The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

Danielle Alvarez studied art history, but luckily for us, she realised that it was food that monopolised her thoughts - after all, she can happily identify the “eggshell crust” on a Cuban sandwich and was always prioritising her next cooking project. So she decided to spend her life in kitchens.

Danielle's first-ever gig was at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's three-Michelin-starred Californian institution, where she was challenged by a complicated egg dish that often ended up in the bin. The head chef at the time was Corey Lee, who went on to open Benu (one of the best restaurants in the US, according to David Chang), and she got to know the “shaking in and shaking out" ritual that ruled that establishment.

Then she spent four years at another legendary restaurant in California: Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, where there were no official recipes and the kitchen was often run by painters, businesspeople or creative types who had no formal cooking background ("Alice really wanted that in her kitchen, she didn't want chefs"). The restaurant was famous for presenting just a perfect peach for dessert. 

A fateful trip to Australia eventually led to her being signed to Merivale and, after two long years (and gigs at other Merivale restaurants, such as Coogee Pavilion and The Paddington), Danielle finally opened Fred's in late 2016. It's a place unlike anything else in Sydney – it's inspired by her time in California as well as her relationships with unique producers (like Fabrice Rolando of Farm First Organics in the Blue Mountains, who grows bronze fennel and olive herb, rocket that tastes like peanut butter and asparagus that people have fought “wars” over).

In this podcast, Danielle also talks about fighting fire to create her menu (which involves everything from mastering coals and wood and letting stringed lamb spin by the fireplace), the challenge of making the perfect bread - and what it's like when you work in an incredibly open kitchen and there's nowhere to hide from diners and critics. 

Plus, what it was like collaborating with Nadine Levy Redzepi on a guest dinner for March Into Merivale, the Cuban food that she grew up with and her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney. 

Direct download: Danielle_Alvarez.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:53pm EST

It was dragonboat racing - of all things - that led to Toby Wilson running his own cafe at 22. The Wedge Espresso in Glebe was a sliver of a space; when it launched, Toby managed to run the whole place with just a sandwich press and a fridge - “that was all my cooking equipment”. Despite the limitations he had to battle, the cafe got a cult following, particularly for The Henry, “the unofficial hangover sandwich of Glebe".

So after three years there, Toby ended up opening Ghostboy Cantina - an eatery unlike any seen in Sydney before (although his Sloppies nights at The Wedge Espresso definitely shared some of its DNA). Ghostboy was a taco joint housed in the otherwise all-Asian Dixon House Food Court. The menu was about embracing the overlap between Mexican and Asian cuisine - so included dishes like a pho-inspired taco and a brilliant "accidentally vegan" fried cauliflower taco with seaweed salt, macadamia cashew cream and kaffir lime salsa verde.

Toby chose to open Ghostboy Cantina on Chinese New Year 2016, which meant he had to contend with lion dancers and epic Chinatown crowds just to get Ghostboy going. He also underwent some jet-setting research for the venue: hitting regions in the US, Japan and Mexico for inspiration. In fact, he actually walked directly across the border of Mexico, demolished 30 tacos in one day and even ate "corn smut" (which he says is actually delicious).

In the podcast, he also talks about the many guest chefs he hosted at Ghostboy Cantina (where a lasagna taco made its debut), its move to Tio's Cervecería and the future of Ghostboy, now that Toby has wound up its residency at the tequila bar. (Ghostboy Cantina was one of my favourite places to open in 2016 - so I'm glad it may have a second life.)

Also: the unlikely connection between taco joints and renowned pastry chefs, Toby's intense peak coffee/"I'm dying" moment, what it was like slamming back egg coffees, plus his other recent culinary adventures in Asia and where he loves to eat and drink in Sydney (like Bar Brosé, which has “one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time” and Neighbourhood, which is known for its home-made vegan oat milk).

Previous episodes you might like: Dan Hong, Analiese Gregory, Mitch Orr.

Direct download: Toby_Wilson.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:14am EST

In the last year, Lauren Eldridge has worked at the world's best restaurant (Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana), impressed the greatest living Italian chef with fairy bread and a punch to the face, whipped dessert with ropes in India and rolled croissants in Paris with Guy Savoy, the 'magician of French cuisine'.

Not bad for someone who thought she'd end up with a psychology career (and occasionally forgot to add key ingredients in her cakes).

While working at Marque restaurant as pastry chef, Lauren won the 2016 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award - and she ended up at Italy's Osteria Francescana as part of her prize. During her time there, the restaurant took out the top spot on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list and Massimo Bottura was also given the keys to the town of Modena. She also got hit in the face by a colleague and ended up inadvertently bleeding from the nose while casually chatting to Massimo Bottura. So, she definitely had a memorable time in Italy.

While Lauren was away, Mark Best announced the closure of Marque and the 17-year-old restaurant finished with a final service of alumni chefs (an all-star line-up that included the likes of Dan Hong, Dan Pepperell, Brent Savage, Daniel Puskas and other talent that Mark mentored). 

Although Marque has closed, Lauren is now working with Mark again at Pei Modern at Sydney's Four Seasons hotel. She's brought over her Honeycomb and Cultured Cream dessert (which Gourmet Traveller placed on their ‘Hot 100’ list for 2015) and takes credit for some impressive not-so-typical dishes at Pei Modern, like the salted liquorice cake and molasses ice cream. Perhaps one day we'll see a version of the fairy bread dessert she presented to Massimo Bottura on the menu.

In this podcast, she also talks about what it was like to be mentored by Mark, the irony of making desserts when she doesn't have a sweet tooth and her recent culinary adventures around the world. Plus, where she likes to eat and drink in Sydney.

Direct download: Lauren_Eldridge.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:10am EST

In a past life, Mike Bennie used to help famous figures like Russell Crowe, A Tribe Called Quest, Baby John Burgess, as well as (future Prime Minister) Malcolm Turnbull and then Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull pick wines. The Rootstock Sydney co-founder and award-winning wine communicator takes us on a few flashbacks to that memorable time (the Russell Crowe anecdote is particularly great) and - inspired by this very amusing Herald article that bagged Turnbull’s public wine collection ('Malcolm Turnbull's wine list is embarrassing and boring: industry experts') - Bennie also covers the hilariously bad state of politician’s taxpayer-funded booze cellars.

In this podcast, we also cover Mike’s record-setting drinking session at Noma Japan (aided by Rootstock co-conspirator James Hird, with slight assistance by The Bridge Room’s Ross Lusted) and what it was like to then help Mads Kleppe put together the drinks program for Noma Australia - the biggest restaurant opening in Sydney this year. They enlisted artisanal makers, like Two Metre Tall’s Ashley Huntington (who is literally two metres tall) and Mike even had his own Brian wine make the final cut, in a totally legit way. He also chats about the blowback and the immense pressure he faced putting together the drinks list, against intense expectations about “name-checks” and supposedly obligatory inclusions.

We also chat about the upcoming Rootstock Sydney festival (on November 26-27 at Carriageworks), which doubles down on Australian cuisine even more than last year’s impressive effort. Expect "roo and ray rolls”, pizzas topped with native ingredients and sausages that were OG creations by immigrants during the gold rush. And after some legal battles, Rootstock has managed to successfully bring out a collection of Georgian winemakers, here to celebrate their 8000-year-old approach to making booze, as well as stage a  “big wild party” on the Saturday night with Georgian dishes such as roasted potato with tkemali and cheese khachapuri. Also at Rootstock, there’ll be the return of the orange wine bar, the sake bar, the introduction of Spritzstock (which sees Spirit People teaming up with PS40) and beers made with wild fermented grains by Two Metre Tall. And don’t forget, there’ll be talks and a chance to meet producers - from Owen Latta, who started making wines during schoolbreaks as an underaged 15-year-old to the one-of-a-kind French champagne grower Lelarge Pugeot.

Mike also updates us on the places he loves to frequent in Sydney - as well as the establishments he’s looking forward to checking out next.

PS Tool frontman Maynard Keenan’s wine definitely make a cameo during this podcast.

Direct download: Mike_Bennie_2016.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:40am EST

Arriving as an exchange student from California, Nancy Singleton Hachisu originally planned a short visit to Japan, but 26 years later - she's still there. A relationship with a Japanese organic farmer is what upended her plans and saw her settling into an 80-something-old farmhouse that's been passed down his family for multiple generations.

During this time, she's met fascinating Japanese producers - such as a "salmon whisperer", unique salt raker and a ninth-generation sake brewery owner - and published two cookbooks, "Japanese Farm Food" and "Preserving the Japanese Way", resulting in a fan base that includes Joel Robuchon and the team at Cornersmith. 

She describes what's really in your soy sauce (you'll be surprised), artisan producers creating the most next-level potato flour and sesame you've ever heard of, how to make ancient Japanese cheese and what it's like to eat at Jiro's sushi joint multiple (yes, multiple) times.

Thanks to Shelby Chalmers at Fino Foods for teeing up this interview.

 

Direct download: nancysingletonhachisu.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:51am EST

The band Kiss has played a surprising role in Glen Goodwin’s career. A love of the group led to his first job, as delivery boy to restaurateurs such as Neil Perry.

It also played a pivotal part in how he ended up in New York. He worked there for 12 years – with bosses such as Bobbie Flay and Wylie DuFresne – in a pre-gentrified Manhattan that had drug dealers on every corner. During this ultra-eventful time, Glen also ended up being quoted in a story called ‘Hey, Is That Sommelier Old Enough To Drink?’ in the New York Times.

That wasn’t his only memorable overseas stint. In Paris, Glen impersonated his brother – so he could land a job at an Australian-themed pub.

Spells in his home country have been pretty adventurous, too. After returning to Sydney in 2008, Glen ended up at Bentley Restaurant and Bar, where he became co-owner and lived through some incredibly late and rowdy work hours. In 2013, he helped them relocate the restaurant from the original Surry Hills site to the new Radisson Blu site in the CBD, which involved personally shifting $500,000 worth of wines.

In 2012, he helped open their second venue, Monopole, which recently was awarded Best Wine List and two hats in the Good Food Guide. Glen was also nominated as Maître d’ of the Year in the latest Gourmet Traveller awards.

Glen is also co-owner of Yellow, a one-hatted restaurant which started serving all-vegetarian dinner menus this February.

In this podcast, he also talks about his incredibly rock ‘n’ roll sommelier injury (and the best hospital emergency room in Sydney – take note), serving people who might drop $10,000 on wine, and his favourite places to eat and drink across the city.

 

Direct download: Glen_Goodwin.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:09pm EST

“The fire was creeping up on me,” says Ibrahim Kasif. “It was pretty scary.”

He was working at Porteno when smoke began to billow through the atrium. He headed up to to the roof to check for problems – and found it seriously in flames. The building had to be evacuated, firefighters were called and the street was shut down.

The Porteno fire was one of many incidents that delayed the opening of Ibrahim’s first solo restaurant, Stanbuli. There were also the epic battles with council (which involved an expensive pre-DA that turned out to be useless) and the fact that the site – the amazing Marie-Louise Salon on Enmore Road – was so dilapidated that it wouldn’t take much encouragement for the floor to collapse dramatically under your feet.

Stanbuli, once it (finally!) opened, represented the Turkish food that Ibrahim grew up with – the fried eggplant that his grandmother would tease the family with, as well as the fish sandwiches and stuffed mussels that you’d find on the streets of Istanbul. There was not a stereotypical kebab or Turkish rug in sight – and the singular, highly personal menu makes Stanbuli a Sydney standout.

Ibrahim talks about the long road to opening Stanbuli, the fascinating history of the Marie-Louise salon that used to be on the site (it's worth staying to the end to hear this), as well as the unexpected side effect of John Lethlean panning his lamb brain dish in an otherwise glowing review. (Despite that incidental thumbs down, Stanbuli has opened to great notices by everyone - from Terry Durack, Gourmet Traveller and beyond.)

Plus, what it was like to work on a yacht as the chef for the ninth-richest man in Australia, the tough start to Ibrahim’s career, and where he likes to eat and drink in Sydney.

Direct download: ibrahim_kasif.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:47am EST

Helen Yee is one of Sydney's OG food bloggers. Even unreformed blog haters probably make an exception for her site, Grab Your Fork, which she started back in 2004 – before the iPhone was even invented, let alone Twitter or Instagram.

Since then, Grab Your Fork has been listed as one of the world's 50 best blogs by Times Online and it's been an excellent source for where to eat in Sydney. She's also written lots of great articles as a freelancer, including an epic top 50 cheap eats feature for the Good Food Guide (and Good Food website), where she singled out a place where you can get Burmese-style pho and other local gems.

Helen has also covered venues beyond Sydney - she's written about one-metre-tall roti in Malaysia that's so big that two people need to carry it, plus the unusual experience of encountering examination ramen and gold-leaf soft serve in Japan.

We also cover the highs and lows of being a food blogger (and definitely deglamorise what the reality is actually like - it really is a full-time unpaid job), blogging ethics, the diversity of food media and our complicated feelings about the term "female Asian food blogger".

Plus, where to eat and drink in Sydney (which Helen is well qualified to answer!) and the venue that she is most excited about visiting next.

PS Thanks to James Scarcebrook for interviewing me on his Vincast podcast recently! Check it out if you're curious - or plunder his archives, as he casts a conversational look at the world of food (and wine) as well.

Direct download: Helen_Yee.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:54pm EST

How do you make an impression on Rene Redzepi? Turn up with 300 wild plants - painstakingly gathered over four days - to present to Noma's award-winning chef.

That's what Elijah (EJ) Holland did - and hand-picking lemon aspen and diving for seaweed definitely paid off as EJ became a key part of the Noma Australia team when it opened in Sydney earlier this year. He joined the kitchen as a forager and a chef.

EJ is the most casually fearless people I've ever met - and he's unafraid to scale a cliffside to pluck Spanish daisies for a dish or fill his ingredient basket by spear-fishing and bow-hunting for produce.

His ingredient list is incredibly vivid - from sandpaper figs and sea coriander to an eccentric plant that Redzepi called the "most unique-tasting fruit" he’d ever tasted in his entire life.

EJ shares his panoramic knowledge about native cuisine - and reveals that we've been thinking about "poisonous plants" the wrong way. (Council even asked for the removal of lantana flowers from the Noma Australia menu, even though it's mainly cattle that are at risk of lantana poison.)

And of course, EJ's career goes far beyond just his time with Noma's Sydney residency. He started as an apprentice at 13 and went on to work at acclaimed restaurants such as Jonah's and Aria; set up his own bar, The Powder Keg, where a lot of the produce was either hand-picked, hunted or spear-fished.

He currently runs Nature's Pick, which supplies wild Australian ingredients to well-renowned restaurants such as Bentley Restaurant and Bar, Gastro Park and Aria.

PS Big thanks to The Vincast for featuring me on the latest episode - it was a total honour to be featured; you should take a dive through James Scarcebrook's podcast archive if the sound of in-depth interviews with wine makers sounds highly appealing to you.

Direct download: elijahholland.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:06am EST

“We’re never going to work in a restaurant, nevertheless a Thai restaurant.”

That's what Palisa Anderson told herself and her brother when they were growing up, but after some detours living in four different countries (and through other careers), she's ended up as co-director of the many Chat Thai restaurants across Sydney and the spin-off venues (like Boon Cafe, which is one of Dan Hong's favourite places to eat breakfast in Sydney).

David Chang and Rene Redzepi ate at Chat Thai after their MAD Sydney appearances this year - and Palisa and her mum, Amy Chanta, actually made the staff meals for Noma Australia's last day of service. (It's a big contrast to the period – decades ago – when mother and daughter would spend their hours collecting pickling barrels out the back of McDonald's!)

Palisa grew up with banana leaves and noodles drying around the house - and can recall the early (very memorable!) days when her mother started Chat Thai, more than 20 years ago. It was probably inevitable that she would end up working in the world of food.

In this podcast, Palisa also talks about life in Japan, her fangirling of growing food and plants ("One of my best friends was a chrysanthemum"), unusual farming methods and what exactly is "shit metals curry”.

 

 

Direct download: palisaanderson2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:51am EST

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