As highly regarded as she is now, becoming a chef was never even food for thought for Amy Hamilton when she left school. At high school and in her early days at university, she would not have dreamed of ending up where she is today, as the owner of the critically acclaimed Liberte on Stirling Terrace. Ahead of next month’s Taste Great Southern food and wine festival, the “accidental” chef spoke to Inspire about her culinary journey. Hamilton’s cooking career started in 2001, when the former visual arts student naively applied for a dishwashing job at Must Winebar in Perth. “I was training to be an art teacher — that was always the goal — but I needed a job because I was living out of home, and I found an ad looking for dishwashers,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ve never washed dishes professionally but how hard could it be?’ “I didn’t have a resume, so I wrote a letter to my potential boss saying no dish pile was too high or too dirty for me to clean, which he ended up throwing in the bin.” But a persistent Hamilton did not give up. After many “inconveniently timed” phone calls, she was given the opportunity for a trial in the kitchen. That is where the seed was planted and her culinary passion started to bloom. “I went to Penrhos College for the last three years of my education. They don’t shape you to be a chef, I didn’t even know it was a career option. But walking into that kitchen I was really impressed by the environment,” she said. “It just made sense and I wanted to be there. “It satisfied a lot of creative urges that I’ve got — I get to teach, compose and construct, but above all I love working with the people in hospitality.” With a newfound love of hospitality, Hamilton started an apprenticeship under Russell Blaikie and later worked under Riccardo Momesso in Melbourne. “I decided to come back to Perth,” Hamilton said. “My partner at the time’s mum was in Albany so we decided to stop in and see her — that was 12 years ago now.” After stints at Maitraya Private Retreat and Three Anchors, she bought Liberte in 2014. Located in the heritage-listed London Hotel built in 1852, the French-Vietnamese inspired restaurant and bar has been a resounding success. “It was a shell of a wine bar at the time, there was no food, no life,” she said. “I wanted to cook food, so I started out with a modern French bistro.” Despite early criticism about her choice of a South-East Asian direction, she strayed from tradition and stuck with her vision. “We explore the French influence in Vietnamese cooking, and that story is told by Great Southern produce,” Hamilton said. Using a bold fusion of flavours, Hamilton said she did not take herself too seriously when it came to menu development. From spending up to 70 hours a week in the kitchen in the early days, she now spends two or three days in the kitchen and answering emails. “Being the owner of a business, that dynamic tends to change ... half the time I feel like a hindrance — I go to help and then just end up standing around,” she said. “I have a great team who do the job really well.” Hamilton said it was not until after a successful Taste Great Southern event that Liberte transformed into the food hub it was today. Involved with the regional food and wine event from its early days, she said she was looking forward to next month’s festival. “It’s supporting local producers and is a huge drawcard to the region,” she said. Not only is it beautiful but we have exceptional produce, and as a chef that’s an easy sell.” The 11-day festival will celebrate award-winning wine, fresh produce and flavours of the Great Southern from March 18, with Liberte set to host an event. Swine Dining, which is already sold out, will see Hamilton join forces with Melissa Palinkas, from Young George, and Gord Kahle, from The Heritage Wine Bar, for a six-course degustation on Monday, March 22.