On The Floor With Lisa Margan, Co-Owner Margan Wines and Restaurant
When was the moment you knew hospitality was going to be your industry?
My first career was as a high school teacher and one of my subjects was Hospitality. On an excursion with my senior class we went to The Summit (revolving restaurant on top of Australia Square) which in those days (late 1980s) was one of Sydney’s best. We had an amazing meal and a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour. I loved the energy and precision of that commercial kitchen and felt that whilst I loved teaching, I needed to be closer to that action. Plus the coffee they were drinking looked infinitely better than the tins of instant in the school staff room!
Where was the first place you worked that hooked you in, and why did you stay?
I moved to the Hunter Valley when I married a winemaker. I approached the best chef in the area, Robert Molines (of Bistro Molines – he’s still cooking!) and he took me on as an apprentice. The Australian food scene was nowhere as sophisticated then as it is now and Robert (being French) was way ahead of the curve. He taught his brigade respect for produce, traditional techniques and the importance of working together as a team. His wife Sally delivered a beautiful, guest focused dining experience. Both are equally important.
What do you most enjoy about the industry or your particular job?
I love the hospitality industry because it is creative, dynamic and instantly satisfying. It attracts people who love that as well. There is nothing better than when the team is ‘on point’ and we are really delivering our best.
What is your greatest challenge and how do you handle it and keep yourself motivated?
In a world of social media it can be easy to get distracted by what others do, new trends and what is hot elsewhere. It is important to have a crystal clear vision underpinned by the values of your business. This connects ‘the why’ of what you do to your daily game plan. At Margan we meet weekly with our team leaders (head chefs, restaurant manager, sommelier, events) and look at ways of doing the job better. If a new idea doesn’t fit ‘the why’ then we don’t progress it. At the end of the day we are a rural restaurant in amongst vineyards. We want our guests to know they are in the country, not a ‘city smart’ restaurant.
Who inspires you the most?
I am inspired by creative, brave and resilient people regardless of where you find them. I’m also inspired by ‘behind the scenes’ people. Those who get the job done without ego or the need for glory. I have a whole team of those guys at Margan, especially our 68 year old gardener Pat who calmly runs our beautiful kitchen garden and orchard. She is incredibly knowledgeable, works in all weather conditions and is an all round legend, so loved by our team and our guests.
If you weren’t in hospitality, what would you be doing?
I am a nutritionist by profession (a completed a Masters degree while taking a break from commercial cookery and having our children. Chef rosters and small babies can be a challenge). I worked in public health and love the connection between food and health. So I guess I would do that. Or I think I would love being a florist.
Describe a situation when you wanted to crawl under a rock, but you made it through.
Over 20 years of Margan there have been so many rocks….and there is always a way through.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still at the helm of Margan. Working with an amazing team who continually strive for excellence. Empowering our team to ‘step up’ so I need to manage them less and can spend more time on driving creative projects for the business.
Cheesemaking is next I think.
What is the single best piece of advice you’ve been given or would like to give someone else?
Be clear on your values and your vision, let that guide and inform everything you do and the rest will come together.
What and where are you drinking at the moment?
Ok. Show off alert: I am actually completing this Q&A overlooking vineyards in Barolo, Italy. The food and wine are both amazing. Next week it will be a cup of green tea and a chicken salad back home. This is our 20 year long service leave trip to celebrate the fact that despite making a living in the food and wine industry (both challenging) we are still standing!
What and where are you eating at the moment?
Show off alert as above: yesterday it was at the 3 Michelin Piazza Duomo in Alba. This was a ‘hot tip’ from Anna Pavoni (WOHO) and it was incredible. But I equally prefer quality produce prepared quite simply.
What would your last meal be?
I’m embarrassed to say (given Margan have strong and stringent environmental sustainability practices) but it’s fresh foie gras and a great Champagne blanc de blanc.
Or the food I can eat all day is also muesli (I make my own with all the extra good bits thrown in) with natural yoghurt. Washed down with a macchiato.
Who was your most memorable customer?
Being based in the Hunter Valley, we are often a ‘destination dining’ venue. We have a lovely couple who got engaged here, married here and then each year they return with the children they have added over the years. How lovely is that?
Who is your ultimate customer?
The one who gets what we do, respects the efforts of our team and the love and effort that goes into every detail of what we do. Oh, and turns up on time.