On Top of the World
Written by Wendy Hargreaves.
From Michelin-starred restaurants to national TV shows, cooking has led chef Ross O’Meara on a lifetime of adventures across the globe.
A passionate hunter-gatherer, Ross rose to fame raising pigs on Tasmania’s Bruny Island, where he turned fishing and hunting into a career move with ex-restaurant critic Matthew Evans on the SBS TV series Gourmet Farmer.
Now Ross lives in Victoria’s High Country tackling one of Australia’s most challenging hospitality jobs – executive chef at Mt Buller Ski Lifts, overseeing venues at two hotels and a raft of restaurants and cafes on one of the nation’s busiest alpine resorts.
With the snow season launching in mid-June, the 49-year-old chef has big plans to return Buller to a year-round resort, despite the rollercoaster of COVID lockdowns and the lack of overseas workers.
Ross takes time out of his busy prep to talk with food journalist and broadcaster Wendy Hargreaves.
Sounds like a dream job to me… up there skiing every day. What’s it like working in a mountain resort?
I love living and working in the mountains. It really appeals to me. But I don’t ski or snowboard. I used to do it, but I’m at a point in my life when I don’t want to get injured. I’d much prefer to walk in the backcountry and go hunting. I don’t want to jeopardise that. Not for anything. Our house backs on to the Eildon National Park, so I can pretty much step out of the door and go hunting for the family table when I’m not working.
So you have the best of both worlds: a country house off the mountain and somewhere to stay up on Buller?
Yes, it’s great to have both. I moved to the region with my family because we love this area, and Buller is the lifeblood of the whole region. I really want my kids to experience the snow and all those winter activities. Working up there gives my kids the chance to go to school up on the mountain and get out on the snow every day. And my wife works remotely, so she can work anywhere, which is great.
Where are your favourite places to eat and play when you’re off the clock on the mountain?
To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to eat out yet, and I’m really looking forward to checking some places out. I’ve got great memories of meals at Grimus and getting their famous schnitzel and all the traditional European fare. I’d love to go back and see that it hasn’t changed. Not one bit. Great places like that should never change. I love institutional places. I like a bit of comfort when I go out to eat.
Have you noticed more workers looking for seasonal gigs at Buller to escape the city during the pandemic?
There are definitely people telling me they need to get out of the city and relocate to the country. The lockdown has shown us how quickly things can be taken from us. We have amazing space up here. Even in the Mansfield township (the gateway to Buller), there’s still plenty of space. People don’t live on top of each other.
This year, there’s a massive influx of new people on the mountain. There’s always a changing of the guard, and it’s a good thing. We want to turn it back into a year-round resort, with a few surprises when it comes to food.
What’s your advice for people thinking about working in a resort? Is there a personality type that’s best suited to working in a resort town?
It’s like anything. There’s such a melting pot of personalities up here. People know in the first week if they’re suited to it. It’s very sociable up here, but there are also a couple of people who aren’t very sociable. They’re still working in a team in a big workspace, and spend the rest of the timekeeping to themselves. You can’t pigeonhole people. People just have to see for themselves.
So what do you wish you’d known before moving up here?
Accommodation is the key when you’re working in a ski resort. It can be very tight when you’re sharing, so it feels like you don’t have your own space. I’m lucky to be living in the area, so I can get off the mountain occasionally and decompress. And I’ll have to do that or I’ll go a bit stir crazy. If you love skiing or boarding, you’ll get that sense of release every day. You won’t have to get away. If you’re thinking about working up here, just come up and give it a try.
What have you learned from working in resorts?
You just have to be resourceful and make things work. You learn how to be prepared and pace yourself so you don’t run out of steam. You also learn how to manage things that are never an issue at city venues where you can get whatever you need if you run out.
What’s your advice for people starting out in hospitality?
Hospitality is going through a strange time, and I think it’s coming out better.
When I worked in London in the ‘90s, everyone was on edge. Everyone was fighting each other. It was just brutal. When I came back to Australia, I knew I was a little a***hole. It’s just how it was back then. There’s no room for that stuff now.
It all comes down to passion. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you want to do it, just do it. It doesn’t mater if it’s cooking or bar work or front of house. Just do it and don’t look back.
Wendy Hargreaves is a journalist, broadcaster, connector and pro-eater with decades of experience in print, radio and screen. A regular food commentator on 3AW, Wendy’s stories appear the Herald Sun, the Age, Gourmet Traveller and Royalauto. She’s also an award-winning short filmmaker, and a proud FareShare ambassador. Her new business, Bread and Butter Media, helps food and drink businesses connect with their people via fresh, unique video stories.