and Davidson plum for kick.

“Some things we can’t take of the menu, like lamb tartare which I’ve had at Balthazar from the start,” she said. “It’s a bit different with lamb, instead of beef, and rather than parsley and cornichons we use a bit of lemon and oregano and serve it with harissa, pickled cucumber, our own sour cream and dehydrated olives.”

Donuts are a Balthazar institution and the first thing the kitchen makes in the morning. At the moment, it’s donuts with a compote of Gingin raspberries and cashew ice-cream. Come summer, it may be peaches or plums because fruit changes with the season.

“I almost didn’t return to cooking because it’s so physically demanding,” Faithfull said. “But, inevitably, the call of the kitchen is a strong one. I try to do things differently now and sit down for 20 minutes and have some food, which I wouldn’t have done before. Chefs keep ridiculous hours, but there has to be balance and I try to make sure my staff don’t overdo it either.

“Work-life balance is more important to me than ever before – and making sure food is fun and not too serious is a big part of that.”

The menu has to be something that people want. At the of the day, that’s what we’re here for. To make sure people who come to the restaurant leave happy and full."

Sky Faithfull, Winner & Head Chef at Balthazar