Pete Gunn didn’t grow up wanting to be a chef. Ironically, he’s now the head chef and owner of IDES on Smith Street, where innovation is at the fore and traditional service is turned on its head.
We sat down with Pete to chat about his restaurant, where he’d splash some cash on a day off, and his love-hate relationship with burgers.
You didn’t always aspire to being a chef, how did you fall into the industry?
I don’t have one of those romantic “cooking at my mothers apron strings” stories I’m afraid. The truth is, I started working two jobs – one in a Chinese takeaway and one in a cafe – when I was 16 because I needed the money. Then a couple of mates were applying to do a Polytech course to become a chef so I thought I’d apply too. Bizarrely I ended up getting in and they didn’t! From there I got a job as a kitchen hand and worked my way up.
You’ve worked in some of Victoria’s finest restaurants. Any career highlights or influences you want to share?
My time working with Ben at Attica and the act of applying myself to working there had a massive impact on me as a chef. My job application got rejected four times before I was finally successful. Then it all came about: waking up every day with determination, working hard and over time, building up respect from Ben. Working at Attica helped me develop my own thoughts and ideas around food.
IDES started as a series of pop-up restaurants. How did you come up with the concept?
While working at The Royal Mail I was doing some catering on the side with a mate and we called our business IDES but it never took off. A year or so later, my wife and I went for a drink in Tonic Bar over in the Western suburbs and it’s a cool space, so I started thinking about doing a pop-up there. Our first event was a success so we kept going with it and started hosting more and more events until eventually we started to outgrow the space. We made the move to Persillade in East Melbourne. That was where we really started to settle in to ourselves and develop our own cooking. After three-years of pop-ups I decided it was now or never to open my own restaurant, so I put a call-out in our monthly newsletter saying that I was looking for a restaurant partner. Three people contacted me within a week, one of which was David Mackintosh, an already accomplished Melbourne-based restaurateur. And here we are!
The chefs are very involved in the service component at IDES. Why did you choose to shake up traditional front-of-house service?
At the start of the pop-up it was just necessity. We were short on staff so we just utilised the kitchen staff we already had to serve the food and it just developed from there. We actually struggled to find front-of-house staff – chefs seemed to be more interested in working with us than front-of-house. It was a format that seemed to work so we just continued with it. When people kept coming to the pop-up every month we knew we were on to something. Slowly, slowly we started to find our confidence.
Can you tell us a bit about One Day Sunday?
One Day Sunday is a way for us to reinvent ourselves once a month in a new way by changing the façade of the restaurant and then changing up the food to suit a theme. We tend to pick themes that are exciting and that challenge us because it gives us an opportunity to look at new concepts and new things. Last month for example, we did a ‘Dessert Bar’ theme, which allowed me to focus my attention on desserts for a full six weeks in the lead up to the event.
Running your own business is undoubtedly challenging. What hurdles did you encounter and overcome in setting up IDES?
In the early days we received mixed reviews – some positive and some not so positive, and that can be really tough when you’re trying to find your feet. But it’s all part of the journey and I just try to get up every day and continue to do my best.
Locals Know Best Questions
Where is your favourite place to share a meal with friends in Melbourne?
I can’t go past a burger at The Burger Project by Neil Perry on Collins Street.
Do you have a favourite Melbourne neighbourhood? Why do you love it?
Footscray. When I came to Melbourne my friend and I were hanging out at a backpackers and we needed to find a house quickly! We managed to find a place in Footscray and I still live in the area today. Lots of great food options and good vibes.
We want to show our out-of-towner friends the best of Melbourne. Where do we take them for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Cobb Lane in Yarraville for breakfast, Rockwell & Sons for lunch and if you really want to pull out all stops then you can’t beat Attica for dinner.
Where in Melbourne (or Australia) could you spend an entire month’s salary in one hit?
Dinner By Heston Blumenthal
Where would you head away in Victoria for a weekend escape?
Mildura is where my wife is from so we head out there quite often.
Rapid Fire Questions
What is your solitary food?
2 minute noodles.
What’s your signature dish?
Beef Short Rib Sandwich
What food trend are you a sucker for?
What food trend do you hate?
Black or white coffee?
What do you love the most about food?
I love the challenge of cooking food.
Favourite food destination?
America – Chicago and NYC in particular.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Which 3 people, alive or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
Pablo Picasso, Le Bron James (I’m a basketball fan) and my wife Nirvalla (of course).