The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry


Society & Culture






October 2015
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Luke Powell was very young when he snuck into the world of food – he was enrolled in culinary classes at 15 (despite being far below the 17-year minimum cut-off) and by 19, he found himself in the kitchen at the prestigious Rockpool, while crashing at the dodgiest hostels in his off-hours.

Throughout his career, he’s witnessed amazing things – the strangest party trick performed by a head chef in New Zealand; staff tackling 10-kilogram zucchinis at Mugaritz in Spain; and many memorable incidents at New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns – including an encounter with a Jewish pig farmer whose mother had yet to learn of her son’s choice of work.

Locally, Luke’s CV is impressively well-rounded: after being head chef at fine-dining institution Tetsuya’s, his next move saw him slinging burgers and making trash-can bacon at the extraordinarily popular Mary’s.

And after some time with Mat Lindsay at Ester, he finally got to open his own place: LP’s Quality Meats. In this podcast, Luke charts all the fascinating directions that his career has taken – and explains why a Southern Pride smoker that cost as much as a small car (and is just as big) is the nerve centre of his restaurant.

He also talks about one of the “top 5 best things I’ve ever eaten in my life”, handling the minefield of dietary requirements and his favourite places for dining and drinking in Sydney.

Catch Luke at the upcoming event, Burgers, Ribs & Beers: The Ethics of Fast Food, which takes place on October 13 at The Lab, Level 1, Legion House, Castlereagh Street, Sydney, for Good Food Month.

And huge thanks to everyone who has ultra-generously spread the word about the podcast, including Pinbone’s Mike Eggert, who name-checked it in episode 6 of The Mitchen; and Chris from MAB vs Food, @KEboyts and Lisa Goldberg from The Monday Morning Cooking Club, who all left super-nice comments in the iTunes store. You’re all legends! And if you like what you hear and also feel like dropping a (hopefully nice!) review on iTunes or telling your friends about this podcast, that would be hugely appreciated (but not expected)!

Direct download: Luke_Powell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:17am EDT

Since I last talked to Myffy Rigby, she's left Time Out Sydney (and boy did she go out memorably – one of her last hurrahs was an incident involving a nude bartender and dog track). Then she became the current editor of the Good Food Guide and the creative director of Good Food Month.

In this podcast, we talk about the sleep she's lost over working on the guide, and how she tracked down the guests she wanted for Good Food Month (including the ones who got away, but hopefully will appear next year – I have my fingers crossed so badly about Brooks Headley making it on 2016's bill)!

Myffy also talks about highlights from the Good Food Month program and speculates on why ramen attracts so many nerds. Plus, her collaboration with the Porteno crew on the 'Recipes For A Good Time' cookbook (and her possible regrets about it), what the Gelinaz Shuffle was really like and her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney (including where to get the “best pasta in the city").

Direct download: Myffy_Rigby.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:48am EDT

Barbara Sweeney has made a great career out of her appetite. She's been regional editor for Good Food Guide, oversaw Cheap Eats for nine years, spends Saturdays as a 'talking cookbook' and even has been a honey judge.

In this podcast, she also chats about her fascinating assignments – from interviewing wasabi farmers to rating vinegar. (Also, did you know that 'hen caravans' existed?). There's also a time trip to the oddball retro dishes that she remembers from decades past and plus, it's hard not give your jealousy a workout when Barbara describes the staff meals she experienced when working at a hotel in Umbria.

Barbara also chats about Food & Words, the festival that she has run for several years. She runs through this year's program – which will include writer Anthony Huckstepp interviewing Sepia owners, Martin Benn and Vicki Wild, a hummus tasting by Michael Rantissi (Kepos Street Kitchen, Kepos & Co), colonial gastronomer Jacqui Newling, and yep, even me. It takes place on September 19 at The Mint in Sydney and you can find out more and grab tickets from

Direct download: Barbara_Sweeney.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:29am EDT

Jake Smyth knows a hell of a lot about burgers. Along with Kenny Graham, he runs Mary's – which, despite only being two years old, has quickly become a much-worshipped Sydney institution. It's easily titleholder of the best burgers in Sydney and inspires the craziest queues, even on the coldest winter nights.

David Chang, who famously said Australia screws up burgers like no other country, endorses Mary's as the exception he's on board with. No wonder Mary's sells 10,000 burgers a week between its two outlets.

Even though it was "carnage" with Jake's daughter being born on the same day that the first Mary's store opened, these two life-changing events would prove to be amazing forces in Jake's life.

He also talks about all the burger research he's done (including the worst example he's ever endured) and the unusual former lives of Mary's Newtown location, which is over a century old. He even shares some of the secrets behind Mary's amazing mushroom burger. (Jake was actually a vegan for two years, and a vegetarian for four.)

Jake also chats about the unusual things they've bartered for Mary's burgers, the Fairy's burger fundraiser and his favourite places to eat and drink (such as The Gretz and 10 William Street).

Direct download: Jake_Smyth.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:03am EDT

Min Chai was an “unhappy accountant” before a tragedy inspired him to change the course of his life and open N2 Extreme Gelato. He had zero experience and friends even warned him against going ahead, but his one-of-a-kind way of making flavours soon led to four-hour queues at his first store.

Min’s flavours can be wonderfully attention-seeking (such as Ferrero Reveal or Chinese Couch Syrup), cheeky and controversial (think 2 Girls, 1 Cup) and straight-up great (Buttered Popcorn, Tease Ma Malt). He’s even collaborated with everyone from Christina Tosi to Young Henrys.

He talks about the intense highlights and lowlights of running N2 Extreme Gelato and also shares some of his favourite places to eat and drink (such as Cho Dumpling KingChing Yip Coffee Lounge and Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream).

Direct download: minhchain2extreme.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:24am EDT

Working at a restaurant run by the Mafia – that was no big deal for Gregory Llewellyn. In fact, whether it’s blitzing through 300 covers a service in New York, enduring sanity-testing celebrity demands for hotel riders or watching smoke clouds billow into parts of a restaurant where they definitely don’t belong – Gregory has proven himself to be an unflappable chef.

He started in hospitality as a 15-year-old, incredibly psyched just to be a dishwasher because it was a front-row seat to the full-blaze drama of the kitchen. Now, he runs Hartsyard with his wife, Naomi Hart. The hatted Newtown restaurant is known for its non-stop popularity and this Sydney institution is so famous for its fried chicken that it has become the focus of their new cookbook, Fried Chicken & Friends: The Hartsyard Family Cookbook. Accordingly, there are more than 10 pages dedicated to making this recipe alone in the new publication. The book also tells the story of how the restaurant came to life, including all the disasters that haunted them when trying to open the venue (such as the restaurant's chairs not turning up, having to go to crazy lengths to source much-needed ingredients, or witnessing the disastrous smoker accident).

In this podcast, Gregory also chats about everything from his knack for “shockingly over-ordering” food, that time he endured the Franny Llewellyn Apple Diet and the crazy things he did to make sure Hartsyard would be built on time. He also covers the opening of The Gretz, which was as intense as Hartsyard’s birth. It’s also worth listening to this chat just to hear Gregory crack the line, "Couple cases of Crownie”, in his attempt at a broad-as-hell Australian accent.

Interviewing Gregory was great fun (and in fact, I laughed out loud multiple times while editing this – it’s a very entertaining chat). Listen in also to hear his list of favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney (such as Bodega, Osteria di Russo & Russo, Moon Park) and keep an eye out for the Fried Chicken & Friends cookbook, out in August through Murdoch Books.

Direct download: Gregory_Llewellyn.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:50am EDT

“Analiese, you’re going to have to move your car, we’re going to blow up your car.”

This has to be one of my favourite-ever interviews – Analiese Gregory is one of the most fascinating chefs that I've been lucky enough to talk to.

Not that working in food was an obvious pathway for her – in fact, having a father who was acclaimed in the industry actually dissuaded her from cooking (her dad, Mark Gregory, was the first New Zealander to receive the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a big culinary award). And even though she made, "what lots of people consider to be, like, the worst move of my life”, she has single-handedly built an impressive CV. After working at Quay as executive sous chef, she ended up spending her days putting together one of the world's most legendary dishes – the gargouillou – at Bras in France, a restaurant on her bucket list.

She also juggled living in a house with 24 stagiaires – and their many dramas (car-ruining and otherwise!) – when working at Mugaritz in Spain. At the world-renowned restaurant, no idea was classified as off-limits, so she got to consider the surprising connections between live squid and hip hop, or carry out fascinating and out-there experiments with mould. “OK, well I’m still alive, so now I can feed this to other people,” she says in the podcast. Analiese also nailed a dish that Mugaritz had been trying to create for four years.

In this interview, she also chats about her unforgettable time running a pop-up restaurant in Morocco – where everything (yes, even rubbish) needed to conveyed in and out of the city via donkeys. There were no cars – and there were no suppliers. But the produce within her kitchen-stocking reach was staggering – such as camel milk and more types of honey than you could contemplate.

During the podcast, she also talks about the brutality of working in Paris, her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney, and her upcoming Funemployed dinners – which sees her team up with a culinary gang that includes award-winning sommeliers Richard Hargreave and Giorgio de Maria, plus acclaimed chef Luke Burgess, who has just returned to Sydney after his spell running the amazing Garagistes in Hobart.

Note: Apologies, but there's a slight sound issue at the start of the interview; it only lasts for a few minutes, though – so I hope you persist with listening, as Analiese has so many fascinating things to say! And if you'd like to follow her, you can do at

Direct download: analiesegregory.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:37am EDT

By opening Waterman's Lobster Co in Potts Point, Matt Swieboda wanted to create the "Mary's … of lobster roll places".

Here, Matt not only serves the classic American dish in both the Maine and Connecticut styles, but even includes a vegetarian egg-nori version that unexpectedly teleports you to Japan. (This roll is a delicious butter-mayo bomb, by the way.) The menu also includes raw milk Wisconsin cheese with jalapenos and fish rillettes – but the stadium headliner here is the iconic crustacean.

In this podcast, we talk about how this sea animal went from being seen as a low-class food (eating lobster was once considered as lowly and desperate as consuming rats) to the luxe product it is today. Matt debunks the myth that they're immortal creatures (although they can live for more than 100 years) and describes where you can find “the worst lobster on the planet”.

He also covers what should go into a proper lobster roll, why they go well with "fat buttery chardonnays" and why (despite the backlash) he decided to track down lobster from America instead of using Australian produce.

Also in this episode, Matt talks about his unexpected career in hospitality (in his early days, on the bus to work, he'd give himself a crash course on the grand crus of Burgundy) and how he went on to start much-loved Sydney small bar, Love Tilly Devine.

And he singles out his favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney – from Onde for a T-bone steak to Room 10, where he pretty much spends all his weekly earnings.

Direct download: Matt_Swieboda.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:20am EDT

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: 10:19am EDT

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: 6:00am EDT