Thirty four years ago, Paul Pitcher received an apprenticeship at Bendigo’s Clog’s pizza restaurant.
Having fallen in love with home economics at school, and having discovered a certain prowess in the kitchen, he decided to take to the streets and seek out any opportunities that might exist for budding chefs.
“I was 15 years old and went knocking on the doors of restaurants, and Martin Van Hannadal from Clog’s gave me an apprenticeship,” Paul recalls. “I didn’t realise the real joy of being a chef until I got older though.
“At the start I just wanted to be a chef. Then after I grew up I wanted to be a good chef. Chefs like Neil Perry, Tony Panetta, Andrew McConnell – hard working chefs who take risks, work hard and are forward thinking.”
Paul is the head chef at Bendigo’s only dedicated steakhouse – Woodhouse. Using local redgum to smoke up a storm, the restaurant is renowned for its succulent wood-fired steaks infused with those natural aromas and flavours that can only be created through a charcoal oven.
Paul says his years of experience working as a chef and dining at some of the finest steak restaurants in Australia and the world, armed him with the necessary tools to forge his dream eatery (and the dream of foodies everywhere).
“I was 39 (when I first opened Woodhouse) and wasn’t scared to make the jump,” Paul says. “We were looking for the right place with that rustic appeal and we finally got hold of the Jolly Puddler (restaurant) where I’d done work experience when I was 15 years old.
“Back then, there were only a few places cooking with wood in Australia. I always knew we had to stand alone from all others, and I love meat. Nothing like a great piece of Angus on a woodfired grill.”
The Woodhouse’s steak selection provides a unique range of flavours and textures, from delicate lean eye fillet to rich fat-studded Wagyu scotch fillet, hearty dry aged rib eye to bold flavoured Wagyu porterhouse, t-bone or rump.
Diners have the option of either indulging in a five-course meal, highlighting the outstanding local produce and beverages of the region, or fashioning their own experience from the diverse a la carte menu of seafood, pasta, vegetarian and other wood-fired dishes. There’s also a robust range of side orders and desserts sure to cause some major salivation.
Whatever the specifics, Paul says a Woodhouse experience will be punctuated by “exceptional produce”.
Oh, and fire.
“If the produce is good, it does everything I need. It speaks for itself. No shortcuts,” he says.
“It’s easy for us (to showcase local producers). It’s at our doorstep. When you work directly in food and wine, you see all the passion. These people put all their hard work into their produce and then that is put on my grill or in our glass.
“Relationships with farmers and winemakers are so important and something I cherish.”
The Woodhouse has been hailed somewhat of an institution among foodies in Bendigo and beyond since opening its doors a decade ago – receiving numerous accolades including Best Steak House in the 2018 Victoria Restaurant and Catering Association Awards.
Paul adamantly exclaims that he doesn’t look to slow down anytime soon.
“I want to create a dining experience our guests remember. We are very aware of the expectations our customers have. We want to match all areas of our business – service, food, booking. We want to give the best we can of all these things.
“I have always been driven and have grown to think about The Woodhouse as one of the best steak houses in the country. That’s my aim – to keep striving to be better.”