When it comes to Australian chefs, few are as highly regarded as culinary perfectionist Christine Manfield. Her influence extends far beyond the doors of her Sydney restaurant Universal and the pages of her five acclaimed and award winning books. “I’m about raising the bar and lifting the standards,” says Christine. “Everyone who works with me has to be as passionate as I am - they just don’t last the distance otherwise. They all live and breathe food and the whole culture around it.”
Manfield’s loyal fans followed her and her partner Margie Harris from Paragon at Circular Quay in 1990, to the Phoenix in Woollahra, and then again to the Paramount in 1993, which closed in 2000. Three years later she moved to London to open East @ West in Covent Garden, which was met with critical acclaim and a slew of awards. When the property was sold by the owners in 2005 the restaurant closed, and Manfield returned to Australia, where two years later she opened Universal Restaurant in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
“We have a fantastic team at Universal, it just hums along so nicely,” says Christine. “Universal is there as the platform or the stage for my work, and it’s reflective of what’s in the pages of my books. It needs that presence, that point of reference. The whole lot feeds into each other and I think that’s a really healthy thing. Some people think that I should be in the kitchen 24/7 and that I should actually be at the restaurant cooking everything, whereas I think that’s a very limiting way of looking at it. It diminishes my ability to be a good manager, and to share those skills. My handprint is all over everything there.”
Through her books, Christine’s culinary impact has reached into countless homes around the world. And through her restaurant work, she’s taken her role as colleague, friend and mentor very seriously. “Before I got into the world of cooking my previous career was as a teacher of children – that has stayed with me. I try to impart as much knowledge as I can to the people I work with. I always urge them to step up to the mark, to have something to work towards, to be constantly challenged. I think that’s the role and the responsibility of an employer, especially in a field such as ours that allows for creativity and expression. I am constantly feeding my staff new ideas. Whenever I come back from overseas I’ve always got some goody on my bag, some ingredient, something I’ve seen somewhere - we’ll play and experiment. Through my eyes they get access to the world.”
In an intense environment like a professional kitchen, Manfield says that you have to be mentally tough and physically resilient. “My sexuality has never been an issue in the workplace – I guess that’s because I’ve been very selective about the people I’ve worked with before I went into business for myself, which was nineteen years ago. The hospitality industry itself has great camaraderie.” She does cite a lack of women in leading roles in the industry however. “So I am sure that there must be issues of sexist behaviour out there. There’s nothing to say that the girls can’t do it equally as good as the boys.”
So with her fingers in so many pies, does she still find the time to cook? “Yes I cook all the time, I love it. I cook as much as I can. I’ll never give that up. I’ve never lost the passion for it. The day you do that you’re dead in the water. I think whatever field you’re in, if the positives of your job always outweigh the negatives then you’re ahead, you’re winning.”
By Christian Taylor
The Same Same 25 is an annual celebration of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians. They are publicly nominated, and chosen by a panel of community leaders.
For the past two years, the announcement of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians has attracted widespread national media attention and focused on the achievements and influence of a varied and inspirational group of people.