19 April 2024

Goat curry to gourmet burgers: Five minutes with young Griffith chef Ellen McLean

| Oliver Jacques
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Couple outside Station 4 restaurant

Chef Ellen McLean with fiance and co-worker Christopher Nicholson. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A protege of veteran Griffith chef Roderick Pieper, 27-year-old Ellen McLean has already gained a reputation for her risk-taking culinary style.

You’d be hard pressed to find a dish she doesn’t know how to make – she’s tried her hand at everything from goat curry to gourmet burgers to halloumi salads and caramel slices.

Region caught up with her as part of our regular ‘Five minutes with’ series.

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Who is Ellen McLean? Ever since I was in Year Two, I told my parents, ‘I want to open my own restaurant’. I want to open a burger bar or a pizza bar, something where you focus all your energy on perfecting the one item. I love to experiment with everything and try new things.

I was born and raised in Griffith and did my baking apprenticeship at Baker’s Delight, studied commercial cookery at the Whitton Malt House and am now the lead chef at Station 4 Cafe and Bar, where I work with my fiance Christopher Nicholson.

French toast with fruit

Ellen’s French toast is a favourite at Station 4. Photo: Facebook.

Best recent dining experience: When I went to Wagga to get a wedding dress, I visited The Bidgee and Vine. It’s a wine bar. They explained where the food and wine were from – it was relaxing and nice.

Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I had snails in France. I ate brains as a kid. In TAFE, I learned how to make goat curry, with lots of cumin, coriander, bay leaves and coconut milk. The meat is tough, so you have to slowly simmer it to make it tender.

Most embarrassing pantry item: Two-minute noodles and macaroni and cheese. I love cooking but sometimes I’m exhausted and want something easy and quick.

What ingredients can you not live without: Butter, salt and barbecue sauce.

Best coffee spot in the Riverina: Kami Coffee, the new place in Griffin Plaza. Every single time the coffee is perfect. They’ve also started to do bahn mi.

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Next big thing in the Griffith food scene: Vietnamese. There’s been a few pop-ups but they need to open a shop. Customers are often scared to try new things, so when something new comes out, people don’t try it, they instead go to where they know.

A must-try on your Station 4 Cafe menu: Halloumi stack on sourdough. It’s new; it’s different; it’s got different textures; it’s not too filling but it’s tasty and recommended.

A change you made at your cafe: We make everything fresh now. We make the muffins and caramel slice fresh – it tastes better and looks better.

Pizza entering oven

Pizza is cooked in a new oven imported from Europe at Station 4. Photo: Facebook.

My biggest culinary influences: Roderick Pieper. Hospitality is so high stress and pressure, but Rod is always calm. He’s also a friend and a phenomenal person. I want to be like him one day. Also Sam Maclean-Tuckett (no relation), who I worked with at the Whitton Malt House. He has years of experience and his stories were amazing. I was a baby compared to him; he taught me a lot.

Favourite cookbook: I don’t read cookbooks, I watch videos. That’s the difference between Rod’s generation and mine. I watch videos on social media and try and replicate them.

Death-row meal: Pad see ew. It’s a Thai dish with thick rice noodles – Asian noodles; it’s creamy and has egg through it. I always get it in Wagga; we don’t have it here.

My top-three cooking tips:

  1. Taste as you go.
  2. Season every layer.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Station 4 Cafe and Bar, located at 252 Banna Avenue, is open Tuesday to Sunday 7 am to 2 pm.

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