Matt Smith is a former TAS student who relocated to Coffs Harbour to further his career as a chef. He shares his passion for creating a holistic and surprising dining experience at his café O.P 81.
> What did you enjoy most about being raised in Armidale?
Being raised in Armidale was very enjoyable, thanks to the opportunities that a city provides while incorporating the values and support of a small country town, where everyone knows everyone.
Armidale gave me the opportunity of being able to complete my apprenticeship at an award winning restaurant. Archie’s on the Park won numerous awards while I was employed there, including restaurant and catering awards and the prestigious Chef’s Hat in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, but still offered a family styled support and atmosphere.
TAS also provided a great schooling opportunity, allowing the students to explore any career avenues with support and knowledge.
> Why relocate to Coffs Harbour?
I relocated to Coffs Harbour to further my career opportunities at a bigger establishment, while enjoying the climate and attraction of the beach.
Coffs Harbour has provided me with great opportunities. I have been able to take my career into different directions, with a predominately holiday styled market that offers the time to explore and create food during the winter months and putting those ideas into play when there is an influx of customers and the pace is extreme.
> Tell us about your café?
Our café is called O.P 81 (81 Ocean Parade). Our phone number is 6652 9011. The café itself is a renovated house with a large covered deck out the front that provides shelter from the wind and rain but also allowing the sun and coastal breeze to soothe the senses.
When I was working at another café, I met my partner Bree. She has the same passion for coffee and good service as I do for food, and it just made sense for us to move into a business relationship as well as a personal one and do what we love. We complement each other and make a café experience that we are both very proud of.
The café is situated at Park Beach among the main accommodation district. It is ideally placed to provide opportunities to visitors, holiday makers and the local community.
> Where did your passion for food come from?
My passion for food first started when I began cooking simple meals in a wood fired oven. This added a certain complexity to even the simplest meals and fired my desire to explore the complexity of food and different food combinations.
This desire for exploration was fostered and encouraged throughout my apprenticeship at Archie’s, with the support of great chefs and a brilliant boss (Archie Chambell).
Since then, the desire to surprise customers with different combinations of flavour and texture in food has not faded, and this has been boosted by owning my own business. I want to take people out of their comfort zone and surprise them.
> Describe the decor in your café?
The décor in the café is modern but softened with aged, polished floor boards and rich wooden seats aligned beside white tables and thick napkins. As you walk up the ramp into the front door past the deck, you are greeted with the aroma of freshly ground, richly dark, roasted coffee beans and an ever changing homemade cake display.
Then the aroma of freshly cooked grilled breakfast or Moroccan styled chicken greets you as it travels from the kitchen. As you take a seat, your senses become aware of the relaxing music floating through the air and a large assortment of beautiful and decadent books for you to browse through while enjoying the great organic coffee, a meal, or just a sweet treat.
> Do visitors from Armidale support your café?
The number of people from Armidale that have visited the café has already surprised me, but I think this shows that Coffs Harbour is still the second home for a lot of Armidale people – especially during the summer months (and with good reason).
I think that people from Armidale so far have stumbled across the café by luck and as a result I have heard a lot of feedback from my family, with people telling them about the new café they tried on the weekend, or the fact that they picked up a takeaway coffee for the trip home. It seems that they left with a pleasant taste!
We hope to see a lot more people visiting during the summer months and making the café feel like a home away from home, with great coffee, food, service and atmosphere.
> Have you found the going hard at times?
The challenges of renovating the premises was a lot larger than first expected. But with the help of my partner Bree and our families, it was also a very rewarding experience to take an old, rundown restaurant and turn it into a modern and inviting café, as we did it all.
The challenges have been great, but the rewards so far overshadow the challenges. Mind you, the challenges of business are constant and constantly changing and provide great learning opportunities.
With the positive outlook that we have, we only learn from the setbacks and don’t allow ourselves to be pulled down by them. So hard, yes, but the challenges are also rewarding.
> Did you enjoy your years at TAS?
My years at TAS were very enjoyable, and the nurturing help of the teachers in their individual subjects gave me a broad base to grow from and expand as a person.
The challenges at school put me in good stead to overcome the challenges of life as they have appeared. The cadets gave me invaluable leadership skills, so that even today I still draw on these skills to control and motivate our team of employees, and this gives me the courage to push myself past my comfort level and succeed.
> How often do you come home?
I visit Armidale as often as possible, which now that I have my own business is not as regular as I would like. But no doubt with time, my trips to Armidale will become more frequent.
Armidale is still a very important part of my life, and every time I visit it is very enjoyable. I have a great time with family and friends.
> Thank you Matt.