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The Blow-In and The Local - Different Folks Work Toward Same Goal in ORH Kitchen

ORH Chef Rob Symons and Apprentice Gail Johnson. Photo by Jake Lynch/ORH

Orbost Regional Health, like the community it serves, is a mixture of new faces and those you have known for years.

For evidence of that look no further than the ORH kitchen.

Chef Rob Symons is the blow-in, a highly-skilled chef who has spent much of his career working in some of the finest restaurants in Australia’s biggest cities, including the Story Bridge Hotel in Brisbane, and the Stamford Plaza in Melbourne.

At heart, though, he’s a country kid, born and raised in the remote rural communities of Darling Downs and central Queensland - places like Roma, Miles and Blackwater.

“I’m used to small towns,” he says.

And so when an agency gig brought him to Orbost for a temporary placement back in 2021, there was something familiar about the place. It came at the right time.

“I think I really needed to slow down,” Rob said. “I was doing a lot of 16 hour days at that point, and that’s just not sustainable.”

The hospitality industry is notoriously gruelling, and chefs often burn out or experience mental and physical fatigue early in their careers.

Needless to say, since joining ORH as head chef, Rob is feeling a lot more relaxed these days.

In addition to far more accommodating work hours, Rob also takes every opportunity he can to enjoy the wilderness wonderland that is East Gippsland (his favourite spots: Mallacoota and Lake Tyers.)

Although her story is very different to Rob’s, Gail Johnson also knows firsthand that the hospitality business can be tough.

She owned her own cafe in Orbost for 10 years, and appreciates that the long hours, and financial and administrative pressures, are hard to sustain.

But cooking and baking has always been her passion.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I loved making things in the kitchen,” Gail remembers with a smile. “My mum wasn’t much of a cook, and so she would always let me and my friends into the kitchen to cook what we wanted, as long as we cleaned up after ourselves.”

So when her cafe closed Gail was determined to find another way to continue a career doing the thing she had loved her whole life.

At an age when many people no longer have the courage or commitment to start a new education, last year Gail began a Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery through East Gippsland TAFE.

She’s in her second year of the four-year course, and is able to combine her course-work and study with her job in the ORH kitchen.

It’s a win-win. ORH gets to keep a talented local person employed in the community. And Gail gets to keep doing the work she loves and is great at, while also expanding her career options for the future through study.

And it’s always nice for our patients and staff to have a familiar face around.

“I’m related to most of the people that work here,” she says with a laugh. “I was born in this hospital.”

Gail and Rob are part of a 12-person team in the ORH kitchen that serve about 1,000 meals each week, catering for acute inpatients, aged care residents, staff, and even the local Meals on Wheels program.

(This Wednesday, 30 August, is National Meals on Wheels Day – a great time to applaud our dedicated kitchen staff and the network of people nationwide who provide meals and support to more than 200,000 Australians in need each year!)

Everything the ORH kitchen serves is cooked or baked fresh on site, using locally supplied produce wherever possible.

If working in the ORH kitchen sounds like your cup of tea then keep an eye on our Careers page where we regularly have casual kitchen vacancies listed.