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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.

Sep 21, 2017

Massimo Bottura once cried while eating Lennox Hastie’s food at Firedoor. When the chef behind Osteria Francescana, named world’s best restaurant in 2016, tears up while eating your steak, you must be doing something right. Perhaps that’s why Lennox was compelled to smuggle his signature dry-aged meat all the way to Italy when he visited Bottura recently.

Also on Team Firedoor: Pete Wells, who is probably the most important food critic in the world. The New York Times journalist’s write-up of the Surry Hills restaurant was so favourable that Lennox ended up on the front cover of the newspaper.

Firedoor is remarkable for its focus on smoke, burn and char. It relies on a fascinating mix of woods to fuel its kitchen – from ironbark to apple and even wine oak barrels. Every aspect of the menu, even the dessert, is touched by fire.

Lennox learnt a lot about cooking with raw flames when he was at the grill-focused Asador Etxebarri in rural Spain. He dropped by for a day and ended up staying for five years. He worked with chef Victor Arguinzoniz on many fire-fuelled experiments – they even grilled caviar. Also: there were steaks that came from 21-year-old cows. And even though Etxebarri was a Michelin-starred establishment (and currently rated the sixth best restaurant in the world), Lennox basically lived in a ruin on the site. “Sheep used to walk in the back door to keep warm in the winter.”

He also talks about how fire is at the heart of every culture, and can be a tricky medium to master (even the wood literally takes years to be ready to burn; and of course, we totally nerd out about Firedoor’s fuel source, especially indigenous ironbark, which burns 400C hotter than the European woods that Lennox dealt with in Spain). Gas has only been around for a few centuries, but we’ve been cooking with fire since the beginning of time – yet there’s still a lot to learn and it’s fascinating to hear about Lennox’s experiments and insights on trying to tame flames. (The heat also means he’s had a few heart attacks when the fire alarm goes off – but on the upside, a recent incident led to a refurbishment of the restaurant, complete with new hearth.) We also chat about how he comes up with vegetarian dishes – given Firedoor is famous for a steak that’s aged for around 200 days – and his favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney.

PS Firedoor fans should keep an eye out for Lennox’s upcoming book, Finding Fire, which is published by Hardie Grant in November.