118 episodes

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.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry Lee Tran Lam

    • Arts
    • 4.8 • 132 Ratings

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.

    Kerby Craig – Ume

    Kerby Craig – Ume

    In memory of Kerby Craig, here's the podcast I recorded with him in 2014.
    I listened back to this episode after I heard about Kerby being gone and it made me re-remember all these great things from that day, so I thought I should share these stories again, in tribute to Kerby and his enthusiasm for cooking, Japanese food culture and hospitality …
    As a 15 year old, Kerby Craig was fascinated by the world of restaurants – seeing a chef breakdancing in the middle of service (!) confirmed for him that this was the industry that he wanted to work in. By accident, he ended up at the original Tetsuya’s as a teenage apprentice chef and, after stints in Sydney and overseas, later helped Koi earn a hat in The Good Food Guide. To mark this achievement, he actually got a chef’s hat tattooed on his neck – an act that was memorably referred to in Terry Durack’s review of Ume, the restaurant that Kerby opened after his time at Koi. (“That’s a hat you can’t take off him,” Kerby’s manager told Durack at an event. “That’s a hat I would never take off you, Kerby!” replied the Herald food critic.)
    Despite earning acclaim, Kerby’s experience with the industry has endured some rough lows – including the business failure of Koi – and opening Ume was “very very stressful”, he says. “I don’t know how we got a loan!”
    Also in this podcast, Kerby chats about his own adventures dining from Kyoto to Fukuoka – and enjoying the next-level hospitality of Japanese establishments.
    If you'd like to support me on Patreon, head to patreon.com/leetranlam. From $1.50 a week, you'll get access to my weekly podcast and newsletter, where I cover all the good things I’m consuming: the best food stories I’ve read, food podcasts I’ve listened to, what I’ve been eating and I also dive into what I’ve been working on. Plus a lot of enthusiasm about Japanese food culture, too – from Tokyo favourites to the birthplace of soy sauce and my favourite Kyoto food shop.

    • 53 min
    Billy Wong – Golden Century, XOPP

    Billy Wong – Golden Century, XOPP

    The best dish in the world, according to chef David Chang, could be found at Golden Century – the Sydney institution that Billy Wong's family ran in Chinatown for more than three decades.
    There was more to Golden Century than the XO pipis, though (despite Chang's major endorsement of the dish). The restaurant's fan base included shift workers taking advantage of the restaurant's famous 4am closing time, as well as massive stars like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, royalty from Tonga and Morocco, and even Chinese presidents who made special requests: Xi Jinping had his order sent straight to his Sydney hotel, while Hu Jintao had the signature XO pipis delivered to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra – 300km away from the restaurant itself.
    Chefs such as Morgan McGlone and Dan Hong have been regular diners and Analiese Gregory called it a “dream” to drop by the kitchen on Munchies Chef’s Night Out.

    Billy recalls how hard his parents worked to make the restaurant a success (his dad used to sleep in the car in between shifts) and also shares many amazing memories of growing up with Golden Century.
    Golden Century's family of restaurants also includes The Century at The Star and its newer spin-off, XOPP at Darling Square, which we briefly cover as well. 

    I recorded this episode in late 2020 and sadly, Golden Century has since closed its Chinatown location, but its spirit lives on at sister restaurant XOPP: some of the staff, menu items, and even its trademark seafood tanks can be found there. You can also get Golden Century finish-at-home meals via Providoor and you know what, it wouldn't surprise me if one day Golden Century did open in a new location. I'm sure everyone – shift workers, world leaders and chefs alike – hopes that might happen.

    If you'd like to support me on Patreon, head to patreon.com/leetranlam. From $1.50 a week, you'll get access to my weekly podcast and newsletter, where I cover all the good things I’m consuming: the best food stories I’ve read, food podcasts I’ve listened to, what I’ve been eating and I also dive into what I’ve been working on.

    • 47 min
    Paul Carmichael – Momofuku Seiobo

    Paul Carmichael – Momofuku Seiobo

    “I literally got here and the first two weeks, everybody quit." Despite this challenging start to becoming Momofuku Seiobo's executive chef, Paul Carmichael has since scored many awards (both Gourmet Traveller and Time Out named him Chef of the Year) and he's been called one of the world's greatest chefs by his boss, David Chang. The restaurant has received two glowing reviews in The New York Times and been ranked as one of the best places to eat in the world by Besha Rodell in Food & Wine.

    Paul isn't about basking in the acclaim, though. "You’ve got to become comfortable with failing,” Paul says. "We’d make something, it’d be shit." Then, after a lot of work, it becomes great.

    At Momofuku Seiobo, he's created a one-of-a-kind menu that reflects his upbringing in Barbados. The food is also a way to represent the Caribbean, which people often reduce to holiday-spot stereotypes. “I feel like the way they talk about it, they talk about it like a club,” he says. For Paul, it's his life – not a gimmicky theme – so throughout the podcast, we talk about dishes from the region: like coucou, which his mother makes with a special stick that's older than Paul; and roti that originated in India and ended up in Trinidad – which he grew up eating as a kid. A lot of these dishes have travelled.

    “It had an origin somewhere, but this is where it ended up being," he says, "The Caribbean is 500 years of fusion. Maybe that should be the name of my book.” Migration and colonisation also shaped the cuisine – as did slavery, which isn't as far into the past as we'd like to think.

    The chef doesn't want to “elevate” dishes that have generations of history, but also show that you can present a dish that's rice and vegetables and prove how it can belong in one of the city's top restaurants. “It looks like a pile of goop - but there’s so much that goes into it,” he says.

    Paul also talks about how people still turn up to Seiobo thinking it's a Japanese restaurant (five years after Paul introduced his Caribbean menu), how he lived off supermarket specials while Seiobo was closed during the lockdown, using "mum tricks" to stretch Seiobo's budget in its current COVID-adapted incarnation (where staff also wear face masks in the colours of the Barbados flag). We also talk about his favourite budget meal, what to order at his favourite Chinese restaurant – as well as tougher topics: like having to deal with blatant racism and the cops pulling a gun on him just for asking for directions. We also cover the media pressure of taking over a highly acclaimed restaurant, too.

    This podcast was recorded last year, but is especially relevant now with Momofuku Seiobo announcing its last service for late June. I loved talking to Paul on this episode, I hope you enjoy this podcast, too.

    Support me on Patreon (from $1.50 a week) and you'll get a bonus member-only Crunch Time podcast - where I round up the latest food news and also talk about what I'm eating, reading and writing (with bonus details on projects I've worked on – from podcast interviews to food stories): https://www.patreon.com/leetranlam.

    • 1 hr 17 min
    Joanna Hunkin – Gourmet Traveller

    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.

    If you'd like to support me on Patreon, head to patreon.com/leetranlam. From $1.50 a week, you'll get access to my weekly podcast and newsletter, where I cover all the good things I’m consuming: the best food stories I’ve read, food podcasts I’ve listened to, what I’ve been eating and I also dive into what I’ve been working on.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    Topher Boehm – Wildflower

    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)!

    • 1 hr 23 min
    Natalie Paull – Beatrix and "Beatrix Bakes"

    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)!

    • 43 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
132 Ratings

132 Ratings

Doey ,


This is such a great podcast. Cannot miss an episode!

xyz_mynamewastaken ,

Food for the soul

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to discover the podcast, but I’m hooked, and loving the hours of backlog I have to catch up on. As a food obsessed person, it brings me so much joy and entertainment to listen through these, as well as pride for our national and Sydney local food scene. Here’s hoping 2021 is a better one for the hosp industry and we can put our support behind these rock stars. Thanks for connecting us with their stories LT

1958cp ,

Great story

Having just eaten recently at Stanbuli, hearing the background just makes me want to go there again and try more wonderful dishes.

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