Stuart, 49, has been involved in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. He ran a host of cafés and restaurants before opening his own place, South of Johnston, in Melbourne in 2012. His love of cooking and passion for interiors has resulted in a ‘design-savvy warehouse café’. His first cookbook, ‘All Day Café’, was released this year and is a cool blend of fresh, tasty recipes and tips on décor.


What started off your love of cooking?

It began when my brother trained to be a chef when I was younger, and he opened mine and my family’s eyes to a whole new world of flavour. Moving out of home and cooking for myself and friends was also a magical time of experimentation. We shopped at markets, grew our own herbs and managed to host great parties on the tightest of budgets. I just enjoy being in the kitchen and cooking for family and friends.


How would you describe the décor of your Melbourne café, South of Johnston? How important are the interiors?

Very important. They are warm, inviting, eclectic and art driven. Interiors are an important part of creating a café style and ambience. We have tried to ensure that everyone feels relaxed here and that every table or area has its own comfortable vibe. Some items are high end purchases and other things may be from an op shop or purchased online. We try to buy local and this includes a lot of the extensive art collection. Adding foliage is also a clever and cost-effective way to create great visual impact.



What does a typical day look like for you?

A morning at South of Johnston starts with checking my emails in the office and then touching base with the chefs and managers to check specials and talk about the operations. I will then work over lunch service, and then after I grab a bite, I will do work with guests having functions and run personal errands. At the end of the day I finally take my dog Fergus to the park.


What electrical appliance do you find the most useful when cooking in the kitchen and why?

My blender is a very handy appliance as nearly every day I wake up and have a smoothie made using fresh seasonal fruit, chia, yoghurt and milk.


How important is sustainability in the café to you? Is this something that is well practiced in Australia?

Sustainability is a big part of what we do at the café and I feel that small businesses are catching up with waste programs and consumption. However, I do feel the government should do more to help and educate in this area.


Have you done much travelling? Has anywhere you have travelled to inspired your cooking or interiors ideas?

I’m not that well travelled however I was blown away with French cuisine when I was in Paris and think that helped influence a lot of dishes – not foie gras though. My interiors, however, are from a life-long passion for design that is assembled from an array of global influences. You’ve spent most of your working life in cafés and restaurants.


How has the industry changed in that time?

The hospitality scene has changed a lot over the years with influences such as social media, the rise the celebrity chef, the coffee scene, high commercial rents and a burgeoning breakfast scene. More and more people are considering hospitality as a career, which is fantastic.


Photos by Armelle Habib


Article by: Lucy Macdonald