Born in Morocco, Patrick Senent honed his skills from the age of 14 working in kitchens across the South of France. After moving to Australia 38 years ago, he was an Executive Chef at Le Cordon Bleu and the Breakfast Creek Wharf seafood restaurant in Brisbane. He then relocated to Townsville taking up the role of Executive Chef at the Metropole for 7 years before moving on to Townsville RSL's Lavaracks Restaurant.
Drawing on his extensive international experience, the latest a la carte menu at Lavaracks offers a variety of dishes to cater for all tastes with a bit of European influence that have customers coming back for more. As a result of his hard work and innovation, Patrick was crowned the Silver Chef Club Chef of the Year by Clubs Queensland in March 2015. We spent some time with Patrick to discuss how he transformed a humble RSL diner into an award-winning restaurant.
RSLs are an enduring hospitality establishment but have faced difficulty in recent times in keeping memberships as veterans grow older. Maintaining relevance in the community has been tough as new entertainment options and trends appear in the market which are closely targeted to the younger generation. Trying to convince new customers to join the local RSL is increasingly difficult because of the common perception of it being an 'old person's joint'. However these days, RSLs are far from it. Townsville RSL has transformed itself into an entertainment venue that everyone can visit and enjoy, the RSL reference is its legacy to honour veterans who have served.
Several years ago Townsville RSL gave the venue a much-needed facelift completing renovations and a menu revamp to give long-time members an opportunity to try new dishes. 'Menu planning is very important since we have a lot of repeat business which means that our club food outlets must oﬀer enough variety and interest in their food products and services to attract and appeal to the same people week after week. Consistency is the key,' Patrick said.
Patrick and his team had strong support and encouragement from management to create a dining experience for members and strive to go the extra mile. Rather than just representing the RSL as another food and beverage establishment, Patrick and his staff placed a strong importance in building relationships with members. 'We try to refer to our members by name, seat them at their favourite table, and remember their special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries,' he said. 'However, at the same time we respect the appropriate professional distance that should be maintained between our members and employees.' He also leaves the kitchen and interacts with guests often, 'There is nothing more rewarding for a chef than walking through a restaurant full of satisfied customers.'
Patrick's vision in transforming Townsville RSL into a dining experience hasn't gone unannounced, winning the Silver Chef Club Chef of the Year award against some stiff competition. The accolade is a massive achievement for Patrick and for clubs and RSLs around the country but Patrick sums it up best in his own words, 'I feel very humble winning the Club Chef of the year award as there is a large amount of very talented chefs working in clubs and I congratulate each and every one of them.'
'I feel people join our club for a variety of reasons: business or social interactions, access to high-quality facilities, the exclusivity that we oﬀer, the personal recognition and service that we provide. There is no doubt that club food and beverage facilities are important for attracting new members and member's retention.'