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Getting to know Hayden Whiting from HAYDENcooks

I recently discovered HAYDENcooks on Instagram and Facebook and was so impressed with his dedication to cooking at the age of 13 years that I sent him a message and interviewed him for the blog. Hayden lives six hours north of Brisbane and spends his spare time cooking and playing soccer or running to keep fit. Maths and Science are Hayden's favourite subjects at school and his cooking idols are Adriano Zumbo, Peter Gilmore and Eric Pernoud. He hopes to one day own a chain of patisseries or dessert restaurants and says if he could only have one last meal it would have to be one of the desserts from Quay. Entering an Instagram competition this year led to Hayden meeting his idols Peter Gilmore and Adriano Zumbo at the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival (NIFW), which in turn led to a week's work experience at Zumbo's Rozelle Patisserie and a day in the kitchen at Quay. I think Hayden has a bright future ahead of him and as the saying goes "find something you are truly passionate about and you will never work a day in your life."

When did your love of cooking begin?

Well I have always really loved food, as long as I can remember. Mum said I have never eaten a kids meal and right from when I started eating I only liked to eat 'good real food'. I was eating adult meals when we went out to dinner from when I was about 5.When I went to school, my grade 1 teacher used to try and get me to read, but I didn't like to read books. The teacher told my mum that I needed to read and it didn't matter what I read, as long as I was reading something. I liked to look through cookbooks, so that is when I started to read cookbooks and I haven't stopped. My parents didn't like me to cook as they had other ideas for me and tried not to encourage it. They gave in and started to let me into the kitchen last year and I have been cooking ever since.

How did HAYDENcooks come about?

My friend Tara Leong set up my facebook site as a surprise back in June. She thought of the name and said I could change it, but I loved it! At the time I was working with Eric Pernoud at Maison de Provence in Cooroy back in June. This was my first time doing work experience in a kitchen and Eric was so kind and patient with me and taught me many things, even sharing his recipes with me. I am looking forward to spending another week with Eric at Maison de Provence in December.  

What is your biggest cooking achievement so far?

My biggest achievement so far is basically gaining the confidence to be able to do things (like going on stage with Peter Gilmore at the NIFW 2013 and work experience). I often think that at this time last year, I would never have done these things. I would have been far too nervous and worried what people would think of me. Up until this year, none of my friends even knew I loved food and cooking. I kept it secret.

What is your signature dish?

I don't really have a signature dish yet as I am still trying different recipes. I do prefer to cook desserts and I like to try new things all the time and new ideas. I think you have to become perfect at something for it to be your signature dish. I have a lot to learn yet!

You love making macarons...me too but they are very tricky. Do you have a few tips you would like to share?

How much you whip the mixture is important. If you don't whip it enough, then the mixture will be too thick and the macarons won't flatten. If you whip it too much, the mixture will be too runny and the result will be a pancake effect.I like to test piping a couple and seeing if they flatten. If they don't flatten, I'll whip the mix some more and try piping again. I leave mine to form a skin for as long as it takes. If I touch them and mix sticks to my finger, then they still aren't ready to cook. The weather plays a vital role in how long it takes to form the skin. I don't really understand how people can't make them, because they are very easy if you stick to the recipe. You just have to be precise!

What recipe do you follow for your macarons?

I follow Adriano Zumbo's recipe.

Working at Quay recently must have been amazing! Tell us about some of the things you learnt.

I observed how Chef's work under pressure and how they communicate with each other. I learnt how to assemble the snow egg and how to plate up a dish. I also used different tools to what I'm used to using in our home kitchen. I stopped for only 5 minutes all day as I wanted to learn as much as possible in the time I was there. Everything that went onto the plate had to be absolutely perfect and precise. I'm looking forward to going back to Quay again and learning some more. It is difficult to learn a whole lot in just one day.

I've eaten the famous Snow Egg from Quay myself and was nervous that it might not be as good as it looked on TV. Thankfully it was just as good as I imagined. What did you think?

I loved the snow egg. It comes a very close second to the Andalucia Citrus & Almonds by Peter Gilmore as the best dessert of my life so far. Peter Gilmore is a genius. It is my next goal to actually make one. I have dished one up at Quay at work experience, so at least I know how to do that for when I make it!

Tell me about how working with Adriano Zumbo came about. What did you learn during your time there?

Well, that is a long story! I will try to shrink it a bit. I came runner up in an instagram competition where I had to cook something. NIFW didn't realise I was 12 years old at the time. They organised for me to meet some chefs at the festival in May. Upon arrival, Mr Berardo asked me if I only got to meet 2 chefs, who would that be? I said Adriano Zumbo and Peter Gilmore. I had the most amazing time at NIFW meeting not only both of them, but MANY more. I had a conversation with Adriano for about 15 minutes and he offered me the work experience then. I also went on stage with Mr Gilmore (I almost didn't, Adriano talked me back into it). I went through with it so as I didn't disappoint him. He said to me 'face your fears and chase your dreams'. So that is what I did! I am so glad I didn't waste that opportunity. So many more have come from it! He also offered me to help him at his high tea later that afternoon. Following going up on stage with Mr Gilmore at 12.15pm, I began to get really sick and unfortunately, (even after waiting for hours afterwards to see if I would get better), I decided not to help as I didn't want to make Adriano sick as well. That would not be good....making Adriano Zumbo sick and being sick around all that divine food! I went to apologise that I couldn't stay and to say goodbye to Adriano, and that is where I met Eric Pernoud.I loved my time at the patisserie in Rozelle. Gosh I learnt so many things. It is really busy there! My favourite was working with Adriano for an entire day up in the lab. Other than the 'cooking' things I learnt, the most important thing i think I learnt was how important it is to be a great team member. There are lots of different people who work in a kitchen, and you have to learn how to work with all of them as you work very closely with them. Also, how to be clean! REALLY CLEAN!

What has been your favourite restaurant experience so far? Why?

Quay for sure! It has been the most expensive at $220 for 8 courses but was worth every cent! It is a complete dining experience and one of the world's finest restaurants. Not only are the dishes exquisite in taste and presentation and the service impeccable, but the atmosphere there being right on Sydney harbour overlooking the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge is insanely amazing!

What is the next restaurant you are looking forward to visiting next?

That is difficult to pin point just one. Probably Attica, Bentley, Biota Dining, Momofuku Seiobo or Burch & Purchese.

Hayden working away at Zumbo's Rozelle Patisserie
Hayden with his idol Adriano Zumbo
Hayden with Eric Pernoud
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