Rank #1: Dan Barber and Eric Kayser – Melbourne Food and Wine Festival
Where do you even begin when listing Dan Barber's achievements? You could point out that he's the award-winning chef behind the Blue Hill & Blue Hill At Stone Barns restaurants in New York. Or note that Time included him in their list of the World's 100 Most Influential People (with a write-up by Ferran Adria, no less). Or name-check the fact that he advises President Obama on nutrition.
He's also the author of The Third Plate, a fascinating book that any food-curious person should read (it was definitely one of my favourite books of last year, but probably way more importantly, it just won a James Beard Foundation award). He also features in the new show, Chef's Table, by David Gelb who made Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It will probably be the next Netflix show to completely derail any good intentions you have to get anything productive done. (The series also features his “lost brother”, Ben Shewry of Attica.)
In this podcast, I talked to Dan Barber about The Third Plate – the fascinating people he features in the book and how he ended up writing an unlikely page-turner about soil, agriculture and other key influences on how we eat, and what should feature on the menu of the future (such as "rotation risotto"). He also talk about how he's a "wheat nerd" (he has created his own signature wheat); whether dealing with the President means encountering a lot of Secret Service agents, and how eating sustainably means we need to rethink our attitudes about abundant yet unpopular ingredients – a belief he's really taken on with his wastED pop-up.
Eric Kayser is a fifth-generation baker who has been described as the "the world ambassador of French bread". He has more than 110 stores worldwide, with recent openings in Mexico and Thailand, and his accolades stretch across many borders, too: he's been awarded Best Baguette in New York and Best Croissant in Tokyo.
In this interview, I chat to him about his early interest in experimenting with flour; having to abandon romantic dates to fulfil his baking duties; what it was like trying to maintain his culinary skills while on military service and how far he has travelled with starter.
Eric Kayser is also the author of a new book called The Larousse Book of Bread, so we chat about his recipes and how he has responded to the backlash against gluten.
Dan Barber and Eric Kayser were recently guests of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Thanks to their publishers (Hachette and Phaidon) for making these interviews possible.
Apr 25 2015
Rank #2: Joe Beddia – Pizzeria Beddia
Joe Beddia makes "America's best pizza", according to Bon Appétit magazine. The chef/owner of Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Beddia has also been referred to as Pizza Jesus and the Jiro of Pizza. He shrugs off what he does as "just pizza", but people would line up many hours (sometimes even arriving before Joe got to work!) just to try his pies. He only made 40 pizzas a night – and he produced each one from scratch over the restaurant's five-year run.
Joe is currently on a world tour that he hopes doesn’t make people hate him – he's been to France, Italy, eaten at Noma, and he's currently in Sydney to do a week-long pop-up at Bondi Beach Public Bar. So locals can find out whether his work can be downgraded to "just pizza". Given that sommelier James Hird (who helped tee up the pop-up) describes eating at Pizzeria Beddia as one of his favourite ever food memories, you won't want to miss Joe's Australian-inspired versions of his pies while he's here.
Joe also talks about life-changing pizza experiences in Tokyo, how he ended up spending his 40th birthday with comedian Eric Wareheim and how he essentially produced his Pizza Camp cookbook using his home oven. Oh and he also memorably recaps the time he attempted a stunt with a blindfold, razor, shaving cream and no pants in the hopes of winning a trip to the Playboy Mansion and $10,000.
You can check out Joe's Sydney pop-up (from July 22 to July 28, 6pm until late at the Bondi Beach Public Bar) before he opens Pizzeria Beddia 2.0 in Philadelphia at the end of the year.
Jul 20 2018
Rank #3: Samin Nosrat - Author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Samin Nosrat has written one of the most-talked-about and celebrated cookbooks of the last year, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Her trophy shelf includes a James Beard Award for General Cooking and the Julia Child First Book Award. It's an amazing effort for an "uncookbook" that she's spent 15 years working on.
While in college, she saved for seven months to eat at Chez Panisse, the Californian farm-to-table restaurant run by Alice Waters – this life-changing meal convinced Nosrat that she needed to work there. And although she started with entry-level duties, such as cleaning the restaurant, she was very excited just to be on staff: “I can’t believe they’re letting me vacuum the floors at Chez Panisse!”
Nosrat has brilliant stories about cooking at the restaurant (the numbers on the dials had worn off the ovens, so you had to wave your arms in front of them to work out the temperature), as well as visiting the oldest pickle shop in China and meeting an eighth-generation butcher in Chianti, Italy. She's also taught Michael Pollan how to cook (and dumpster-dived baguettes with him) and writes The New York Times "Eat" column, where Nosrat has confessed to being a bread hoarder and shared a recipe for a breakfast soufflé (aka soufflazy).
Nosrat is delightful to talk to and it's worth listening just to hear her description of the feasts you enjoy at Iranian New Year and the green unripe plums that her mum snacked on while they were growing up.
Jun 03 2018
Rank #4: Hetty McKinnon - Arthur Street Kitchen
Hetty McKinnon is the creative force – and salad-making ace – behind Arthur Street Kitchen. Her one-woman business saw her taking lunch orders from locals, creating meals from scratch at her Surry Hills home, and personally delivering these salads every Thursday and Friday on her bike.
To pull this off, Hetty had to single-handedly cook 100 salads a week in her domestic kitchen, playing a game of ingredient Tetris just to fit all the required produce into her very normal-sized fridge. And even if it was plummeting with rain, Hetty would make all the salad deliveries herself – something she's been doing (without complaint!) since 2011.
During this podcast, Hetty also talks about life before her Arthur Street Kitchen adventures – such as her start in PR, and her macaron-making challenges for Remy & Lee's – as well as the cookbook she created after people kept asking for her much-loved salad recipes. The resulting publication, Community, has been a hit, but producing the title also led to Hetty's first-ever appointment with a physio – it was that gruelling!
She also talks about the next chapter of Arthur Street Kitchen, which is moving from Surry Hills to Brooklyn; what it's been like to be a vegetarian for the last 20 years, and where she likes to eat and drink in Sydney.
Oct 07 2014
Rank #5: Carlo Mirarchi – Roberta's, Blanca
A near-death experience in Australia plays a surprising role in the launch of Roberta's, the much-loved New York pizzeria. When Carlo Mirarchi almost drowned on the NSW coastline, it inspired him to rethink his career path – and galvanised him to help start Roberta's in Bushwick. In 2007, it opened with such a minimal set-up (there was no gas and staff had to boil water in the wood-fired oven), so the chef often prepped food at home before getting to the restaurant. Despite its lo-fi beginnings, Roberta's would end up ranked #6 on list of 20 Most Important Restaurants by Bon Appétit and Mirarchi himself was named Best New Chef by Food + Wine.
Roberta's would also inspire a frozen pizza range, an LA location and, when it was targeted by Pizzagate conspiracy theorists, its team responded in the best way possible: by launching a beer named Pizzagate.
Mirarchi also runs Blanca, an ambitious Michelin-starred restaurant that has been reviewed by Pete Wells twice. The chef talks about what it's like to be on the other side of a New York Times review, plus: where he's had the best pizza in the world (“it changed my life”), whether pineapple is a legit ingredient on pizza, and we cover the origin story behind his collaboration with Lennox Hastie for Firedoor's fantastic Fireside series last month. For this occasion, Mirarchi brought Roberta's to Sydney via the Fire & Slice pop-up event, which took place at Firedoor and involved the Gelato Messina crew helping out on tiramisu-making and other duties.
Also: shout-out to Lauren and Claire for listening to this podcast!
Jan 21 2019
Rank #6: Eve Yeung - Noma
The first restaurant Eve Yeung ever worked at was Noma - yes, the Copenhagen establishment named the World's Best Restaurant four times. So how did she end up in René Redzepi's renowned kitchen at the age of 18?
The young pastry chef actually considered becoming a competitive hockey player (a path she pursued while working at Noma) and before she was preparing desserts in the high-profile restaurant, she worked at Long Island's best bakery – making extravagant cakes to celebrate people's milestones: one staggering creation, to commemorate someone's law degree, featured a legal book of torts and judge's gavel; she's also produced cakes featuring a shark jumping out of the water as well as an '80s tribute that showed a Rubik's cube on top of a 3D Pacman game.
And yes, she's even fielded weird requests for wedding cakes (luckily, her family-friendly bakery had a policy about not making "crazy nudity cakes"), so she didn't have to bake anything that was too out there.
It was a contrast to her time at Noma, where she would go foraging for ants in the Danish landscape or end up painstakingly cleaning reindeer moss for the restaurant's menu. She also got to push her desserts in imaginative directions (listen to the description of the dazzling ice cream sandwich she presented to Noma staff) and got to travel to Sydney for the Noma Australia pop-up. She also end up with many standout experiences while working at Noma Mexico, too, (from learning to cook regional specialties with locals to the time she was stuck in a cool room with a torchlight on her head to finish a granita dish for the menu).
Eve has some pretty exciting news she'll announce later this year – keep updated via her Instagram account. In the meantime, enjoy hearing about her experiences working in memorable kitchens across the world.
Apr 06 2018
Rank #7: Luke Burgess – Only In Tokyo
Tokyo isn't the most obvious place to seek out pizza, but the wood-fired slices here are better than anything you'd find in Italy. That's what chef Luke Burgess believes – and it's a case he makes in Only In Tokyo, the new book he's co-authored with fellow chef (and Japan-o-phile) Michael Ryan. In the podcast, we really nerd out about Tokyo's best pizza spots (from the life-changing Savoy to new favourite Pizza Studio Tamaki, both photographed by Luke for the book).
We also talk about the book's other Tokyo highlights (from the city's best egg sandwich to a truly next-level kaiseki restaurant), as well as discoveries that aren't documented within its pages – from a four-seater noodle joint hidden behind a pastry shop to a Norwegian-inspired bakery in a traditional part of Tokyo. (The Japan talk begins at the 16:29 mark.)
We retrace Luke's fascinating career path, too: from his start at Tetsuya's, his time at Noma (where he bumped into Ben Greeno) and the launch of his memorable restaurant, Garagistes – along with the opening of MONA, it helped usher in a new wave of interest in Hobart. He talks about how he ended up buying $17,000 worth of lamb for the restaurant and why he closed Garagistes (despite being awarded Best New Talent by Gourmet Traveller). Outside of his guest chef appearances (he recently turned The Dolphin into a falafel joint), he's currently working on a Tasmanian farm – so he has good recommendations for dining in Hobart and beyond (to add to his extensive Tokyo-visiting suggestions)! PS Shout-out to Trisha Greentree and the crew at 10 William St for letting us record this podcast upstairs at their ace wine bar. PPS If you're keen for a signed, personalised copy of Only In Tokyo, check out Luke's online shop.
Jun 29 2019
Rank #8: Kate Reid – Lune Croissanterie
Would you line up at two AM in zero-degree weather, just for a croissant? People would regularly do that all the time, purely for the chance to try Kate Reid's pastries. The New York Times, after all, said her croissants are "the finest you will find anywhere in the world, and alone worth a trip across the dateline". Other fans include René Redzepi, Nigella Lawson and Helen Goh.
Originally, Kate spent over a decade pursuing her dream job of being an aerospace engineer for Formula One car racing. She was the only woman in her role (and in fact, there wasn't even a female toilet where she worked). But when her career aspirations crumbled, and her life in London proved hugely isolating, Kate took solace in obsessive weight loss. Her eating disorder left her dangerously ill – she was six weeks away from dying – but her recovery was a key part of her starting Lune Croissanterie in Melbourne. It was inspired by a pivotal (and entirely impromptu) visit she made to Du Pain et des Idées in Paris. After a stint at the boulangerie, Kate started selling her own croissants from a tiny space in Elwood. The blockbuster reaction was incredible (people would arrive hours before opening, with movies on their iPad to pass the time), and has since led to Lune Croissanterie opening in Fitzroy and the CBD. Even the French newspaper Le Monde has given Kate's croissants an endorsement. But she is as upfront about the lows of her career as well as the big-time highlights. I really loved talking to Kate: she's so engaging, friendly and very honest. Catch Kate being interviewed by The New York Times food editor Sam Sifton, about The Power of Obsession for Melbourne Food and Wine Festival on March 9.
Mar 07 2019
Rank #9: Su Wong Ruiz – Momofuku Ko, Momofuku Seiobo
“It was probably the singular worst experience of my life, because Noodle Bar will kick your ass.” Sure, Su Wong Ruiz's first go at working for David Chang's Momofuku restaurant empire wasn't exactly a success. (“My ass was completely flattened by that experience,” she says.) But over time, she became part of the acclaimed, three-hat-earning launch team for his Momofuku Seiobo restaurant in Sydney (Chang claimed this was his first venue "where the front of house is equal to, if not better than, the kitchen team"). Then Su went on to work for Momofuku's Ma Peche (where she met future Seiobo chef, Paul Carmichael) and Momofuku Ko, which has been called Chang's most ambitious restaurant.
“Dave is a very particular type of coach and tormentor – he’s really good at it,” jokes Su. So it was fascinating to hear her talk about the unexpected challenges and standards set by the influential chef, as well as her strong working relationships with Ben Greeno (Seiobo's first head chef) and Sean Gray, who rules the kitchen at Momofuku Ko. I also enjoyed hearing how ultra-creative Sean's dishes are – like the cold fried chicken, for instance, and how things went down at their recent collaboration at Melbourne's Marion bar. Plus, Su's insights on delivering good restaurant service – and dealing with trolls – are really fascinating. It's especially interesting because her career started on the other side of the pass: when she "conned" her way into a job as a cook while visiting New Mexico.
She also shares her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney and New York.
Oct 12 2018
Rank #10: Mitch Orr – ACME
Mitch Orr got into cooking after realising there were plenty of perks to studying food tech in high school (such as being the only dude in the class). Scoring an extra lunch as a byproduct didn’t hurt, either. Jamie Oliver’s TV show only added to the appeal of mastering recipes.
Mitch went on to become 2010 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year while at Sepia, picked up Time Out‘s Best New Talent and People’s Choice Award honours while running the kitchen at Duke Bistro with Thomas Lim and even landed on the shortlist for Cleo Bachelor of the Year.
And despite the heavy amount of cred on his CV (and staging for Massimo Bottura), he isn’t one to take things overly seriously. His Half Baked stoner dinner with Dan Hong and Levins, where he served instant noodles and “bong water” is an example of how fun and rebellion rules his creations.
In this podcast, he also talks about what it’s like to finally run his own place, as co-owner and head chef of the excellent (and perfectly named) ACME, a place he wryly describes as #notanitalianrestaurant. He also reveals what he really thinks of customer feedback and being scored by Terry Durack.
Also discussed: what really upsets him in the kitchen (it’s hilarious and surprising), what to do with a zillion litres of extra egg whites, and where he likes to eat and drink in Sydney (“anytime anyone asks me where to go, I always say 10 William Street and Ester“) – this list includes both high-end favourites like the “phenomenal” meal he last had at Sixpenny and the knockout desserts at Bentley, as well as Faheems Fast Food, and yep, even KFC.
Mitch also runs through the places he most wants to try next (which includes Automata, Clayton Wells’s restaurant which is due to open in July) and the local chefs that inspire him, such as Elvis Abrahanowicz from Porteno, Dan Hong of Ms G’s and Mr Wong, Dan Puskas of Sixpenny and Ben Greeno of Momofuku Seiobo.
PS Here’s a link to the Junkee article about Mitch’s fave Sydney eats that I refer to in the podcast.
Mar 30 2015
Rank #11: Analiese Gregory – Funemployed
“Analiese, you’re going to have to move your car, we’re going to blow up your car.”
This has to be one of my favourite-ever interviews – Analiese Gregory is one of the most fascinating chefs that I've been lucky enough to talk to.
Not that working in food was an obvious pathway for her – in fact, having a father who was acclaimed in the industry actually dissuaded her from cooking (her dad, Mark Gregory, was the first New Zealander to receive the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a big culinary award). And even though she made, "what lots of people consider to be, like, the worst move of my life”, she has single-handedly built an impressive CV. After working at Quay as executive sous chef, she ended up spending her days putting together one of the world's most legendary dishes – the gargouillou – at Bras in France, a restaurant on her bucket list.
She also juggled living in a house with 24 stagiaires – and their many dramas (car-ruining and otherwise!) – when working at Mugaritz in Spain. At the world-renowned restaurant, no idea was classified as off-limits, so she got to consider the surprising connections between live squid and hip hop, or carry out fascinating and out-there experiments with mould. “OK, well I’m still alive, so now I can feed this to other people,” she says in the podcast. Analiese also nailed a dish that Mugaritz had been trying to create for four years.
In this interview, she also chats about her unforgettable time running a pop-up restaurant in Morocco – where everything (yes, even rubbish) needed to conveyed in and out of the city via donkeys. There were no cars – and there were no suppliers. But the produce within her kitchen-stocking reach was staggering – such as camel milk and more types of honey than you could contemplate. During the podcast, she also talks about the brutality of working in Paris, her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney, and her upcoming Funemployed dinners – which sees her team up with a culinary gang that includes award-winning sommeliers Richard Hargreave and Giorgio de Maria, plus acclaimed chef Luke Burgess, who has just returned to Sydney after his spell running the amazing Garagistes in Hobart. Note: Apologies, but there's a slight sound issue at the start of the interview; it only lasts for a few minutes, though – so I hope you persist with listening, as Analiese has so many fascinating things to say! And if you'd like to follow her, you can do at https://instagram.com/analiesegregory/.
Jul 22 2015
Rank #12: Jowett Yu – Ho Lee Fook, Mr Wong, Ms.G's, Canton Disco
Jowett Yu was working at Tetsuya's – then in the Top 5 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants – but couldn’t even afford a bed. It was a wild time (just listen to the memorable "pep talk" that head chef Martin Benn gave when the restaurant reached #4 on the list) and the kitchen was full of upcoming stars: Daniel Puskas (Sixpenny), Clayton Wells (Automata), Phil Wood (Laura), Luke Powell (LP's Quality Meats) and Dan Hong – who Jowett bonded with, because they basically had the same haircut and similar cultural backgrounds.
Together, Dan and Jowett would go on to open Lotus, Ms.G's and Mr Wong together. At Lotus, there was the momentous night they launched David Chang's Momofuku book (and cooked for both Chang and Alex Atala), Ms.G's involved a memorable American research trip (where Jowett ate something that resulted in the "best 30 seconds of my life") and Mr Wong, which was an "intense" experience where he'd finish work at 3am and clock in again at 9am.
Jowett then opened Ho Lee Fook in Hong Kong (an experience that earnt him a "lecture" from his mum and a major grilling when he put her dumplings on the menu – but even she ended up a fan of the restaurant). Here, the chef has experimented with fascinating vegetarian dishes, like typhoon shelter corn and celeriac char siu. More recently, he's launched Canton Disco in Shanghai.
Jowett also talks about growing up in Taiwan (and his visits to his totally boss grandmother's farm: she could look at an egg and tell when it would hatch – and be totally right) and his love of Hong Kong's Belon (he compares chef Daniel Calvert's cooking to the rise of Beatlemania).
When you consider that Jowett ended up in the kitchen as a 14-year-old because he essentially didn’t want to be a dishwasher (and he made the smart move avoiding a career in journalism, too!), there's no doubt that he's had a fascinating career.
Nov 19 2018
Rank #13: Mark Best – The Final Table, Bistro by Mark Best, Marque
Imagine being a 16-year-old working in a Western Australian gold mine. This was Mark Best's life, straight after high school. It was a tough way to earn money as an electrician, so he eventually left. “I arrived in Sydney and found myself unqualified for above-ground work.”
He ended up even deeper underground, claustrophobic and covered in fibreglass and varnish, trying to install battery packs on submarines at Cockatoo Island. “I literally will die if I don’t do something with my life,” he told himself.
So he decided to cook professionally.
Not long after this career path detour, he won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award. In 1999, he opened Marque, where he maintained three chef’s hats for 10 consecutive years and was honoured with a Breakthrough Award by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. By the time of Marque's final dinner in 2016, many impressive people had worked in Mark's kitchen: Isaac McHale (now running The Clove Club in London) and Mette Søberg (current research chef at Copenhagen's Noma) spent formative periods there. Of the talented locals (Victor Liong, Daniel Pepperell, Brent Savage, Adam Wolfers, Pasi Petanen, Hanz Gueco, to name a few), three would win the Young Chef of the Year award: Dan Hong, Daniel Puskas and Lauren Eldridge.
We talk about "The Pesto Years" of the 1990s, how travelling throughout France inspired Marque's beginning, the history of his calamari risotto dish, trying times in the kitchen ("I may have held a sausage to someone’s head"), the memorable last dinner at Marque and why he chose to close the restaurant.
We also cover: his current role as a World Restaurant Awards judge, what it's like developing menus for cruiseships (which he does for his Bistro by Mark Best business) and his appearance on The Final Table, Netflix's cooking contest. After getting hate mail from doctors while on Masterchef, he decided to take a different onscreen approach on The Final Table (SPOILER WARNING: we talk about that show's ending, from 53:15 to 58:12 on the podcast). It was also surreal to discover his fellow competitors owned his cookbooks. (Turns out he's quite qualified for above-ground work after all.)
May 25 2019
Rank #14: Caitlyn Rees – Cirrus, Fred's, Momofuku Seiobo
How to make cider from 300-year-old pear trees, what it's like to work alongside Dan Barber at one of the world's best restaurants and how it feels scoring Gourmet Traveller's Sommelier of the Year award – Caitlyn Rees can give you a first-hand account of all of these standout experiences. When she was at Fred's in Sydney (where she served fascinating wines from the Adelaide Hills to Armenia), she was singled out by Gourmet Traveller as Australia's best sommelier in the magazine's 2018 restaurant guide. And because she won Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship, she ended up doing time at three places on her worldwide wish list: Relae in Copenhagen (a Michelin-starred restaurant that upended her expectations about how chefs and wait staff should work together), Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York (her behind-the-scenes stories about this acclaimed restaurant are truly amazing) and helping Eric Bordelet in Normandy, the ex-Arpège sommelier who collects fruit from centuries-old trees to make his famously great cider.
She also talks about the "rough red" that her grandfather made (and how it was her first encounter with booze), her time at Momofuku Seiobo (another wish-list job of hers), why she left Fred's (even though she loved working there) and what she's currently doing at Cirrus. Plus, a tragic story about suitcase wines and we hear her list of favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney (including the restaurant where she's spent practically all of her birthdays).
Feb 15 2019
Rank #15: Daniel Puskas – Sixpenny
Daniel Puskas started his career slicing tomatoes, but eventually ended up in the kitchen of Alinea, the acclaimed Chicago restaurant known for turning mozzarella curds into balloons filled with tomato foam. His experience there was part of his Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year prize.
It's one of many honours he's earned throughout his career: he was also named the Citi Chef of the Year in 2018’s Good Food Guide, and Sixpenny is one of only three Sydney restaurants that's achieved three chef hats in the latest guide. You currently have to book two months ahead to get a table at Sixpenny. And it's worth the wait (Bar Ume's Kerby Craig cried when he last ate there).
Dan worked at some all-star kitchens early in his career (at Tetsuya's, alongside Shannon Debreceny, Darren Robertson and Phil Wood; at Marque with Mark Best, Pasi Petanen, Karl Firla and Daniel Pepperell), before becoming head chef of Oscillate Wildly at age 23: he'd arrive to work on his skateboard and play Mario Kart with chef Mike Eggert before service started.
At Oscillate Wildly, he met James Parry (another Young Chef of the Year winner), and they took Bob, their sourdough starter from the restaurant, and opened Sixpenny together in 2012. The menu is truly inspired, even down to its bread (including the ‘recycled’ loaf transformed with spent coffee grounds and golden syrup), and features fascinating ingredients (from emu eggs to anise hyssop). Sixpenny’s current sommelier Bridget Raffal is aiming for gender equality on her wine list. Dan is really open about the restaurant’s ups and downs (from the time he sat on a champagne glass, because he was shocked Sixpenny hadn’t scored two hats – to its recent ascension to three-hat status). He also shares some very funny stories from the many acclaimed restaurants he's worked in – he was truly great to talk to.
Mar 04 2019
Rank #16: Tim Watkins – Black Market Sake, Automata
Tim Watkins' parents needed a cooking course to learn how to use a microwave (which led to one Christmas turkey disaster) and he didn't eat broccoli or cauliflower until he was an adult.
So life in the restaurant world might not have been the most obvious career path. After a few detours (including a stint as a shoe salesman), he ended up serving diners at acclaimed restaurants such as Pilu at Freshwater. He got a reputation for singing "Happy Birthday" in Italian to guests and he would go on to win Sommelier of the Year in the Good Food Guide for his work at Automata.
We recorded this interview just before he started his new role at Black Market Sake (although we did use this as a good excuse to talk about breweries in Japan) and we also chat about the time he impersonated a Canadian Olympic athlete, went on a TV game show and witnessed quite a few forgeries. Oh and of course, we had to talk about that anti-organic-wines hashtag and his impressive collection of shorts.
Apr 18 2019
Rank #17: Kylie Millar - Pei Modern, Burch and Purchese
Kylie Millar has a masters of physiotherapy – and has even worked with the Sydney Swans AFL team! – but that’s probably not why you’ve heard of her. She’s done time at Mugaritz in Spain, which is ranked no. 6 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, and also has worked as a pastry chef at the sugar-laced wonderland that is Burch and Purchese in Melbourne and is currently turning out desserts at the acclaimed new Sydney outpost of Pei Modern. In 2012, she also was a contestant on a TV show you may have heard of called Masterchef.
In this podcast, she talks about both the pressures and highlights of being on Masterchef, from feeding guts to Massimo Bottura to meeting her idol, Jamie Oliver (Kylie admits she lost her cool when this happened – “I was worse than the screaming teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert”).
Your sweet tooth will also get a workout while listening to this episode, whether it’s hearing about her nougatine parfait “D-day” moment with Guillaume Brahimi, or when she recreates the atmosphere of working at Burch and Purchese (where you could smell the sugar in the air as soon as you walked into the patisserie; or enjoy a cheese and crumble dish with smoked vanilla ice-cream, as part of the dessert degustations). Kylie also talks about experiencing and making next-level sweets in Spain (drawing on a convention-stretching ingredients list that ranges from lemon pith to foie gras!), and her current role at Pei Modern, where the menu includes unique creations such as a sorrel sorbet with honeycomb and a not-so-typical chocolate tart with eucalyptus and cultured cream.
And somehow Kylie also has time to experiment with her own line of sweets! She is currently working on a range of salted honeycomb, a one-of-a-kind salted caramel with cultured cream, and even bespoke cakes. If you’re keen on ordering any of these, you can contact Kylie directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. The salted caramel is especially amazing! It’s definitely up there with the best I’ve ever had.
Despite the high sugar content of the podcast, I can guarantee you that there's no post-consumption crash after sampling this episode. In fact, it was a total delight to talk to Kylie – her enthusiasm, charm and dedication frosts the conversation in the best way possible.
Dec 03 2014
Rank #18: Adam Wolfers – Etelek
"You can't f--k with the matzo ball soup." That's what Adam Wolfers learnt from his grandmother. Etelek, his pop-up restaurant, is inspired by the chef's Eastern European background. It's a history that draws on memories of his grandmother tending to six pots on the stove at a time, as well as his grandfather Julius' time as a concentration camp survivor (an extraordinary tale that's been documented by Steven Spielberg).
Carrot schnitzel, scallop pretzel puffs and honey cake with wattleseed honeycomb are just a few of things you’ll find at Etelek, which is running at Potts Point until New Year's Eve. It's named after the Hungarian word for food and the pop-up has previously travelled to Melbourne and Canberra, and featured locally at Ester, Casoni and The Dolphin, gaining a following for its parsnip schnitzel and amazing langos bread. Even the most anti-carb person will be converted by Adam’s dishes, which has basically served as an atlas of bread from Yemen, Hungary, New York over the years. In fact, he uses a sourdough starter from his time at Monopole and made his name working in other Brent Savage restaurants, such as Bentley and Yellow (Adam helped turn Yellow into a vegetarian hatted restaurant, known for its eggplant steak and pickled kohlrabi and enoki).
Adam also talks about his previous life as a jetsetting European handball player (in fact, he had to get his hip replaced after a career-ending injury) and, given the brilliant "everything bagel" that was on his menu, he weighs in on the neverending New York vs Montreal bagel debate, too.
Plus, we chat about coming up through the ranks while mentored by Peter Doyle, Mark Best, Pasi Petanen and Brent Savage; his history with Bar Rochford's Louis Couttoupes, and whether Adam's langos bread is like Hungarian pizza.
Make sure to check out Etelek before it winds up its Potts Point pop-up on New Year's Eve and keep an eye out on Instagram to see what Adam and Marc Dempsey have planned for Etelek in 2019.
Dec 24 2018
Rank #19: Dan Hong – Merivale
A good restaurant doesn't have to be a stuffy one – Dan Hong has highjacked traditional expectations of fine dining in Sydney, and as executive chef at Merivale, a strong voltage of fun charges through the places he oversees, such as Ms Gs, Mr Wong, El Loco and Papi Chulo. He has helped redefine how we eat in this city. Yes, he has an impressive CV – which includes being named Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year when he was at Bentley and time in the kitchen at Tetsuya's when it was #4 best restaurant in the world – but he's also responsible for unapologetically enjoyable dishes, such as the Stoner's Delight at Ms Gs, a dessert so epic that it has spawned as many sequels as a Hollywood blockbuster franchise.
His achievements go beyond just notching up honours and hats; in fact, Kanye West went to his restaurant, Mr Wong, twice in one week, while he has also cooked for his heroes: Ferran Adria, Rene Redzepi and his mother, Angie Hong.
As part of his work for Merivale, he's gone on intense research trips – where he's eaten as many as 40 tacos in one day, or experienced 8 Michelin stars in a matter of hours.
During this podcast, he talks about the tremendous ups and downs of his career, and shares some memorable stories outlined in Mr Hong, his cookbook/memoir for Murdoch Books. The tale about 'Dave's salad' and meeting his wife are some of the highlights.
He also chats about his experiences with Justin Hemmes, this year's March Into Merivale program, and where he likes to eat and drink in Sydney.
Feb 24 2015
Rank #20: Jordan Toft – Bert's, Coogee Pavilion, Bar Topa, The Collaroy
Jordan Toft has been a chef for Saudi royalty and he's run a chalet in the Haute-Savoie in the French Alps. In Sydney, he's known for his work at Bert's (which was nominated for New Restaurant of the Year in the last Gourmet Traveller restaurant awards), The Collaroy, Bar Topa and Coogee Pavilion. His next venture – a restaurant on the middle floor at Coogee Pavilion – has been more than four years in the making.
Jordan started his career as a teenager and has since worked with many great chefs (he was mentored by Peter Doyle during an influential stint at Est). His career has sent him to Italy and France – and we spend a lot of this conversation talking about Europe because a) Jordan had one of the best meals of his life at Michel Bras's restaurant in Laguiole, France (the lunch he ate preceding it is pretty hilarious, BTW) and b) because Jordan and I recently went on a Eurail trip that zipped through Spain, France and Switzerland.
We talk about the highlights of travelling via train carriages through this part of the world while flexing a Eurail pass. Some of the memorable experiences we had included eating at Llet Crua, in Barcelona (a cheese shop that specialises in revived Catalan cheeses); foraging for wild Spanish flowers and herbs on the Costa Brava coastline with Evarist March (a "gastrobotanist" who works with the acclaimed El Celler de can Roca); eating desserts inspired by old books and Game of Thrones at Rocambolesc (the gelato parlour run by Jordi Roca, the world-renowned pastry chef); Jordan running into a strangely familiar face at a traditional Lyon restaurant; and taking ultra-scenic trains around Lake Geneva, including the GoldenPass Classic "Belle Epoque" trip up a Swiss mountain to eat mushroom fondue and see Gruyère cheese being made from two-hour-old milk at Le Chalet. Oh and there's the time Jordan bought 150 euros of jamón and schlepped it through two entire countries, too!
This was a fun country-hopping conversation. Thanks to Eurail and Example's Rebecca Gibbs for making the aforementioned trip possible! You can see my Instagram Story highlights of the trip here (featured are some of the places that Jordan and I chat about during the podcast).
Aug 11 2019