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Editor’s Letter

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Editor’s
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Producing this entire issue from my living room was definitely not what I had in mind when planning our special PUB issue, but here we are!
 
The Aussie pub is a national pastime, a rite of passage, a place where the community congregates to share good food, good booze and good times. As the country slowly emerges from multiple lockdowns, it is set to be a red hot season of celebration and the local pub is primed to once again be the central meeting place for almost any occasion.
 
Pat Nourse takes it to Tassie to profile Tom Westcott from Tom McHugo’s in Hobart. This little corner pub punches well above its weight in all classes – the food, the booze and the people. It’s definitely one of my favourite pubs and I can’t wait to jump on a plane and visit Whitney, Tom and the team as soon as possible. In the meantime, sit back, relax and let Pat’s words wash over you as you imagine tucking into the haggis bao or hot house-made pastrami roll.
 
Fortunately we had the foresight to shoot an extra episode of What’s Good in the Hood way back in June before lockdown hit. This time it’s Newcastle that gets a dose of Myffy magic. Newcastle is booming and the food scene is an ‘edible adventure’ that you should be adding to your list. We’ve done the hard work for you – follow our lead and enjoy the ride.
 
Mark Best profiles the historic Royal Richmond in Sydney’s west – a hotel serving the local community for 173 years. After a complete refurbishment, the venue continues its local focus with a menu that showcases local produce including a unique relationship with Western Sydney University to provide beef and lamb produced on its Hawkesbury campus.
 
Our Young Gun is Michael Watson who has taken on his first bricks and mortar venue. If you have visited the Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park for a sporting match, concert or festival – it’s more than likely you’ve had a pre or post drink at the corner pub. Previously PJ O’Gallagher’s and before that The Fox and Lion, the old haunt was in need of some young blood. The sparkling new venue Watson’s is ready to roll when restrictions lift – the EQ has been waiting on a winner and Watson’s has arrived.
 
It’s Veal’s turn on the chopping block for Cut Two Ways and it is in the capable hands of two chefs at the helm of some of Sydney’s most well loved pubs. From a tricked up schnitzel to a glorious veal-chetta it’s the veal-deal by all accounts.
 
Finally, I am excited to introduce our new section BIG BUSINESS. Ever wondered how 5000+ hungry miners are fed at an isolated mine site in the Pilbara? Or what goes into catering some of the biggest events in the country? Big Business will tell the stories you don’t often get to hear. First up for our PUB issue we chat with Australian Venue Co – operating 170 venues Australia wide and using 40 tonnes of beef a month.
 
Here’s to pubs across the country – may your beers be frosty, your patrons thirsty and your menu enriched by Australian red meat.
 
 

Mary-Jane Morse
 
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

 

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

 
 
 
 

Editor’s Letter

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Editor’s
Letter

 
 
 


 
 
 

Australian Beef – the Official Team Partner of the Australian Olympic and Paralympic teams for Tokyo 2020. Hold on. Make that Tokyo 2021. Either way, Australian Beef will be feeding the greatness of our Aussie sporting heroes when they finally take on the world at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
 
And so in this issue, we explore the theme of greatness – from one of the all time greats of the Australian culinary scene to the emerging greatness of the 2020 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year. Innovative producers finding ways to hero their older cattle who have provided much greatness through their lives; and the everyday extraordinary greatness of Australian beef on the menu.
 
Pat Nourse profiles the great Karen Martini who has recently opened a high-profile new restaurant aptly named Hero. Pat writes “It’s not a sprint, they tell you, it’s a marathon. But in professional cooking it can be both. Starting work in restaurants when she was 15 years old, Martini was quick off the blocks, putting in the hours in one of the most demanding kitchens in Victoria, and leaping into her first head chef role at just 20. But these achievements were only the beginning of a career marked by sustained performance and a willingness to forge her own path.”
 
In our Young Guns section, I chat with Anna Ugarte, the humble 2020 recipient of the industry’s most coveted young chef award – an award that has recognised many of the greats in the cheffing community. Anna talks candidly about the challenges of her first head chef role and her journey working with some of the country’s, and the world’s, greatest chefs.
 
Mark Best delves into the emerging use of mature-aged beef. An age-old tradition in Europe and particularly the Basque region of Spain, Australian producers and chefs are beginning to see the potential of teaching an old cow new tricks.
 
Our Cut Two Ways showcases the greatness of oyster blade in the hands of Guy Turland and Tom Walton, two chefs passionately driven by the creation of wholesome, nutritious and delicious meals. The boys show us that a healthy balanced meal doesn’t have to be boring – especially when you’ve got Australian beef to play with.
 
Finally, Myffy Rigby, the fabulous food finding host of What’s Good in the Hood takes on Chatswood in a whirlwind day fueled by beef breakfast noodles, bulgogi beef banh mi, robot hot pot and much much more.
 
I hope this issue feeds your greatness with inspiration and ideas fueled by Australian beef from paddock to plate.
 

Mary-Jane Morse
 
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

 

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

 
 
 
 

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MJ with the team from Emilio's Specialty Butcher in Rozelle.

MJ with the team from Emilio’s Specialty Butcher in Rozelle.


 
 
 

Welcome to Issue 14 in which we explore the theme of DIY – doing it yourself.
 
In People Places Plates, Pat Nourse profiles self taught cook and the king of food trucks in Australia, Raph Rashid. When Raph started his food truck business in 2009 he had no experience and in fact had never even driven a manual car, let alone a truck! Now with six food trucks and two venues, Raph’s story is one of determination, drive and doing it yourself.
 
Mark Best explores different paddock to plate models in his Spotlight On section – where the venues are located on-farm and utilise their own beef or lamb on the menu. The ultimate in DIY, the four venues discuss the challenges and opportunities of producing their own livestock for the menu.
 
This issue, What’s Good in the Hood does the NSW South Coast and despite the torrential, record-breaking rainfall, Myffy Rigby uncovers some absolute gems of coastal dining. There are lots of DIY inspired stories from a half eaten pie on a fence prompting a father and son to open their own pie shop in Ulladulla; to a Merimbula girl recognising the need for a decent watering hole in her hometown. Hit the road and discover some incredible dining along the beautiful NSW coastline.
 
Our Cut Two Ways for this issue is Goat – and it sure does shine in the hands of two of our favourite chefs Nick Stanton and Alex Prichard with goat from The Gourmet Goat Lady. Our featured butcher is Emilio’s Speciality Butcher – two butchers who decided to do it their own way by opening a butchery committed to ethical and sustainable meat.
 
Finally, Young Guns features one of the hottest young chef talents in the business – Rosheen Kaul from Etta in Melbourne. We talk to Rosheen about the challenges of her first head chef role and her DIY journey of developing her style of food through cultural and family connections, historians and anthropology.
 
The stories, photos and videos in this issue are brimming with inspiration, ideas and incredible people who have found a way to do it their way – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
 
 

Mary-Jane Morse
 
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

 

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

 
 
 
 

Editor’s Letter

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Editor’s
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Welcome to Issue 13 of Rare Medium where I am proud to share with you the stories of just some of the wonderful women that produce, prepare and plate Australian red meat.
 
8 March 2021 marks International Women’s Day and I wanted to dedicate this issue to some of the Aussie women paving careers and leaving their mark across the traditionally male-dominated red meat and foodservice industries.
 
Until 1994, Australian women could not legally claim to be ‘farmers’ – the law defined them as domestics, helpmates and farmer’s wives. Growing up on a mixed farming enterprise and witnessing first hand the aptitude, tenacity and sheer hard work my mum put in to managing our herd of Angus cattle – this fact baffles me. At least now we are on the right path.
 
According to Department of Agriculture ABARES figures, women now comprise an estimated 32 percent of workers in agriculture. Looking to our future, women now represent 55 percent of university students studying agricultural science. They say the future is female – and I say the future looks bright.
 
In this issue we feature women through the supply chain – from the paddock, to the butchery and on to the plate.
 
Mark Best visits Maria Roach and her mother Betty who have single handedly run their own cattle property near Adelong NSW for most of their lives. In the January 2020 bushfires they lost a few hundred head of cattle and since then Maria has rebuilt every fence on the farm. Their story is one of resilience, dedication and determination.
 
We feature two young female butchers – Elke De Belder who originates from Belgium and is now finding her feet in the world of Australian butchery, and former chef Bonnie Ewan who was named the 2020 Apprentice Butcher of the Year. These talented young women are carving their own paths in a career heavily dominated by men – it’s not easy but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
 
Pat Nourse delves into the inspiration, application and dedication behind the impressive career of Fred’s chef Danielle Alvarez. Danielle effortlessly emanates such a feeling of warmth and kindness despite leading one of Sydney’s busiest kitchens – she is a chef that other women want to work for and it’s not hard to see why.
 
Finally, two tremendous talents take on the tri tip in our Cut Two Ways feature. Trisha Greentree from 10 William St and Fratelli Paradiso; and Jemma Whiteman from Cafe Paci turn out some tasty snacks perfect for summer snacking.
 
It is my privilege to have worked on this issue and to now share it with you.

 
 

Mary-Jane Morse
 
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

 

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

Editor’s Letter

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Editor’s
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In this issue we put some weight behind a word frequently aired but often difficult to define – and explore what sustainability looks, and tastes like, through the red meat supply chain.
 
In his People Places Plates section, Pat Nourse talks all things sustainability with Josh Lewis of Fleet, La Casita and Ethel Food Store in the picturesque Brunswick Heads – a chef and restaurateur walking his own path and shaping a sustainable model that works for him.
 
Mark Best takes sustainability to the taste buds in his Spotlight On section, speaking with various beef brands with a claim in the sustainability space – from carbon neutral to highest animal welfare – and asking the question, what does sustainability taste like?
 
We head to Orange in NSW for our second episode of What’s Good in the Hood with Myffy Rigby. A hop skip and a jump from Sydney, this regional food and wine hub is brimming with good times and exceptional local produce plated up by passionate people. Do yourself a favour and add Orange to your hit list.
 
Our Cut Two Ways shines a light on the lamb neck and it certainly glows in the capable hands of Rob Cockerill from Bennelong and Daniel Puskas from Sixpenny who turn this humble cut (from Grant Hilliard at Feather and Bone) into dishes that dazzle.
 
This issue’s Young Gun is farmer Tim Eyes. Based on the NSW central coast, Tim’s number one priority is the environment and this impressive young beef farmer is keen to connect people back to the farm and show that agriculture can mitigate climate change.
 
What does sustainability mean to you?
 
 

Mary-Jane Morse
 
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

 

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

Editor’s Letter

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Editor’s
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If 2020 has shown us anything it is that nothing is certain and whilst it is impossible to predict what will happen moving forward in relation to Covid-19, we can assume that the foodservice industry will continue to be impacted for the foreseeable future and beyond.
 
The foodservice community has demonstrated its resilience – your determination, your diligence and camaraderie are the true measures of hospitality. But if Covid-19 has taught the industry anything, it is that the model needs to adapt, offerings need to diversify and those with the ability to change will be the ones that survive.
 
The Australian red meat industry has itself faced a raft of challenges with foodservice shutdowns not only locally but around the world in every export market. Increased demand at a retail level somewhat softened the blow but demand for mince products led to carcase imbalances as premium cuts diverted from foodservice and into mince and sausages.
 
Moving back through the supply chain, livestock prices are at record highs as producers seek to restock herds and flocks after widespread rain brought some reprieve to long term drought conditions – meaning less livestock are available for processing.
 
The last few months have given me an opportunity to rethink what we bring you in our quarterly publication, to reconsider what matters and why. We have done some adapting of our own and this issue brings with it some exciting changes.
 
Firstly – I’m proud to welcome two incredible contributors to the Rare Medium family, each with their own dedicated sections. Pat Nourse, one of Australia’s most accomplished food journalists, takes on our new People | Places | Plates section – sharing the stories of chefs, venues and menus; while industry legend Mark Best brings us his Spotlight On section – an exploration of various components of the Australian red meat supply chain.
 
Our new What’s Good in the Hood section reflects the importance of community dining and celebrating neighbourhood favourites. First up we explore Sydney’s Inner West with the fabulous Myffy Rigby. If anyone is going to show us around town then it may as well be the editor of the Good Food Guide!
 
We also have a new Cut Two Ways section – featuring a different cut each time cooked by two different chefs and our Young Guns section that explores the stories of young professionals through the red meat supply chain.
 
The value of supply chain relationships has never been more apparent and I look forward to continuing to connect you with our wonderful Australian red meat producers, to grow and prosper together with whatever comes next.
 
Following your journeys over the last few months has at times been heartbreaking but more often than not it has been empowering. I hope that the stories of this issue inspire you as you have me – as together we come to terms with this strange new world.
 
 

Mary-Jane Morse
 
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

 

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

People Places Plates

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Words: Pat Nourse. Photography: Luke Burgess

 
 

At Tom McHugo’s, Tom Westcott and Whitney Ball are making the case that pub food can be bigger and bolder than you might think, without losing touch with the people.

 
 
Tom McHugo’s straddles the corner of Macquarie and Argyle streets in central Hobart, a solid two-storey brick building just a couple of blocks up from the docks. Its original name is still etched across the façade in capital letters a foot high: HOBART HOTEL. There’s not much that screams “fancied-up pub” when you push through the doors: carpet on the floors, stools at the bar, scars on the timber of the tabletops. But look a little closer.
 
There are no pokies here, and no TVs either. Hell, even the eight-ball table has gone, a quiet casualty of the pandemic. What on earth do people do here? Well, for one thing they like to come in, hang out and talk.

Tom Westcott outside Tom McHugo’s in Hobart.

Tom Westcott outside Tom McHugo’s in Hobart.

If you’re from Hobart, chances are pretty good that you’ll run into someone you know on any given evening. The booze is also undeniably outstanding. Check out the taps: it’s not just that you’ll find beers from local heroes like Two Metre Tall here – they’ve got hand pumps for them as well. There’s a banger wine list, too. The place has vibe. And, thanks to Tom Westcott and Whitney Ball, it has one of the most interesting pub menus in Australia.
 
Westcott braises arrow squid with merguez sausage and serves it with bomba rice, purplette onions and turnips. He presses mutton shanks and serves them with cavolo nero, rice polenta and lamb sauce. He takes blue mackerel, grills it whole and pairs it with pickled onion, mustard cream and toast.
 
Shoulders of lamb from Littlewood Farm in the Coal Valley are salted down, smoked cold and then air-cured, before being braised with bay and celery and plated up with endives and figs. Beetroots are dressed with a spicy green zhoug, grilled gem lettuces with a miso made with tomato and bread, while golden chicken “spare parts” from Rosella Roost get teamed with something Westcott likes to call crack sauce.

Whitney Ball pours a beer from the Two Metre Tall hand pump.

Whitney Ball pours a beer from the Two Metre Tall hand pump.

Better still, it’s not a two-menu situation with good food for the dining room and scraps for the punters cropping up the front bar. The same great produce goes into all the pub standards.
 
Want a snack after you’ve been bending the arm all afternoon? How about a roll stuffed with hot house-made pastrami and pepper gravy, on some nice fat chips? Or braised short-rib on a steamed bun with plum sauce? You want a steak? How about a hanger from an English Longhorn, with Cafe de Paris butter and savoy cabbage or aged rump cap, grilled and served with charred eggplant, radicchio and olive and red wine vinaigrette? You want a pie? How about a minced lamb and black pepper number riding a wave of mushy peas? And hey, even the Worcestershire sauce is made in-house. Not for nothing is Westcott’s Insta-handle @dementedfermenter.
 
Before he was into the ferments, demented or otherwise, Tom Westcott was a guy who grew up on farming and forestry country on the Tasman Peninsula about 90 minutes southeast of Hobart. For half of that time the family was on a sheep farm, which meant they ate a steady diet of mutton. Westcott reckons it wasn’t until he got into restaurants as a glassie and kitchen hand when he moved to Hobart to study media, that he first ate lamb.

Hot house-made pastrami roll with pepper gravy.

Hot house-made pastrami roll with pepper gravy.

Westcott’s mum was a community nurse who fed the family from books by the Nursing Mothers’ Association and the CWA. “It was all pretty simple,” Westcott says. “We always had chickens, so we had a lot of egg and bacon pie, and maybe vegetables from the garden with a roast once or twice a fortnight.” His least favourite of the dishes on high rotation with Mum was a version of chow mein. “Frozen peas and corn and mince and rice, all cooked in one not-hot-enough pot. No.”
 
So how did we get from there to here? From tepid chow mein to hand-pumped craft beers and rillettes with Tropea onions and house-made pickles? Where exactly did Westcott get led astray? He’d been kicking around in kitchens in Hobart for a few years, but as it turned out, one venue made all the difference.
 
Taking a punt and sticking his head through the door at a new place opening up on Murray Street in 2010 was a turning point. Garagistes was opened by Luke Burgess, a Tetsuya’s-trained chef with experience at Noma, and his partners, Katrina Birchmeier and Kirk Richardson, and drew national attention in a way that was unprecedented for a restaurant in Tasmania. Not that this was apparent to Westcott, who was still rocking a rat’s tail at the time and had never filleted a fish.
 
 
 

“It was still just a building site when I went in,” he says. “They hadn’t opened yet, and I’d been pushed to go by a friend of Kirk’s.” Despite the rat’s tail, Burgess saw something in Westcott, and he ended up staying for two years: “it was pretty formative for me.”

 
 

Working with Luke Burgess at Garagistes encouraged Tom to think bigger.

Working with Luke Burgess at Garagistes encouraged Tom to think bigger.

It was at Garagistes, he says, that he realised that cooking could take you places, and that you could think bigger. The kind of passion Burgess put into the work, Westcott says, was something new to him, something he’d never seen in or out of the kitchen.
 
“I’d never seen anyone talk to a room full of people about an idea and be able to take them all with him – all of a sudden you’d be in service and the food you’d been talking about was hitting a table in front of you. I really didn’t understand where I was, or what I’d gotten into. It was kind of baffling, but I went along for the ride.”
 
It was a steep learning curve. “Luke actually summed it up for me when he said I needed to learn to slow down.” For the years he’d been cooking prior to Garagistes, Westcott says he’d been focussed on doing volume, “but I’d end up in the shit because I didn’t have the skills to manage time”. He understood the cookery part of cooking and the science of what was happening at the stoves, but the management side of things, and bringing it all together on detailed plates in a serious service wasn’t in the skillset.

 
 

“I really had to grow up a little bit. I’d just treated it as a laugh before that rather than a profession.”

 
 
 
“Garagistes opened it up as a career path for me, and made it apparent it wasn’t just about slapping food on a plate and flirting with waitresses.. and being a ratbag. It was actually about having some credibility, learning about food and being a part of what now in Tassie is a movement.”
 
The menu at Tom McHugo’s is littered with the names of the seven different vegetable growers that Tom Westcott works with, Provenance, Fat Carrot Farm, Tony Scherer and Sulyn’s Garden among them. It’s the same with the meat. Littlewood, the lamb producer in Coal Valley, has been there since day one. “We’ve always used Sophie Nichols’ lamb. I can get it every week, I know where it comes from, I know who she is and what she believes in and how she farms. And it’s not static.”

Tom has used Littlewood Lamb in the Tom McHugo’s kitchen from day one.

Tom has used Littlewood Lamb in the Tom McHugo’s kitchen from day one.

Westcott says he enjoys the changes in size and flavour of the meat he buys in. “Sophie’s not selling stock to a market where it has to be exactly 22 kilos dressed-weight every week.” You get through winter and the lambs start to get fatter and have more interesting flavours, he says, or the fat-content changes, and the kitchen changes tack with it.
 
 
 

“Rather than it just being chops and roasts, we’ll still do a roast but it’ll be muscle-seaming a leg and offering different cuts from the leg as we go. We’re keeping our butchering skills sharp and other guys in the kitchen get to see a whole animal and learn how to butcher it, and people coming for a meal get to taste something different.”

 
 
 
A relationship with the Huon Valley Meat Company, and with Vincent Macdonald, one of the company’s sales and product development people who cooked at The Agrarian Kitchen and worked at Brae for a while, has proven significant. “Vinnie understands the challenges of getting a consistent supply of good-quality meat at a restaurant,” says Westcott. And he’s a very effective salesman. “He can call me and say, ‘I’m five minutes away, I’ve got 15 kilos of beef liver and 10 kilos of oxtail, I thought you could probably use it,’ and I’ll just say, yep, great.”

Tom takes whole animals and teaches his team how to butcher them.

Tom takes whole animals and teaches his team how to butcher them.

A surprise delivery of 25 kilos of beef offal isn’t every chef’s idea of fun. Especially when you’re gearing up for the 250-plus covers that Tom McHugo’s does on a good night. But it’s curve-balls like these – a box of crepinette or hearts or tongues showing up at the kitchen door – that Westcott says makes the job worthwhile for him. No guts no glory, if you will.
 
Offal isn’t something Westcott grew up with – it was something his Mum and Dad had only had bad experiences with in their own childhoods – but he has certainly made up for lost time at Tom McHugo’s.
 
 
 

“We’ve had it on the menu from day one, and people were onto it from day one,” he says. “It wasn’t like we had to educate anyone. They were just there for it.”

 
 
 
And Westcott is there for them. He puts beef heart into Colombian-style blood sausages, sauces lamb faggots with leek gravy, and complements the fat of lamb ribs with lemon, pepper and house-made fish sauce – an old favourite from the Garagistes days. Beef tripe gets braised with spring garlic and last year’s tomatoes and finished with hard cheese from the larder, while beef tongue is grilled and partnered with oca yams and bitter leaves, and shin and tail make their way into dumplings with daikon in broth.

Grilled beef tongue with radish and gastrique.

Grilled beef tongue with radish and gastrique.

Then there’s the haggis bao.
 
It started with a call from Macdonald when he was first at Huon Valley Meat, going over the full list of things he could source. “He said to me, ‘can you use whole plucks from sheep?’” (Plucks being all the organs from the chest cavity – the lungs, heart and the liver.) Westcott says he wasn’t really thinking ‘novel and interesting’ so much as ‘how can I preserve all this offal?’
 
He played around with a few dough formulations and different ways of cooking before settling on the bao that graces the menu today. A yeasted dough is proved overnight, rolled into discs, wrapped around the filling, and proved again and then deep fried. The exact make-up of the filling varies from week to week, but it revolves around a mix of beef and lamb trim, kidney and liver, and lungs if they’re available. A bit of onion and freshly ground barley in place of the pinhead oatmeal that’s traditional in a haggis. Mace, ginger, black pepper, fennel seed and just a little dried and smoked chilli, and a Sichuan-inspired chilli oil with loads of garlic, Sichuan pepper, coriander and last summer’s dried chillies. “It’s been a fixture for a year now,” Westcott says, “and what arose out of someone saying, ‘can you use this?’ is now a necessity.”

The Tom McHugo’s haggis bao.

The Tom McHugo’s haggis bao.

Consider the beauty of the haggis bao – a crunchy shell covered in beautiful, crisp little bubbles, giving way to the doughnut-like softness of the interior. “The filling is soft and luscious, and moderately spiced. Nothing about it says offal,” Wescott says. “You could just give it to someone and say, take this fried meat thing, and they would devour it happily.”
 
 
 

If Tom Westcott has a message for people cooking and eating in pubs in Australia today, it’s this – pub food is the hawker food of Australia. “It provides the locale for the working class and white-collar to be on an even footing, tradies and lawyers and nurses and teachers.”

 
 
 
Everyone comes through the doors at McHugo’s, and they all end up sitting next to each other, eating the same thing, drinking the same stuff. “And that’s the most important thing to me, making a space that’s accessible to everybody,” Westcott says. “You don’t have to be limited by the pub format. You don’t have to push the boundaries, but you can always be passionate about the food you’re producing.”

Pub grub - crepinette of goat shoulder, liver and heart with rice polenta and spigarello.

Pub grub – crepinette of goat shoulder, liver and heart with rice polenta and spigarello.

 

People Places Plates

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It’s not a sprint, they tell you, it’s a marathon. But in professional cooking it can be both. Take a look at Karen Martini’s career arc.

 
 
Starting work in restaurants when she was 15 years old, she was quick off the blocks, putting in the hours in one of the most demanding kitchens in Victoria, and leaping into her first head chef role at just 20. But these achievements were only the beginning of a career marked by sustained performance and a willingness to forge her own path, not least in choosing to open a high-profile new restaurant this year – her first major opening in two decades.

Martini has stayed at the top of the game for a long time. In fact, if you happened to be flipping through the 1996 version of Rare Medium, you could find her laying out her ideas on the topic of serious meat at The Melbourne Wine Room, the restaurant at The George Hotel in St Kilda, in these very pages.
 
 
 

“We have had a char-grilled rib-eye on the menu since we opened, and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to take it off,” says 1996 Karen Martini, pictured in one of those slightly-out-focus, on-a-tilt shots that defined food-magazine photography in the 1990s.

 
 
 
She describes a 500-gram steak that was inspired by a three-inch-high T-bone popular at a hotspot called The Tuscan Grill. “It’s a big steak, but most people get through it.” At the time Martini was serving her big steak crusted with Sicilian sea salt, and dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon – a dish that went on to become a signature at Icebergs Dining Room & Bar when she made the move to Sydney to open it for fellow Melbourne restaurateur Maurice Terzini in 2002. It has graced the menu there ever since.
 
What strikes you reading this piece nearly 25 years later – apart from how perfectly contemporary Martini’s food sounds – is her focus on flavour. “I really enjoy something that does have a bit of marbling running through it,” she said back then. “I think you get a lot more flavour compared with something like a tenderloin, which I find can be a bit bland and squishy. I like something with more flavour. If I ever do use eye fillet, it would probably be something like ox, with a really beefy flavour.”

A 1996 issue of Rare Medium featuring Karen Martini and the popular 500g rib eye at The Melbourne Wine Room.

A 1996 issue of Rare Medium featuring Karen Martini and the popular 500g rib eye at The Melbourne Wine Room.

For most of the last 20 years, most Australians would know Martini best as the grounded, very approachable voice of good food on Better Homes and Gardens on Seven, in her recipe columns for Sunday Life, Good Food and Good Weekend, and in her eight (going on nine) books. You’ve seen her on TV, braising lamb chump chops with allspice, or in print slicing rump steak, laying it over a pile of Russian red kale, endive, and radicchio for maltagliati of beef. Or bringing together influences from both sides of the Mediterranean in meatballs made with both baharat and pecorino, saffron and dill.
 
It’s exuberant cooking, fresh with leaves and herbs and often layered with multiple dressings. That maltagliati, for instance, is complemented with balsamic vinegar, swirled through the pan the meat’s cooked in, and also topped with ricotta. Martini has such a knack for keeping things light and fresh, and a gift for making her food approachable, it’s easy to forget that there’s a very serious chef with a very real focus on technique and consistency behind the smiling and the toss-and-scatter cooking that have endeared her to a generation of viewers and readers. Karen Martini can really cook.

Martini has a knack for keeping things light and fresh.

Martini has a knack for keeping things light and fresh.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Martini is Italian. The I on the end of her surname, the love of fresh herbs, her facility with pasta, the fact that until very recently she and her husband, Michael Sapountsis, owned a successful St Kilda pizzeria. And it was on an Italian passport that her dad, Pierre, migrated to Australia as a boy. But the Martini family comes in fact from Tunisia, and it’s in these North African roots that Karen Martini’s love affair with flavour began.
 
 
 

“My grandmother, Grace, my dad’s mum, was always cooking whenever we visited,” she says. “When we were there we were given something to do almost immediately. That sense of nurturing and family gathering around food started there.”

 
 
 
In the suburbs of Melbourne, Grace cooked okra and molokhia, she roasted peppers, fried sand mullets to serve with pumpkin, green capsicum, lemon and cumin, and stuffed fricassee sandwiches with tuna, hard-boiled egg and capers. “And that was what you had as a snack before lunch.” On special occasions, she made lamb couscous in the Tunis style, using shoulder layered with vegetables, and a complex mixture of the spices she kept in an old biscuit tin, “right down to the dried rosebuds that she’d picked from a bush in her garden”.

Martini douses bavette in a solution of tomato essence, tamari and vinegar before it hits the grill - served with Cafe De Hero butter and a wedge of lemon.

Martini douses bavette in a solution of tomato essence, tamari and vinegar before it hits the grill – served with Cafe De Hero butter and a wedge of lemon.

When Martini decided she wanted to cook for a living she figured she needed to go somewhere she could learn all sides of the job. This led her to Tansy’s, a Melbourne restaurant run by Tansy Good and her then partner and co-head chef Marc Bouten. Good and Bouten had a reputation for being uncompromising – something that is reflected perhaps in the subsequent success of people who worked there, chefs Andrew and Matt McConnell, Philippa Sibley and Rita Macali, and bar czar Gerald Diffey among them.
 
 
 

“That was the foundation of cookery for me, all the French basics,” says Martini. “I spent three-and-a-half years with them, which in that kitchen was quite a long time, like a life sentence.”

 
 
 
Tansy’s was tough, but it fast-tracked her skills, whether it was making sauces, bavarois, stocks, or pastry. “We were boning boxes of hares, we’d pluck and gut guinea fowl, and skin eels,” she recalls. Good and Bouten were every bit as particular about their red meat, too. “We had the most amazing ox fillet on the menu with a bone marrow and shallot sauce – a Bordelaise, essentially. We only used beef with a lot of flavour, which back in 1989 meant it was grass fed, the fat was yellow, and it was aged.” When Martini says “ox” she’s talking about beasts with some age on them. “These were animals that were always three, four, five years old.

Martini’s foundation of cookery came via a 3.5 year stint at Tansy’s.

Martini’s foundation of cookery came via a 3.5 year stint at Tansy’s.

“And when I say they taught me, they didn’t ‘teach’ anything,” she says. You had to be standing in the right spot with your chopping board set up in the right position so that you could work through your own prep list, which was as long as your arm, and keep your eye on what Chef was doing and maybe you could learn how to make the hare sauce. “It was punishing but I wanted the knowledge, I was hungry for it. You had to be rather tough and… stubborn.”
 
Martini started cooking for herself early in her career, landing her first head chef gig at 20. It wasn’t exactly the plan, but after she’d returned to Melbourne having spent some time travelling after leaving Tansy’s, she didn’t see a lot that inspired her. Following a trial at a Fitzroy North restaurant called Haskins, the owner asked her why she wouldn’t take the sous chef gig. “Because your chef can’t cook,” Martini told him. He fired the chef and hired Martini instead. “And that was it.” From there, Martini never looked back, on to The Kent in Carlton with Rita Macali (“that was amazing”), and, in 1996, to Donleavy Fitzpatrick and Maurice Terzini’s Melbourne Wine Room, a St Kilda restaurant that was a game-changer in its day.
 
“I didn’t actually work under many chefs,” she says. “Once I had the basics from Tansy’s, I was a bit self-taught.” But the collaboration with Terzini proved pivotal. It was Terzini, who had moved to Sydney in 1999 to open Otto in Woolloomooloo, who convinced Martini to move to Sydney herself to open Icebergs Dining Room & Bar in 2002. She turned him down at first – more than once – but he persisted. His faith in Martini paid off. Between her talent and her willingness to work 100-hour weeks, she led the restaurant to win two Good Food Guide hats straight out of the gate and its Best New Restaurant award.

Every inch the playground for the rich and famous (Prince Harry, Beyoncé, you name it), Icebergs took Terzini’s renown from national to international, and boosted Martini’s profile to the next level. It was here she got her first break writing recipes, scrawling them on the backs of invoices until her new editor gently suggested she learn to type them. At 26, she’d never used a computer, let alone sent an email.
 
When her contract with Icebergs was up in 2004 she moved back to Melbourne. She and Sapountsis maintained their interest in the Wine Room, selling out of it in 2011, and in Mr Wolf, which they ran until this year. Martini didn’t down tools over these years. “I wrote, cooked and directed 250 menus at the Wine Room, and ran Wolf for 16 years, and none of that happened at arm’s length,” she says. She and Sapountsis also opened a venue in Ibiza called Cala Bonita in 2014, where they fed “every famous DJ on earth”. But over these years her focus broadened to include a lot more time outside the restaurants, raising her daughters, Stella and Amber, developing recipes for print, and working in television.

After learning the basics at Tansy’s, Martini was mostly self-taught and landed her first head chef gig at 20.

After learning the basics at Tansy’s, Martini was mostly self-taught and landed her first head chef gig at 20.

And so things went, happily, steadily, until the opportunity to run the food at a Melbourne landmark came along. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image – ACMI for short – is a museum dedicated to film, television and video games. ACMI is the centrepiece of Federation Square on the banks of the Yarra, in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, and reopened this year after a five-year, $40 million renovation. Martini, along with Sapountsis and caterer Michael Gebran, a partner in Hospitality M, their new boutique hospitality group, is across all of ACMI’s food, from the sandwiches and (excellent) popcorn through to its 150-seat flagship restaurant, Hero.
 
In opening Hero, Martini found herself reckoning with the stresses of the pandemic, but also with the more personal question of whether the city would show up for her. There are plenty of examples, after all, of good prime-time ratings being no guarantee of a busy restaurant.
 
 
 

“The pressure I felt was in not having opened anything for such a long time,” she says. “I just didn’t know how we were going to be received, especially in the climate that we’re in.” Hero opened nonetheless and received a hero’s welcome. “So much better than it needs to be”, said one key review.
 Hero - the new flagship restaurant at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Federation Square.

Hero – the new flagship restaurant at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Federation Square.

Just about everything about running a restaurant is more challenging now, Martini says. The margins are slimmer, customers are more demanding, competition is huge, and skilled staff are almost impossible to find. And yet despite all these things, and despite not having opened a restaurant in nearly 20 years, and despite the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, here she is again, on the tools at a buzzy, well-reviewed restaurant. How does she make that happen more than 30 years into her cooking career? How do you sustain that sort of performance at the top of your game?
 
 
 

“You stay true to your focus and beliefs about food and hospitality,” she says. “You don’t stray from what you know and love, and don’t get too caught up in the trend or the fad of the time.”

 
 
 
The pursuit of flavour is still what drives her. “My food has always been robust and honest: traditional techniques and Mediterranean flavours.” It’s still all about flavour-first now, she says, but the years have given her different ways to distil that flavour. That could mean jamón in the pan when she steams clams, or using black garlic and parmesan rinds to make an infusion. Fermented, pickled and preserved ingredients play more of a role in her cooking now, sometimes next to the fresh version of the same ingredient.

Martini says success comes from not straying from what you know and love.

Martini says success comes from not straying from what you know and love.

The red-meat hero at Hero, meanwhile, isn’t a big rib-eye, but a bavette. A 420-gram piece of steak that Martini douses in a solution of tomato essence, tamari and vinegar before it hits the grill, with the intention of making a very full-flavoured piece of meat even more flavoursome.
 
The thrill of cooking for people, the inspiration is still there, she says, whether it’s in the season or in the markets, or just looking at a really nice piece of fish or meat. “It’s a weird love affair, but as a chef you’ll stay focussed if you stay close to what you love.”

The pursuit of flavour is what drives Martini’s cooking - robust and honest food using traditional techniques and Mediterranean flavours.

The pursuit of flavour is what drives Martini’s cooking – robust and honest food using traditional techniques and Mediterranean flavours.

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So you want to open a little something of your own? Raph Rashid has two questions for you. What do you want to get out of it? And who is your customer?

The food truck OG - Raph Rashid.

The food truck OG – Raph Rashid.

“I think it’s good to quantify what you feel like your return should be.” And Rashid doesn’t just mean the bottom line. What do you want this business to do for you? Make you money? Let you express yourself? Change your community? Give you a vehicle to explore something that you’re interested in? Save the world? Buy yourself a job you like? All of the above?
 
“What are the metrics to your success and happiness?” If that’s outlined and you’re happy with that, he says, you need to figure out who your customer is. “That idea of that customer doesn’t have to stay set in stone, but you have to have an idea of where this person is. Does this person actually exist? That’s huge for people.”
 
About once every two weeks someone who wants to open a food truck hits Rashid up on Instagram, and he hits them back with the two questions. “And then if they’ve thought about it, and say, ‘this customer exists at this farmer’s market on Sunday and I’m willing to go there and do this for them every Sunday’, then cool. But if they’re like, ‘oh, we’re just gonna park up outside the MCG and you know’, I’ll say, that’s fine too, but you probably need to put in a little bit more work. You might not be able to park there. And does that person coming out of the MCG really want to eat a Scotch egg right then? You’ve got to think about those things. I return to these questions all the time.”

Raph runs three Beatbox Kitchen burger trucks, three Taco Trucks, a Beatbox Kitchen diner and Juanita Peaches, a combined burger and donut shop.

Raph runs three Beatbox Kitchen burger trucks, three Taco Trucks, a Beatbox Kitchen diner and Juanita Peaches, a combined burger and donut shop.

This is not to say Raph Rashid asked himself these questions before he opened his own thing. Right now, he runs three Beatbox Kitchen burger trucks, three Taco Trucks, a bricks-and-mortar Beatbox Kitchen diner on Sydney Road, and Juanita Peaches, a combined burger and doughnut shop in Brunswick that is home to the trucks. He’s the author of three books, has been by turns a graffiti writer, a teenage T-shirt mogul, a recording artist and a sandwich hand, and last year made his first-ever TV series, Mean Cuisine.
 
If you’re looking for a through-line there, it’s doing it yourself. His first book, Behind the Beat, has nothing to do with food – it’s all about hip-hop producers. But it’s about their home studios, taking you inside the spaces where the likes of Cut Chemist, Madlib, Mario Caldato Jr and the late MF Doom and J Dilla did their work.
 
 
 

“I was deeply into home studios and how people were DIYing their own music. One of my favourite albums of all time was DJ Shadow, and he made it all at home. I thought, people need to see what’s going on here.”

 
 
 
Whether it’s skateboarding, graffiti, hip-hop or taco trucks, Rashid deep dives into subcultures, and takes his time to absorb the details while he’s there.
 
When you take a look at the (many) cookbooks on his office shelves, beyond the extensive taco and hamburger literature – you might discern a bias for chefs who forge their own path: Roy Choi, David Chang, Gabrielle Hamilton, Fred Morin and David McMillan, the guys from Joe Beef in Montreal. “I still trip on the new Joe Beef, you know – Surviving the Apocalypse – how’s that timing?”
 
Then as you walk past a stack of shelves towards the other end of the room, the cookbooks and bottles of mustard give way to more 1970s copies of National Geographic, and scale models of treehouses. Less Enrique Olvera, René Redzepi and fermentation, more Ken Done, Henry Darger and books about crochet, tissue paper and kite craft. A poster dominates one shelf with the legend THEY DRANK ALL THE MILK AND ATE ALL THE BUTTER.

Raph’s wife Beci says he loves learning and is always on a mission to better himself.

Raph’s wife Beci says he loves learning and is always on a mission to better himself.

Now you’re in the workspace of Beci Orpin, designer, prolific author and Rashid’s wife, the mother of their two sons, Tyke and Ari, and his key creative collaborator. Take a look at the titles of the (many) books Orpin has produced and it’s not hard to see why they’re kindred spirits: Make & Do, Find & Keep, Take Heart, Take Action, Watch This. “Beci is the DIY queen,” says Rashid.
 
Orpin says Raph is a unique individual – incredibly motivated and never reliant on anyone else to make things happen.
 
“His best skill is making things happen and I think that’s the difference between him and others – everyone has ideas, but not everyone can make them happen. He has many ideas and some of these ideas reach obsession level, and he will obsess over them until they become a reality.”
 
 
 

“He loves learning and is always on a mission to better himself and he’s genuinely passionate about anything he decides to undertake. He has a lot of energy, and reacts greatly to the energy of others.”

 
 
 
“He also loves food. Like really, really loves food, and the satisfaction he gets for cooking and providing for others. At least once a week he’ll revel in a weekday meal he has cooked for our family, especially if the kids love it. Those small things are never lost on him.”

For all his obsessiveness and attention to detail, when Rashid started out back in 2009, not only did he have essentially no experience running a food business of his own, there was also no one doing food trucks he could ask for advice. Oh, and he’d never driven a manual car before, let alone a truck.
 
The learning curve was steep, a waking nightmare of missing staff, melting ice-cream and faulty power circuits. Driving back from working his first music festival, the safe fell out of the truck and onto the freeway, along with all the weekend’s takings. He also didn’t have a kitchen, or anywhere else to prep. He just did it.
 
 
 

“I just parked the truck next to my house, and we would just prepare on the street.” He was running a lead over the next-door neighbour’s house to plug in the power because he didn’t have a driveway of his own to park on. “Then you call the meat guy and the fish guy and the vegetable guy and say ‘okay I’m ready for deliveries because my fridge is on. It was insane.”
Taco truck tools of the trade - flank steak and tortillas on the grill.

Taco truck tools of the trade – flank steak and tortillas on the grill.

But he stuck with it, got a small warehouse, added some more trucks, and then outgrew the warehouse and now he’s the guy people go to, asking how they can get their dream on the road. And he’s there for them.
 
Rashid’s knowledge was won the hard way, but there’s no secret to his success that he won’t share. What’s the spicing in his short-rib sausage sandwich? (Sweet paprika and mustard powder.) What kind of chillies go into the oil that fires up his sweetbread tacos? (Habaneros.) How does he get that texture in his glazed oxtails? (Shred two thirds of the meat once it’s tender, keep the remaining third on the bone, simmer them together for another 15 minutes, then give them a blast in the oven.) Just ask.

Raph’s knowledge was won the hard way but there’s no secret to his success that he won’t share.

Raph’s knowledge was won the hard way but there’s no secret to his success that he won’t share.

His understanding of the microscopic details of hamburgers is quite remarkable, even in this burger-saturated day and age.
 
Proportion, patty shrinkage and the exact tang of the sauce? He has spent literally hundreds of hours thinking about the blend of meats that go into the burgers at Beatbox, having bought a bench top mincer to work it out himself, but he’ll tell you everything he knows at the drop of a hat. “I’m not a closed book. There’s no secrets.”
 
He even has a history of the burger in Australia mapped out in his head. You want to hear it?
 
In the beginning there was the fish-and-chip shop burger. Fairly lean mince, maybe topside, usually formed into a ball which the cook would smash down as they went (“so they were ahead of the smashed-patty game,” Rashid laughs), trying to cook it quickly. There’d be some onions that’ve been grilled – sitting up the back, or off the grill to the side. Then there’d be some lettuce mixed with cabbage, “a classic chip-shop hack” to maintain crunch. There’d be tomato, which some places would grill, (“which I never liked”), and then there’d be a grilled bun that would potentially be a day old. “Around here it’d be Morgan’s hamburger buns. They’re the hamburger-bun bakery of Melbourne. They’re pretty wide.”
 
Most people were usually using margarine on the buns and toasting was generally done under a salamander. “Not direct heat, which is okay, but it does dry out the bun.” And then you’d have tomato sauce, and probably a Kraft single for the cheese. “Some places would pre-season the meat, which would make the meat go like sausage, because the salt breaks down the protein structure and it all joins up, which makes it a bit rubbery.”

Hot burger tip: don’t pre-season the meat - the salt breaks down the protein structure and makes the texture rubbery.

Hot burger tip: don’t pre-season the meat – the salt breaks down the protein structure and makes the texture rubbery.

Then came McDonald’s and the other American burger chains. The points of reference for young adults now, Rashid says, are big-chain fast food, while their parents would have grown up with the fish-and-chip shop burger first. In making his own burgers, he wanted to straddle both worlds, and also bring in what he’d seen travelling in the US.
 
 
 

“I thought there was a distinct west coast/east coast style of burger. The west coast being like In-N-Out, and the east coast being more like a pub-style burger. The east coast had a fatter patty, juicier, bigger and nothing was very sweet, no brioche or anything like that.”

 
 
 
He’s also a big believer in the way a place feels. More than the actual burger, he says, it was “the feelings of conviction and honesty” that won him over at a lot of the mom-and-pop burger stands he visited in the US.

The Raph Burger - the outstanding result of much burger research.

The Raph Burger – the outstanding result of much burger research.

The result of all this obsessive R&D was the Raph burger: lettuce, tomato, red onion (raw but thin), gouda cheese and a little bit of sauce that’s pretty neutral but has some tang. “You never want the sauce to be a crutch – we’re not saying, ‘oh cool, we’ll mayo it up and that’ll keep everybody sweet’.”
 
In 2009 it was 180 grams; now it’s 155. “I thought, we’ve gotta serve this medium, and it’s gotta be heaving and medium and if you cut into it, it’ll be juicy.” Then, he quickly worked out – “No, actually, I didn’t work it out quickly at all, I stuck to it for a long time.” Rashid slowly worked out that it was freaking people out and slowly readjusted to people’s expectations. He went with less meat and a wider patty and everything else had to change around it.
 
He also changed his cooking technique, adding a couple of little taps into the meat with the side of the spatula when he was grilling, which, though seemingly a small change, did a lot to release the fat inside the patty. “Just to get it breathing: a loose patty is ideal.” If you could have the meat going straight from your mincer, then hand-formed and onto the grill, says Rashid, that’s perfect.
 
You’re making a burger, not a steak, so you’re not salting it ahead of time and then bringing it to temperature. “It’s a different thing. You need texture. You want all the nooks and crannies, you want the fat to flow through.”

Raph has a remarkable understanding of the microscopic details of hamburgers.

Raph has a remarkable understanding of the microscopic details of hamburgers.

“I’ve also learned that it’s not just about fat content.” He started with about 80:20, which is about what chuck has naturally. “That’s definitely the beginning, but there’s a lot of nuance in that. What fat are you going to use?” Today there’s a lot of suet in the Beatbox mix, the fat from around the kidneys.
 
 
 

“It’s got a good melt-point, and that’s important. I’ve seen patties that look great, but you put them on the grill and all of a sudden it’s shrunk to nothing and you’re basically cooking in grease.”

 
 
 
Where the conversation has ended up with his suppliers is a mince that gives minimal shrinkage and has plenty of delicious fat.
 
“When we opened it was basically 80:20 chuck, but that’s gone up too, so we needed to flex.” Now any week it could be a mix of chuck, brisket, flank, maybe some knuckle, the mixture determined by what they’re processing and what they’re selling. “And that helps us deliver a juicy, flavoursome hamburger at about $14. It’s not proprietary – anyone can walk up and get this mince today.”

 
This, says Rashid, is where your relationship with your butcher should come in. “You want to get together on a spec that they can follow and help your business. I started with Nino and Joe’s Meats in Brunswick, and now I work with a company called Provenir, and they operate a mobile abattoir.”

Raph works direct with his supplier for a burger mince that gives minimal shrinkage - using an 80:20 ratio based on available cuts like chuck, brisket, flank or knuckle.

Raph works direct with his supplier for a burger mince that gives minimal shrinkage – using an 80:20 ratio based on available cuts like chuck, brisket, flank or knuckle.

The level of care, animal welfare and transparency Provenir offered him was key to choosing to work with them.
 
“There was so much stuff going on behind the curtains with butchery when I first started this,” Rashid says. “We’d even have some people working for us saying things like ‘if no one’s going to know the difference, what difference does it make?’. But that’s not what my business is about and that’s not what I stand for.””
 
Let’s turn the questions we started with back on the man himself: who is his customer? And what is he looking to get out of doing all this? It’s safe to say that with his businesses humming, even in the face of the challenges posed (especially to food trucks) by the pandemic, Raph Rashid has a good idea of who his customer is, and what they want. But now that he’s been doing this his own way for a while, what are his metrics for success?
 
“Being profitable and not confusing this with greed keeps us on a sustainable path,” he says. Did the customer have a good time? Would they come back? These are things Rashid thinks about a lot. But at the end of the day, he says, all he really wants is a relatively busy business that can turn a profit and keep people employed and learning.
 
“I’m really happy in the day-to-day hustle of it all.”

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Danielle

Alvarez

 

Born in Miami, trained at The French Laundry and Chez Panisse, and now head of the kitchen at Fred’s in Sydney, Danielle Alvarez is one of the brightest lights in a new generation of Australian chefs.

 

Danielle Alvarez at Fred’s in Paddington.

Danielle Alvarez at Fred’s in Paddington.

It’s quite the sight, the lamb leg hanging by a string: five kilos of top-quality Australian meat dangling on two feet of twine, gently turning in front of a fire, right in the middle of a busy kitchen right in the middle of Fred’s, one of the fanciest dining rooms in Sydney.

 
 
But this is Danielle Alvarez’s kitchen, so it’s not a provocation so much as an invitation. A declaration rather than a dare. And whether that declaration first hits you in the eyeballs or the nostrils, it bypasses the thinking part of your brain and goes straight to your subconscious with one very clear message: this is going to be delicious.
 
The leg has been tunnel-boned to remove the aitchbone, seasoned with salt, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and black pepper, tied to make its shape even, and then hung from its shank in front of a high fire of ironbark and charcoal. There it gently turns, the world’s most basic rotisserie, powered by only the heat of the fire and the occasional tap from a passing chef, until maybe an hour later when the leg is cooked to a juicy medium.
 
In the spring Alvarez might send out the lamb with peas and grilled artichokes and a bright-green oil she makes with green garlic. Or perhaps zucchini flowers stuffed with greens. In the summer, she likes to pay tribute to the southern-French origins of gigot à la ficelle with another Provençal classic, the tian, for which she takes the ingredients of a ratatouille – eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers – and assembles them into a layered pattern cooked as a gratin. Sometimes she’ll serve the leg with the addition of some lamb racks that have been grilled whole then sliced into cutlets. Sometimes she won’t. One thing that’s constant is a lamb jus ladled on top. One of the benefits of getting in whole lambs on a regular basis is having plenty of bones to make a good sauce. And the other final flourish? Just look to the title of Alvarez’s new book.

Fred’s grilled rack of lamb with gratin of stuffed zucchini flowers and jus.

Fred’s grilled rack of lamb with gratin of stuffed zucchini flowers and jus.

In Always Add Lemon, which has just been published by Hardie Grant, the food is very like what is served at Fred’s but Alvarez has chosen to write it less as a restaurant book and more as instructions for good cooks who want to make their food great. She makes the sort of intelligent, perceptive observations on stocks and brines and breadcrumbs that benefit the professional as much they do the home cook, and the page she gives over to “Chardonnay and honey vinaigrette, and how to dress a salad” should be required reading for anyone who picks up a fork.
 
While the lamb leg à la ficelle is eye-catching, for the most part Alvarez cooks meat the way she cooks everything else, putting the produce ahead of the technique, and letting the season guide her creativity. She flips the script on short ribs, poaching them instead of braising them in one recipe, while in another she takes the flanken-cut of the same short ribs – a cut also called asado-style, cut across the grain into narrow strips – and grills them simply with salt and olive oil (and lemon). Lamb leg gets threaded onto skewers for spiedini with flatbreads and “harissa-ish” sauce, while a nice big côte de boeuf gets a reverse-marinade treatment, grilled then rested on a bed of rosemary and thyme.
 
 
 

Alvarez is passionate about using only meat that is raised to the highest ethical standards. “If you ever had to choose between spending a bit more on organic vegetables or spending a bit more on organic pastured meats, you should definitely spend a bit more on pastured meats,” she writes.
Danielle puts produce ahead of technique and lets the season guide her creativity.

Danielle puts produce ahead of technique and lets the season guide her creativity.

There’s plenty to learn in the book about Alvarez herself, too. You can learn, for instance, that the food she cooks today is mostly a product of her professional cooking life in California. But her passion for food came before that, growing up in a Cuban American household in Miami, watching her mother, Rosa, and Aida, her Cuban grandmother, in the kitchen.
 
“Cuban food in our house was a lot of stews that had come originally from the mountainous regions of Spain,” she says. The base ingredients of onion, sweet peppers, and tomato – called a sofrito in Cuba – formed the basis of almost everything. “There was an economical factor to it, too,” says Alvarez. The women of her family cooked a lot using secondary cuts of meat like flank of beef – and were experts at using the pressure-cooker to take something cheap and turn it into something delicious, all within an hour.
 
“One of my favourites is called ropa vieja, which means ‘old clothes’. You take flank of beef, pressure-cook it until it’s shreddy and then make that sofrito base of onion, tomato and capsicum, then pour the shredded beef back in with some of the broth and make a stew with a spice mix involving cumin and oregano. And probably MSG.” With a little bit of white rice on the side and black beans, that was a dinner that was on the Alvarez table at least once a week.
 
It’s also a long way from pretty much anything Alvarez puts on her menus today. Her food at Fred’s is Mediterranean via California, with those southern French, Spanish and Italian traditions accented occasionally with the shishito peppers, Turkish chilli and kombu that are part of the scene in her adopted home city of Sydney.
 
On the odd occasions she chooses to make Cuban food in Australia, Alvarez says, it just doesn’t taste the same. “I think this is where emotion and food come together: it doesn’t take like my mum’s, it makes me miss home more, so I just avoid it entirely.”

Danielle’s passion for food came from watching her mother and Cuban grandmother in the kitchen.

Danielle’s passion for food came from watching her mother and Cuban grandmother in the kitchen.

It was Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook that first took her from Florida to California. “I read it as a student in culinary college and thought, my god, there could be nothing better.” The stories about the farmers and suppliers – the lobster fisherman on the east coast, the orchard where they’d buy their fruit – all of this was foreign to Alvarez growing up in Miami. “We just didn’t have produce like that.”
 
She wrote a letter to The French Laundry and was accepted as an intern in 2006. If she had been drawn in by romantic ideas of the restaurant’s approach, her first experience there jolted her into reality. “I walked in and I was a little bit early because I wanted to be on time. I’ll never forget it: a chef said to me, ‘don’t ever show up early again’. I said, oh, god, why? And he said, ‘when you do that someone has to stop what they’re doing to show you around and everything in a restaurant has a time. Everything is timed to the minute, so you can’t just be throwing that out’. I thought, wow, okay, this is not what I thought it was going to be.” Alvarez learned a great deal from that experience, “and I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to explore.”
 
The local sourcing of produce turned her head. As an intern she spent time picking herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden to be served the same night. “I thought that was magical,” she says. On the flipside she saw what she considered an exceptional amount of waste “to get to that level of perfection”. Sifting through “incredible things” purely to find 50 pieces that looked exactly the same. “I just didn’t see the charm in that.”
 
The restaurant where Alvarez found her sound was also in northern California and, like The French Laundry, it had a notable reputation for the quality of its ingredients. But in just about every other respect, Chez Panisse was a very different place.
 
Alvarez was hired in 2010 and her first few years, she says, were very challenging. On a typical day, she’d sit down at 1.30 in the afternoon at a picnic table under a wisteria with the head chef and the other four cooks to talk about what was on the menu that day. The head chef would write the menus, Alice Waters, the restaurant’s founder would approve them, and the head chef would give the team a very rough outline of what they had in mind. Beyond that it was up to the chefs to go into the kitchen and make something incredible out of this idea. Steep learning curve? And then some.
 
 
 

“I’d worked at a few places that didn’t have recipes and that was okay,” says Alvarez. “But they weren’t Chez Panisse, which was this major institution. I thought that someone had to step in and tell me how to do it, because I wasn’t sure that I knew.” But they didn’t. “You just had to get into the kitchen and fake it till you make it in a lot of ways.”

 
 
 
“It had to really sing. It had to be a perfect representation of the produce, of the moment and of the head chef’s vision for it, and there were a lot of decisions about that which came down to you.” But for all its challenges, it was, she says, a dream job. “As a young chef I don’t think I could’ve had a better experience.”

Fred’s 800g grilled grass-fed rib eye with bay leaf and kombu.

Fred’s 800g grilled grass-fed rib eye with bay leaf and kombu.

She was at Chez Panisse on the tail end of four gruelling, very rewarding years, when an enquiry came via a friend from Justin Hemmes. The owner of Sydney restaurant group Merivale, Hemmes was looking to open something like Chez Panisse. Was Alvarez interested? After flying to Sydney to inspect the shell of the building, she found herself invited by Hemmes and his sister, Bettina, to sketch out an idea for the kitchen.
 
“I imagined it as this very open, farmhouse sort thing I’d seen in Napa at really rich people’s estates,” she says. It wasn’t a set-up she’d seen in a restaurant before, but she had done many a catered dinner in similar spaces and thought it could work. “And Justin said, ‘cool, this looks great, let’s do it’, and they proceeded to build the restaurant around that. And that in a way became the brief for what Fred’s was going to be.” Alvarez moved to Sydney in 2014, opened the doors at Fred’s two years later, found acclaim nearly instantly, and has cooked for booked-out services ever since.
 
Chez Panisse remains the gold standard in the US for farm-to-table cooking, and it also remains a chief inspiration for Alvarez. “Alice was doing farm-to-table 50 years ago before that term existed.” Alvarez says Waters’ focus wasn’t originally about the connection with small, local, sustainable farms for which the restaurant is now known: it was about getting the freshest possible produce, and that meant going direct to farms in the area.
 
 
 

“Their approach was purely from a flavour standpoint. And that 100 percent still stands; cooking this way isn’t just good for the environment, it’s also the best-tasting food.”

 
 
 
Having women leaders like Waters in restaurants is essential for the viability of the trade, Alvarez says. She acknowledges that chefs who are men don’t get asked about men in the kitchen, but wants to talk about her experience as a woman in professional kitchens, she says, because she thinks there are a lot of women who want to hear about it.

"I’m proud to be a woman chef that other women want to work for."

“I’m proud to be a woman chef that other women want to work for.”

“If I was to say one thing to women,” she says, “it’d be that I’m proud to be a woman chef that other women want to work for. It’s important just to be visible, to be encouraging, to help women see that there is a path in this career that is amazing.” And a life in restaurants is not something that has to end if you decide to have a family and have children, she says, whether you’re a woman or a man.
 
 
 

“If you’re a talented, caring, strong individual, there are ways of building things around you. We need more people like that, and the last thing I want to do is discourage anyone from joining an industry that has given me everything.”

 
 
 

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Josh Lewis at Fleet in Brunswick Heads.

On the Road Less Travelled

 

Josh Lewis

Fleet | La Casita | Ethel Food Store

 

For Josh Lewis nose to tail is just the beginning. He is all about the 360, paddock to plate, root to stem. He likes the road less travelled.

 
 
In opening Fleet in Brunswick Heads on the north coast of New South Wales and sibling venues Ethel Food Store and La Casita, Josh Lewis and Astrid McCormack have built businesses around how they want to live their lives. They’ve created a situation where, rather than trying to snatch a few hours of life around the edges of work, it all works together. If the waiting list for seats and the acclaim heaped on Fleet from authorities near and far are any guide, Josh Lewis’s road less travelled is proving irresistible to more and more people every year.
 
Back when guides still offered ratings in Australia, Fleet scored two hats from The Good Food Guide, two stars from Gourmet Traveller, and four-and-a-half out of five stars in The Australian. The New York Times described it as one of the toughest reservations in Australia, and in August of this year Fleet was named one of the best restaurants in the world by Food & Wine, alongside Noma in Copenhagen and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. The magazine described Lewis’s cooking as “thoughtful and ingenious” and the restaurant as “everything wonderful about modern Australian dining”.
 
Coming out of kitchen traditions where air-freighted truffles and caviar were mainstays, Lewis flipped his training to fashion a very personal understanding of luxury that is all about small and local, and trades elite for community. This is a very different understanding of what sustainability can be in Australia. And it tastes good.

Lamb neck taco at La Casita.

Lamb neck taco at La Casita.

At Fleet, prawn legs become a course in themselves and the parson’s nose from the chicken provides a textural foil for oyster and watermelon rind. The Cheeses Loves You blue cheese that Deb and Jim Allard make with milk from the herd of Jersey cows they run northwest of Brunswick Heads, shows up at the end of a meal paired with the tropical fruit jaboticaba, cooked down with spent coffee.
 
At La Casita, onion rings are dusted with cricket salt, and cobs left over from the wood-grilled corn are used to make lemonade. Lamb neck appears at the taqueria, slow-roasted under coals and topped with a zucchini pico de gallo and a salsa morita of grilled and smoked chillies and tomatillos. It will also show up at Ethel, where it will take an Italian turn with chef David Lovett’s Nonna’s eggplant and pine nuts, alongside the likes of cavatelli with ragù alla bolognese and beef rump served with cacio e pepe potatoes.
 
Perhaps most famously of all, no one in Australia has done more to turn veal sweetbreads into an Instagrammable object of desire. Crumbed, fried and made into a “schnitty sanga” laced with anchovy mayo, they have been lusted after for the last five years not just by chefs and offal enthusiasts, but a legion of linen-draped holidaymakers and Byron locals.

The Veal Sweetbread Schnitty Sanga - a Fleet menu mainstay for five years.

The Veal Sweetbread Schnitty Sanga – a Fleet menu mainstay for five years.

If you think that’s something, wait until you see what he’s doing with beef tongue on the menu now.
 
Tongues are sourced from Hayters Hill Farm, where Dave Trevor-Jones and his brother Hugh run 150 head of Hereford x Brahman cattle on 350 acres looking out over Byron Bay. The farm is chemical-free and has an on-farm butchery – employing farming practices that are sustainable and focused on the welfare of the animals. “It’s a family-run farm and they’re really nice people to deal with,” says Lewis. “It’s all grass-fed, they raise their animals really well, and they do all the butchery there. They’re a really good bunch of guys.”

Tongues are first brined then braised for seven hours and peeled.

Tongues are first brined then braised for seven hours and peeled.

Lewis takes the tongues, brines them and then braises them simply in water with onion, garlic, thyme and pepper at 120 degrees for seven hours. He then peels them while they are still warm, cools them in the cooking water, then once they are set, runs them through the slicer.
 
The fat settled on the top of the tongue’s cooking liquor is mixed half-half with clarified butter then brushed over purple and white wombok that Lewis buys from Palisa Anderson at Boon Luck Farm, down the road at Tyagarah. He grills every slice of tongue over charcoal, then layers the slices with the wombok and presses it.

Fleet’s beef tongue terrine - a labour of love but worth every moment.

Fleet’s beef tongue terrine – a labour of love but worth every moment.

At Fleet, discs of the tongue terrine are pressed out for service then just warmed and served with a sauce of fresh kampot pepper and a splash of the tongue stock. But the tongue good times don’t stop there. Not on Josh Lewis’s watch. All the terrine trimmings from service go to La Casita, where chef Saffron Brun-Smits will grill them and daub them with a pasilla chilli salsa and bung them on a taco.
 
Josh Lewis is very much the guy who lets the work do the talking. When the business has the likes of his partner, Astrid McCormack, as its face, and latterly manager Olivia Evans in the same role, and with Rob Mudge on cocktails, it is easy to let these very talented front-of-house people do the talking and carry the story. But Lewis is a smart guy, with plenty to say that’s worth listening to. He does what he does and keeps it sustainable – his way.

Tongue terrine trimmings at Fleet are used for La Casita’s tongue taco.

Tongue terrine trimmings at Fleet are used for La Casita’s tongue taco.

Life

Of

Lewis

As a teenage pub-kitchen apprentice in the southern suburbs of Geelong, sustainability wasn’t on the agenda for Josh Lewis. “It was all about food cost,” Lewis says. It was one of those big pubs where the management reporting each week went down to “the point-point-point percent”. Fighting food waste was important, but it was framed in terms of saving cents rather than the planet.
 
A chicken-parm and mesclun-mix pub kitchen, it nonetheless was a place where beef was bought in big pieces and portioned out with a bit of in-house butchery. “Pretty basic stuff, but when you’re 16 and you’ve been dying to get into the kitchen, it was pretty good at the time.”
 
The next gig was at the Geelong Sheraton. Not a lot of talk of sustainability there either, but it really depended on who was in the kitchen at the time. Lewis says when Matt Dempsey, a chef respected for his work in regional Victoria in recent years at Gladioli, Tulip, and The Belfast, came on for a while as sous, he brought with him ideas about breaking things down from scratch.
 
 
 

“Using the whole animal. Doing a bit more of the process himself rather than buying things in. That was probably the first time I had really looked at things from that angle in the kitchen, thinking there are other parts that can and should be utilised. That was good for me.”

 
 
 
Lewis had come to the kitchen already passionate about hunting and fishing – he and his older brother had been fishing competitively for years – and getting hands on with the product just made sense to him. “Even as an apprentice I had that interest, even if they were laughing at me at the time,” he says. “Looking back now, I can see that it was always the stuff that I was drawn to.”

Menu development involves thinking about other parts that can and should be used and letting quality produce do the talking - like this beef shin braised in red wine and garlic and served on grilled sourdough at Ethel.

Menu development involves thinking about other parts that can and should be used and letting quality produce do the talking – like this beef shin braised in red wine and garlic and served on grilled sourdough at Ethel.

Hard work and natural talent play their part in any success story, but so does chance. While he was working larder at the Sheraton, his teachers at trade school suggested he enter the Melbourne Culinary Pro-Am, a cooking competition that teamed apprentices up with celebrity chefs. Lewis’s team faced off with a team led by chef Shannon Bennett, and while Lewis’s team didn’t win, it gave him a chance to talk to Bennett, who offered him a trial at his restaurant.
 
In France they say you don’t want the three-star kitchen, you want the two-star kitchen that’s gunning for three. Back in 2003, Shannon Bennett’s empire was a single 50-seat restaurant in Carlton, but he was by no means short of ambition. The two-hat review in the 2003 edition of The Good Food Guide wrote, “while most others are doing laid-back Mod-Oz, Vue de Monde strives for the refined perfection of a Michelin-starred restaurant” and nothing the 19-year-old Lewis had seen in Geelong prepared him for it.
 
 
 

“I walk past this place and the music is absolutely pumping, and I thought, ‘oh my god, this is the restaurant. It was crazy. It was hard. But I fell in love with it.” Lewis was supposed to be there for the weekend; he ended up staying five years.

 
 
 
Sustainability was a mainstream conversation in the 2000s, but engagement with it in top restaurant kitchens was a mixed bag. At Vue de Monde, which moved to the Melbourne CBD the following year and went on to win its third hat, on the one hand flew in ingredients from around the world, but on the other was ahead of the game with a lot of its kitchen tech, being an early adopter of kit such as BottleCyclers. “But maybe I was also just too busy being in the shit to notice,” Lewis adds. The food was complex and demanding. The truffle risotto, he said, literally gave him nightmares. “The recipe for that one is probably burnt into my memory forever.”

Josh won an Australian Overseas Foundation Scholarship and used it to do a six-week stage at Mugaritz.

Josh won an Australian Overseas Foundation Scholarship and used it to do a six-week stage at Mugaritz.

As Lewis was finishing up his apprenticeship, his TAFE contacted him to say they’d nominated him for an Australian Overseas Foundation Scholarship. He won, and used it to travel to Spain to do a six-week stage at Mugaritz in 2008. Bennett was opening a restaurant in Oman, meanwhile, and offered Lewis his first head chef role at the new venue, so Lewis went straight from Spain to Muscat to set up Vue.
 
Not far into his time in Oman, Ramadan happened to fall in the summer, which put the whole restaurant on pause for the month. Lewis hopped a plane to Denmark, where he’d landed a stage at Noma.
 
 
 

“I stepped into the kitchen and said, ‘I’m not really interested in days off, I just want to get the most out of this that I can,’ so I worked pretty much every single day till I flew out.” It proved to be a game-changer.

 
 
 

“I still remember the first time we went to put on the stocks and there was no mirepoix, no aromats, just bones and water. The stockpot was left on the induction overnight and you hardly touched it,” he says. After years in French-style kitchens where things were done because that’s how they’d always been done, it was a revelation. Tasting the stock the next day made him realise there were different ways to get results. It made him look at his work anew.
 
 
 

“I think I’ve gotten rid of a lot of arbitrary processes from my cooking because of those few weeks at Noma,” he says. “That was a turning point for me.”

 
 
 
When Lewis got back to Australia, one of his best mates was working at Loam, the restaurant Aaron Turner and Astrid McCormack had opened in 2009 on the Bellarine Peninsula, about an hour outside Melbourne. Lewis joined the small team in the kitchen and stayed until 2010.
 
At Loam, sustainability was one of the founding principles of the restaurant. It was designed to be a close reflection of the landscape that it was part of. “There was a real emphasis on local ingredients, sustainability and a lot of foraging and working closely with small producers in the area,” Lewis said. By now, working with local producers had become a real passion for Lewis, something that Noma had galvanised, and his time at Loam confirmed.

Working at Noma taught Josh to get rid of a lot of arbitrary processes from his cooking.

Working at Noma taught Josh to get rid of a lot of arbitrary processes from his cooking.

Finding

His

Fleet

At only 14 seats - the essence of Fleet is small and local.

Small and local is the essence of Fleet’s identity. Lewis and McCormack opened the restaurant in March 2015, and at 14 seats, they are not joking about the small part.
 
More than a few people told them at the time that the site was too small to sustain a restaurant business. “We still get a few of those now,” says Lewis. Brunswick Heads back then was not the sort of place you’d think to open an eatery serving highly ambitious food with natural wine to match.
 
 
 

“People thought we were pretty crazy, and subconsciously maybe we believed them a little bit and that’s why we made the restaurant really small,” Lewis says.

 
 
 
But that was the plan: to make a restaurant where, if all else failed, they only had 14 seats to fill. “Astrid could do the floor and I could be in the kitchen, so we wouldn’t have too many wages if things did get bad. We planned worst-case-scenario.” But worst-case wasn’t the scenario. “We didn’t have reservations when we first opened, and in those first couple of days it was crazy, 30 or 40 people waiting out the front for the doors to open, so we had to change that idea quick-smart. We were busy from the get-go.” Ethel followed, and then La Casita.

La Casita - Lewis’ third venue to open in Brunswick Heads.

La Casita – Lewis’ third venue to open in Brunswick Heads.

Busy as it may be, there’s not a lot going in the bin at Fleet. Partly because the food is delicious and the plates come back clean, of course, but also because Lewis works hard to eliminate waste at every step.
 
 
 

“We have compost, we recycle, we eliminated clingfilm from the kitchen quite a while ago now, which has been a big one,” he says. “The spent vegetable oil from the fryer at La Casita gets picked up by people who use it to fuel their vehicle.”

 
 
 
Scrunchable plastic remains an issue, as do things like used bones. The thing that Lewis thinks might make a huge difference to the footprint of restaurants in Australia is a service that would take care of organic waste. “That would be huge for us, a game-changer.”
 
The benefits to chefs in working small and local are many, says Lewis. “There’s food miles, of course, but you’re also supporting the local community where you live and work, you’re building relationships with people, and then you can work towards using different things as a result. We have people now who grow things just for us, and that’s something that you can’t necessarily do from further afield. It’s beneficial both ways.”

Service at La Casita.

Service at La Casita.

And that’s before you get into really basic, concrete things that make a big difference to your bottom line and the quality of the food on the plate: your ingredients being in better condition, tasting better and lasting longer. “I spend a lot of my Wednesday mornings going out to collect ingredients from smaller producers that may not deliver, that may not be able to get in to sell their things at the market. It’s very different to just ordering something in. The quality is definitely a lot better.”
 
Lewis says he doesn’t see the time in the car visiting these farms as a trade-off for a chef so much as a responsibility. ‘If I want these things for my restaurant, I need to go and get them for myself.” Mondays and Tuesdays are for making the calls, Wednesday is pick-up day, then Fleet opens for service from three until 11, Thursday through Sunday.
 
“You get inspiration out of it too,” he says. “When you see how things grow, you’re not just thinking of one part. There might be something you’d normally get rid of, but you’ll try using it and sometimes a dish is born out of something like that.”

Lewis says when you get out and see how things grow, you’re not just thinking of one part and sometimes that’s how a dish is born - like his tongue terrine using Hayter’s Hill beef tongues and wombok from Boon Luck Farm.

Lewis says when you get out and see how things grow, you’re not just thinking of one part and sometimes that’s how a dish is born – like his tongue terrine using Hayter’s Hill beef tongues and wombok from Boon Luck Farm.

And then there’s the other key part of the picture: this is how Lewis likes it. Sustainability and working small isn’t the price to be paid for the lifestyle he and McCormack have chosen: it’s the reward and it can be one of the best parts of the job. Having these ingredients makes his work more pleasurable, as does the community connection.
 
 
 

“You see it when you go to the farms,” Lewis says, “and many of them run by couples who are doing all the labour themselves. Knowing that you’re supporting local people is good.”

The Story of Fleet’s Veal Sweetbread Schnitty Sanga

 
 
About that schnitzel. “I’ve always leaned more towards the fun things like sweetbreads and tongue rather than the bigger cuts of meat,” says Lewis. “I like to present them to people who might not normally eat them to show them how delicious they can be if you give them the chance.”
 
He’d always loved working with veal sweetbreads at Vue de Monde, and when he was opening Fleet it didn’t seem like that many chefs were using them, so he wanted them on the menu. But how do you sell veal offal in a beach town like Brunswick Heads, population 1,737? Everyone likes a sandwich, Lewis thought, so maybe that would be the trick to making sweetbreads more approachable. “I didn’t want to alienate anyone with our food. I thought calling it a schnitzel would help, too.”
 

Veal sweetbreads being prepared at Fleet.

Veal sweetbreads being prepared at Fleet.

When Fleet opened in 2014 he got his sweetbreads – both thymus and pancreas – from the Casino abattoir in northern New South Wales. (The pancreas, which is firmer, he says, gives best results.)
 
“I vac-packed them and cooked them very gently in a little bit of salt, olive oil and thyme, which is a little bit different to most of the ways I’d seen them prepped – a lot of poaching and doing things with milk – but I did a lot of trials and didn’t see the need to be doing any of that. I’d take them out, peel off all the membrane and then slice them into centimetre-thick rounds.”

Then it was flour, eggwash and panko crumbs. “We’d fry those, and then get two rounds of soft white bread from the Ocean Shores bakery, and then a mayonnaise with parsley, anchovy and Dijon mustard. Anchovies go with most things, so it just made perfect sense for me. Super-simple.”

Cooked sweetbreads are floured, dipped in eggwash, crumbed then fried.

Cooked sweetbreads are floured, dipped in eggwash, crumbed then fried.

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Here, Pat talks to three vastly different hospitality leaders about how they’ve rolled with the pandemic punches.

Adaptation:

The New Normal

 
 
This is not a feel-good story. It’s a ‘do what you have to do and keep doing it’ story. It doesn’t wrap up tidily with all the answers and there’s no group-hug at the end. Not yet, anyway.
 
This is the story of three different restaurant businesses that have kept their heads above water and their lives moving forward in the middle of the greatest period of global upheaval in generations. The backgrounds of the people who run them are different, as are their businesses – one is an owner-operator chef of an acclaimed 40-seater, another a publican at a century-old boozer with a Chinese restaurant on the side, and the third oversees a dozen venues and hundreds of staff serving thousands of covers daily.
 
The things they have in common? They’re all leaders in their fields and their communities, looked to by their peers not simply for the quality of their food (which is high) but for their standards in hospitality across the board. And now, in the midst of this pandemic, they’ve also shown themselves to be united in their determination to prevail, and to embrace change to make it happen.
 
We’ll say it again: none of them claim to have the answers, some of their observations are at odds with each other, and all of them think we’ve still got a way to go before we’re clear of this thing, but here’s what’s been working for them so far.

Pull No Punches

 

O Tama Carey

– Lankan Filling Station, Sydney

 
 
What makes sense to O Tama Carey in the New Normal?
 
“Nothing. It’s f****d up,” she says. “Yeah, we’ve adapted and we’re still going and it works to a certain point, but it’s only because we have to. This isn’t what I want to be doing with my business right now. None of it.”

Lankan’s beef pan rolls – a menu mainstay.

At Lankan Filling Station, her celebrated East Sydney restaurant, Carey does things her way. One early rave review said it might be useful to think of it “less as a Sri Lankan restaurant and more an O Tama Carey restaurant”, and that rigour has come in handy in the pandemic.
 
At Lankan, she says, they’ve done pretty well with adapting, even if it has sometimes been a forced-march at times, and a challenge.
 
 
 

“The first struggle was having to get everything online to do takeaway orders, and that was a big head-f***, that was a good two weeks of quite tense work trying to figure it out, and then we suddenly said we were going to take bookings, so that was another two weeks where it was ridiculous.”

 
 
 
The food, Carey says, is the one thing she had confidence in. “One of the things that did make it easier was that we could stick our stuff inside a container. It was one of about a million things you had to think about. The packaging – that was insane. Even the eco-stuff still comes in plastic sleeves.”
 
“We’ve made a shortened menu, but the beef pan rolls will never go.” Pan rolls are a crêpe wrapped around a filling of spiced minced beef which is then crumbed, deep-fried and served with a fiery fermented-chilli sauce. Carey calls them the Sri Lankan response to the spring roll, and they’ve also been compared (favourably) in the press to the mighty Chiko. White, red and black curries have also remained at the core of the Lankan Filling Station menu. Black curry is the base of choice for red meat: shoulder of lamb or goat, for instance, cooked down without water or coconut milk in a mixture of spices rich in clove and nigella that’s been roasted hard and hot.

Lankan has evolved from a no-bookings model to three sittings and a banquet menu.

Going from a restaurant open regular dinner hours to a takeaway where orders started at five and then stopped cold at 7.30 was a curve-ball and, to Carey’s surprise, delivery didn’t take off. She promptly complemented the takeaway menu with a retail offer, packaging up a lot of what’s on the menu, like the devilled cashew nuts, as well as basic provisions and preparations such as curry powders and tea blends as well as a selection of LFS merch, including coconut-shell spoons, tees and totes.
 
Navigating back into dine-in trade has had its challenges. Lankan had previously been a no-bookings restaurant; now it does three sittings for a banquet menu, with à la carte only for walk-ins. They’ve been full since.
 
 
 

“But ‘full’ isn’t that full, and now takeaways have dropped off,” Carey says. “If we were doing as many takeaways as we’d been doing and serving people in the restaurant, we’d be doing quite well, but when one happened the other stopped.”

 
 
 
The idea that this pandemic will inspire wholesale change in hospitality isn’t something she buys into. Come spring, she says, and it’ll look very normal again: “People have short memories.” But at the same time she plans to take this opportunity to rethink what she really cares about. “Being open all the time was a big thing for me at Lankan, but I might not care for that anymore,” she says.
 
What has the situation taught Carey about adaptation? Some people are better at it than others. “It freaked a lot of people out, but adaptation doesn’t freak me out. I haven’t loved doing what I’m doing, but adaptation hasn’t scared me,” she says. “You’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to be adaptable.”

Staying Ahead of the Game

 

Palisa Anderson:

– Chat Thai Restaurant Group, Sydney

 
 
A director of Chat Thai, the restaurant group founded 31 years ago by her mother, Amy Chanta, Palisa Anderson is across a dozen businesses, including six branches of Chat Thai, plus Boon Cafe and Jarernchai grocery, and Boon Luck, an organic farm outside Byron Bay.
 
Her influence extends beyond Thai cuisine. She’s been a collaborator in the kitchen everywhere from Contra in New York City to Hija de Sanchez in Copenhagen, and in 2018 she cooked at the MAD food conference at the invitation of Noma chef René Redzepi. Boon Luck Organics, meanwhile, supplies the top-flight likes of Quay and Momofuku Seiobo.

Palisa Anderson: don’t whinge, just get on with it.

Chat Thai expanded their delivery from two avenues to five with two of their outlets delivering direct.

If there’s anything that can sum up her approach to restaurants it’s that change is continuous and essential. “We’ve always been agile. I don’t want to go into racial profiling but I’ve just come back from Thailand where survival is about being agile, and you have to roll with the punches no matter what.” Having what she calls the “immigrant business mindset” really helps, Anderson says; you don’t whinge about it, you just get on with it.
 
 
 

“You don’t ever take it for granted that you’ll always have these customers, so that’s why we always constantly put on seasonal specials. If you’ve got the ability to do it, you should do it, and that’s how we’ve always run.”

 
 
 
COVID-19 has been a real wake-up call, Anderson says, for people in the food world who have only ever done things one way. “To keep trade going we’ve done all sorts of things to stay competitive in this market.” The Chat Thai app has come into its own. They’ve expanded their delivery from two avenues to five, and two of their outlets deliver direct. They’ve upped their online advertising spend, and become much more targeted about how they do it, something Anderson says she’s surprised more food businesses don’t explore. Dark kitchens are already in the pipeline.

Khao Soi Nuea – egg noodles with beef brisket in a Northern region coconut curry with smoked chilli oil.

Anderson has also been every bit as analytical in adapting Chat Thai’s menus to the new circumstances, scaling the 100-plus items on some down by a third. “Thai food is actually not that great for takeaway when you think that anything that has fresh herbs in it just oxidises the moment you put it into steaming boxes.” Anything more labour-intensive or with higher-cost ingredients, like whole fish, also went. “We went over every product cost and refined from there.” The slimmed-down menus combine punch with pragmatism.
 
 
 

“We had to do this very quickly, and we had to do this not knowing what was coming next.”

 
 
 
On the red-meat side that translated to the likes of the fiery salads of char-grilled rump, with roast chilli and soft herbs, or nahm dtok-style, with smoked-chilli jam, as well as the comfort of curries – gaeng nuea yang, the hot coconut curry of grilled beef with betel leaves, and the classic massaman, hunks of beef shin braised with potatoes and peanuts.
 
A lot of people are starting to understand that this business isn’t about perfection, Anderson says, but about adaptation and working in progress. “You don’t have to follow trends but you do need to follow the market; where you stay true to yourself is in your core ethics and the quality of your product. But the way you do business has to change, otherwise you can’t survive.”

Chat Thai’s Massaman Nuea – a curry of slowly braised beef shin and potato.

Until COVID-19 hit, The Lincoln had not had to close its doors for an extended period since opening in 1854.

Moving Forward Together

 

Iain Ling

– The Lincoln, Melbourne

 
 
The Lincoln probably hasn’t closed its doors for any real length of time for more than 150 years. Or at least it hadn’t until COVID-19 came along. Built in 1854, it has a classic Melbourne back-street boozer facade, but its influences extend beyond Carlton. Its publican, Iain Ling, grew up in Liverpool, cut his teeth in hospitality in London and worked at MoVida before he and his wife, Stella, took over the pub in 2014.
 
Since Ling took the reins, the Lincoln has become the kind of pub that takes the care to make the buns for its burgers in-house, and puts fresh horseradish in the slaw that goes with the grilled hanger. The kind of pub that does a whole lamb shoulder to share, and smokes the Béarnaise that accompanies the T-bone with Yorkshire pudding. The kind of pub where a sour beer from Two Metre Tall and a whey stout from Bruny Island are on tap next to the Carlton Draught.
 
Two doors down is Super Ling, a small restaurant that Ling also opened. And like The Lincoln, there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s not your classic Cantonese-focussed Australian Chinese restaurant, for one thing. Chef Mike Li was raised in Mauritius, and the Hakka Chinese flavours of his mum’s cooking are front and centre on the menu.
 

Iain Ling sums up the COVID-19 experience in one word: Panic.

Ling has a reputation for candour. Ask him what the process of adaptation looked like back in March across the two businesses, he doesn’t mince words: “Panic”. When you pivot into something, Ling says, you can’t lose sight of your original reason for going into business.
 
 
 

“It’s very hard to do it just because you have to. For us, letting the pub lay dormant for a while turned out to be the better thing to do.”

 
 
 
Ling himself was anything but dormant. He and Mike Li streamlined Super Ling for takeaway, pressing pause on such signatures as the tartare of peppered tri-tip with garlic stems and spring-onion mayo, and the mighty meat platter – beef tongue, tendon, shin and honeycomb tripe piled high with chilli oil, house pickles and peanuts. They turned instead to Hunan-style topside with snake beans and a classic (ish) beef with black bean. “A lot of our à la carte menu just didn’t work for takeaway. That’s why we called our delivery model Super Ling Express – to give it two separate identities.”

Hunan-style topside with snake beans – one of the delivery menu adaptions at Super Ling Express.

Ling and some hospitality mates also started a charity, the COVID-19 Employee Assistance Directive, or COVID-19 EAD, to feed the hospitality workers that got left behind when JobKeeper was announced. “When the internationals were told to go home,” he says. They started cooking for about 100 people a week, which quickly snowballed a week later to 600 people, and now they’re sending 2,500 meals a week. “And even though we’re back open now, the demand for that is still pretty high.”
 
To reopen the pub to diners, Ling decided the menu had to be more focused. “We decided to go with homely stuff that you don’t want to cook at home.” Classic favourites that you associate with a pub: like a “really good, big” Flinders + Co porterhouse with duck-fat potatoes and Cafe de Paris. He even reduced the physical size of the menu down to A5 so there wasn’t too much empty space on the page, “the plan is to keep the offer reduced and move through stock in a more concentrated way for a while.”
 

Flinders & Co porterhouse, duck fat potatoes and café de Paris at The Lincoln.

Somehow Ling still finds time for one-off initiatives like creating a pop-up grocery with Michael Ryan, owner and chef of Provenance, the acclaimed restaurant in Beechworth, in Victoria’s northeast. For a day, Super Ling was packed with jars of miso butter, pine mushrooms picked in soy, and an exceptional beef jerky. “I know we’ve had it hard here, but f***, Michael has had it harder at Provenance. He had 90 per cent cancellations in December.”
 
 
 

“I’m a big believer that we all get ahead together,” Ling says. He lives for a challenge. “The question now is, how can we help the guys around us?”

HOT PLATES

Great red meat, to go.

Beef Lasagne

 

Attica, Melbourne

 
Three-hat lasagne? The Melbourne fine-diner may not yet be taking guests, but Ben Shewry’s cooking is still up for grabs, from the tasting menu to go, through to this very homey all-beef lasagne, replete with pull-apart garlic bread.

Lamb Ribs and Cacao

 

Gauge, Brisbane

 
Bringing new definition to the words “finger-lickin’ good”. The smoked shoulder with urfa chilli is no slouch, either.

Wood-grilled Rib Eye

 

Totti’s, Sydney

 
A serious 800 grams of prime, primal goodness, delivered to your door from one of Sydney’s busiest openings of the last 18 or so months.

Photography: Sarah Hewer

Beef Wellington

 

Heritage Wine Bar, Perth

 
The house signature: 300 grams of Harvey beef fillet wrapped in mushroom duxelles, swaddled in crêpes and then wrapped again in puff pastry. Oh yeah!

Grilled Ox-Tongue Khao Jee Pâté

 

Anchovy, Melbourne

 
Slices of tongue hot from the coals, stuffed into Laos’s answer to the bánh mì: what’s not to like?

Editor’s Letters

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Editor’s
Letter

 

There is nothing like fully immersing yourself in a sensory exploration of the flavours, textures, trends and traditions of another country’s culinary landscape. In January this year, Rare Medium took a very special trip to the USA where we were fortunate to meet with some incredibly inspiring and talented chefs – and plunge ourselves face first into cuisine-ala-Americana.

The chain-heavy USA may conjure images of hot dogs, burgers and pizzas – and that is completely justified – but it is also a country with a rich culinary history influenced by a vast and multicultural population, years of generational traditions and a wave of new world innovators.

Relive our USA adventure with us as we explore beef, lamb and goat on menus from LA to El Paso, Miami to Chicago, Phoenix to Philly – and a bunch of places in between – to bring you a healthy dose of inspiration from the home of the brave.

We catch up with one of our finest Aussie exports Curtis Stone in LA, take a Mexican themed road trip with the wonderful Claudette Wilkins and literally put our bodies on the line to taste, shoot and snap our way around the country.

Inspiration is born of many places – be they physical or emotional – and we hope that you find something that inspires you within this issue.

 

Mary-Jane Morse
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

Guest Chef Profile

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Curtis Stone at his restaurant Maude in Beverly Hills.

He is the blue-eyed boy next door whose laid-back charm has flooded Aussie televisions for almost two decades – first with the successful ABC series Surfing the Menu, then as produce poster boy for supermarket giant Coles since 2010.
With a prolific media profile encompassing global publishing deals, regular international TV appearances, celebrity ambassadorships and his own cookware range – Curtis Stone is the epitome of the modern celebrity chef.

 

He also happens to be a successful restaurateur juggling not one but five restaurants – two in Los Angeles where he lives with his family and three on-board Princess Cruises. It is not lost on him that his media persona can often overshadow his chef credentials – particularly in Australia where he has never had a restaurant.

 

“Working as a television chef can portray a certain image of you and most people probably have a very different perspective on what my life is really like. Half the time my day starts at Gwen digging out the coals from the night before and lighting the fire or opening the door at Maude and cracking on with the guys getting ready for service.”

“When we opened Maude, people came in not expecting the food to be as good as it was. It never really bothered me to be honest, I’ve never been torn up by what people say or think. Maybe you have a bit of an ego, but in some ways, it has made me try harder. The other stuff is fun but what I love most is cooking in a restaurant – I love the craft of being a chef and it’s what I’m most proud of,” he said.

Curtis prepping his beef tartare dish at Maude.

Maude is his 24-seat restaurant in Beverly Hills. Open for five years; it was his first foray back into the restaurant world after taking a break to pursue his media career. The original concept was a 10-course degustation focused on a single ingredient that changed every month.

 

“Maude was kind of a selfish project really – a place where I could challenge myself and continually develop and create. Everyone had done farm to table but no one had put a single ingredient under a microscope. It was really fun, we did it for four years which is about 50 menus, it was like being on a creative treadmill, constant groundhog day – it was bloody crazy and it nearly killed me.”

Australian beef tartare on the Western Australia menu at Maude.

Over the last 12 months, the format at Maude has evolved so the creative centrepiece of the menu is now a wine region. With four menus a year, the pace has slowed a little but Stone’s commitment to the creative process has not.

 

“In 2018 we did Rioja, Burgundy, Central Coast of California and Piedmont and in 2019 we’ve started with Western Australia. We take a development trip to get inspired by the food, the culture and the history of the regions we feature. Basically we drink too much wine, eat too much food and then we come back and create a menu,” he said.

 

Gwen is Stone’s second restaurant and a collaboration with his brother Luke in the heart of Hollywood. Featuring a fully functional butcher shop and an in-house dry ageing facility – it is an ode to the craft of butchery and the art of live fire cooking.

“At Gwen we do a couple of hundred covers a night – it’s big, robust and fun with lots of energy – but it is a butcher shop first and that is the heartbeat of the place. We have six full time butchers, dry age all our beef and lamb and make our own charcuterie in-house. At lunch we serve up some incredible butchers sandwiches – house made pastrami, classic steak and meatballs to name a few.”

Butcher’s sandwiches on Gwen’s lunchtime menu – house made pastrami, steak and meatball.

One of the wood-fired grills at Gwen.

“At night it’s completely different. We roast everything from whole animals to beautiful steaks over fire including Australian grass fed, grain fed and Wagyu beef, which is something I’m really proud of. Humans have been cooking meat over a fire since the beginning of time – effectively since we found fire. It is a beautiful way to cook beef, imparting that smoky flavour into it and sometimes it turns out that the simplest things in life are the best.”

 

Stone says that cooking has always been his passion – he always loved to eat and how things tasted. Whilst passion plays a huge role in the success of any chef, he was fortunate to have strong mentors to inspire and guide him, first in his grandmothers and later in Marco Pierre White.

“My grannies were both instrumental in getting me into the kitchen and I was inspired from a young age watching them cook so we named the restaurants after them. Gwen was mum’s mum and Maude was Dad’s mum – Gwen was totally different to Maude and so the restaurants are too.”

He commenced his apprenticeship at 17 at the Southern Cross Hotel before moving to Europe at 22 where he started cooking for Marco – a lifelong mentor for Stone and instrumental in shaping his career.

 

“My first day in Marco’s kitchen was a real highlight – he was the sort of chef that led from the front and that was the most beautiful way to learn. He was in the kitchen before anyone else; he worked faster and was more precise than anyone else was. I think I was spoilt with a mentor like that and I think it has made me who I am in the kitchen.”

Butchers working in-house at Gwen in Hollywood.

“When you see someone work like that, as a young chef you just know that you’re still not there, you’ve got to push harder, you’ve got to work hard. ‘Shut your mouth and keep your head down’ was Marco’s big piece of advice – and we did, we all cracked on. With Marco, we were able to do things a little differently and it was an exciting atmosphere to work in. He taught me a lot and I am grateful for it.”

Despite the outward appearance of a seemingly shiny and at times indulgent career, Stone worked hard for his success. Driven by a strong dedication to the craft, he made his way up through the ranks of Marco’s kitchens but it was not without challenging times.

 

“You go through some pretty dark times as an apprentice chef but I think at the end of the day if you ultimately love what you do, you can get through it. But you’ve got to love it, otherwise you shouldn’t do it.”

 

“I went through tough times for sure, a few different times in fact and I actually walked away from it for a bit. I probably partied a bit harder than I needed to and looking back I was probably throwing off a bit of stress because the industry’s known for that too,” he said.

Slicing beautifully marbled bone-in ribeyes at Gwen.

Beef in the dry age cabinet at Gwen.

Now operating five restaurants of his own, his leadership reflects that of his mentors – with little established hierarchy, he strives to offer a working environment that provides opportunity for his teams to learn, teach and benefit from one another.

 

“I’ve worked for incredible chefs throughout my career and learnt from chefs who actually cooked and I’ve always wanted to be that for my guys. I want to be on the line with them, I don’t just want to waltz in and talk to the guests and be a businessman; I want to be a chef.”

“We treat each other fairly and with lots of respect but we work hard and are proud of that. We don’t suffer fools in our restaurants, if they don’t have the same attitude and care for what we do, they don’t last very long.”

 

Key to the Stone success story is his continual drive to understand and respect where produce comes from – and openly sharing that knowledge to generate awareness amongst his chefs, his front of house and his customers.

“I firmly believe that the more you understand something the better you are at cooking it. I think traceability is the biggest trend right now and the most important thing for the meat industry. Understanding where the animal came from, how it was bred, what it was fed, how old it was when it was processed – all of that stuff is really important for people to understand.”

“It is what we try and do at Gwen, it’s small and contained but it’s important. People walk in and they see a whole carcase hanging in our meat locker and we can talk to them about it – we know very clearly what happened to that animal and we can talk about its attributes. The more we demystify and the more transparent the industry is the way better off it is going to be,” he said.

 

For a chef whose career to date has left no stone unturned – what is next for Curtis Stone?

 

“I’m a dad, I’ve got two boys and I am enjoying all elements of it. I don’t want to just focus on my career and not be a good dad but I also want my kids to see that you’ve got to work hard to get good stuff in life, so I think that balance is important for me. I’m having a lot of fun doing what I’m doing and I don’t want to do a tonne more,” he concluded.

Gwen offers a range of beef through the butcher shop and restaurant.

United Tastes of America

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With more than one million foodservice venues generating USD $800 billion in sales annually – the USA restaurant industry is big business. Whilst fast food may spring to mind, it is not without merit, with over 307,000 chain restaurants dotted across the country including 14,000 McDonald’s.

However, beyond the burger and hot on the heels of the hot dog is a vibrant food scene born of cultural diversity and hundreds of years of history with no signs of slowing down at the hands of a new wave of culinary trailblazers. Here’s just a taste of the States that we experienced in our travels.

Goat head and steamy consomme at Birrieria Zaragoza in Chicago.


 
 
 

1. Single and ready to mingle

 
 
Taking a singular focus and executing it with absolute precision. It could be an ingredient – think Curtis Stone’s degustation menus at Maude featuring a single ingredient – or an entire concept like Chicago’s Birrieria Zaragoza where the focus is on one thing and one thing only – incredibly good goat tacos that utilise the whole goat carcase.

2. If it ain’t broke

 
 
In a world where we are constantly searching for something new – there is something romantic about the notion of tradition. Julio’s Mexican Food in El Paso maintains the original recipes from its opening in 1944 while Philippe’s in LA has been roasting, dipping and dishing out their famed French Dip sandwiches for over 100 years.

Philippe’s French Dip Sandwiches since 1918.

All you can eat BBQ Brunch at Edge Bar & Steak at the Four Seasons in Miami.

3. One meal to rule them all

 
 
Call it middle-class fancy but weekend brunch is big in the USA and it’s Bloody Mary beautiful. From weekend brunch offerings in leading restaurants to full on brunch-only concepts, an increasing number of chefs are dedicating culinary skill and creativity to brunch menus. Edge Steak & Bar at the Miami Four Seasons does an all you can eat brunch BBQ with bottomless beverage packages whilst at dedicated brunch only HunnyMilk in Portland you choose a drink, a savoury course and a sweet course for $20.

4. A little bit of history repeating

 
 
Chefs and historians are teaming up to create meals just like our ancestors used to make. At the Michelin starred D.C. eatery Plume the team developed a six-course tasting menu featuring dishes the country’s founding fathers feasted on in 1776 while Twain in Chicago serves contemporary interpretations of dishes from an extensive collection of heritage spiral-bound women’s club cookbooks.

The Surf & Turf burger at Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami.

The Goat Birria at El Jardin.

5. Getting sentimental

 
 
While global instability and uncertainty abounds, people are looking for a little reassurance and where better than in the comfort of food. Nostalgia is playing a leading role in the development of dishes as chefs look for ways to connect the diner with their dinner. At El Jardin in San Diego, Claudette Wilkins masterfully prepares dishes that tell the stories of her Mexican heritage inspired by the matriarchal figures of her childhood. Her unique take on a birria taco from Jalisco involves marinating and smoking whole goat then wrapping it in agave leaves and slowly roasting until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Lovingly made tortillas are then stuffed with the goat meat and served with a broth of beans, onions, coriander and lime for decadent dunking.
 
Chef Jeff McInnis at Root n Bone in Miami, elevates dishes from his Southern upbringing with a modern riff on Southern classics like his meatloaf made with braised short rib – while at Stiltsville Fish Bar he brings together two nostalgic favourites in Surf & Turf and a burger – with a decadent execution of a mixed cut patty and lobster tail.
 

6. Retail therapy

 
 
Comfort food or retail therapy? Let’s do both. Savvy retailers are using food to lure new customers and keep them in store longer. Capital One bank has dozens of bright in-branch cafes offering up locally baked goods with a side of complimentary life-coach sessions. Cinemas are replacing popcorn with fancy restaurants like iPic in Houston where the Tuck Room serves filet au poivre with your film. Even homewares stores are upping the shopping experience like Restoration Hardware in New York whose slick restaurant is serving truffle pappardelle and unrivalled city views.

All bone everything – the menu at Osso Good in LA.

7. Down to the bone

 
 
In what can double as sustainable carcase usage and no waste, chefs and retailers are finding ways to utilise bones, marrows and collagens. From a health and wellness perspective, bone broth retailer Osso Good has opened a café in LA serving up bone broth waffles and collagen smoothies. Or Nancy Silverton indulges all your senses at her latest venture where she takes theatre to the table with a meltingly memorable bone marrow pie.

8. 3D food

 
 
It’s common knowledge when travelling that you avoid the restaurants with photos of the dishes on the menu – but what if you could view the dishes in 3D before ordering? At Boston’s Backyard Betty and various other venues around the country, diners can use mobile devices to experience 360-degree views of the dishes before ordering via Snapchat and unique QR codes on the menu.

Let’s Taco-bout LA’s Food Trucks

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Fast, cheap and delicious street food has been roaming the LA streets for decades and the birth of the LA food truck is largely due to the entertainment industry and its demand for on-set cast and crew catering – bringing food to the people where they need it.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Tacos Quetzalcoatl serves up thinly sliced tequila-cured beef tacos.

In 2008, a Korean-Mexican fusion truck called Kogi BBQ and the onslaught of social media came along and completely changed the game. The novelty of Korean beef short ribs in a taco and using Twitter to serve up truck locations soon fostered a cult foodie following and food-truck-frenzy swept the city.
 
Like any food trend, the food truck market was soon inundated and by 2013, the novelty had all but worn off and a truck tweeting its location had become a rarity. LA had grown used to the concept of food trucks – they were everywhere and people began to realise that food trucks could just as easily come to them.

The grill at Tire Shop Taqueria – the best tacos of the tour.

Suadero (rib meat) tacos from Tacos Zone food truck.

Vampiro – tender chopped beef and guacamole in a crispy tortilla coffin.

Now, food trucks serve the same purpose they initially did – to bring food to the people – and most have the same weekly route with a regular schedule and frequent locations. Success is no longer about having the best park in the hottest location or Tweeting your location to an eager bunch of foodie thrill seekers – what makes or breaks a truck today is food quality.
 
There was only ever one type of food truck that we planned on tackling while in LA and that was taco trucks. The USA is obsessed with Mexican food of all types – with LA being the Mexican food capital of the country and with tacos being well tacos; we braved the traffic and spent a day on our very own taco-trail.

Editors’ Letters

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Editors’
Letters

Mary-Jane
Morse

This issue brings us into the regenerative season of spring and with it, peak supply of succulent Australian spring lamb. Spring is a time for transformation and new beginnings – so maybe now is the time to begin to rethink your menu in preparation for the warmer months ahead.
The Spring Lamb issue takes us on quite the literal journey – from our visit to lamb producer Michael Craig in western Victoria where Paul learnt to ride a motorcycle and mustered his first mob of sheep; to an epic road trip with my mate Mike Eggert exploring lamb on menus from Geelong to Goulburn.

We delve into the hearts and minds of the magical Momofuku Seiobo, voted number 6 in Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants – from the sassy smiling assassin in the front to the belly laughing Barbadian in the back; it’s a hell of a good time.

With a visual feast of lamb dishes to savour, we hope this issue inspires you to explore the endless opportunities of Australian lamb – because really, what spring menu is complete without a delicious spring lamb offering?

 

Mary-Jane Morse
Foodservice Marketing Manager
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

Paul
Carmichael

Sydney is an amazing city, so much so that you can easily forget how beautiful the Australian countryside can be.

Enter Harrow, a small and beautiful town nestled somewhere in western Victoria. The farms were lush and green with so many old trees, the type of scenery that makes a city boy like me forget about the city.

It was my first time to a sheep farm in Australia and I was stoked to see and learn about the farming systems here. There I met Michael Craig the farmer and his wife Jane Craig who is an all-around badass.

Michael is extremely passionate about his industry and is the type of forward thinker that gets you excited about farming and where it can go. He is an innovator and focuses on making each of his farming practices sustainable. I totally geeked out and I learned so much about the industry, things like his theory of moving from a supply chain to value chain, and the crash course in mustering a mob of sheep was also epic.

I hope this issue can inspire you to look into the industry as a whole. Knowing where your food comes from is one thing, knowing how it gets there and how it all comes together is another. I am so grateful for all the hard work farmers put in. Thanks Michael and Jane for your hospitality and for sharing your knowledge and passion. So glad I got to tag along.

Big ups to MJ. Shout out to Macca.

 

Paul Carmichael
Executive Chef
Momofuku Seiobo
@momofukuseiobo

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

Roadies

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Who do you take on a Mexican inspired road trip through Southern USA? Well, only the award winning, big grinning, taco-slinging matriarch herself chef Claudette Wilkins will do!

 

The ultimate addition to the Roadies shotgun seat – Claudette Wilkins from El Jardin in San Diego.

Mexican food has influenced American cuisine for centuries and found its way into every corner of the country. Alongside traditional Mexican, an emergence of dishes that blend Mexican with various regions, cultures and cuisines infiltrates the spectrum of foodservice outlets from fine dining to fast food and everything in between.
 
From Tijuana tacos to Tex-Mex, Chihuahua to chimichangas, New Mexican to Navajo tacos – we hit the road from San Diego California to El Paso Texas, by way of Mexico, to experience the magic of Mexican food and its incredible impact on American food culture.

Mexican beaded steer’s head at El Jardin – Tijuana for tacos with Claudette.

Famed for Mexican food since 1939 is ‘La Posta’ in New Mexico – Tacos + Fresca in San Diego – Tacos Al Vapour in Tucson Arizona.

Editors’ Letters

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Editors’
Letters

2019 Appetite For Excellence winners Luke Piccolo, Olivia Evans and Bianca Johnston with MJ from Rare Medium and Lucy Allon from A4X.

This issue could just be my proudest to date. Focusing on the next generation of foodservice leaders, it tells the stories of a swathe of young, passionate and incredibly talented individuals who I cannot thank enough for the energy and enthusiasm they have poured into its pages.
 
Fostering the next generation is essential in the forward trajectory of any industry and the Australian foodservice community looks set to flourish in the hands of those featured within this issue and other young professionals like them around the country. Their ideas, their ethos and their inherent care for food, food production and each other paves a new way for the future of food.
 
Just as inspiring has been our journey into regional areas for this issue and the dedicated celebration and championing of local produce we have found there. As much of the country continues to struggle with one of the worst droughts in Australian history, never has it been more vital to support our regional communities and with the exceptional hospitality on offer, never has there been more reasons to go and do so.
 
Our guest chef editor, 2019 Appetite for Excellence Young Restauranteur of the Year Luke Piccolo, effortlessly brings together both key themes of this issue – an extraordinarily talented young chef and restaurateur bringing elevated dining to regional Australia while shining a spotlight on seasonal and local produce the way nature intended.
 
We visit one of Luke’s local suppliers, lamb producer Sally Jones, whose approach to regenerative farming to foster soil health and promote multi species plant growth – ensures the quality of her flock of Dorper sheep despite the incredibly difficult seasonal conditions. Sally and Luke have worked together for four years, maintaining an open dialogue of feedback that has allowed Sally to continually improve her end product. Again, this connection between chef and producer is such a crucial component of supply chain success and cannot be underestimated.
 
Finally – the crowning glory of this issue was the opportunity to bring together the three winners of the 2019 Appetite for Excellence program – Young Restaurateur Luke Piccolo, Young Chef Bianca Johnston and Young Waiter Olivia Evans for a special collaborative dinner in Griffith. This culmination of next generation talent worked together to pull off a faultless evening that showcased regional lamb, produce from the Piccolo Family Farm and locally sourced beverages in a stunning event that sold out in under two hours.
 
Here’s to the next generation of our fabulous foodservice community – this issue is for you. A celebration of and a nod to your commitment and passion to your chosen career paths and your enthusiasm and interest in understanding and championing producers and farmers.
 

Mary-Jane Morse
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

What a pleasure to be co-editor of this great mag. I knew from the first conversation I had with MJ that this would be a heap of fun.
 
This year has been a whirlwind for my team and I, being named the Appetite for Excellence Young Restaurateur of the Year was an unexpected highlight. The Appetite program was the start of my relationship with MJ and Rare Medium and it’s been great to foster this further through the making of this issue.
 
MJ’s idea to highlight this year’s Appetite for Excellence alumni shows her amazing commitment to the next generation of our industry. Seeing the quality dishes from each of the chefs affirms that they truly are a talented bunch. Being able to work with Bianca and Olivia on the collab dinner was a buzz, to share our restaurant with them and have it come alive with their energy and ideas. They worked with our team seamlessly and I’ve never seen my staff brimming with excitement like they were that night.
 
I’m passionate about regional areas and it was an absolute blast hanging with MJ and Macca on the Roadies tour seeing first-hand the considerate and driven people producing quality lamb dishes and delivering extraordinary hospitality. A couple of highlights were munching on one of the best lamb pies I’ve ever tasted over an ice-cold Reschs in the Binalong pub and a night at the Sir George in Jugiong, a town of 150 people that pulls people off the Hume highway in hoards to check out their immaculately renovated venue and eat their delicious food.
 
There was one common theme for me in the making of this issue, it’s that food and hospitality are the mesh that hold together our regional communities. It’s evident locally in our community of Griffith and we are proud to be doing our bit to create a strong dining and food culture in this vibrant area.
 
Cheers to MJ and crew for inviting me on this journey.
 

Luke Piccolo
Chef & Owner
Limone Dining
@lukepiccolo_

Copyright: this publication is published by Meat & Livestock Australia Limited ABN 39 081 678 364 (MLA).

Editors’ Letters

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Editors’
Letters

 

I am constantly inspired by the innovation and drive of the Australian red meat industry and proud to be able to share its stories with you here.

In this issue, we visit 2018 Farmers of the Year, Tom and Phoebe Bull, who passionately believe that farming is about much more than what happens in the paddock. Driven by customer insights, cutting edge research and savvy marketing, the Bulls are paving a way to take lamb from a commodity to a premium product – identifying and breeding sheep for lucrative marbling traits.

Our guest chef editor Peter Gunn certainly made for a lot of laughs putting together this issue. Getting to know him and his team, the ins and outs of transitioning from a renowned monthly pop up to a fine dining restaurant, and his unwavering quest to deliver an experience that goes beyond just dining was definitely a highlight.

As always, this issue explores a range of venues, ideas and inspiration for you to remain informed, engaged and inspired by Australian lamb, its prospects and its place on menus today and into the future.

Enjoy. We sure did.

 

Mary-Jane Morse
Meat & Livestock Australia
[email protected]
@_raremedium

I came to Australia 10 years ago but haven’t had the chance to travel much. Coming on board as guest chef for this issue was so much fun but it also meant I got to get out of my day to day, experience different parts of Australia and meet so many awesome people along the way. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to all the different chefs at the cafes and restaurants we visited on our Roadies trip from Broadbeach to Bellingen. Just hanging out with them and learning about different ways they are using lamb as well as talking about their businesses was great and something I’d like to do a lot more of.

As chefs these days, most of the time we are just cutting meat out of a bag and we are missing out on so much of what actually goes into that meat before it gets to us. Visiting Tom & Phoebe Bull on their sheep farm and learning about all the science and technology that goes into the lamb they produce and how much work goes on every day made me realise just how complex it actually is. I really had no idea how much goes into producing this incredible lamb and it was really inspiring to learn and I think everyone cooking with lamb should make an effort to know more about where it is coming from. It makes me really value the produce and want to do a better job with it out of respect.

This experience has been a real eye-opener for me meeting and learning from so many professionals working in this industry, from the farmers to the butchers and of course all the great chefs. Lamb is such an iconic Australian ingredient that people already feel connected to but working on this issue, visiting the farm, our butchery masterclass with Troy at Meatsmith and all the tasty lamb we got to try along the way makes me feel even more connected and inspired and I hope it inspires you too.

 

Peter Gunn
Chef / Owner
Ides
@petergunn501

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