The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

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Syndication

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: 2:50 PM

“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 https://instagram.com/analiesegregory/.

Direct download: analiesegregory.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:37 PM

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: 2:20 PM

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 appetiteforexcellence.com

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