The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry


Society & Culture






July 2015
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The fan base for Black Star Pastry is pretty large – after all, its stores attract long lines, have scored many Sydney food awards and even drawn the attention of an Argentinean TV show (its crew called up and asked for an updated pavlova).

Black Star Pastry's success may seem unlikely when you consider that its creator Christopher Thé originally had a BA in Psychology and was also told the original Newtown location was "cursed" when he moved in; the DIY attitude that powered the first store meant that he pretty much built the patisserie from scratch, using his parents' retirement money.

But the former pastry chef for Quay and Claude's eventually built up such interest for his work that a spin-off Black Star Pastry store opened in Rosebery and a pop-up has appeared at the Powerhouse Museum. Demand for his signature strawberry and watermelon cake has spiked exponentially – not long ago, he was selling half a tray of these a day; now Black Star Pastry buys around a ton of watermelon a week to cover the thousands of strawberry and watermelon pastries that are sold. (The revenue from the cake alone is basically enough to cover 40 people's wages at the company).

Christopher shares many other amazing stories about running Black Star Pastry – including the incredibly personal story behind the design of the Rosebery outlet and the inspiration behind the Anzac Day cookie packages – to his surprising army ambitions, collaborations with local designers and keeping watch over former charges who have gone on to their own thing (look out for John Ralley's Textbook Patisserie).

Direct download: blackstarpastry-christhefinal.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:19 PM

Where do you even begin when listing Dan Barber's achievements? You could point out that he's the award-winning chef behind the Blue Hill & Blue Hill At Stone Barns restaurants in New York. Or note that Time included him in their list of the World's 100 Most Influential People (with a write-up by Ferran Adria, no less). Or name-check the fact that he advises President Obama on nutrition.

He's also the author of The Third Plate, a fascinating book that any food-curious person should read (it was definitely one of my favourite books of last year, but probably way more importantly, it just won a James Beard Foundation award). He also features in the new show, Chef's Table, by David Gelb who made Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It will probably be the next Netflix show to completely derail any good intentions you have to get anything productive done. (The series also features his “lost brother”, Ben Shewry of Attica.)

In this podcast, I talked to Dan Barber about The Third Plate – the fascinating people he features in the book and how he ended up writing an unlikely page-turner about soil, agriculture and other key influences on how we eat, and what should feature on the menu of the future (such as "rotation risotto"). He also talk about how he's a "wheat nerd" (he has created his own signature wheat); whether dealing with the President means encountering a lot of Secret Service agents, and how eating sustainably means we need to rethink our attitudes about abundant yet unpopular ingredients – a belief he's really taken on with his wastED pop-up.

Eric Kayser is a fifth-generation baker who has been described as the "the world ambassador of French bread". He has more than 110 stores worldwide, with recent openings in Mexico and Thailand, and his accolades stretch across many borders, too: he's been awarded Best Baguette in New York and Best Croissant in Tokyo.

In this interview, I chat to him about his early interest in experimenting with flour; having to abandon romantic dates to fulfil his baking duties; what it was like trying to maintain his culinary skills while on military service and how far he has travelled with starter. 

Eric Kayser is also the author of a new book called The Larousse Book of Bread, so we chat about his recipes and how he has responded to the backlash against gluten.

Dan Barber and Eric Kayser were recently guests of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Thanks to their publishers (Hachette and Phaidon) for making these interviews possible.

Direct download: Dan_Barber_Eric_Kayser_final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00 AM

Mitch Orr got into cooking after realising there were plenty of perks to studying food tech in high school (such as being the only dude in the class). Scoring an extra lunch as a byproduct didn’t hurt, either. Jamie Oliver’s TV show only added to the appeal of mastering recipes.

Mitch went on to become 2010 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year while at Sepia, picked up Time Out‘s Best New Talent and People’s Choice Award honours while running the kitchen at Duke Bistro with Thomas Lim and even landed on the shortlist for Cleo Bachelor of the Year.

And despite the heavy amount of cred on his CV (and staging for Massimo Bottura), he isn’t one to take things overly seriously. His Half Baked stoner dinner with Dan Hong and Levins, where he served instant noodles and “bong water” is an example of how fun and rebellion rules his creations.

In this podcast, he also talks about what it’s like to finally run his own place, as co-owner and head chef of the excellent (and perfectly named) ACME, a place he wryly describes as #notanitalianrestaurant. He also reveals what he really thinks of customer feedback and being scored by Terry Durack.

Also discussed: what really upsets him in the kitchen (it’s hilarious and surprising), what to do with a zillion litres of extra egg whites, and where he likes to eat and drink in Sydney (“anytime anyone asks me where to go, I always say 10 William Street and Ester“) – this list includes both high-end favourites like the “phenomenal” meal he last had at Sixpenny and the knockout desserts at Bentley, as well as Faheems Fast Food, and yep, even KFC.

Mitch also runs through the places he most wants to try next (which includes Automata, Clayton Wells’s restaurant which is due to open in July) and the local chefs that inspire him, such as Elvis Abrahanowicz from Porteno, Dan Hong of Ms G’s and Mr Wong, Dan Puskas of Sixpenny and Ben Greeno of Momofuku Seiobo.

PS Here’s a link to the Junkee article about Mitch’s fave Sydney eats that I refer to in the podcast.

Direct download: mitchorr2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:06 PM

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