Robert Lechowicz Part II: Adapting the Skills of Fine Dining to Sydney Brunch

3 June, 2020

Robert Lechowicz is a hospitality consultant and the Executive Head Chef and co-owner of Cronulla’s Blackwood Pantry. In Part One (read here) we detailed Rob’s time as a chef in some of Sydney’s most respected establishments, as well as the Michelin starred fine-dining restaurants of coastal France, Paris and London. In Part Two we focus on the concept and creation of Blackwood Pantry, and how Rob applied the practices learnt during his time as a fine-dining chef, as he and his partners brought Cronulla’s flagship café to life.

"The vision with Blackwood Pantry was to create a venue that bridged the gap between café and restaurant, and we really wanted to not only be industry leaders but also become educators by getting people to try new and exciting things"

If ever a model restaurant-café hybrid existed, Blackwood Pantry is it. However, the operating hours and focus on coffee defines it, by stringent criteria, as a café. So how does a Chef so well-versed and attuned to the demands of fine-dining adapt and channel his skills for the Sydney café market? But before the how, must come the why, “I love fine dining and still do, but I wanted to create something that still provided the customer with great quality ingredients, without the fuss. It had to be cool, fun and casual”. The move required a streamlining of processes and increased economy of effort in regards to plating. Preparational efficiency and consistency of output became key, “going from fine dining to the fast paced environment of a café was not easy. Even though I use the same quality ingredients I had to be selective about which ones I chose and the way in which they were prepared to ensure they came out delicious as well as the same every time.”

Rob’s experience in fine dining bestowed on him an appreciation of the value of processes. Fine dining kitchens are typically heavily staffed, and each chef has a very distinct set of responsibilities. Roles are significantly more rigid than that of a café kitchen, and quality checking is of crucial importance - typically tasked to the Sous Chef, a role Rob is well acquainted with having fulfilled it in restaurants in a number of reputable establishments in Australia, France and the UK. “In fine dining you have the staff and a little more time to plate things exactly, and to perfection".Blackwood Pantry required greater fluidity in the kitchen than Rob was accustomed to, however, his knowledge of procedures allowed for the optimisation of efficiency when designing the menu and the processes which underpin the preparation of the dishes listed there. “I definitely leaned on certain cooking techniques over the years in fine dining. They just had to be adapted for the brunch scene. I had to find creative ways to ensure the food still looked great, and could be plated quickly and efficiently every time.” Despite a greater focus on kitchen economy, Blackwood Pantry boasts one of Sydney’s most presentable menus, “I am still very strict with my staff on plating, but it has definitely become a more natural and fun process for them in the brunch setting.”

The planning and implementation stages that culminated in the opening of Blackwood Pantry were equally anxiety-inducing and rewarding. Such a process demands a measured ability to compromise between a distinct vision and the necessity to resolve unforeseen issues. “Those in hospitality who have done it know it is a long, stressful and difficult process. Once you finally get the doors open, one day down the line you look up and watch the beautiful beast you have created in action, and you just stop, pause and smile. This has been one of the most rewarding feelings imaginable.” For this reason Rob now splits his time between the responsibilities of a co-owner and Executive Head Chef of ‘The Pantry’ with a consultation service offering. “I offer a broad range of services from designing the clients' operational back of house kitchens and front of house areas. I help with the creation of system and operational procedures and finally menu design and reviews. With a long career as a chef which led to the creation, set-up and operation of now, two venues, I wanted to offer my knowledge to those who needed it. Having been through the process myself I know it can be a stressful and daunting task which is why I see it as valuable to have someone there to walk you through the most critical parts of the process. This is also a great option for those wishing to revamp or improve their current businesses to benefit from this. I love what I do and it excites me to be able to offer my services to those who really want the foundations to create their own amazing venues.”

This has been Part Two of our three part feature on Robert Lechowicz and Blackwood Pantry. In Part Three we look at Blackwood Pantry the venue, what defines its identity, why it fits with the culture of Cronulla and some of its most adored dishes.

Photography: boys from @goodfoodieguide

Robert Lechowicz

Blackwood Pantry


5/33 Surf Lane, Cronulla


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