The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry


Society & Culture






March 2015
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In the year since I first talked to Andrew Levins on my podcast, he's notched up some major achievements – such as becoming a dad and accidentally ending up as face of the opposition to Barry O'Farrell's lockout laws. He also closed The Dip (where he found himself making 200 burgers in an hour) and landed on the other side of food-reviewing game – writing criticism as editor of TwoThousand.

In this guise, he's really tested himself – such as enduring a Vegemite-crust-stuffed pizza so that we don't have to (he calls it “one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten” ) as well as expanding the geographical reach of TwoThousand to some of his favourite postcodes outside the inner city. This includes heading to “Sydney’s greatest suburb” and sharing with readers the details of his Cabramatta Happy Meal (take note: the sugarcane juice stand he recommends is knockout-level good) or the place in Sydney where you can eat baos that are like burgers.

And speaking of buns and patties, he talks about some of his most memorable reviews (such as his take on The Burger Project), plus being sent overseas by California's tourism board to document his “favourite fast food place in LA”, the piggy fries at Oinkster and the place where Levins knocked back the "best tacos of my life” at 4am, AKA “one of the best meals I’ve had in my life”.

We also chat about the unexpected second life of his cookbook, whether he misses cooking commercially, the grossest thing he’s ever had to do as a chef, and where he likes to eat in Sydney with his son, Archie (Pinbone, ACME and Moon Park to name a few of their fave hangouts).

Direct download: Levins_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:35 PM

A good restaurant doesn't have to be a stuffy one – Dan Hong has highjacked traditional expectations of fine dining in Sydney, and as executive chef at Merivale, a strong voltage of fun charges through the places he oversees, such as Ms Gs, Mr Wong, El Loco and Papi Chulo. He has helped redefine how we eat in this city.

Yes, he has an impressive CV – which includes being named Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year when he was at Bentley and time in the kitchen at Tetsuya's when it was #4 best restaurant in the world – but he's also responsible for unapologetically enjoyable dishes, such as the Stoner's Delight at Ms Gs, a dessert so epic that it has spawned as many sequels as a Hollywood blockbuster franchise.

His achievements go beyond just notching up honours and hats; in fact, Kanye West went to his restaurant, Mr Wong, twice in one week, while he has also cooked for his heroes: Ferran Adria, Rene Redzepi and his mother, Angie Hong.

As part of his work for Merivale, he's gone on intense research trips – where he's eaten as many as 40 tacos in one day, or experienced 8 Michelin stars in a matter of hours.

During this podcast, he talks about the tremendous ups and downs of his career, and shares some memorable stories outlined in Mr Hong, his cookbook/memoir for Murdoch Books. The tale about 'Dave's salad' and meeting his wife are some of the highlights.

He also chats about his experiences with Justin Hemmes, this year's March Into Merivale program, and where he likes to eat and drink in Sydney.

Direct download: Dan_Hong.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:33 PM

A princess cake and a corporate job in banking seem like unlikely ingredients for a macaron company, but they each played a part in kickstarting MakMak Macarons. Carlos Heng and Dan Pigott began their venture in DIY style, with Carlos overtaking Dan's kitchen and selling his sweets in an underground fashion. Eventually MakMak went legit, getting crowned with the honour of Sydney's best macarons in Time Out magazine and opening a flagship store in Newtown, in a shop initially decked in fake seagulls, beach balls mid-bounce and 100 kilograms of sand.

As you could guess, MakMak doesn't take the lazy option when it comes to anything – which probably explains why it has such an excellent rep for creating addictive and seriously quality flavours, such as Malteser & Roasted Banana, Smoked Vanilla & Pecan Praline and Peanut Butter & Belgian Milk Chocolate. The duo once even produced an installation of 350 of their handmade sweets and painstakingly created gold-leaf macarons for a wedding (despite it being the craziest nightmare, because the glitzy ingredient would not stick to the biscuit). Dan and Carlos also talk about the time they made Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott flavours for the last election, what it was like going on research trips overseas (where they ate some surprisingly awful macarons in Paris), and how they manage to make 3000 sweets from scratch each week. Plus, their favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney and where they'd like to visit next.

Direct download: makmak2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:12 PM

This special episode was recorded on the night of the Electrolux Appetite For Excellence Awards last year.

For the podcast, I was lucky to be able to talk to competition judge David Thompson about everything – from the century-old Thai cookbooks he's collected to the time he recently won Best Restaurant in Asia (an experience that actually annoyed him, surprisingly)!

I also got to chat to Katrina Birchmeier of Garagistes, who won Young Restaurateur in 2012, and returned as a judge in the Young Waiter category in 2014.

And finally, I talked to Emma Barnes, a finalist in the Young Chef category, about the time she burnt her face in the kitchen (but didn't even notice!), her experience of the competition and why microwave soup is not as terrible as you think.

For more info about the Electrolux Appetite For Excellence awards – including last year's winners and entry details for the 2015 competition, visit

Direct download: a4e2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:13 PM

Massimo Bottura is considered to be the greatest living Italian chef. He runs Osteria Francescana in Modena, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, which is currently ranked #3 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards list.

His brilliant new cookbook, 'Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef' (out through Phaidon) covers 20 years of his iconic dishes, which include items such as Tortellini Walking On Broth, Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich, A Potato Waiting To Become A Truffle, Oops I Dropped The Lemon Tart and Snails In The Vineyard.

In this podcast, he talks about everything from the Australians who tried to kill him, what inspires his work, and also the 'craziest' thing he's ever done in the name of food.

Direct download: massimobottura2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:15 PM

Kylie Millar has a masters of physiotherapy – and has even worked with the Sydney Swans AFL team! – but that’s probably not why you’ve heard of her. She’s done time at Mugaritz in Spain, which is ranked no. 6 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, and also has worked as a pastry chef at the sugar-laced wonderland that is Burch and Purchese in Melbourne and is currently turning out desserts at the acclaimed new Sydney outpost of Pei Modern. In 2012, she also was a contestant on a TV show you may have heard of called Masterchef.

In this podcast, she talks about both the pressures and highlights of being on Masterchef, from feeding guts to Massimo Bottura to meeting her idol, Jamie Oliver (Kylie admits she lost her cool when this happened – “I was worse than the screaming teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert”).

Your sweet tooth will also get a workout while listening to this episode, whether it’s hearing about her nougatine parfait “D-day” moment with Guillaume Brahimi, or when she recreates the atmosphere of working at Burch and Purchese (where you could smell the sugar in the air as soon as you walked into the patisserie; or enjoy a cheese and crumble dish with smoked vanilla ice-cream, as part of the dessert degustations). Kylie also talks about experiencing and making next-level sweets in Spain (drawing on a convention-stretching ingredients list that ranges from lemon pith to foie gras!), and her current role at Pei Modern, where the menu includes unique creations such as a sorrel sorbet with honeycomb and a not-so-typical chocolate tart with eucalyptus and cultured cream.

And somehow Kylie also has time to experiment with her own line of sweets! She is currently working on a range of salted honeycomb, a one-of-a-kind salted caramel with cultured cream, and even bespoke cakes. If you’re keen on ordering any of these, you can contact Kylie directly on The salted caramel is especially amazing! It’s definitely up there with the best I’ve ever had.

Despite the high sugar content of the podcast, I can guarantee you that there's no post-consumption crash after sampling this episode. In fact, it was a total delight to talk to Kylie – her enthusiasm, charm and dedication frosts the conversation in the best way possible.

Direct download: kyliemillar2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:26 PM

As a 15 year old, Kerby Craig was fascinated by the world of restaurants – seeing a chef breakdancing in the middle of service (!) confirmed for him that this was the industry that he wanted to work in. By accident, he ended up at the original Tetsuya's as a teenage apprentice chef and, after stints in Sydney and overseas, later helped Koi earn a hat in The Good Food Guide. To mark this achievement, he actually got a chef's hat tattooed on his neck – an act that was memorably referred to in Terry Durack's review of Ume, the restaurant that Kerby opened after his time at Koi. ("That's a hat you can't take off him," Kerby's manager told Durack at an event. "That's a hat I would never take off you, Kerby!" replied the Herald food critic.) 

Despite earning acclaim, Kerby's experience with the industry has endured some rough lows – including the business failure of Koi – and opening Ume was "very very stressful", he says. "I don't know how we got a loan!" We should all be glad that he took on the bank-balance risk and the emotional strain, because Ume is a remarkable restaurant that brings a one-of-a-kind twist to Japanese dining in Sydney.

Also in this podcast, Kerby chats about his own adventures dining from Kyoto to Fukuoka – and enjoying the next-level hospitality of Japanese establishments.

Kerby also covers what it's like to cook a tradition-bound Asian cuisine as a white guy with tattoos, and the restaurant he's most looking forward to (Clayton Wells' Automata, which opens next year).


Direct download: kerbycraig2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:50 PM

Hetty McKinnon is the creative force – and salad-making ace – behind Arthur Street Kitchen. Her one-woman business saw her taking lunch orders from locals, creating meals from scratch at her Surry Hills home, and personally delivering these salads every Thursday and Friday on her bike.

To pull this off, Hetty had to single-handedly cook 100 salads a week in her domestic kitchen, playing a game of ingredient Tetris just to fit all the required produce into her very normal-sized fridge. And even if it was plummeting with rain, Hetty would make all the salad deliveries herself – something she's been doing (without complaint!) since 2011.

During this podcast, Hetty also talks about life before her Arthur Street Kitchen adventures – such as her start in PR, and her macaron-making challenges for Remy & Lee's – as well as the cookbook she created after people kept asking for her much-loved salad recipes. The resulting publication, Community, has been a hit, but producing the title also led to Hetty's first-ever appointment with a physio – it was that gruelling! 

She also talks about the next chapter of Arthur Street Kitchen, which is moving from Surry Hills to Brooklyn; what it's been like to be a vegetarian for the last 20 years, and where she likes to eat and drink in Sydney.

Direct download: hettymckinnon2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:31 PM

Nick Smith's early fascination with food was marked, literally, with a bang. A childhood cooking incident – which led to an unexpected visit from the bomb squad – did not deter his culinary interests, nor did a 10-year career in stockbroking. Along the way, he started his own catering company, became involved with Single Origin Roasters and, most recently, is the reason why people have been blitzing through bowls of ramen at the Rising Sun Workshop pop-up noodle bar and communal motorcycle garage in Newtown.

In this podcast, Nick also talks about the creative ways he's worked around the limits of – for instance – currently only having one frypan in the Rising Sun Workshop kitchen (blowtorches have been deployed) and how he went on a ramen study-binge before finalising the three types of memorable broths that he serves at the current Newtown pop-up: The Darkness, The Light and The Monk.  

The current phase of Rising Sun will wind up on Sunday September 21. Nick talks about the special dinners that will take place in the lead-up to this final date, as well as the next stage of the ramen bar. The workshop crew is waiting on the response to a development application currently before City of Sydney council. If all goes well, this noodle joint/communal workshop will rise again at the old Mitre 10 site in Newtown, on 1 Whateley Lane. Fingers crossed that these guys re-emerge soon – they've been doing great things at the current Lennox St site; plus, Sydney needs its ramen fix!

PS The David-Chang-endorsed ramen place in JR Tokyo that we discuss in the interview is Rokurinsha.

Direct download: nicksmith-edited.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:05 PM

Chui Lee Luk grew up in Malaysia, visiting the markets early in the day – fascinated and repelled by how "gruesome" they could be. When she moved to Australia, she was introduced to French food, thanks to "one of the weirdest competitions I've entered ever".

After a career dealing with stamp duty and commercial transactions, Chui found herself switching paths to work in restaurants – there she was, a former commercial lawyer learning how to cook from teenagers who had more culinary experience than she did. But the monumental change – and battle scars – were worth it, as Chui went on to become chef and owner of Claude's, a Sydney institution that she never let become fusty – not only did she experiment with what appeared on people's dinner plates, but Chui's innovative approach saw tonnes of dirt being transported by crane into the restaurant for an art installation, with the chemistry of the soil magically lighting up LED lamps throughout Claude's. This highly memorable experience did lead to some things unexpectedly going wrong, though – as Chui explains in the podcast.

She also talks about the under-representation of female chefs in the industry, missing French ingredients once she opened Chow Bar and Eating House, her most recent restaurant venture – a Chinese-style izakaya that has recently announced its closure, unfortunately.

We also discuss the Celestial City exhibition at Museum of Sydney and the Celestial Tables event that we're both part of – I'll be interviewing Chui for the Q&A and she'll also be presenting her pickles for a tasting session. It takes place on Sunday September 28 at 2.30-3.30pm. You can get tickets here, if you're interested.

Direct download: Chui_Lee_Luk.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:04 PM