Scott Pickett grew up on a family farm in a little town in South Australia where he discovered his love of cooking. After a successful career culminating in his role as Executive Chef at The Point, named Victoria’s best steakhouse and awarded Two Hats in The Age Good Food Guide, in 2011 Scott took the plunge and opened his own restaurant, The Estelle in Northcote which went on to build an enviable reputation.

In the ten years since then, his restaurant group has grown to encompass seven venues across Melbourne. Scott shares with us the story of how he made it happen.

Scott Pickett profile shot

“Once I finished my apprenticeship I came to Melbourne which is where I was born and where my father’s from, and I went to work at Hotel Windsor in the grand dining room for two and a half years, then to Paul Bocuse Restaurant where I worked with Philippe Mouchel for a year and a half before going on to his new restaurant Langton’s where I stayed 18 months. Then I went to London, initially for 12 months but I ended up staying almost three years. Probably the two biggest influences in my career would be Philippe Mouchel in Melbourne, and working under Phil Howard at the Square in Mayfair - they both became great mentors and great friends.

“I think it’s every chef’s dream to have their own restaurant, and when Paul Bocuse restaurant closed I was given a redundancy package of around $50,000, which was a reasonable amount of money back then, so I was able to buy an investment property in Kensington, Melbourne which I rented out while I was in London. It was always supposed to be my nest egg which would enable me to start my first restaurant one day. I sat on it for 15 years and after I finished up at The Point restaurant and was ready to do my own thing I borrowed everything the bank would give me, mortgaged myself to the hilt and opened Estelle to have a crack.

“I really did put myself on the line - looking back, I think fear is one of the greatest motivators you'll ever have. When your life is literally on the line it makes you work harder than ever before and gives you an understanding of how important every single dollar is. So that’s a great motivator to running your own business. Also I learnt a lot along the way - in the early days of Estelle I was heavily involved doing the wages, the payroll, the reservations, the ordering, the cooking - there was only a small team of 5 staff when we started so it’s a long way from there to where it is today.”

Estelle received great reviews early on, and Scott says that while that was personally rewarding, it didn’t come as a surprise. “The one thing I knew we could do really well was cook - that was the easy part. The business side, like understanding what BAS is, what PAYG is, putting money aside, cashflows and forecasts and the like – that was all stuff I had to learn. In fact when we opened I had a very simple business model, which was just open the restaurant and start cooking, then pay everyone at the end of the week and if there was any money left over that was great!”

Two years after establishing Estelle Scott was ready to open his second venture. “The timing was just right – we found a great location and I felt by that stage Estelle was doing really well and I could share my time between it and another venue. So I opened Saint Crispin, followed by ESP which was my fine dining restaurant next to Estelle and which has now been made into part of Estelle.

“Today we have seven restaurants in the group: Estelle, Matilda, Pastore at Hotel Chadstone, Pickett’s Deli and Rotisserie, Smith St Bistrot in the Saint Crispin side on Smith St, Chancery Lane in the CBD that I opened in December last year during Covid, and last year I also bought Longrain as well at the top of Bourke St which is a Thai restaurant that’s been around for 15 years. I've inherited a great business and name - it's been there for a long time and was going to close due to Covid but I stepped in to save it.

“The wisest thing I've ever done, I think, is to reinvest every penny we’ve made back into the business. I've taken a smaller wage than I would have got working for a big hotel, but I’ve invested that in training, equipment, infrastructure and my team and the people around me. Now I probably cook 50 percent of the time and run the business 50 per cent. I'll work on the business side of things each day until 4 o’clock, and then do dinner service in whichever restaurant needs my attention the most. As a chef I’m now working in more of a mentoring role  - I have seven head chefs and a group executive chef now, so it’s very different to what it was 10 years ago.”

Scott remains fully involved in the menus of each business: “I'll sit down with my head chef and group executive chef and talk and brainstorm for a few hours and two weeks later we'll have our first menu tastings. We’ve got some great people in the business and I want to direct them and guide them and give them feedback, share with them my experience of 30 years in the kitchen – and I naturally also encourage them to explore their own creativity and bring their ideas for the menu. As long as it fits the brief, the brand pillars and the core focus of the restaurant, we take it from there. We're really honest with ourselves – sometimes a dish may be great, other times it may just be good, or it may be too spicy, too hot or needs more seasoning - we just work thru what we need to do to get the best end result.”

His approach to cooking is the same as ever: “We try to keep things as simple as we can, we try to do things really well. I always say we have to remember that we're in hospitality - our job is to look after the clients, to be friendly, to be nice, to cook a beautiful plate of food at the right price point. We're in a people business, and those people aren't only our guests but also our suppliers, our staff - everybody that supports us. And that’s the case every time someone walks thru the doors: I'm over the moon because they're coming to share in our product and our lives.”