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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry: Lee Tran Lam quizzes chefs, critics, bar staff and other people from the world of food about their career highlights and lowlights, war stories and favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney.

Jun 18, 2019

You don't need a roof or floor to run a great restaurant – that's what Hugh Allen learnt while working at Noma's Mexico pop-up.

And yes, there were issues. "If it rained, the guests had to come sit in the kitchen," he says. Simple things, like boiling water, became a mission that could take hours. And yet, this ended up being one of the best working experiences of his life.

The chef's three years with Noma also spanned its Sydney residency and its recent relocation in Copenhagen. I met Hugh last year, after saving up to eat at Noma, and I witnessed him parading the  famous celeriac shawarma. It turns out there's a secret back-story to this Instagram-winning dish (#shawarmagate) and we find out about the status of the "show shawarma".

After his time at Noma, he's returned to Australia to become Vue de Monde's current executive chef. For the menu, he's experimented with wattleseed Tim Tams, billy-tea traditions and classic memories of the Aussie milk bar. He's not allowed, though, to mess with the soufflé – it's been a Vue de Monde staple for 19 years. (He does sing to it, though.)

Hugh has come a long way since working at Rockpool Bar & Grill at age 15 (and later winning the Gault Millau's Potentialist of the Year award, which led to him spending quality time in France's Champagne region).

We also talk about his highlights from working at Noma and Vue de Monde and he also shares his favourite places to eat in Copenhagen and Melbourne.