The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

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

From drinking supermarket Nescafe to the buzz of making coffee for his hero Rene Redzepi every morning (and being the Noma chef's personal barista), Corie Sutherland has certainly had an unexpected career.

He tells his story of living in Japan, getting into 'specialty coffee' (a term he's wary of using), how he came to start the award-winning Edition Coffee Roasters with his brother Daniel Jackson, the next-level things he's witnessed at coffee championships, how his life intersected with Noma (and the amazing amount he was offered for his reservation at the booked-out Noma Australia!) and what it's like meeting your culinary heroes. 

Direct download: Corie_Sutherland.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:57am EST

This has to be one of my favourite podcast episodes.

Alex Elliott-Howery, who co-owns the Cornersmith Cafe and Picklery in Marrickville, was awesome to talk to. 

Her award-winning cafe has a hyper-focus on preservation, fermentation, urban beekeeping, avoiding waste and produce-bartering. As a flipside to the acclaim, she's also endured pickling disasters that've left her crying into her gin and tonic; and she once tried to preserve a summer bounty of tomatoes, only to find herself still up at 3am, waiting for the water to boil (this definitely lead to more tears).

She really lives the sustainability life, carrying around a ladder to salvage mulberries from becoming footpath splatter, and her progressive approach can sometimes have a downside (eg having to combat hardcore pickle nerds).

Despite being besieged by vandalism early on, Cornersmith has been built up a strong fanbase that happens to include Jamie Oliver (the back-story to this is great, by the way). And expect Europeans to join the pro-Cornersmith club, given the Cornersmith cookbook will be published in Germany and The Netherlands.

In this interview, Alex also talks about her courtship and wedding to her Cornersmith co-owner, James Grant (one highlight is what their son decides to wear to the ceremony); the hilarious incident she had with the police and how long you can really keep pickled items for (you'll be surprised).

Plus, what suppliers refuse to bring her; more about her Cornersmith family, reader responses to the book and where she likes to eat and drink in Sydney.

Direct download: alexelliotthowery.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:50am EST

Patrick Friesen originally thought he was going to be a doctor. He also planned to be in Sydney for a short spell - but luckily for Australians (and their appetites), he did a U-turn on both points and we're now fans of the talented chef and his menu-ruling work at Merivale's many venues: Ms Gs, Work In Progress, Papi Chulo and the upcoming Queen Chow (which you may know via Insta-stalking its #enmorechinese hashtag).

In this podcast, we talk about the true story behind his ‘Phat Pat’ nickname, the food scene in Canada (where he grew up) and how he ditched microbiology lectures to pursue food and spend his (then) life savings on eating solo at Per Se at age 19.

Patrick has also gone on some mega research trips for Merivale - from his Michelin-star-blitz through Hong Kong (with Dan Hong and the Mr Wong crew) to fat-burning his way across Nashville with Morgan McGlone (Belle's Hot Chicken, Husk). “We ate more food than anyone’s ever eaten in three days,” says Patrick. 

We also hear about his recent Japan trip, where he spent a bomb on dinner at a sushi joint (only for it to be over in a flash), felt sick (in the best way possible) at the fish markets, and also endured a two-hour-long queue just to try Shake Shack. Aside from his Tokyo adventures, we also chat about other border-crossing meals he's had – like the Phnom Penh chicken that's not from Cambodia (a secret discovered via fellow chef Jowett Yu) and where he's smashed the best burgers in the world.

Patrick has pretty strong opinions on buns-and-patties and it's one of the many topics he'll be exploring for March Into Merivale (we have fun running through his golden rules for burgers). He's also tackling Instagram, guilty pleasures and other special dining events for the Merivale program (which has its launch party on Wednesday February 10, and runs from February 14 to March 20).

We also chat about what he cooks at Papi Chulo (from his insanely good cauliflower dish with romesco, parmesan and brown butter crumbs), the indestructible curly fries, and his local twist on American-style barbecue. Plus, a preview of Queen Chow, what you do when the price of avocado skyrockets, how a hunt for gossip accidentally led him to the co-head-chef role at Papi Chulo; and we finish up with his favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney.

Direct download: Patrick_Friesen.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:09am EST