Having been flown all over the world to cook for the rich and famous, including Brad Pitt and Robert Redford, Peter Ansell was no stranger to living the high life. But when a drug and alcohol addiction all but claimed his life, a sobering prayer not only saved him, it took his career to new heights.
When Peter Ansell was 14, his aunt asked him what he wanted for Christmas, to which he replied, ‘To cook Christmas lunch’.
Years later, my aunt said to me, ‘I knew you were going to be a chef, because no 14-year-old boy says they want to cook Christmas lunch!’ But food always interested me, even when I was really young, I used to say to my mum when she was burning something, ‘Why don’t you lower the heat a little bit?’ and she’d say, ‘What do you know about cooking, you’re just a boy?’”
But Peter’s dexterity soon impressed in the coming years, with master chefs taken aback by his ability, which far outweighed his experience or knowledge. After leaving his college summer job cooking steaks at the local pub in the United Kingdom, where Peter grew up, he moved his way up the culinary ranks.
“It was just something I could do. I also liked that I could take drugs and drink and live this rock and roll lifestyle, getting paid for it while I was cooking,” he says honestly.
“I was running a restaurant and was a head chef, but I didn’t know enough and I wanted to learn more.”
In a bold career decision, Peter demoted himself to commis to work through the ranks again and took a job at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, where he was mentored by the renowned chef.
“I was earning less than half the salary and working a lot more hours, but I made a commitment and wanted to do it for me and that was my college training,” he says.
“When I look back, that perpetual motion sent me in this direction to be where I am right now, striving for excellence and always improving.”
Upon leaving The Fat Duck, Peter became a personal chef and was flown all over the world, cooking for the rich and famous; he had one particular client who flew him to Los Angeles every year, for five years, just to prepare New Year’s Eve dinner.
Two days later, Peter nearly lost his life, overdosing on methamphetamine, which he thought was cocaine.
“I really believed I was going to die,” he says earnestly.
“I lay on the bed and thought how am I ever going to sleep and after an hour-and-a-half I went to the toilet and I couldn’t stand up and this voice was saying, ‘Just go to sleep, it will all be over’. I went to get up and I couldn’t; I was on my knees and I prayed to God, ‘If you let me live I’ll never take drugs again’, and he let me get up.
“I went and took a cold shower, came back, and there were still lines of coke chopped up. I looked at it, but I’d made a commitment to God, I’m not doing that anymore.”
Peter attended meetings to keep him on the straight and narrow, and three months later returned to England, where his personal cheffing career catapulted.
When I was doing it sober, I was a lot more focused and my game went up and I started working for some bigger people, billionaires who threw extravagant parties and that pushed me because there was no budget, it was incredible,” he says.
“And I had this focus which I’d never had before. (Under the influence) everything was more of a blur and I made quite a lot of mistakes, I’d forget things or I’d burn things, even at The Fat Duck. So it made me more astute. I bought a lot of Michelin Star cookbooks, the best in the world, and I found I had the ability to teach myself to learn, whereas I didn’t have that discipline before.”
In 2010, Peter and his partner, Natalie, moved to Noosa with their young daughter, and they started their new lives in the sunshine.
“I worked in a couple of restaurants and it killed me going back into a restaurant and working for someone else. Luckily I found someone who was looking for a private chef and I worked for a family for four years, doing all of their business functions and cooking for them personally,” he says.
“I was back into that groove, I could get the machinery I wanted and started using sous vide (a method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed and then placed in a water bath) a lot more and slow cooking.”
When the family began travelling and were seldom home, Peter was out of a job.
My first thought was, ‘What can I go to the market with and sell?’ Being a personal chef you give one person food and I thought it would be more beneficial to make food and sell to a lot of people,” he says.
Revisiting his repertoire, Peter settled on his signature dish – lamb cooked in a water bath at 60 degrees for 60 hours. It was a hit, selling out in the first two weeks at the Noosa Farmers Market, and his business 60@60 was born.
With the aim of nurturing and cultivating great ideas and brands in the food industry, earlier this year Peter was chosen as one of 12 local food and beverage innovators to take part in the Sunshine Coast’s first food accelerator, Grow Coastal, held at the Innovation Centre.
By having unfettered access to industry experts and mentors, Peter worked on relaunching the packaging for his product and headed a crowdfunding campaign, which not only enabled him to reach his monetary target, but also saw him acquire a whole new customer base.
Now, Peter (who is proudly clean and sober for 14 years) is preparing to go nationwide with his brand and plans to crack the Asian market in Singapore, China and Japan, where there is a growing demand for Australian products.
“From a chef’s point of view, it’s a dream having a product in a shop. Chefs stand in kitchens and prepare food, or are flown all over the world to cook; but I’m sitting here now on the Sunshine Coast and a person could walk into a shop in Sydney or Melbourne and buy my product to take home to eat – then I’m cooking for them, I’m their personal chef.”