Leo Gstrein, National Executive Chef
When we spoke to Leo to learn more about his origin story, we quickly came to the consensus that we didn’t want to share a traditional bio. Statements like ‘classically French trained’ and lists of awards and accreditations such as ‘Michelin stars and Chefs Hats’ were not needed. These are all the things that we expect and know that Leo has. What we really wanted to share was some real insight into where Leo’s infinite passion for cooking comes from and what he will bring to his new appointment as National Executive Chef, Compass Group.
Nurturing the passion. Growing up on a farm in a small town in Austria, Leo’s butcher and chef father and restauranteur mother created an idyllic culinary and hospitality environment to nurture his early interests in the discipline. As a boy, Leo explains his fascination of the farm to fork process “from breeding animals to preparing a delicious dish and all that happens in-between”. Early memories of “family gathering together around a table enjoying a huge feast” made from fresh and local produce set the standard for “how food should be prepared, served and eaten”.
A journey of influence and experience. Leo has a long list of culinary posts in a very special list of world famous restaurants, but he is quick to talk about what he learned and the mistakes he made along the way. Leo tells how his learning experiences often boiled down to the produce and the people. “They taught me how to respect the produce or how to get the best out of individuals within the team,” he says. A cornerstone in his career was the moment he made the connection between taste and presentation.
“For me, plating a dish is like completing a work of art and I really feel like I can express the very best of myself in my creations this way.”
Fusion of taste and techniques. Austrian and French gastronomic classics remain emotional favourites in Leo’s repertoire. But when quizzed on his current favourite cuisines and techniques, Leo sites his incredible difficulty in picking one standout cuisine as a favourite to prepare and eat. Leo’s trademark fusion recipes perhaps stem from this love of all cuisines and his inability to be comfortable with just one. Either way, we standby his mesmerising creations in the fusion category!
Paying it forward. Leo constantly returns the topic of mentorship and how important this has been to him in his career so far. He is clear that his role will be “to ignite the flames of passion for cooking in all our chefs, whether fresh out of culinary school, or those seasoned veterans”. When speaking about the food he creates, Leo talks at length about the entire dining experience, adding that the role of the modern cook or chef is “not only to tantalise the taste buds of the diner but to use up to date culinary techniques to enhance their experience”. Leo is passionate about sharing his journey with his fellow cooks and chefs and sees this as “a personal responsibility to pay the knowledge forward”.