Bianca Johnston: 30 Under 30

Published on 15 June 2022

Photo: Bianca Johnston (photo: Clint Peloso).

Bianca Johnston’s approach to food was shaped by her time working at Tom McHugo's in her hometown of Hobart, where she gained experience in whole animal butchery, charcuterie, fermentation and cheesemaking. 

Bianca was Appetite for Excellence’s Young Chef of the Year in 2019. Now, as the head chef at Restaurant Igni, she uses the skills she developed in Tasmania while learning about Victorian produce and a new food community.

Hi, my name is Bianca Johnston

All up, I’ve been cooking for nine years. I've only been based in Victoria the past year; before this I lived in Hobart where I worked as a sous chef at Tom McHugo's for three years under Tom Westcott. I also spent some time working with Analiese Gregory, and at The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery, before moving to Geelong.

Right now I’m working at Restaurant Igni as head chef under Aaron Turner.

I’m passionate about understanding and becoming part of the community in which I work and live. I find supporting small-scale, local growers and working with others who share this belief really strengthens what community is to me. Being able to know where this piece of produce has come from, how it was farmed and the person that grew it is what excites me about cooking – relationships like these give cooking a bigger purpose than just putting food on a plate. 

Which means I like cooking in a way that's dictated by the farmer and what produce is available. That brings limitations, and limitations bring creativity. For example, at the moment at Igni we're getting a lot of the early season Jerusalem artichokes and using them in any way we can. From cooking them in the fire pit overnight to serve with yabby, or making ice-cream from the Jerusalem artichoke flowers.

At 30 under 30 I’ll be cooking a snack from wild venison. The snack section is one of my favourite bits about Igni. We've recently started getting wild venison from Anthony Roe of Dama Dama Free Range who harvests from the Otway Ranges, which feels very special to cook with.

The person I’m most looking forward to working with for 30 Under 30 isNagesh Seethiah from Manzé. What he's doing at Manzé is unique and really comforting. You feel like you are being welcomed into someone’s home.

My favourite thing to eat in Victoria right now is Matt Podbury’s boudin noir at La Cachette. La Cachette is my favourite place for a Monday lunch.

Finally, the key change I’d like to see in our food and drink scene over the next 30 years is better support to keep talented people in the industry. Now more than ever, post-pandemic, I am feeling the weight of professionals choosing to work in other industries. In particular, support for women who want to start a family and cook, as opposed to having to choose between one or the other. This obviously ties into so many issues such as staff shortages, wages, hours and culture. I definitely don’t have all the answers but recognise our industry can only be as good as the people working in it.

Catch Bianca Johnston at the 30 Under 30 Gala dinner on Thursday 28 July and at the 30 Under 30 dinner at Matilda 159 on 2 Tuesday August; follow her at @biancajohnston

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