Robert Lechowicz Part I: Dim Lights and White Tablecloths
28 May, 2020
Robert Lechowicz is a hospitality consultant and the Executive Head-Chef and co-owner of Cronulla’s Blackwood Pantry.
Rob was born in Sydney, and the values of his Polish heritage were the source of expectations that he obtain a University degree, expectations that were at odds with “a love of not only the kitchen but hospitality as a whole.” The situation brought inevitable friction, “I fully perused my decision about my future, but ultimately, my heart belonged to the kitchen”.
A balanced blend of passion, talent and motivation is as rare as it is valuable, and particularly powerful when combined with the utility of experience. Rob proved to have all but the latter in the years following the beginning of his career in hospitality at 14-years of age, facing the dirty pots and pans which are all too familiar to most budding chefs. However, experience has an intrinsic integrity, inevitably, it must be earned. During the 2000’s, Rob cut his teeth at some of Sydney’s known establishments, including Bambini Trust Restaurant, before filling the position of Sous Chef at Bilson’s, which decisively mapped his direction, at least in the years following, towards the dim lights and white tablecloths of fine dining venues.
"I decided to get out my comfort zone. I packed my bags and moved to France"
The familiarity of Sydney’s dining scene triggered a restless twitch which culminated in a move offshore. “I was hungry for knowledge, and to experience what the world had to offer. I decided to get out my comfort zone. I packed my bags and moved to France.” The first French kitchen he worked was that of the two Michelin starred Chateaux Cordeillan Bages. “The philosophy was strongly based on local seasonal produce strictly matched with amazing wines.” This period was rapidly followed by a stint in the one Michelin starred Passions et Gourmandises, a family owned and operated restaurant. “Their generosity introduced me to so many people and establishments in the French hospitality scene”, which prompted an eventual move to the capital.
Paris demanded much. An intensity and ferocious pace, compounded by the constraints of Rob’s limited French, “I began as Chef de Partie at 2 Michelin starred restaurant L’abeille in the Shangrila La Palace. After six weeks I took on the position of Sous Chef. With my broken French I was required to oversee a large group of chefs and cooks, and had the responsibility of the creation of hundreds of dishes as well as the implementation of new systems. It was here that I really perfected my craft.”
"I made the decision to finally come home, but in the pursuit to open my own venue"
The effects of homesickness were somewhat placated by a move to London, which served to remove the constrictions of the language gap, despite the irony of his position as Executive Sous Chef being at a French restaurant. Mayfair’s Greenhouse boasted 2 Michelin stars, and capped off a rigorous four years in the kitchens of some of Europe’s most reputable establishments. “I had worked at such amazing restaurants, and countless others which I worked in for free in my days off. I made the decision to finally come home, but in the pursuit to open my own venue.”
Blackwood Pantry stands today as Cronulla’s pin-up cafe. It is a venue of balance. The space itself has a certain charisma, an air of confidence in the quality of its output without the pretentiousness which often accompanies such places. The food is superb, and more importantly, it is consistently honest. The foundation of each plate is quality ingredients and fresh produce. Seasonal produce dictates much of the menu and specials content, something that is at the heart of European cuisine. Rob’s craft exists to work for the ingredients, to enhance them, rather than the ingredients working for the chef. “My style of cooking is eclectic, and I draw inspiration from many of my past experiences around the world, mixed with the great produce and ingredients Australia has to offer. An idea can come from anywhere, but, I believe a strong knowledge base allows any chef to execute it well.”
MON TO SUN : 7AM - 3PM
5/33 Surf Lane, Cronulla