The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry: Lee Tran Lam quizzes chefs, critics, bar staff and other people from the food world about their dining habits, war stories and favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney.
Joanna Hunkin – Gourmet Traveller
Reporting from murder scenes and interviewing Lorde live at the Grammys – that's what Joanna Hunkin did before she became editor at Gourmet Traveller. Enduring these high-pressure situations meant she wasn't too shaken by her first year at the magazine – which has been incredibly eventful and challenging, and involved her relocating from Auckland to take up the role.
On her very first day on the job, at the Restaurant Awards at Bennelong last year, she was handing out honours to chefs Ben Shewry and Kylie Kwong. Then, as the pandemic hit, she found herself having to produce a magazine under lockdown – a tricky feat, given that photo shoots, recipe testing and other group activities are key to Gourmet Traveller's coverage. Her team used some leftfield ideas to complete cover shoots and other editorial work while socially distancing!
We talk about some of the most memorable stories that have run in the magazine in the past year as well as relevant topics such as "authenticity" in food and how chefs feel about dealing with dietary requirements (from diners who claim they can't consume anything "shiny" or beginning with the letter 'A' to legit allergies to gluten and wheat – I wrote about this for the October issue of Gourmet Traveller).
We also cover her early days in Hong Kong (where her mother fed her microwave bacon!) as well as Joanna's return to the city later in life, where she dined at secret restaurants hidden inside Hong Kong's high-density apartments.
Joanna also chats about her top three Australian restaurant experiences of the past year, as well as her favourite dining spots in Auckland.
Topher Boehm – Wildflower
They're not obvious candidates for making beer: wattle, strawberry gum and leftover sourdough from Ester. Topher Boehm turns to flower cuttings and other NSW-only ingredients to create wild ales for Wildflower, the Sydney brewery he runs with brother-in-law Chris Allen. They've named beers after their children – including the wild-raspberry-flavoured St Phoebe, which was selected over 1500 drinks to be named Australia's best beverage. And his curiosity with fermenting has led to Topher brewing 200 litres of soy sauce in a barrel, just for fun. Maybe his revved-up creativity shouldn't be a surprise – Topher once had 70 home-brewing experiments on the go in his apartment (until his wife fairly decided that perhaps that was just a little too much to co-habitate with).
So how did Topher go from making frozen sandwiches for his family in Texas – and studying astrophysics and considering a career in shoemaking – to brewing beers that are found in 10 William Street and other top bars and restaurants around Australia? It's a pretty surprising path that also involves a really sweet love story (and a literally stinky town in New Zealand).
You don't have to be a deep beer nerd to enjoy this episode, as Topher is a great storyteller – just listen to the unbelievably "epic" tale behind the coolship vessel that's being made for his spontaneous beers. The vessel has survived bushfires and flood – intense conditions that literally swallowed a truck belonging to the Blue Mountains blacksmith who is making the coolship. And while Topher has learnt about beer from hanging out in Europe and the US, he is keen to create a beverage that gets its flavours from sources you can only find in his home state. “We were calling beer local, but it was made that way from where it was brewed, not the ingredients it was from,” he says. Which means Topher is especially interested in bush foods, like saltbush, and is experimenting with the idea of bringing back his sold-out St Phoebe run using native raspberries.
This episode actually features two parts: one recorded in January (before the pandemic) and a part two that sees us catching up remotely a few months after lockdown sets in.
We also cover historical aspects of beer: it's the reason for the world's oldest recipe and, despite its cliched blokey image today, it was actually women who traditionally were brewers. (Go back to Ancient Egypt and it was women who tended to beer.) PS The cherry beer you hear fermenting in the background is actually now available from Wildflower (it's delicious)!
Natalie Paull – Beatrix and "Beatrix Bakes"
Natalie Paull once pointed a brûlée torch flame in the wrong direction – and accidentally set a whole docket rail of dessert orders on fire. She's endured brownie explosions and baking disasters, too. But people rightly associate Natalie with oven-baked triumphs – like the brilliant sweets from her popular Beatrix bakery in Melbourne. Think passionfruit cloud chiffon cakes, Tart-A-Misu, Moroccan Snickers tarts, cinnamon-glazed apple fry pies (without the fryer’s remorse!) and more. Her sugar-laced cakes have a transformative power – even for people who've undergone heartbreak and tragedy. Natalie has received letters of appreciation that have made her cry.
Because Natalie is a big believer in "cake for breakfast", we talk a lot about desserts – from the blockbuster "floating" cake she made for own wedding, to the four-hour spiced quinces from her Beatrix Bakes cookbook, which have the most surprising story behind them. She also recalls her days working with chef Greg Malouf (after his heart transplant), Maggie Beer, Cath Claringbold and more.
We also cover some of the "all-time favourite cakes" she's ever eaten around the world, from Kanazawa to Barcelona and beyond (including the "most perfect bite of cheesecake" in Tokyo)!
Shinobu Namae – L’Effervescence, Bricolage Bread & Co.
Shinobu Namae runs one of Tokyo's best restaurants: L'Effervescence. It has two Michelin stars and is known for its sustainable focus (nearly everything served to diners comes from Japan, even the cheese) and the menu is inspired by everything from McDonald's fried apple pie to world peace. Even the dish names are memorable (you can order something called 'Hurrah')!
Namae-san has worked for Michel Bras in Hokkaido (the story behind this proves that overeating in New York is always a good thing to do) and he was Heston Blumenthal's sous-chef at The Fat Duck. Even though Namae-san grew up with an American-influenced diet, the chef has devoted his career to showcasing Japanese ingredients, from the artisanal wheat in the oven-baked goods at his cafe, Bricolage Bread & Co., to the menu at L'Effervescence. (The story behind the Japanese cheeses at the restaurant is pretty surprising.)
He also talks about some of the memorable food he's had around the world – including his experience at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, which he calls one of the best meals of his life. (He also has a sandwich inspired by her on his menu at Bricolage.)
This episode was recorded when the chef was here last year, for Tasting Australia.
Charlotte Ree – "Just Desserts"
Charlotte Ree once ate 30 different kinds of croissants during a trip to France – then got a croissant tattoo afterwards. She's so dedicated to pastries that she'll stay up until 5:30am to finish a baking marathon. Pulling 120 cakes out of the oven during the hours people reserve for sleeping – and then going to work the next day, as communications manager for Pan Macmillan (the publisher of Hetty McKinnon's cookbooks) – well, that's just a normal whirlwind day for Charlotte.
Charlotte's love of all things sweet is clear on every page of Just Desserts, her latest cookbook. It features recipes for Nutella thumbprint cookies, peach and raspberry tray cake, tiramisu swiss rolls and chocolate ganache Bundt (Charlotte likes big Bundts and she can not lie). Just Desserts also includes "a nod to the king of biscuits" and is laced and frosted with a good dose of puns (sieve the day)!
Charlotte talks about how to land a cookbook deal (when you're not a celebrity chef), being on the publicity trail with Hetty McKinnon, as well as Charlotte's personal baking triumphs, fails and memorable moments. Plus, we take an express trip to her favourite patisseries around the world (I've saved her Tokyo recommendations for my next trip)!
Note: this was recorded a few months ago, before the current pandemic and lockdown hit. So, social distancing is paramount, but please take note of eateries you can still responsibly support as they need the help right now. And there's plenty in the podcast archive (the Christina Tosi episode, the one with Lune Croissanterie's Kate Reid!) if you're keen for a self-isolation soundtrack or audio company during this unprecedented time.
Angie Prendergast-Sceats – Angie's Food, Two Good
Angie Prendergast-Sceats once was an olive oil judge, where she had to watch out for vintages that tasted like "rancid feet" and "baby vomit" (such references really did appear on the flavour chart that's deployed in these contests).
But for the last three years, she's been the culinary director and head chef of Two Good, which used recipes by top chefs (Peter Gilmore, Christine Manfield, Ben Shewry) to create soups and salads that would be sent to women in domestic violence shelters. You'd order two soups: keep one and the other would be donated to someone in a refuge. The food was cooked by women from shelters, who were paid above-award wages to do so. In her role, Angie would oversee this work – and there some memorable/hilarious times when they did their cooking in a nightclub's not-so-conventional kitchen – and she also ran Two Good's Work Work program, training long-term unemployed women, refugees and disenfranchised people to help them get jobs. It was far from the aggressive stereotype of a kitchen where you could yell at someone to hurry up with the carrots; in working with people who might not know how to hold a knife or are still dealing with trauma, cooking 1000 meals a week is a different kind of challenge.
We also talk about Angie's recipes – which appear in the new Two Good cookbook, her memorable trips to Japan (where she had nine bowls of ramen in five hours and visited a 1000-year-old miso shop) and what she's doing next with her Angie's Food enterprise.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Having just eaten recently at Stanbuli, hearing the background just makes me want to go there again and try more wonderful dishes.
Love this podcast - the episode with Topher was sensational!!
A great listen
Always interesting stories