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Editor’s Letter

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Editor’s
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Welcome to Issue 19 where we explore comfort food and its incredible ability to stir up feelings of sentimentality, warmth and happiness. Often associated with emotional stress, comfort food bounced back in a big way during the pandemic where we saw chefs cooking food inspired by their own notions of comfort and designing menus that appealed to their comfort seeking customers.
 
As we emerge from Covid’s clutches, the good news is, it seems comfort food is here to stay. Be it specific to an individual or a cultural classic; a childhood favourite (hello crumbed lamb cutlets) or a ‘treat yourself’ craving – the transformative power of nostalgia is informing menus across the country.
 
Pat Nourse catches up with chef Ben Russell at Rothewell’s Bar & Grill – Brisbane’s hottest new destination; an ode to the timelessness of the great bistros of the world and the comforting familiarity of menu classics. Here, it is the revival of the Beef Wellington that has taken diners by the hand and the heart – where the combination of time honoured technique is coupled with quality produce and meticulous preparation. The result is comfort at the highest level.
 
Mark Best reminisces on the warm feelings evoked on the coldest mornings when his mother served savoury mince on hot buttered toast. Around the world, mince has played a similar role in vastly different settings with dishes that transcend time and place, have a hold in history and are lovingly passed down, reinvented, and given new life. Mark explores memories of mince and the comfort dishes it conjures up for Palisa Anderson, Paul Farag, O’Tama Carey and Enrico Tomelleri.
 
I spend some cherished time at Baba’s Place where nostalgia drips down the walls and weaves its way into every part of the experience – where a menagerie of memories of growing up in Western Sydney are interpreted and elevated in every bite. Here, Jean-Paul El Tom, along with his mates Alex Kelly and James Bellos, are inviting you to experience their memories of food – while reminiscing on your own cherished experiences of food and family. Baba’s Place radiates warmth and familiarity – where you come to get fed and leave feeling part of something much bigger.
 
Myffy Rigby experiences the ultimate in Winter comfort with a trip to the balmy 32 degree days on offer in the Top End. What’s Good in Darwin uncovers a burgeoning food scene driven by a melting pot of cultures and hyper local produce. Underpinned by institutions like Jimmy Shu’s Hanuman and accelerated by the palette and passion of former Masterchef contestant Minoli de Silva at her first restaurant Ella – Darwin might just surprise you. If the sun setting into the Timor Sea while you indulge in an array of snacks from the Mindil Beach Sunset Market doesn’t fill you with a sense of happiness – I don’t know what will.
 
When you take dry aged mince, expertly prepared by Marcus Papadopoulo from Whole Beast Butchery, and put it into the hands of Barzaari’s Darryl Martin and Federico Zanelatto of LuMi, Leo, Ele and Lode – you know you’re going to be rewarded with some mince magic. The boys definitely passed the vibe check on the comfort brief and Cut Two Ways comes alive with Federico’s famed beef pithivier and Darryl’s take on kousa – stuffed Lebanese zucchini.
 
Finally – is there anyone more deserving of comfort than our loved ones in aged care homes around the country? Estia Health is shaking off the shackles of what we think generally constitutes aged care food with freshly prepared, culturally curated menus that provide residents with comfort and familiarity. Discover an uncompromising level of care for older Australians in this issue’s Big Business section.
 
 

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 18 where we explore a little slice of luxury – and what a journey it has taken us on.
 
It has been wonderful to be back on the road and in the sky, crossing state lines and visiting restaurants around the country. Some venues are reporting that diners seem to be making up for lost time with average check size up – they are opting for more premium wines, choosing supplementary options and splashing out on luxury steaks. In fact, Australians spent a record $4.465 billion in cafes, restaurants and takeaway shops for the month of February, an increase of 9.7 per cent on January and up more than $500 million on February 2020, just before the pandemic.
 
As Pat Nourse puts it – ‘rare is the delicacy that gets the mouth watering in quite the same way as a really good steak’ and I couldn’t agree more. In this issue Pat talks to some of the greats of the steak game – Lennox Hastie, Andrew McConnell, Ross Lusted and Corey Costelloe about what makes a great steak. From the producer to the preparation, the cut to the cooking, the salt to the service – it’s not a one size fits all scenario and we are more than happy to try them all on.
 
Mark Best pays a visit to the pioneer of luxury beef in Australia David Blackmore who, with his son Ben, produces premium Wagyu for some of the finest restaurants in Australia and around the world. David maintains that his customer is and always has been the person choosing to dine out once a year for a special occasion – a celebration where they forget the diet and forget the budget. It’s all about quality over quantity for the Blackmore family and we learn about their new venture into Rubia Gallega, the Northern Spanish cattle David Blackmore believes will be the best grass-fed beef in the world.
 
Myffy Rigby makes a run for the Nation’s Capital to discover what’s good – and there’s plenty to be excited about. Established favourites sit firm amongst vibrant newcomers – from fun fine dining and everything over fire; to the simple pleasures of pizzas and jaffles – there’s certainly something for everyone.
 
I take a trip to Adelaide where the buzz is all around young chef Jake Kellie’s first restaurant Arkhe – and it more than lives up to the hype. Kellie’s resume reads like every young chef’s dream career run and in a leafy suburb in Adelaide he’s making his boldest move yet. Arkhe is Kellie’s dream restaurant come to life – where produce is the winner and playing with fire is the game.
 
It’s wagyu with a view as we shoot Cut Two Ways from the lofty 55th floor setting of Vue de monde in Melbourne. Executive chef Hugh Allen and Donovan Cooke of Ryne give us their versions of luxury dishes using wagyu brisket.
 
With flights back in the air, we thought we’d pay a visit to dnata catering – Australia’s largest in flight caterer creating a mind blowing 64 million meals to be served on 250,000 flights a year. Now that is Big Business.
 
I hope you enjoy the luxury of Australian beef and lamb.
 
 

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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Happy New Year – welcome to 2022 and Issue 17!
 
In this issue, we focus on the wonder that is Australian lamb as the nation patiently awaits the release of the annual Summer Lamb ad. More than just an ad, the Summer Lamb campaign is an integrative marketing campaign that drives consumption of Australian lamb from shopping trolleys to restaurant plates and celebrates Australia’s love of lamb.
 
Pat Nourse profiles chef Trevor Perkins of the aptly named Hogget Kitchen – hogget being a young adult sheep aged around 15-16 months between lamb and mutton. At Hogget, Trevor takes a nose to tail approach sourcing from a range of Gippsland lamb producers and takes diners on a journey of Gippsland’s finest.
 
Myffy Rigby heads for the hills for What’s Good in the Hood – the Blue Mountains edition. Just a stone’s throw from Sydney, the Blue Mountains is an incredible destination rich in history and spectacular scenery. It’s also sporting what Myffy thinks is one of NSW’s best new fine dining restaurants and a host of other epic places to eat.
 
Mark Best looks into the recent CSIRO study that labels Australian lamb as only one of two foods produced in Australia that is climate neutral – a good news story worth telling. He also delves into the world first Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework launched in 2021 and profiles one of Australia’s first organically certified farms – Cherry Tree Downs.
 
Cut Two Ways takes two chefs from the Seagrass stable, 6HEAD head chef Scott Greve and Meat & Wine Co-head chef Thomas Godfrey, and matches them with a dry-aged chump on lamb leg expertly prepared by Tony Mandaliti of Global Meats.
 
I profile talented young butcher Lachy Kerr who is progressing forwards by looking backwards and embracing the butchery of yesteryear. Kerr makes the effort to personally visit the farms of each of his suppliers, sourcing from independently owned NSW farms that align with his ethos. Whole carcase butchery that connects the customer with the origin of their purchases – Wollongong is in good hands.
 
Finally, our Big Business section looks at two hospitality groups leveraging the power of a nationwide summer lamb campaign with lamb menu specials for January.
 
I hope you enjoy the issue and share the love of Australian lamb on your menus this summer.
 
 

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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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).

 
 
 
 

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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
Letter

 
 

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
Letter

 
 

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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Ben Russell

Rothwell’s Bar & Grill

 
 

When it comes down to it, a lot of comfort is about familiarity. Dad’s curry. Mum’s soup. The smell of something cooking away on the stove or in the oven at your nan’s house when you’re a kid, or the things you ordered at those first restaurants you visited with the family.

There’s certainly more than a few Australians today who get a bit misty-eyed thinking about the heyday of the prawn cocktail and the steak Diane because they were there for it, living in that time and place. But what about the familiarity of dishes that didn’t get cooked in your house, or the other places your family went to eat? How do you explain their hold on the public imagination?
 
The Beef Wellington at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill in Brisbane is a case in point. It’s a dish of British/French origin that has been around for at least a hundred years. Why exactly is it enjoying an unlikely renaissance right now at the hottest restaurant in the humid, subtropical climes of the Queensland capital?
 
For Ben Russell, there’s no mystery to its success: it’s about quality and it’s about deliciousness. A chef who has worked right across the spectrum of the familiar and the unfamiliar in his life in restaurant kitchens, Russell takes the view that the magic of dishes like Beef Wellington lies in taking combinations of ingredients and techniques that have stood the test of time, and honouring them with cooking that is all about quality produce and careful, honest preparation.

The Beef Wellington at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill, Brisbane.

The Beef Wellington at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill, Brisbane.

On his menu at Rothwell’s there’s a French onion dip among the appetisers, and an entrée that brings together prawn, avocado, lettuce, and cocktail sauce. There’s Caesar salad blessedly free of grilled chicken. There’s Martinis and Bloody Marys at the bar, there’s a seafood platter to share, and there’s trifle and madelines for dessert. But it’s about timeless elegance and not a retro trip.
 
 
 

“It’s not about trickery here,” says Russell, “you know what you’re in for.” There’s no side-eye, no riff or remix – the bat is played straight, and the result is dishes that surprise and delight with their freshness and immediacy.

 
 
 
A beautifully lit room, with lots of marble, big chandeliers, dark-green leather booths and well-chosen jazz, makes for a fitting backdrop. With Dan Clark, the operator behind 1889 Enoteca and one of Australia’s savviest wine importers, backing the place, the food is complemented by a list rich in treasures – 18-year-old Krug and JJ Prum riesling on by the glass, magnums and jeroboams of Gravner and Cornelissen, and a sea of Burgundy.
 
The thing about classics is that they’re classics for a reason. “They may not always be prepared in the best possible way from the finest possible ingredients but it’s easy to understand their appeal,” write Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham in their book, The Prawn Cocktail Years. “If one bothers to prepare these and other dishes that predate the whim of fashion in food then it is a revelation how good they can be.”

Rothwell’s Dining Room: a big-city restaurant replete with marble, chandeliers, dark green leather and jazz on the stereo.

Rothwell’s Dining Room: a big-city restaurant replete with marble, chandeliers, dark green leather and jazz on the stereo.

Which brings us, of course, to Ben Russell’s Beef Wellington. Here’s how he does it.
 
First, the beef fillet. Russell goes grain-fed because he thinks it’s firmer and holds up a little better in the way it cooks in the Wellington, which essentially steams inside the pastry. He sears the beef in a hot pan, brushing it liberally with Dijon mustard.
 
Next comes the mushroom duxelles – rather than slicing and pan-frying the mushrooms in batches, Russell roasts them off whole in a pot to cook all the water out of them and to intensify their flavour, then blends them and presses them for a couple of hours to squeeze out any remaining moisture.
 
Then the crêpes: flour, eggs, milk and a little bit of beurre noisette. He lays a crêpe out on the bench, layers on about a centimetre of the mushrooms, then the beef fillet. It’s rolled, wrapped in clingfilm and goes into the fridge for a couple of hours to set before he wraps it in a layer of butter puff pastry, egg-washes it, and then adds another layer of lattice pastry, and more egg wash.
 
Then it goes into the Rational at 200 degrees till it hits an internal temperature of 35 degrees. Wrapped as it is in pastry, the meat comes up to a nice medium rare as it rests. The thickness of the pastry is the tricky part, Russell says: if it’s too thick, it won’t cook through before the beef is done.

It’s served with a red wine sauce – red wine and port reduced with lots of shallots and thyme on a veal-stock base.
 
 

“We carve it in half in the kitchen, and it goes out on a large oval plate looking very decadent with an antique silver jug of the sauce on the side – it smells rich and warm with the puff pastry and the mushrooms and the red wine sauce.”

 
 
“When you’re eating it, even though that layer of Dijon is just brushed on, it’s something that I think is a pleasant surprise. Fillet steak, mushrooms and pastry are not necessarily hero ingredients on their own but together they’re sensational. It’s an experience to savour. It’s a good time.”
 
To drink? Dan Clark imports some pretty radical wines but he says he likes to pour classics with classics. “Top-end Yarra Valley and Margaret River cabernet work really well with the Wellington. Cullen, Moss Wood, Wantirna. Or brighter shiraz – Dune in McLaren Vale and Izway from the Barossa Valley do the job nicely as well.”
 
To game it out even further, Russell suggests Martinis at the bar beforehand, then settling into a booth for some raw seafood and oysters or a crab salad, maybe the tagliatelle with sea urchin, then your Wellington and sides to share, maybe a tarte tatin or a crème brulée afterwards. “And then we have an Armagnac trolley, so if you want to get really comfortable, we’ve got bottles there dating back to the 1920s. And that’s your Rothwell’s experience.”

Ben Russell grew up in Burnie in the northwest of Tasmania. His first cooking job was at 18 at the fabled Jimmy Watson’s on Lygon Street in Melbourne, a third-generation business with a focus on wine. It was his next job, though, that made him the chef he is today.
 
Run by British chef Donovan Cooke and Melbourne chef Philippa Sibley, Est Est Est was famously uncompromising. Cooke was a protégé of Marco Pierre White, and he and Sibley shared a vision for a restaurant that hewed firmly to the traditions of the French restaurants where they’d worked in Europe.
 
They made pot-au-feu of beef, oxtail terrines with root vegetables and grain mustard. There was always a pigeon dish on the menu, alongside stuffed and braised pig’s trotters à la Pierre Koffmann, and Pithiviers of quail and foie gras, and every scrap of it was made by hand, from the puff pastry down.
 
“Six double shifts a week was our roster, so 14 hours a day, six days a week,” says Russell. The kitchen was not well equipped – at first it didn’t even have a coolroom. “We’d buy in everything every day, get there in the morning and crack on, making everything fresh every day from scratch, no room for error. If something went wrong, there was no back-up plan.” As intense as it was, he says, it was also what he’d been searching for.
 
 
 

“I was looking for something that was all-consuming. There was no time for anything outside that job.” It was unbelievably gruelling, but, looking back, he says, it crammed 10 years’ worth of learning into just three years.
Ben Russell at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill.

Ben Russell at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill.

After he left Melbourne, Russell bought a one-way ticket to Paris. He went south, immersing himself in the culture of southern France, and cooking on yachts on the Mediterranean. Here he reacquainted himself with daylight, joined the dots with the produce he saw in the markets, and cured himself of the urge to push everything through a chinois.
 
Coming back to Australia three years later, Russell approached Matt Moran for a role at Aria in Sydney. At Aria, he found scope, support and structure. A place with both coolrooms and back-up plans, and somewhere a young chef could learn about the business of running restaurants beyond the knives-and-fire side of the operation. He flourished under Moran’s mentorship, and Moran in turn tapped him to lead the company’s expansion into Queensland, with Russell opening Aria Brisbane for them in 2009.
 
Under his care, the restaurant ran for 10 successful years, and signalled a watershed moment in Brisbane for finer dining. It also gave Russell the opportunity to find his own sound. Having opened leaning heavily on the dishes for which Matt Moran was known – confit pork belly with apples, Peking duck consommé – it shifted over the years to less butter and more tomatoes and olive oil, an affinity with the flavours of the Mediterranean that can be seen in Russell’s cooking to this day.

Classics for a reason - the steak tartare at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill.

Classics for a reason – the steak tartare at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill.

Our times shape our restaurants. For Ben Russell and Dan Clark, the Rothwell’s conversation began during the pandemic, and this shaped its direction. “Dan and I have both been in the game long enough that we wanted to make sure we were going to be commercially viable in the long term,” Russell says. They were talking about a big-city restaurant, and about longevity. All the places they shared as points of reference – The Savoy Grill and The Wolseley in London, Balthazar in Manhattan among them – had all been running for many years.
 
Then there was the site. Thomas Rothwell hung out his shingle as a tailor here on Edward Street in the heart of Brisbane in 1885. When Clark and Russell looked to register “Rothwell’s” as the name of the restaurant, they found it was already registered by another business. Just adding “Bar & Grill” to get it over the line, Russell says, brought a lot of what he and Clark had been discussing into crisper focus, and the menu and wine list followed suit.
 
 
 

“We wanted the food offering to be really classic, to focus on execution, and on having dishes that people recognise,” Russell says.

 
 
 
He’s not really the sort of chef who looks to cut corners, so while he’s not looking to reinvent the wheel with the menu, he still puts in an awful lot of work under the hood making sure everything’s as good as it can be, whether it’s enriching the ragù for his rigatoni with beef cheeks or sourcing rolled saddles from Margra for the roast lamb served with braised peas with bacon and shallot.
 
On the grill, Russell prefers anything dry-aged to be grass-fed and on the bone. When he buys wagyu from 2GR or Westholme he likes the less obvious cuts – chuck tail flap, tri-tip. “And those cuts sell,” he says. “I think sometimes people make the mistake of underestimating customers in Brisbane and what they want, somehow thinking all we want to eat up here is a fillet steak with a lobster on it or something.”
 
After cooking in Queensland for more than a decade, he says it’s just not how things are. “We sell a really good cross-section from the grill of everything from the high-marble wagyu to the dry-aged grass-fed meat.”

Roast lamb with braised peas, bacon and shallot at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill.

Roast lamb with braised peas, bacon and shallot at Rothwell’s Bar & Grill.

And the runaway success of the Beef Wellington? “It’s ended up more of a feature than we initially intended,” Russell laughs. “I certainly didn’t think I’d be making Wellingtons all day every day, but it’s strangely a dish that everyone seems familiar with.” Familiar, and comforting, he says, even though it’s not a dish common to home kitchens or even that many other restaurants. He estimates that half the people walking through the door ordering a Beef Wellington at Rothwell’s have never tried one before.
 
It’s a situation that Russell finds rewarding. Taking the focus on reinvention, he says, allows him to put the execution and delivery of the food first. “I’m really happy that everything we do is classical; maybe 15 years ago I wouldn’t have been. But for me at this point in my cooking career and my life, I really like doing this – it’s very satisfying.”
 
The pleasure and pride in the kitchen at Rothwell’s are felt in the dining room. If the first Beef Wellington of your life is here, with Ben Russell running things chances are it won’t be your last. And hey: the Wellington you order today might end up your go-to comfort dish of tomorrow.

 

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Beef, salt and fire: the making of a modern masterpiece.

 
 

The luxuries of the table are many and varied, but rare is the delicacy that gets the mouth watering in quite the same way as a really good steak. It’s a dish suited to celebration like few others: it makes a grand statement as it’s borne to the table, it looks good, it smells good, and is eminently suitable for sharing. It’s also a dish that is seldom better than with a really great bottle (or two) of red wine. And, on the flipside, a really great bottle of red wine (or two) more or less demands a great steak.

Beef, salt and fire: the making of a modern masterpiece at Woodcut.

Beef, salt and fire: the making of a modern masterpiece at Woodcut.

It’s a dish that’s revered as the bistecca Fiorentina in the hills of Chianti, the Chateaubriand of Paris and the prime rib of the great steakhouses of Chicago and New York. It’s celebrated by the gauchos on the pampas, with a braai on the veld, in yakiniku in Tokyo, the gogigui of Seoul.
 
It runs the full spectrum of popular culture from Fred Flintstone’s dinosaur rib-eye to being the capper of the menu at the world’s third highest-ranked restaurant on the 50 Best list, Asador Extebarri, a grill in the Basque Country where chef Bittor Arguinzoniz takes decade-old cattle and turns them into what are widely recognised as some of the very finest steaks of the world. Yabba dabba doo is right.
 
And Australia, as a producer of top-drawer beef, more than holds its own when it comes to the matter of steaks to be reckoned with. There have been periods in restaurants when chefs in the pointy end of the business were ambivalent about the place of the big steak, but right now that steak holds pride of place, often boxed out on the menu to stand alone, a special event served to share, or the pinnacle of a degustation.
 
Right now you’d be hard-pressed to improve on the steaks served at Rockpool Bar & Grill, Firedoor, Gimlet, Cutler & Co and Woodcut. How do they do it? We spoke to the people in charge to find out.

Ross Lusted

– Woodcut, Sydney

 
 
When Ross Lusted set out to open Woodcut, in the new Crown casino in Sydney, he didn’t want it to be known as a steakhouse, but he knew he needed to serve a steak that was world class. “It had to be exceptional,” he says. So he started talking with Anthony Puharich, of Vic’s Premium Quality Meats, about a program for Woodcut that focussed on flavoursome beef, sourced largely from New South Wales.
 
For the T-bone that’s now the flagship of that part of the menu, Rangers Valley Black Market Premium, Lusted says, ticked all the boxes: a local producer, Black Angus stock, raised on pasture and finished on grain for no fewer than 270 days, producing a five-plus marble-score product and aged for six weeks.

Ross Lusted with Woodcut’s flagship T-bone - Rangers Valley Black Market Premium.

Ross Lusted with Woodcut’s flagship T-bone – Rangers Valley Black Market Premium.

For the cooking, Lusted is typically precise. The wood? Hardwood that burns slow, smokeless and very hot. The salt? Olsson’s Marine Mineral Fine Grey, which tastes like the ocean. Oil? Not on meat that is this well-marbled – it doesn’t need it, he says, and the oil can just burn and taste acrid. What’s the meat cooking on? A fine rack set about 10cm over the coals, so the meat gets a crust without the burnt, carbonised taste that could be left by heavier grilling bars.
 
Cooking the beef on the bone preserves the meat’s “sweet natural flavour”, and Lusted starts the room-temperature steaks over coals of ironbark standing on the bone, which allows the heat to move through it and into the centre of the cut. He then grills the wider sides fast over intense heat to form a crust before resting the meat above the grill in the smoke, allowing the residual heat to finish cooking it to medium rare.

Lusted cooks the steak standing on the bone allowing heat to move though it into the centre of the cut before grilling the sides fast over intense heat.

Lusted cooks the steak standing on the bone allowing heat to move though it into the centre of the cut before grilling the sides fast over intense heat.

“A well-rested steak will carve easily and have a consistent colour from the crust to the bone,” he says. He’s appalled at the idea of resting hot meat on a cold plate, even at home. If you don’t have a rack, he says, let the steak sit uncovered on two or three forks so the air can circulate around it.

 
 
And a final word of advice: now that you’ve done the work, don’t ruin it. “The best thing about the steak is the steak,” so with all this good flavour and texture, don’t do anything else to the steak other than lay in some good side dishes as support. At Woodcut that’ll be their burnt-tomato ketchup, tomato salad and baby lettuce, seeded and hot mustard, horseradish cream, whipped bearnaise and veal jus, and maybe the macaroni and cheese made with Berkelo bakery’s Khorasan pasta if you want to really go for it.
 
“There’s always a wow when that steak arrives.”

Lusted says “the best thing about the steak is the steak”.

Lusted says “the best thing about the steak is the steak”.

Corey Costelloe

– Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney

 
 
They call it the ballet at Rockpool Bar & Grill. It’s the special dance that a chef new to the grill finds themselves doing as they try to simultaneously pull dozens of steaks from their storage drawers, while keeping the steaks already on the grill moving, and feeding the fire so the whole thing doesn’t come to a halt in the middle of a roaring service.
 
The new person on the grill has put six or seven steaks on in one call, says chef Corey Costelloe, but there’s 20 different steaks on the menu and they’re all in different drawers, and you’ve got 250 in for lunch. “And when you first start you forget which one is where, and you’re spinning around going through them, meanwhile thinking, ‘shit, have I left something on the grill too long,’ so you turn around to check your steaks and then you turn around back to your drawer and then there’s another steak coming in, and you end up spinning, spinning doing the ballet.”

Corey Costelloe prepares a David Blackmore Mishima steak - Mishima are extremely rare and only available at Rockpool Bar & Grill and Burnt Ends in Singapore.

Corey Costelloe prepares a David Blackmore Mishima steak – Mishima are extremely rare and only available at Rockpool Bar & Grill and Burnt Ends in Singapore.

It’s a dance he has long since mastered, but when he first started at Rockpool Bar & Grill, it was all new. “I’d come from a seafood restaurant, I was all about fish.” The learning curve was steep. Looking back now, from his position as the chef across three locations of Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne, Perth and his home city of Sydney, a brand that is completely synonymous with ultra-premium beef, Costelloe has a pretty good idea of what a top-quality steak looks like in Australia.
 
 

“Our absolute baller right now is David Blackmore’s Mishima.” Mishima, he says, is a tiny little island in the south of Japan, a dot on the map, and their animals were never bred with the British breeds, so they’re some of the oldest Japanese breeds you’ll find. “When we do a 650-gram Mishima wagyu steak on the bone, that’s the $350 steak that makes people say ‘wow’.”
Two cuts in one - the David Blackmore Mishima Chuck Roll at Rockpool consisting of the denver and chuck eye cuts.

Two cuts in one – the David Blackmore Mishima Chuck Roll at Rockpool consisting of the denver and chuck eye cuts.

But with a list of steaks sometimes 20 cuts deep on the Bar & Grill menu, there are other paths to ecstasy.
 
 

“Take a look at the grass-fed rib-eyes from southern Australia, from Tasmania, the Victorian hinterlands,” says Costelloe. “Somewhere where they’ve got plenty of grass to eat and plenty of sunshine throughout the day – there’s not much that’s better than one of those. I can’t afford to eat a $350 steak, but I’ll sit in the bar at night and smash a Cape Grim rib-eye – they’re just delicious.”

 
 
This kind of intimate familiarity with the very best meat in the country can make ordering a steak elsewhere a challenge. “There was a period there where it was very hard to get a well-cooked steak in a restaurant; I think that’s why the steakhouse has triumphed these last 10 years.”

David Blackmore Mishima at Rockpool - a dance with decadence.

David Blackmore Mishima at Rockpool – a dance with decadence.

Lennox Hastie

– Firedoor, Sydney

 
 
Not everyone welcomes crying in their restaurants, but at Firedoor they’re used to it (in a good way). Their signature steak has brought more than a few diners to tears, Massimo Bottura among them. After the Italian chef wept with joy eating his steak, Lennox Hastie smuggled one back to him when he went to Modena to visit.

Hastie believes steak reaches its full potential through the passage of time - at Firedoor beef is aged anywhere between 150 - 300 days.

Hastie believes steak reaches its full potential through the passage of time – at Firedoor beef is aged anywhere between 150 – 300 days.

You might have seen Hastie on Chef’s Table talking about the work he put into developing a program for ageing his meat for unusually long periods of time. The drought plus the pandemic knocked the whole thing for six, though, and for the first time in seven years he found himself starting from scratch. He now sources beef across a few different producers including Rangers Valley, O’Connor, Coppertree Farms, and David Blackmore.
 
 
 

“Right now, we’re running 260-day dry-aged Black Market Rangers Valley as well as a 150-day dry-aged retired dairy cow,” Hastie says, “but last month we had 300-day aged full-blood wagyu which was a completely different experience – rich and buttery but with a complex sour cherry and spice flavour that I find more redolent in wine.”

 
 
 
And like wine, all this beef can be enjoyed young, Hastie says, but it’s through the passage of time that it really achieves its full potential. He chooses the rib-sets for ageing himself, grading them on appearance, taste, touch and smell, picking out well-marbled sets before testing their pH to confirm their suitability for extended ageing. His exactitude is serious. “Depending on the producer, kills are only occurring every fortnight or month and we only find the top three percent of each batch suitable for ageing.”

Steaks at Firedoor are cut to order on the bandsaw and grilled over grape vines or spent wine barrels.

Steaks at Firedoor are cut to order on the bandsaw and grilled over grape vines or spent wine barrels.

Hastie then dries the sides for two weeks, renders the fat down from the animal and then paints the sides with that rendered fat, sealing any exposed meat, preparing them to age for anywhere between 150 and 300 days, depending on the size of the animal and how it ripens.
 
In service they’re cut to order and grilled over gnarled 80-year-old grape vines. A Spanish flor de sal is the only addition to the meat. “The rich flavour and texture is intrinsic to the animal, the ageing process, and grilling over an open wood fire,” Hastie says. “Each aged rib-set has its own unique flavour, ranging from hazelnuts, toasted popcorn, and aged sherry through to black truffle, foie gras, and parmesan.” The flavour even varies from one end of the steak to the other, much like a cheese. “The flavour is so complex that we serve it unadorned with just a fresh salad or some charred greens on the side to clean the palate. We don’t offer any condiments or sauces as accompaniments.”
 
The fat is too precious to waste, and the trimmings, which are rendered slowly in the wood oven, are deployed in roasting vegetables (“potatoes and cauliflower are particularly good”), and in washing a whisky to make the Tallowed Roy, a Rob Roy with a Firedoor twist.

260 day dry aged Ranger’s Valley Black Market Rib Eye - the steak that brought Massimo Bottura to tears.

260 day dry aged Ranger’s Valley Black Market Rib Eye – the steak that brought Massimo Bottura to tears.

Andrew McConnell

– Cutler & Co and Gimlet, Melbourne

 
 
Trends have come and gone over the 13 years that Cutler & Co has enjoyed a place as one of Victoria’s finest diners, but the rib-eye has been a constant. “From day one at Cutler & Co we’ve offered the same 1.2 kilo dry-aged large-format steak,” says owner and chef Andrew McConnell. “And it’s the only thing that has stayed on the menu that whole time.”

Andrew McConnell says the 1.2kg dry aged rib eye at Cutler & Co is the only thing that has stayed on the menu in the restaurant’s 13 year history.

Andrew McConnell says the 1.2kg dry aged rib eye at Cutler & Co is the only thing that has stayed on the menu in the restaurant’s 13 year history.

When McConnell opened Cutler & Co back in 2009, he says he wasn’t cooking a lot of steak at home and it wasn’t that easy to find one that was perfectly aged and cooked over wood with skill in a restaurant. “When I go out, as much as I love multiple courses and trying new things, sometimes I just want something that’s benchmark, something that’s simple and delicious. It’s also nice to offer a dish in this environment that’s not intimidating, something you can roll up your sleeves for and share.”
 
So it was when he came to Gimlet, the smash-hit restaurant he opened in the Melbourne CBD in 2020. “Gimlet was designed to be a big-city restaurant with a great dining room and a great cocktail bar, and a grown-up big-city restaurant needs that big steak. It’s something classic on the menu that really signifies quality.”

Gimlet’s T-bone is roasted at 400-500 degrees over coals in the wood-fire oven McConnell designed himself.

Gimlet’s T-bone is roasted at 400-500 degrees over coals in the wood-fire oven McConnell designed himself.

A steak making a statement was written into Gimlet’s DNA – and into its blueprints. Working with the kitchen designer, McConnell designed a wood-fired oven with a stone base and a pit in the base that his chefs can brush the coals into, with a rack set over it. “So we’re roasting our T-bones over coals in a wood-fired oven. It’s really cool.” Acting a bit like a Josper, sitting at 400 or 500 degrees, the intense heat creating a crust quickly. It’s pretty special, and it adds another layer of flavour.
 
As impressive as the oven may be, the other big advantage McConnell enjoys today in the steak stakes is in sourcing his meat. In 2015, he opened Meatsmith, a speciality butchery on Smith Street in Collingwood, and today he and his business partner Troy Wheeler run four branches across Melbourne, which gives him enviable choice for his restaurants. “Working with Troy, we’ve been able to develop a great program for meat at Gimlet,” he says.

Beef farmer Matt O’Connor hand selects 20 rib sets a week for Gimlet which are then dry aged at Meatsmith for six weeks before being sliced into T-bones and delivered to the restaurant.

Beef farmer Matt O’Connor hand selects 20 rib sets a week for Gimlet which are then dry aged at Meatsmith for six weeks before being sliced into T-bones and delivered to the restaurant.

Cattle farmer Matt O’Connor selects about 20 rib sets a week for Gimlet from pasture-fed animals, primarily Angus and Hereford, with a marble score of six-plus. “That’s quite high for pasture-fed beef,” says McConnell. “I think about one in 100 come through like that.” These go into Wheeler’s care for six weeks of dry-ageing before they’re cut into the T-bones delivered to the restaurant kitchen.
 
 
 

“It’s about provenance, it’s about how it’s selected in the abattoir, it’s about how it’s butchered, it’s how it’s aged. It’s a process,” says McConnell.

 
 
 
The amount of thought and work put into these epic steaks suggests that the perfect piece of meat, cooked with confidence, is as much a measure of the worth of a restaurant as anything else on the menu. “Eating in fine-dining restaurants isn’t always about technique and small plates. It should be about quality.”

Other Epic Steaks of Australia

 

Bistecca, Sydney

Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Riverine T-bone, $160/kilo
 

Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, Sydney

150-day grain-fed 500g rib-eye, crusted in Olsson’s sea salt, market price
 

Gaucho’s, Adelaide

650g grain-fed T-bone, dry-aged 28 days with char-grilled lemon, smoked salt, and olive oil, $80
 

A Hereford Beefstow

1.5kg 200 day grain-fed tomahawk steak carved at table $160′
 

Rosetta, Sydney and Melbourne

Cape Grim 36-month T-bone 21-day dry-aged, $165
 

Rothwell’s, Brisbane

800g T-Bone, dry-aged 4-6 weeks, $140
 

Porteño, Sydney

750g bistecca ‘ethically farmed Tasmanian pasture fed’ T-bone, $105
 

Society, Melbourne

Smoked Wagyu prime rib with wasabi and crème fraîche butter, sweet onion and shoyu koji jus, Japanese pickled cucumber, $245
 

Victor Churchill, Melbourne

1.2kg dry-aged Rangers Valley Black Market bistecca $185

 

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Trevor Perkins

Hogget Kitchen

Trevor Perkins at Hogget Kitchen in West Gippsland.

Trevor Perkins at Hogget Kitchen in West Gippsland.

You wouldn’t call the concept for Hogget Kitchen tricky. The way Trevor Perkins tells it, it was as simple as a conversation he had with his mates Pat Sullivan and Bill Downie, winemakers both, over a meal of local, very fresh produce and local, very drinkable wines, and saying “why can’t we just do something like this, but as a restaurant?”

 
 
Hogget is the result, a place where a casual, friendly air on the floor is balanced by some real rigour and passion in the kitchen. It could well be the very picture of country dining in Australia right now.
 
The restaurant is set on a building leased from Wild Dog Winery, perhaps the oldest winery in the Gippsland region, overlooking a valley planted with riesling, gewürztraminer, merlot and a variety of other grapes. In a paddock just past the carpark graze alpacas, woolly and serene. The big deck of the restaurant is stacked with neat cordons of chardonnay and shiraz cuttings bound for a variety of barbecue rigs, many of them welded up by Perkins himself.
 
We’re five minutes out of the West Gippsland town of Warragul, and about 100 clicks east of the Melbourne CBD. The land is lush, the soils volcanic, the rainfall high – almost certainly some of the richest agricultural land in Victoria. Farming around here is typically sheep and cattle, the sheep a mix of merino wool and prime lamb, with lamb being the majority.
 
Hogget Kitchen takes its name from the word used to describe an animal that is older than a lamb – between about nine and 18 months – that doesn’t yet have the two teeth that would mark it as a mature ewe or ram, and its meat as mutton. But it isn’t a restaurant concerned solely with the meat of sheep. A meal here might trip open with a fine little shortcrust tartlet of roe from trout up the road at Noojee, or a creamy dollop of Gippsland rabbit pâté paired with a chutney made of medlars, everyone’s favourite strange medieval fruit. This is a restaurant that follows the rhythm of the local seasons and supply.

Hogget Kitchen overlooks the vineyards of Wild Dog Winery.

Hogget Kitchen overlooks the vineyards of Wild Dog Winery.

Perkins takes Monkery and Chamela, two ripe, fresh cow’s milk cheeses made by Rachel Needoba at the nearby Butterfly Factory micro-dairy, and dresses them with celery oil and herbs picked wild around the shire. The flowers of borage, pea, pineapple sage and society garlic, the feathery tops of fennel, leaves of nasturtium, sharp wood sorrel, sweet basil and the perfume of lemon balm. Fillets of the superb garfish that Bruce Collis catches at Corner Inlet, meanwhile, appear delicately grilled and accented with lemon myrtle from the property’s small orchard of natives, and slivers of loquat from Perkins’ mum’s tree. It’s confident cooking, considered and with a light touch that’s easy to like.
 
But there is no better example of what Perkins is about as a chef and what Hogget is about as a restaurant than how they handle lamb. “Since we opened in 2017, we’ve never used boxed meat,” Perkins says. His dad, Graham, was a butcher, and the ability to break a lamb down and then put all of those pieces of meat, all those bones and organs, to good use in the kitchen are the skills he wants to preserve and pass on. “Teaching our next generation of chefs technique and respect to the whole animal,” he says.
 
Whether it’s East Friesians from Guendulain Farm at Yarragon, Rylands from Seaview Park Farm at Mountain View, the White Dorpers Tim Wilson runs at Lardner, Wiltshire Horns from Drouin, or any of the Dorpers, Suffolks, Poll Dorsets or other lamb, hogget or mutton he sources from his mates at Radford’s Abattoir 10 minutes away at Warragul, the approach Perkins takes is the same: a hand-saw and a boning knife.

Gippsland lambs hanging in the cool room - Hogget Kitchen has never used boxed meat.

Gippsland lambs hanging in the cool room – Hogget Kitchen has never used boxed meat.

The carcases hang for a week before they’re boned, and the team will bone as many as four at a time depending on how busy things are at the restaurant. “We break the lamb into thirds on the rail then process the cuts on the benchtop,” Perkins says. “We remove the fillets and kidneys first then split the forequarter from the third rib closest to the neck. We cut just below the hip joint to remove the barrel from the legs.”
Trevor breaking down a lamb carcase at the restaurant.

Trevor breaking down a lamb carcase at the restaurant.

A typical breakdown might be bone-in shoulder, square-cut forequarter (with the shank, neck and brisket bone removed), the eight-point racks (chine off, cap on, “but not Frenched!”), backstrap, rump and fillet (all cap on), belly and short-cut hind legs (shank off). The bones – chine, H-bone and brisket among them – go into stocks and sauces, the trim gets pickled and boiled, and the sweetbreads, kidneys and liver get looked after as the precious jewels that they are. “The offal really speaks to the quality of the animal you’re dealing with,” Perkins says. “You can tell a lot from its flavour.”
 
Smoking and grilling are Perkins’ weapons of choice for lamb, the Kamado Joe in the kitchen and the grills outside getting a good workout. But while Perkins cut his teeth as a country cook, growing up nearby in Moe and doing his apprenticeship at Da Nunzio’s, he also worked with Philippe Mouchel at Langton’s in Melbourne, so there’s more going on here than turn-and-burn. A glance at the shelves loaded with cookbooks in the private dining room, reveals the breadth of his interest. There’s plenty on butchery, charcuterie, meat, and cooking with fire, but also Ducasse, Escoffier and Guérard, and next to them, volumes from David Thompson, Christine Manfield and Sean Brock, as well as plenty on the food of Mexico.

Trevor preparing lamb crepinette using diced leg, kidney and liver.

Trevor preparing lamb crepinette using diced leg, kidney and liver.

Black beans and Oaxacan cheese go into a golden empanada served at one end of the meal at Hogget, alongside a round of an American-style blood sausage, fried off and topped with quail egg sunny-side up, while at the other end of the menu the dessert is built around limoncello, the sour-sweet pudding plated with citrus curd, macadamia-nut praline and an ice-cream flavoured with clementines.
 
Buying lambs whole calls for planning in the kitchen. The lamb necks and shanks get saved up for ragù for pasta, for navarins, for shepherd’s pies, or other braises. Briskets are scored and seasoned and given six or eight hours in the smoker. Sometimes the menu will name a particular cut – lamb shoulder braised and served with artichokes, for example, or sweetbreads put into pithiviers and teamed with salsa verde – but more often than not it’s simply listed as “Gippsland lamb”, which gives the team maximum flexibility on the cuts they choose on a given day, whether they’re going to be deployed as barbacoa to be stuffed into tortillas at one of the occasional “Fiestas de Trevo”, or simply grilled and served with brassicas.

A ‘Gippsland Lamb’ dish featuring rump, backstrap, a lamb crepinette of leg, kidney and liver, and crumbed brain.

A ‘Gippsland Lamb’ dish featuring rump, backstrap, a lamb crepinette of leg, kidney and liver, and crumbed brain.

 
 
 

The highlight of lunch for a diner lucky enough to visit in the spring might well be grass-fed Gippsland lamb spread across a platter to share: juicy loin and tender braised shoulder complemented by the dense flavour and texture of shank, with a golden garnish of airy puffs of deep-fried brains. Garden-fresh peas, asparagus and broad beans provide the green top notes, while crépinette, rich in the flavour of kidneys, and a jus made with lamb’s fry bring the bass notes. It’s a bravura performance.

 
 
 

Trevor’s dad’s butchery tools on display at Hogget.

Trevor’s dad’s butchery tools on display at Hogget.

It’s tempting to say something like “what Trevor Perkins doesn’t know about lamb isn’t worth knowing”, but he’s far too modest a guy to go for that. And he’s also very quick to say that the lamb he knows is Gippsland lamb. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had lamb from anywhere else.”
 
As timeless as Hogget Kitchen’s setting seems, the valley isn’t cut off from the trends and realities of the wider world. Take the price of a whole lamb. When Hogget opened back in 2017, Perkins was paying around $7.60 a kilo for a carcase; today it’s more like $12 a kilo – an increase of nearly 60 per cent in under five years. When a body coming in at Perkins’ preferred weight of around 22 kilos now costs $260, the ability to make every gram of that animal count in the kitchen and on the plate becomes that much more vital.
 

 
 
 

Why 22 kilos? Between 22 and 24 is the sweet spot, as far as Perkins is concerned, for fat cover, flavour and tenderness in a Gippsland lamb. This is not a stance struck by a chef being difficult – Perkins is not going to send a carcase back because it comes in at 25 kilos – it’s just an observation made by a guy who has cut up a lot of lambs, who pays attention, and who knows what he’s doing.

 
 
 

And maybe that’s what Trevor Perkins is all about, at the end of the day. He’s a doer. He’s not cooking over fire because he saw it on Netflix or Instagram, he’s doing it because he’s on a property that generates tonnes of vine clippings, because he likes building barbecues, and because it’s a great way to cook lamb. He’s not on a DIY trip making things from scratch because it’s trendy – it’s in his blood.
 
He grew up, camping with his parents nearly every weekend, chasing trout in the hills and trapping rabbits, and fishing for gummy shark, flathead and Australian salmon with his grandfather, Richard, at Ninety Mile Beach, always cooking over open fires. As he got older, he’d go out shooting, or taking a bow to stalk deer. Jenny, his mum, has always grown fruit and vegetables at home, and Perkins’ partner, Kylie, runs Hereford cattle, some of which end up in the Cleaver dry-ageing cabinet at the end of Hogget’s bar. He’s a doer, but he’s also clearly someone who understands that it takes a whole lot of people working together to make food great, whether it’s the people who make the wine, or the people who grow the food, the people that he’s learned from, or the people that he teaches.

Beef dry ageing onsite including Hereford produced by Trevor’s partner Kylie.

Beef dry ageing onsite including Hereford produced by Trevor’s partner Kylie.

The blackboard by the open kitchen is chalked with dozens of names of the people and properties that supply Hogget. Holy Goat and Gippsland Jersey among the dairies, the Chapmans, Jones and Jim’s Spud Shed for potatoes, and shout-outs to the growers of everything from the blueberries and the figs to the quails and the rabbits. One corner is just marked “Friends”. You quickly realise that what you’re looking at isn’t a supply chain, but a rich web of relationships, of season, landscape, weather and friendships.
 
“Baw Baw Shire here is amazing, and the access to good food that I have here gives me such a huge platform to showcase what we can do,” Perkins says. “It’s taken me a long time to find my identity and figure out what we do here. But with the help of a lot of other people, I’ve seen that in pockets of the country you find groups of people coming together to express what their region is all about.”

 

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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.

 

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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.

People Places Plates

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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.