The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

“There’s no $10 steak, that's for sure,” says Ben Greeno.

There's nothing standard-issue about his upcoming ventures with Merivale, which is no surprise – Ben is far from a standard-issue chef. (In fact, there's question about whether The Paddington – the 'pub' he's opening for the hospitality group – is even actually a pub. And the chicken shop that will follow is not going to be your average takeaway outlet, either.)

So there are many dynamite reasons why people are majorly excited about this acclaimed chef's next moves.

After all, Ben was Rene Redzepi's first employee when the Danish chef opened Noma. “It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had,” says Ben.

And after working at Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe (and running a supper club in London, where he fed 10 people at a time from an apartment), Ben ended up at David Chang's Momofuku outposts in New York – and later headed the award-blitzing team that opened Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney.

He talks about all of this in the podcast – plus, the dish that outlasted the famous pork bun at Seiobo, and that wild time they had when recreating Momofuku Ssam Bar's seminal 2007 menu for Good Food Month in 2014.

This year, Ben joined Merivale – and it probably doesn't hurt his employment prospects that CEO Justin Hemmes name-checks Ben as one of the best chefs in the world.

So Ben also chats about his plans for The Paddington (which opens on Tuesday), with a menu that is inspired by three fantastic on-site rotisseries (where he'll be roasting everything from lamb to celeriac), and the research he's done for the upcoming takeaway shop (including the time he ate 100 euro chicken in France with Hanz Gueco).

Ben also talks about his standout experiences at L’Arpege and his anticipation for the future Merivale venues for Patrick Friesen and Danielle Alvarez (“It’s gonna be one of the best openings of next year for sure," he says about her planned restaurant, Fred's.)

Direct download: Ben_Greeno.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:58am EST

Within the first minute of chatting, James Hird mentions the time his sister got caught up in a Chilean coup in Uruguay at the age of 11 – so you know it's going to be a good interview.

And while overseas escapades in India and France played a role in shaping James' ideas about eating and drinking, there's no doubt that the local landscape strongly influences his outlook about what should end up on our dinner plates or in our glasses.

After starting a law degree, James became an accidental sommelier – not that his commitment to wine was ever in doubt. He recalls sucking empty bottles of 1895 Madeira after service one night, at an early stage in his career.

Over time, James would become involved in opening Buzo, Wine Library and Vincent – and after years of uncorking wine and pouring well-picked bottles, he was named 2015 Sommelier of the Year in the Good Food Guide.

James admits that, “I think about wine pretty differently.” For him, you can narrow wine down to place and people – like music, you just have to find the genre you’re into. “A place over a 10-year period is going to produce a style or a riff you might like. And then within that, you might find a person that you really like their interpretation of that place.”

Being able to zoom into a region and really get a sense of its character and culture is a key part of the Rootstock Sydney festival that he co-founded. This year's installment of the artisanal food and wine event has gone truly next level, with added pavilions on coffee, cheese and indigenous ingredients, and around 80 producers on call to talk about what they do. Oh, and James also has to work out how to rotate a cow with a forklift and create earth ovens from scratch for Rootstock Sydney. And Magnus Nilsson's going to be around for breakfast, too.

As well as chatting about the festival, James also discusses his amazing travels this year – including his pilgrimage to Pizzeria Beddia, a pizza parlour so great that it sells out its pies by around 6pm (Bon Appetit name-checked it as "the Best Pizza in America", after all). And he also covers the time he spent at the Noma pop-up in Tokyo with Rootstock co-conspirator Mike Bennie – and the surprising record that their table guests managed to set.

Don't miss Rootstock Sydney, which takes place from November 28-29 at Carriageworks. Tickets and info available from

Direct download: James_Hird_v2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:26pm EST

When Ben Sears was working at Cutler & Co, the “biggest highlight” was when Quentin Tarantino came in for dinner. He's picked up quite a collection of memorable experiences throughout his career – from the time he worked at L’enclume, with its remote location (and tourist-magnet appeal as home of the sticky toffee pudding) to his burnout from having to make The Age's Dish of the Year way too many times, and his final spell as head chef at Claude's, when it closed after 37 years.

“That was one of the weirdest services I’ve ever done – by far,” he says.

In this podcast, he also talks about the low-budget and punk way that he opened up Moon Park with his partner and co-head-chef Eun Hee An and Ned Brooks, their business partner and floor manager. It definitely involved a visit to K-Mart.

Ben jokes that their first patrons were really just "Ned’s friends" and downplays Moon Park's food as “Korean nonna food, gussied up for the masses” – but their venture ended up being shortlisted for Best New Restaurant by Good Food Guide and Time Out Sydney and the chefs were also nominated for Best New Talent in the Gourmet Traveller Awards.

We also chat about Korean food and culture (including the amazing traditions of Pepero Day and Black Day – and how Korean food is about a zillion years ahead of the game) and we also bring up Kim Jong-Un’s haircut once or twice.

And finally, Ben shares his favourite places to eat and drink in town – including the place he name-checks as "the best restaurant in Sydney".

Direct download: Ben_Sears.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:54pm EST

Claire van Vuuren and Mitch Grady did not plan to become chefs. She wanted to be an artist and he thought he'd be a golfer. Luckily for Sydney diners, their career paths got redirected – and the pair met while working at renowned Sydney institution Claude's, where they bonded over practical jokes.

They went on to open Bloodwood in Newtown – a venue that marked the tectonic shift towards young chefs running casual-but-brilliant places that they personally enjoyed, instead of the high-end fine-diners that had defined "good food" in Sydney.

During this podcast, they also talk about the battles and highlights of working in the kitchen – from the incidents that have landed them in hospital to the thrill of running your own venue, where guests will walk right up to you and tell you what they really think. Mitch covers what it's like to be a non-drinker while running a bar that has award-winning wine lists and Claire talks about the challenges endured when women are significantly outnumbered by men in the industry.

They also chat about organising the upcoming instalment of Newtown Locals. This year's set of collaborations for Newtown Festival sees Black Star Pastry, Brewtown and N2 Extreme Gelato becoming a dessert super-group; Hartsyard and The Stinking Bishops teaming up to create the ultimate Beer Poutine; Bloodwood, Mary's, Bach Eatery and Old Town Newtown joining forces on a Chicken Waffle Cone; and Oscillate Wildly and Bloodwood nailing the Veggie Corn Dog business. Plus, there'll be offerings from Earl's Juke Joint, the Courty, Rising Sun Workshop, 212 Blu and Mike Bennie as well. Make sure to check it all out on Sunday November 8 at Newtown Festival.


Direct download: Bloodwood.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:46am EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST