Cream rounds up a table of Australia’s best chefs – and one Pom! – and asks what their favourite foods are, what makes a good restaurant, and how important they think ‘design’ is in the culinary arts. And we’ve gotta tell you, these guys know what they want and don’t mind getting straight to the point!
Your favourite dish: My favourite thing to eat is a bacon and egg sandwich. The taste and flavour is always comforting.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: Croque en Bouche. It’s made using lots of little profiteroles. You need to stick them together and form a pyramid. I did this for a friend’s wedding in France and I promised myself I’d never do it again.
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: You eat with your eyes first, then your mouth. A menu is like a story you tell. It has to be colourful and have depth. It has to look clean and not too busy.
On restaurant design: It needs to look warm. I design a restaurant to feel like my living room. It has to feel comfortable for your friends.
Most important lesson learnt in the kitchen: Communication. This is the first thing I teach young cooks. If you’ve got 12 chefs in the kitchen, you have to operate like a well oiled machine. I need to keep hearing “yes chef”.
Best designed dish: Silky sausage of scallops with crustacean bisque.
Best designed restaurant: Maha in Melbourne. It’s very welcoming and the design is amazing. If you didn’t know you were in Melbourne, you’d think you were in North Africa.
Your favourite dish: Assam Laksa [a spicy and sour dish from Malaysia] but it’s okay to eat a dirty burger once in a while! I can eat a man under the table.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: I’ve finally conquered my fear and cooked a lamb roast.
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: Design should never supersede flavour. I hate to see a smear on the plate. I hate pretentious food, it has to be honest.
On restaurant design: I gravitate towards something that is simple where you can relax and have fun. But the food has to be amazing.
Important lesson learnt in the kitchen: Let go!
Best designed dish: Sea pearls by Peter Gilmore. He takes a lot of inspiration from nature. His plating always shows incredible sensitivity and lightness of touch, like the ingredients have fallen effortlessly from the heavens, but of course in reality, it’s been painstakingly composed.
Best designed restaurant: I do like what Mark Best has done with his establishment: clean lines, lots of glossy black, great lighting, and beautiful artwork.
Your favourite dish: Risotto with white truffles. It’s the best thing in the world.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: There isn’t one. My motto is minimum fuss with maximum flavour.
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: I am minimalist. Food has to look tidy. I don’t like anything piled high or a pyramid, or anything stacked up that I have to dismantle.
On restaurant design: A good combination of colour is very important. It has to be modern but with good taste.
Most important lesson learnt in the kitchen: Don’t stand too close to the grill.
Best designed dish: Fillet of Sole from Dover in England. It was served with spinach, rice and beetroot. Its presentation was colourful and immaculate.
Best designed restaurant: Di Stasio in Melbourne. It’s original and reflects the clientele who are there for the food and not the decoration. This is the Italian way.
Your favourite dish: Chicken and potato pie. I cook it, I eat it.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: I stress over the smallest things. I stress over cooking for my children. They’re my harshest critics. They sit down and say “that’s only 6/10”.
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: I want colour, texture, and just an abundance. If it looks fresh, I want to eat it.
On restaurant design: I don’t want to feel cramped but more important than design is service. If the meal is bad but the service is good you might give them another chance, but if the food is good and the service is bad you’ll never go back.
Most important lesson learnt in the kitchen: Never give up. Even if it takes 15 attempts (and I have to tell you it did once; it was an apple cake). Try everything and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Best designed dish: Fresh salmon rémoulade.
Best designed restaurant: Petrus in Knightsbridge, London. It’s beautiful, Zen and minimalist.
Your favourite dish: Irish broth is one of the great dishes in life. You could serve it to your kids, the President, the Queen, and everyone would love it. It keeps your mojo.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: Stuffed oxtail. You’ve got to bone the fucker out which is like a computer game. The stuffing is a farce. The whole thing is just a bitch.
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: I like design on a plate no matter how simple it is because it equals care and hospitality and that means giving.
On restaurant design: You need to be careful with your ego. Presentation has to be playful thing. It shows spirit.
Most important lesson learnt in the kitchen: Taste, taste, taste, and look after yourself. Keep your passion and fire and don’t have too many late nights out with the boys.
Best designed dish: Seared scallops with sweet pepper salsa and lobster spring rolls.
Best designed restaurant: Hakkasan in London. You enter from a dingy alley and see beautiful women and candles, then you walk into the dining room which has an amazing buzz. My restaurant, Cayenne, isn’t too bad either.
Your favourite dish: Braised tripe with chilli and chick peas. I grew up on it and have eaten it forever and a day.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: Birthday cakes. I had to make them when I was an apprentice and I hated them. I don’t have the patience for detailed pastry work.
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: At a tapas bar we have to plate things very quickly so we keep things very simple. There’s no pointing creating something over-designed if it’s destroyed in five seconds.
On restaurant design: It’s super important and it’s an organic process that we add to over time. I travel to Spain to get lighting ideas or I buy tiles and Spanish pop cultural images. We’ve used the same architect for years. At Movida Next Door we wanted it loud but it was too loud so we put in acoustic panelling and soft padding.
Most important lesson learnt in the kitchen: It’s that your best tool is your mobile phone. It’s not like putting an order in at the end of the week like it was when I first started. Now you’re always on the phone to so many different providores, ordering, checking up, choosing freight options, and I’m always on the phone to my head chef.
Best designed dish: Everything at Inopia in Barcelona. Grilled tuna belly, or fresh anchovy with goats cheese. Even their potato chips are served on wax paper.
Best designed restaurant: The Submarino in Valencia, Spain. The restaurant, designed by Felix Candela, is underwater as part of a marine park. Your table is surrounded by massive fish tanks and there are giant stairs built into a jelly fish sculpture. It’s an incredible place to eat at.
SAMMY & BELLA JAKUBIAK
Your favourite dish: Schnitzel! Everybody loves schnitty, and growing up with a Polish mum, it was on our dinner table at least twice a week. It always reminds us of home.
The most difficult dish you’ve made: Strangely, barszcz – a Polish beetroot soup. Not because it’s got tricky steps, but because it’s a dish that we owe to our heritage and our late grandmother, Babcia Ula. We have to be sure to get it right!
Thoughts on design of food on a plate: Personally, we’re not big on negative space for our own style of cooking although we do appreciate its place in high-end dining. For us, everything should always look rustic, and not “placed”. Like something you can eat without feeling intimidated.
On restaurant design: In every possible way – inviting and not intimidating. We forget sometimes that at the core of our business is hospitality. Making people smile, and having them feel comfortable, no matter who they are. From a practical perspective, top-down lighting should be avoided if you want your guests to take amazing pics of your food and share on social media without strange shadows.
Important lesson learnt in the kitchen: “You made all the right decisions, and you made all the right mistakes”. It’s one of our favourite quotes for both life and the kitchen. Don’t let mistakes pull your spirit down, but make sure you learn from them.
Best designed dish: Massimo Bottura’s Lemon Tart. Because it was a mistake, and from this mistake grew an entire style of plating we know today.
Best designed restaurant: Love the interiors of Lucy Liu in Melbourne. The use of wooden slats to create so much intrigue is rooted in such a simple idea – but the result is awesome.