5 minutes with Lûmé’s John Rivera
The young chef won the Pacific region of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition, but he’s about to take on his biggest role yet as executive chef of a Melbourne institution.
My year away from Lûmé was formative. As a young cook, especially when you’ve been at a certain place for a long time, all your creativity and thinking resembles that place. I was able to learn how to cook instinctively and build on my fundamentals — I feel more confident as a cook now. But in that time, I was also able to delve deeper into my culture and upbringing and understand better what modern Australian cuisine means to me.
When Shaun approached me with the opportunity to lead Lûmé into the next chapter, it was something I couldn’t refuse. Lûmé will always have a place in my heart — it’s like the home you grew up in. The nurturing culture, the people that make Lûmé, the beautiful dining room, the toys to play with, the innovative thinking, the freedom to think outside the box … the list goes on.
I feel ready. It’s a daunting experience, but I love being thrown in the deep end and told to swim. Guests can expect a shorter, more concise menu with more choice. It will be flavour-focused and fun.
Winning the Pacific region of S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition and making it to the top seven of the grand final had a massive effect on my life, not
just professionally, but personally as well. Professionally, it opened many doors and opportunities within the industry and it helped to build lasting friendships and a global network of young, like-minded chefs. As a person, it helped me develop confidence in my own cooking style and the kind of cuisine I wanted to create. The competition reaffirmed for me that cooking differently and being unorthodox is a great thing.
I was never a competition cook, and I never really had any ambition to do competitions or be in the spotlight, but Shaun nagged me to do it. He saw potential in me and my food and he wouldn’t let me get away with not pursuing it, which is something I’m forever grateful for. Shaun told me that it wasn’t about winning or making a name for yourself, but a way to gauge yourself and your capabilities alongside others who are highly regarded in their field.
Scott Pickett is an incredible mentor. He’s a seasoned professional when it comes to competition settings and it goes without saying he’s also a great chef. Scott taught me how to be organised and to plan every step and every minute of the competition rigorously. We had gone through every scenario that could’ve happened and it made me much more confident when going over to Milan. Every cook needs support and someone to look up to.
This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s December issue. Subscribe to the print magazine here.