Melbourne chef Ian Curley says he flew to Tasmania with only one ingredient for Friday’s four-course produce showcase in Devonport – squid ink crackers.
Devonport’s Hill Street Grocer partnered with Devonport City Council to host a VIP Ambassador Dinner for the Devonport Food and Wine Festival.
European Group executive chef Ian Curley and head chef Tony Collis worked with TasTAFE Drysdale students to deliver a fine dining experience within the supermarket.
Mr Curley said the team used produce including Tasmanian ocean trout, Cape Grim beef and Turners Beach strawberries.
“The more you work with food, the more you realising it’s about adapting to what’s available,” Mr Curley said.
“There’s so much that’s accessible and it’s all in the one place at Hill Street but, you know, I had a great chat with a strawberry grower that isn’t very far away.”
Mr Curley said Tasmanian beef was among the best in the world, however, he expected the number of people on plant-based diets would increase by about 200 percent in the next five years.
“In Melbourne most of the food has been sprayed, but just from the smell of a Tasmanian eggplant you can tell it’s as natural and fresh as it can be,” Mr Curley said.
“Plant-based diets are the way of the future and there’s plenty of good stuff to eat here in Tasmania.”
Friday’s event included the auction of a whole salmon and a giant block of Anvers chocolate.
Funds raised will go towards Gran’s van and the Devonport Chaplaincy school breakfast program.
I am eating glossy beads of black caviar from my hand, licking the minerally, salty, fishy oil from my skin. I am sipping champagne and slugging back icy-cold vodka. Is it Melbourne Cup time, or what?
It certainly is, says caviar ambassador Lisa Downs of Simon Johnson, Australia’s largest caviar importer, who is knee deep in the stuff. If she’s not organising bespoke master classes in caviar tasting such as the one I am enjoying probably a little too much, she’s training up The Caviar Girls, a posse of black-gloved Brave Management models in little black dresses bearing tins of caviar on cigarette-like trays for comparative tastings.
Tis the season, too, for stand-alone caviar bars, with 1kg tins of the stuff slathered on hot little blinis (think food trucks, for people who would have no idea what a food truck was). Downs is also supplying the right stuff to the Black Caviar restaurant at Caulfield, run by top Melbourne chef Ian Curley of The European and French Saloon. Small wonder that Simon Johnson Quality Foods has imported 1.5 tonnes of sturgeon caviar so far this year, an increase of 220 per cent in the past two years.
But now that the filly season is here, caviar is taking off faster than that gorgeous mare Black Caviar in her 25 consecutive wins from 2009 to 2013. When Racing NSW threw a record-breaking $10 million prize money at The Everest, the new big-bucks October 14 event of Randwick’s Spring Racing Carnival, caviar led the field. For the inaugural Everest Dinner that preceded the race, the Australian Turf Club’s executive chef, George Mullen, used about 1.5kg of oscietra caviar.
“We go through kilograms of caviar through the whole season,” he says. “It’s part of the wow factor, and allows us to show people we can do so much more than sell pies on race day.”
Seafood staple diet of members
Scots-born Mullen has seen a few changes in luxury foods since starting at Royal Randwick Racecourse as a casual chef 23 years ago.
“In those days, it was all about buffets of hundreds of kilograms of prawns and oysters. Now it’s marron, Hiramasa kingfish and caviar. Seafood has always been the staple diet of our members.”
Caulfield’s Melbourne Racing Club is coming up on the outside, however, with an increased budget this year for this most luxurious of ingredients.
“We like to use opulent ingredients to set us apart from the others,” explains executive chef Julian Robertshaw. “Diners are so much more informed nowadays and know what they should get for their hard-earned money.”
Hence chef Curley is dealing out the caviar at Caulfield’s Black Caviar restaurant like there’s no tomorrow.
“I serve salmon and trout caviars, smoked and unsmoked, as well as black caviar,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Yarra Valley salmon caviar. It’s full-flavoured, and I like the sustainability aspect.”
In Sydney, the Finger Wharf’s Otto chef Richard Ptacnik sees a big increase in demand during the racing season. “People are wanting to celebrate and are happy to pay for something special like caviar,” he says.
For guests of Otto’s $195 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Luncheon on Cup Day, there will be Black Pearl Siberian oscietra caviar on house-made brioche with crème fraiche. “But they can always buy it by the tin if they like,” he offers.
The Gold Coast’s quirky designer resort QT is going suitably avant-garde on Cup Day, offering paid-up punters the chance to sabrage (decapitate with a sabre, or sword) a chilled bottle of G.H. Mumm Champagne. “Our guests on the day can also make their own caviar blini from a 1kg ‘mother tin’ on ice at a caviar bar tended by a Black Pearl Caviar hostess” says QT’s food and beverage director David Clifton.
New lease of life
Beyond the racetrack, caviar has a new lease of life as restaurants once again offer the sort of full caviar service reminiscent of 1980s excess, prompting some to wonder if shoulder-pads, ostentatious handbags and big hair are due for a comeback too.
“It’s different now,” says Downs. “Then, several species of sturgeons were on the endangered list, which led to the worldwide ban on exports from the Caspian Sea in 2008. Now, 96 per cent of all caviar comes from farmed sturgeons.”
The caviar renaissance means that Downs is also working with a whole new generation of chefs, who approach it in vastly different ways to their predecessors.
Lennox Hastie, chef of Australia’s only fully wood-fuelled restaurant Firedoor, has experimented with smoking the delicate eggs. The recipe in his first cookbook, Finding Fire, to be released November 1, calls for unsalted beluga, fresh seaweed and apple wood embers.
“We grill a small mound of caviar over apple wood until it is warm and slightly smoky,” he says, “It retains that characteristic pop in the mouth, releasing a rich flavour of the sea with nuances of black olives and hazelnuts.”
Martin Benn, chef of Sydney’s creatively driven three-hatted Sepia, is drawn to caviar’s old-time glamour but believes it belongs in a “new age” of luxury ingredients.
“Caviar is the ultimate extravagance,” he says. “I really wanted a new generation of diners to experience this amazing wonder of the world in a modern way, so I have never added a surcharge or supplement for it.”
Benn says the seachange was in 2014, when a new order of caviar producers such as Yasa from Dubai started bringing unpasteurised Siberian sturgeon caviar into Australia within 24 hours of harvest, year round. He puts it to good use with rich, fatty ingredients such as toro (tuna belly), fried potato and bone marrow.
“When using caviar in a dish you have to be smart and use it in ways that the guest gets to see it and appreciate it,” he says. “That one bite always leaves you wanting more.”
Looking at the distinct lack of caviar glistening on my bare hand, it’s hard to disagree.
How to eat it
Here’s what to do with your little can of joyballs.
- Eat from the tin It might sound gross, but it’s the best way to get the pure, full-on, briny, mouth-filling, joyous experience.
- Keep caviar refrigerated but allow it to come up to blood temperature before eating, to allow the flavour to develop.
- Use a mother-of-pearl spoon Metal can react with the caviar and change the taste. Changing the taste is not what you have paid for.
- Use your hands Place a spoonful of caviar in the crook of your hand between thumb and forefinger and allow it to rise to ambient temperature. Raise to your nose and inhale, then take it into your mouth, rolling it gently across your tongue. Allow the caviar to melt like butter, then draw in a breath of air and take in the rich, minerally, sea-salty, taste of the ocean.
- Be gentle Do not crush or burst the tiny beads before they hit your tongue. Caviar is not avocado, and should not be smashed.
- Value-add When you’ve had enough caviar straight-up, consider slathering the rest on hot buttered sourdough toast, on potato crisps, creamy scrambled eggs, warm buckwheat blinis or buttered, boiled potatoes. Crème fraiche and diced egg white and yolk are good, neutral-flavour carriers.
- Don’t smother it Don’t squeeze lemon juice on top (it will cook the caviar) or serve with finely diced onion (too overpowering).
- Skip the pinot noir Serve caviar with champagne or sparkling wine, icy-cold vodka or icy-cold sake.
- Explore the rainbow Not all caviar is black. Look for the bright iridescent sea-blue of Shark Bay’s wild scampi caviar, hand-harvested from November to March off Australia’s north-west coast; the fluorescent orange of Yarra Valley Salmon Caviar; and the shimmering gold of Yarra Valley’s Golden Brook Trout Caviar.
THERE is a time in my life I would have terrified of fine dining.
Like many people, I grew up in a simple meat-and-veg kind of household.
Ingredients were simply “cooked” — not tortured like the “smashed avocado” or “shredded pork” or “wilted spinach” currently in vogue at Sydney cafes.
In fact, while I was growing up my mother was so averse to anything “fancy” she refused even to use black pepper to season dishes because it was “too spicy”.
Oh, sure, I’ve seen people whip up gourmet dishes like it’s nothing on MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules, but that’s just for TV, right? Surely no-one actually eats that.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself at an event for this year’s Noosa Food & Wine festival at Richard Branson’s Makepeace Island, dining on ants.
Fancy ants, but still. Ants.
They came on top of a lemon and finger lime tart made by Jo Barrett, who frankly I’d never heard of but was later told was “one of Australia’s best dessert chefs”.
It was a crash course in fine dining for dummies.
(For the record, green tree ants are crunchy and bitter, but surprisingly not bad. Jo predicts Australians will gradually start eating more insects as we start to embrace more sustainable eating habits).
Frankly, I was a bit nervous about meeting the chefs.
I thought they’d either be terrifying Gordon Ramsay-types, or judgmental perfectionists like Helen Mirren’s character in The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Needless to say, I was in for a surprise.
The first night, I ate at a pop-up of Ian Curley’s Melbourne restaurant, the French Saloon, which — I breathed a sigh of relief — is known for excellent beef and potatoes.
He’s a big man, with a severe haircut and tattoos on his forearms, and he started cooking when he was released from juvenile detention in his native England.
“I thought it would be a way to meet girls,” he admitted with a gruff laugh.
Considering he was about to serve seven courses to several hundred people, and the kitchen in the sand behind him was a flurry of activity, he was remarkably relaxed.
In fact, if I’m not mistaken, he was wearing a pair of Crocs with socks.
“In cooking, if you don’t love your profession it’s really hard to stay. I’ve been doing this 30 or 35 years, and I’m still learning every day,” he said.
“We have sharing plates, you get to know the people next to you, the alcohol is flowing and everyone has a good time. We like the sharing concept. You could be sitting next to somebody you don’t know, and within two dishes you’ll know a lot about them.”
These days, he told news.com.au, he manages eight restaurants.
Oh, and he got more than he bargained for when it came to getting a girl.
Together with his partner, he now has three daughters.
The skills on display throughout the festival were incredibly impressive.
Kol Gemmell, executive chef at Sandringham Yacht Club in Melbourne, estimated he would serve 5000 dishes of food over the weekend — no mean feat considering he was working from a caravan and a couple of fridge vans.
He told news.com.au he was on the job from 3am until 10pm every day for the duration of the festival, and the timing of each element of his dishes was so precise he had to keep a running timeline in an exercise book to stay on track.
Oh, he can also perfectly poach 140 eggs in 15 minutes.
He laughed sympathetically when I told him the last time I’d tried to poach an egg, I ended up with wispy clag in a saucepan of lukewarm water.
Over the course of the weekend, I tried progressively unusual ingredients.
Adam D’Sylva and Peter Kuruvita’s menu, however, had me stumped.
The duo cooked at an event called “Subcontinental Voyage” at Mr Kuruvita’s restaurant, The Beach House, on Noosa’s main street.
The first item on the menu was “Rockliff Spanner Crab, Brinjal Moju, Betel Leaves” — honestly, I read and write for a living, and I only know two of those words.
The next course had “Mulligatawny soup, popcorn and green tea prawns”.
Whatever they were, both dishes were delicious.
“I just love food,” Mr D’Sylva told news.com.au.
“My dad is a butcher, and I was always given freedom to cook. To me, it’s an art. If you put hours and passion into something, you’re like a dancer or an actor.”
While I loved some dishes instantly, others took more getting used to.
Even as a total rookie, I could appreciate the passion in every meal I tried.
Renowned sommelier Matt Skinner summed it up perfectly.
“It’s like music, it’s like art. It all just comes down to personal preference.”
Kirrily Schwarz travelled courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland, with compliments of Noosa Food and Wine Festival. Next year’s event runs from 17-20 May 2018.
I’m sitting in the Cheese Cave down the spiral staircase below Spring Street Grocer chatting to Ian Curley, the man behind some of Melbourne’s most well-loved restaurants and bars (The European, City Wine Shop, French Saloon, Kirk’s Wine Bar, Melbourne Supper Club, Siglo, Spring Street). Sometimes conversations can start pretty awkwardly but this was the best starter ever, thanks to Ian’s observation of the cheese tasting going on in the background.
Ian: Cheese people are really weird.
Jo: I guess it’s not like wine tasting; you can’t just chew cheese and spit it out. You’ve just got to keep going.
You do just have to keep going and they have this little club; they’re not very organised but they talk a lot about milk; the pH balance of milk and all that stuff. There are a lot of French people involved.
I’m a French teacher, as well as a food writer, so, you know, I like the French people.
Well we’ll move on from that one then.
Right. Well firstly, thank you for your time because you must be incredibly busy. You have a whole empire going on.
I’m doing alright.
How do you manage to keep that all in your head?
It’s all about staffing really. You get good people around you and you give them a clear vision of what we want to do. It’s not just about me, it’s about everybody. Some nights you lie awake thinking about whether you can pay the accountant or not, but you do what you’ve got to do.
How have things changed in the industry since you started? Not that I’m making any comment about age or anything.
Now it’s more and more a gentle approach. When I started, kitchens were brutal. So it was more of a military-type thing and you had the days of Marco and later on Gordon. Now you can’t be like that. Things have shifted now more to the employee rather than the employer. From Britain where I started to Australia now, I get dictated to by my employees; they tell me what they want to do.
Is that an Australian thing or a ‘new generation ’thing?
I would probably say a new generation thing. Now with Instagram and Twitter and the like people want instant gratification, whereas we used to have kids who were happy to go to work in a kitchen for two years and study under one chef. You don’t really get that any more.
So young people are coming in with a different attitude to what you might have had. What made you become a chef?
My mother wasn’t a very good cook, so I can’t say that we followed in any family tradition. I was in trouble with the police when I was a young kid and I wanted a job that I could do that I’d get paid for and I could travel with. I wanted to get out of my home town because I knew I was going to go one of two ways and one of the ways wasn’t going to be good. I wanted a job where I could say I wasn’t a loser and I wanted to travel. Luckily I found cooking. People always say to me, ‘you’ve done well,’ or something like that. I think if I’d become a plumber, or an electrician or whatever, I think I would have still worked hard.
But hospitality has allowed me to express myself how I want to be. I don’t profess to be the best chef. I don’t even want to be the best chef. I just want to do what I do every day because I love it.
Hospitality is an amazing industry. There’s a lot of bad in the industry, but there’s also a lot of good as well. I look at it from both sides and I’ve seen it from both sides.
Just to go back again, given that you could have done anything and ended up going down the chef path, you must have had some inspiring people around you.
I had some good people. A lot of them were people you wouldn’t look at and think oh wow they were this person or that person. Chefs talk about being trained by Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White. I was never like that. I don’t hold those people in all that much reverence anyway because they’re surrounded by PR teams who create the hype. I have my own opinions about what success and fame is. For me, it was more the working class guy who goes to work every day has a smile, is a good person who inspired me. At the end of the day when you sit back and look at your life, and this is probably prevalent in my mind at the moment with Jeremy Strode’s death, I look at it and think, what will people say about me? I don’t want people to say, oh he was a magnificent chef like they do with Jeremy. I want them to say he was a good guy, a good father, he enjoyed himself. I don’t need an accolade that I made an amazing butter sauce or whatever.
I do want to acknowledge Jeremy, and I know you worked with him and were friends, so I am sorry for your loss. What I’m hearing you say and what I’ve read about you is that your approach is a real hospitality approach; it’s about creating an atmosphere. I really like that you don’t bow to trends. I do think that people are craving the cosiness and the simplicity of good food and, to me, feeding people and giving them a lovely environment is the epitome of hospitality.
My thing is, if you go to any of my restaurants, you’ll find that the oysters are the best oysters you can possibly get. It’s the same with the trout or the salmon. I can use any salmon in Australia but I choose to use the salmon out of New Zealand because I find it a better salmon. When we serve French fries in the restaurant, we cut the potato; we don’t use frozen French fries. That’s what my customers expect. If we’re going to charge upwards of $40 for a main course, these people have travelled the world and know what value is. There’s no point trying to confuse them by saying, look at this dish I’ve created, I’m an amazing chef.
At the end of the day when you strip through all the nonsense of ying and yang of flavours and umami, I just think, wow. I wonder what the people who come out with all that are like at night. Do they sit around talking about how they can balance flavours and all that? I can’t think of a worse conversation.
So, sticking to the traditional styles, how do you constantly come up with new menus?
I’ve only ever wanted to serve food that I would eat myself. I argue all the time with my head chefs. The dish has to fit in with what we do. For The European, it has to be European. As soon as someone puts a special on and it’s kangaroo or barramundi, they’ve missed the point. We don’t do those because it’s not European. We’re an all-day brasserie, like you’d have in France. It’s not about creating dishes that make people say, wow, what a technically superior person he is. It never ceases to amaze me when I see people do little pea drops. They put it in sulphuric acid and then drop dots of these peas and make a little ball out of this pea puree when nature gives us peas.
Exactly. Why do we do that? Little things like that seem quirky to me.
Do you think the industry will turn on itself then?
People always come back to it. It’s like a beautiful black dress. People want to go out wearing Versace and all that and that’s fine, but people always come back to a black dress and a smart suit because it’s reliable. As food becomes more and more expensive, they will go back to a place they can rely on and know to be consistent.
Do you still cook?
I still cook a bit. That’s the easy side for me. The hard side is listening to people who don’t understand. You talk to staff about why they’re unhappy. I can’t make them happy. Young chefs complain they’re not getting paid enough. When I was an apprentice, we didn’t have mobile phones and cars. When I was working in London, I was lucky to eat. Now they’ve all got cars and girlfriends and they want superannuation. Everybody wants everything.
They don’t want to start at the bottom.
There’s no such thing. As most chefs will tell you, they started off washing up. Kids nowadays they want to start off qualified and get paid a lot of money.
I look at you and you’re entrepreneurial, obviously a businessman, a chef and creative and there’s a teaching aspect. Do you think to be a successful chef you have to have all those things?
From my point of view, I just want to get up and do a job I love and go home. I value my time so when I’m not working, well I’m always working because it’s my own business, but you want to make it so you know in the back of your mind that people are getting paid and being looked after and they can get on. Nothing makes me happier than when one of my head chefs is buying a house. That’s good, as opposed to them going out and getting drunk and doing all that.
I don’t scream and shout any more and I think as you get older and you have a family and realise with kids in your life, it puts things in perspective. To come in and give someone a bollocking for overcooking the salmon is not really the thing. If you’ve been dancing to the Wiggles with your kids in the morning before coming in to work, you don’t come in with the idea that you’re going to terrorise your staff all day. You have to try and do the best you possibly can and achieve equilibrium around you.
Once you start believing you’re a guru, it’s all over.
As far as I’m concerned, I just do what I do. I don’t want to get caught up in the nonsense of these rockstar chefs. Most of the chefs I know aren’t rockstars at all.
I just do what I do. I’m happy doing what I do. I have good days and bad days but I never get to the stage where I want to pack it in. I’d rather play golf, but, you know, I’m no good at that.
To celebrate the release of the revered 2013 vintage in Barolo, we’re thrilled to be hosting an intimate dinner featuring two of our most respected producers, GD Vajra and Massolino. Joining us will be Giovanni Angeli, winemaker at Massolino and prior to that Vajra, to share his insights on the vintage as well as both estates. Executive chef Ian Curley will prepare a four course dinner to match, taking inspiration from Piedmont’s regional fare (truffles anyone?).
“The 2013 Barolos generally possess striking aromatics, silky tannins that are the result of a long growing season, sculpted, vibrant fruit and mid-weight structures. When the 2013s were younger, I thought they would turn out along the lines of the 2010s, but over the last year in particular, many 2013s have acquired a level of textural finesse and grace that is truly remarkable.” Antonio Galloni, VINOUS
Cured trout rillettes on blini
2015 Giovanni Almondo Vigne Sparse Roero Arneis DOCG
Celeriac truffle agnolotti
2013 GD Vajra Barolo Albe
2013 GD Vajra Barolo Bricco del Viole
2013 Massolino Barolo
Prosciutto wrapped chicken ballontine, truffle
2013 Massolino Barolo Parafada
2013 Massolino Barolo Parussi
2013 Massolino Barolo Margheria
Selected by our cheesemonger
Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda
DATE: Thursday 3 August 2017
TIME: 6.30 for 7pm
LOCATION: Tea Room, Entry via Melbourne Supper Club, 161 Spring Street, Melbourne 3000
COST: $199 per person
TO BOOK: Click here to book your ticket or contact Rebekah or Janine on (03) 9654 6657
THE MELBOURNE restaurant scene is a movable feast, so here to help you navigate a raft of newcomers is local food writer Sarah Gamboni. She tells delicious the venues that are sure to hit the spot, from daring degustation menus to chic bistros and sleek cafes.
1. WINE DINING
Don’t let its wine-bar billing fool you: the food at Embla (122 Russell St) is equally rave-worthy. From Christian McCabe and Dave Verheul, of Town Mouse fame, comes this CBD stunner lined with rich timbers, brass fixtures and black leather.
Settle in for a glass of Grand Cru Chablis or biodynamic Australian pinot, matched with punchy share plates of pippies with Serrano ham and basil, or smoky grilled trout with saltbush.
2. FLYING THE FLAG FOR FRANCE
French is flavour of the month in Melbourne, and one of our favourite examples is the gorgeous French Saloon (First Floor, 380-384 Little Bourke St) from serial restaurateur Con Christopoulos (Siglo, The European, City Wine Shop). Amid a bright bistro space of white walls and lipstick-red ceiling, head chef Todd Moses brings a light touch to dishes such as wagyu tartare or cured salmon with pillowy blinis. For casual bites, the breezy rooftop patio is the perfect place to linger over an aperitif and house-made charcuterie.
3. TURNING UP THE HEAT
Arriving with a roar in January was David Thompson’s Long Chim (8 Whiteman St, Southbank), bringing the fiery delights of Thailand to Crown. Taking its cues from the street food of Bangkok, the Long Chim menu packs a serious flavour punch, studded with bird’s eye chillies, Sriracha sauce, turmeric and holy basil. Nab a table on the riverfront terrace or within the edgy wood-clad interiors, then settle in for smoky woktossed noodles, crunchy school prawns and the signature sour orange curry. Lip-tingling cocktails strike a balance between sour, sweet and spicy, and the durian ice cream will make you change your stance on that malodorous fruit.
4. BIRD IS THE WORD
There was a collective sigh of disappointment when Philippe Mouchel closed PM24 in early 2014 — with it went the city’s best rotisserie chicken. So there was an audible squeal when Philippe came back to the fold with his eponymous Philippe Restaurant (115 Collins St) in June. Yes, the burnished bird is back, and so too the deliciously boozy rum baba, supported by polished service and a stellar selection of French and Australian wines.
5. ALL FIRED UP
With restaurants such as Lee Ho Fook, IDES and Rosa’s Canteen to his credit, Melbourne restaurateur David Mackintosh has a knack for nailing the dining zeitgeist. He’s done it again with SPQR Pizzeria (26 Liverpool St), a pared-back laneway eatery with a focus on Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas. Order the textbookperfect margherita on a sourdough base with San Marzano tomatoes, basil and bubbling mozzarella. Oh, and did we mention they have Aperol Spritz on tap?
6. SHARE MARKET
When top chef Scott Pickett is at the helm, you know this isn’t going to be your average deli. Located at the edge of the Queen Victoria Market, Pickett’s Deli & Rotisserie (cnr Elizabeth and Therry sts) is a timber and marble temple to gourmet fare. Scott snapped up an old rotisserie from a cafe in Oakleigh and has fired up the vintage beast to turn out glossy roast chickens, served with hand-cut chips or bundled into a bun. He’s also offering hangover-busting breakfasts of thick-cut bacon and egg rolls, and elegant, wine-friendly fare in the evenings, such as oysters or rabbit rillettes. While you’re there, stock up on the knockout range of pickles, preserves and wines to go.
7. BOUTIQUE BEAUTY
QT Melbourne (133 Russell St) is the boutique retreat the city has been hankering for. Not only does it offer arty rooms and sassy service, it also presents a stack of drinking and dining options. There’s handsome, leather-clad Pascale Bar & Grill offering globetrotting breakfasts (congee, huevos rancheros) and an indulgent bistro menu. Downstairs, slip into hip Korean bar-eatery Hot Sauce for Asian-accented drinks (pictured) and fluffy bao stuffed with fried chicken, kimchi and yellow cheese. The chichi patisserie serves eclairs and cocktails, and the view-blessed Rooftop at QT pours a mean Yarra Valley Sour of Four Pillars gin, lemon, orange blossom and a splash of pinot noir.
8. SHOCK AND AWE
For a dinner you won’t soon forget, buckle in for the boundary-pushing degustation at Nora (156 Elgin St, Carlton) delivered by chef-owner Sarin Rojanametin, which might start with crunchy fried fish bones and finish with toffeed tripe. You won’t see a menu until after you’ve eaten — and that may be just as well if you don’t normally go in for chicken hearts and the like — but it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone for Nora’s weird but wonderful food and wine pairings, with a high-energy soundtrack to match.
Marco Pierre White grafted his way to three Michelin stardom by concentrating on the cooking, yet his rock-god persona has kept him in the headlines for 25 years. He is the chef who fascinates, appals and inspires other chefs – so we crowd-sourced the questions from the chefs of Australia, getting a unique perspective on the man who changed fine dining forever.
Gus Armstrong, Eightysix, Canberra
There has been a full-length poster of Marco Pierre White on the kitchen wall at the rollicking, come-as-you-are Canberra bistro Eightysix since day one. “There’s no other choice is there?” laughs Gus Armstrong. “I’ve toyed with the idea of Alex Atala, Rene Redzepi, David Chang and even Andoni Luis Aduriz, but none of them ever felt right to me.”
GUS: I’ve always wanted to know: just how much sleep did you get a night while you held your three Michelin stars in London from 1994 to 1999?
MARCO: Four hours. It’s still the same amount today. If I go to bed at 10pm, I wake up at 2am. I could always go to sleep between services for 15 minutes and feel as if I had slept for six hours. At one stage, we were going to call the book (his seminal 1990 White Heat), “Sleeping Under Table Nine”.
Ever since I was a kid, I have had that natural energy. When I see my teenage sons today, you could drop an atomic bomb and they would sleep through it.
Morgan McGlone, Belle’s Hot Chicken, Melbourne and Sydney
For Morgan McGlone, like so many chefs of his generation, it’s all about the book. “White Heat was the first cookbook I ever bought in 1992, when I was an apprentice at the Summit (in Sydney),” he recalls. “I still have it.” One of the legendary dishes in the book was a tribute to three Michelin star chef Pierre Koffman’s braised pig’s trotters, stuffed with morels, sweetbreads and chicken mousse.
MORGAN: At your peak, how quickly could you bone out the trotters for your legendary pig’s trotter dish?
MARCO: One a minute. The secret is to soak them for 24 hours, which softens the skin. By blanching them you tighten the skin. And you should only use back legs, so you’ve got the hock. Once you do them every day, you understand the beast.
Darren Robertson, Three Blue Ducks and Rocker, Sydney
“As it happens, White Heat is the reason I became a chef,” says former Tetsuya chef Darren Robertson. “I’ve never had the chance to meet him, but I’ve had a few mates tell me that Marco has visited their kitchens while he’s been in town, and been absolutely lovely with the staff. He still means so much to many in our industry.”
DARREN: Which chef has impressed you the most and who do you look up to and admire?
MARCO: I always admire people who continue to represent their industry, who fly the flag. It’s important to me. You’ve got to push yourself, find those gears that are inside yourself, and drive yourself. And I admire people who share their knowledge and their stories with the next generation. It’s like passing a baton in a relay.
All I have heard for the last 30 bloody years is Marco this, Marco that.
As I progressed through my career, my cooking became really simple, because it was about the produce. Great chefs, such as Alain Passard, have this underlying understanding of food and nature. They know that their job is to cook it and not mess around with it.
Nick Stanton, Ramblr, Melbourne
Nick Stanton has his own Marco story. “When I was at the Woods (Woods of Windsor, Melbourne) a few years ago, in my first head chef position, Marco came in to eat twice. I was able to sit down with him and we had a great chat. He had the pork loin with pork rib and baked peach, and he broke it down and went through the whole dish, and told me what to concentrate on, and what was best. He basically said, ‘Keep doing exactly what you are doing and don’t change’.
“Coming from Marco, that was amazing. Then he wrote a huge note saying thank you for dinner on a table napkin. And yes, I still have the napkin!”
NICK: We’re starting to see a lot of young chefs go back to the classic cooking techniques, which to me is so important. You can’t fake good technique. Where do you think cooking is going in the next five years?
MARCO: People will revolt against set menus and being served 18, tepid, small portions as a degustation. It’s a canape party. Where’s the joy in that? I don’t get this modern world and its little portions. Feed people.
Simon Tarlington, the Highline, Melbourne
“I have two questions, because when I was starting my career, I was always told to learn the basics of cooking, before creating your own style, and to never start a restaurant with less than 10 years’ experience.”
SIMON: With more restaurants cooking contemporary styles of food, how important is it to learn the classic methods, history and traditions of cooking?
MARCO: Without a foundation, how tall can you build a building? It’s a simple as that. Master the classics. Respect Escoffier (the French chef who revolutionised the professional kitchen and documented classical cuisine). I was very fortunate; I caught the tail-end of Escoffier’s world, and I saw the beginning of the modern world
SECOND QUESTION: Do you believe it is important for chefs to have a minimum of 10 years’ experience before running kitchens?
MARCO: Ten years in the right kitchens, not the wrong kitchens. The most important thing a young chef has to understand is system, because system creates consistency.
Like discipline, it creates consistency. Without consistency, you’re nothing. And I mean emotional consistency. A lot of great cooks can cook three-star food today, but tomorrow they’ll have a bad day.
Be punctual, be disciplined, stay focused, and you will deliver consistency. Emotions are for the bedroom, not for the kitchen.
Raymond Lim, Yan, Sydney
For Raymond Lim, chef and co-owner of Yan Restaurant in Sydney’s Wolli Creek, the fascination is in how a chef of Marco Pierre White’s obvious passion and drive could bear to “hand back” the three Michelin stars he had spent so many years trying to attain.
RAYMOND: I can only imagine it took an enormous amount of courage to hand those stars back. Did it?
MARCO: I won three stars, but I soon realised that retaining them was boring. You become this well-oiled machine, like a Rolls-Royce.
I had three options. One was to continue to do what I did – leave in the morning at 7am when my boys were sleeping, get home at 1am when my boys were sleeping, six days a week. I did it, I got my status, I made my £500,000 a year.
Option two was to live a lie. Pretend you cook when you don’t, bringing into question your integrity and everything you’ve ever worked for.
Three was to pluck up the courage, hand back your stars, hang up your apron and accept that the next day you have no status. You have to reinvent yourself.
Charlie Carrington, Atlas Dining, Melbourne
Having recently opened his first restaurant, Charlie Carrington, 23, says he loves the intensity and energy of the industry, but is curious about chefs who turn themselves into a marketing brand. (Marco Pierre White has done promotions for a UK stock cube brand).
CHARLIE: What are your thoughts on the current explosion of chef-driven brands, especially those on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List?
MARCO: You can’t criticise a chef for making a living. When you’re young, it’s fine to be a romanticist and an idealist, you don’t have a family to feed.
Jake Smyth, Mary’s and the Unicorn, Sydney
Jake Smyth put a picture of Marco Pierre White (circa 1992) above the till at the bar of Mary’s Burgers in Newtown, “to teach our young ratbags your views on perfection, to give them an insight into the history of our trade, and to let them know that their ‘inner Marco’ is always watching.”
JAKE: What do you see as the major changes with young cooks and waiters from your time at Harvey’s in the early 1990s to today?
MARCO: They want to be famous. When I stepped into the world of gastronomy, there was no such thing as a famous chef. I made my name being behind the stove not being on TV.
My question to them is – do they graft? When I stepped into my first job, I got my arse kicked, working 80 to 100 hours a week, and I never complained. I always looked tired. I looked fucked, I grafted. I had burns on my arms, I had callouses on my hands. I was a working class boy and I pushed, pushed, pushed. I never forgot where I came from.
Ian Curley, the European and French Saloon, Melbourne
Ian Curley says Marco seems to have been there his entire life. “All I have heard for the last 30 bloody years is Marco this, Marco that, I worked for Marco, I saw Marco,” he says. Curley was working in London in the 1990s with Donovan Cooke (the Atlantic) when Cooke was Marco’s head chef. “At the time Marco was the best thing in the world, the godfather of the British food scene. He really was the essential chef and everything that every cook wanted to be.”
IAN: I don’t have a question for him, but I’m in awe of the fact that he’s survived and still going. He should visit the taxidermist, because there won’t be another like him.
Marco Pierre White was the youngest chef in the world (aged 33) to receive three Michelin stars, in 1995. Now 55, he recently won a whole new legion of fans with his guest appearances on MasterChef Australia, Tasting Australia in Adelaide and is in the country to host Seven’s new celebrity cooking series, Hell’s Kitchen, which launches in July. Keep an eye out on goodfoodmonth.com.au for news of a special series of events with Marco Pierre White later in the year.
As well, his seminal 1990 book White Heat has been re-released in a special 25th anniversary edition by Mitchell Beazley (distributed by Hachette Australia). With its up-you attitude, high-detail recipes and startlingly resonant rock’n’roll photography by the great, late Bob Carlos Clarke, White Heat regularly tops chefs’ most-loved cookbook lists.
Take home quotes
“I like red wine with fish. Let’s get rid of the pomposity.”
“Number one, the more you do to food, the more you take away from food. Number two, trust the quality of your produce.”
“Remember, let mother nature be the artist.”
“Push, push, push.”
“We live in a world of refinement not invention.”
“You have to find your inner strength to push. Dissolve your fears at the stove.”
“Be punctual, be disciplined, stay focused, and you will deliver consistency.”
“Without butter, everything is boring.”
“Everyone has to ask themselves one simple question: ‘why do I do it?’ I do it, very simply, for my mother.”
* Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Marco Pierre White’s age in 1995. This has now been amended.