Foodie, Chef on the run, Gourmet Traveller or Hungry Gipsy; just don’t call me a tourist!
After a manic summer at the stoves with little to no time off a trip to Australia was a beacon of hope in a hot kitchen of organised chaos. We had re-built “The Ship” literally and metaphorically, breathing a new lease of life into the kitchen and its food offering. My ramshackle en-semble team of students, trainee chefs and newly qualifieds with just about anyone else who could stand upright, hold a knife and muster enough passion to join in, worked their “nuts” off to make it happen and happen it did.
As normal for kitchen life I saw more of this ugly bunch than I did my wife and two boys, such as the demand of a seasonal pub restaurant that had been re-vamped and re-opened at the peak of tourist season, we were in it up too our necks and in demand from the start. So it was safe to say a month off in another country seemed a welcome prospect.
Cooking the floor!
Cooking hog roast, kitchen not ready yet…..
New kitchen almost completed
Ready for business……
Battle weary, Woody with his head in hands!
Flying into Sydney……
This was to be my first trip to Australia and my first real long haul flight (I’d been to New York before but that was only 8 hours) at 26 hours with a stop half way in Abu Dhabi, this was going to be a marathon.Sat still for this amount of time it was imperative I had plenty of reading material and all known copies of food related publications were stripped from the shelves along with Australian travel magazines.
I have family in Australia near Penrith New South Wales on the outer reaches of Sydney, so this was to be my base. Mum had asked a few months before I’d left what trips I would like to go on as she was super organising everything as mums do.
All the usual suspects with regard to Australian hot spots were offered up: Sydney harbour, Opera house, Gold Coast, Bondi beach you name it we’ll go there…. But in the nicest possible way I declined her offer to do pretty much anything touristy! As I write I’ve been here over two weeks and I’ve pretty much stuck to my guns. I’ve even been into the City (Sydney) and haven’t seen a Opera house and only caught a glimpse of the harbour bridge. Why you might say? Well the thing is I don’t much care for tourists when I’m off duty out of whites and in “Civvy street” so to speak. Nope they’re pretty much the last type of person I wish to be around, especially if I’m not getting paid for it. After all I’ve just spent all blasted summer surrounded by them catering for their nuances and whimsical ways and putting up with demands, yes keep me away from the “bucket and spade brigade” aka the tourist! These lovely people come barging into our restaurants, expecting miracles and freshly cooked (often welldone) food to appear before them in less than 20 minutes!
The check rolls out of the printer a foot long and you think my god someone has pushed in a table of twenty then you read it and realise it’s only a table of four but they have demands, a whole list of demands no negotiations just demands and before you think a hostage crisis has just erupted, I’ll explain; they proceed to rewrite the menu that you’ve planned and worked hard to put together, reflecting your locality, passion and seasonality. In short here are a few key words that cut deep into a chef’s passion for cooking and I’m sure all chefs worth their “salt” would agree, they are: Welldone, no blood, plain, no sauce, no garnish, peas in winter, ketchup and mint sauce with a few things like do you have nuggets for kids or can we have cheesy chips!!
So you can perhaps see why I don’t wish to spend my time around tourists, don’t get me wrong they pay my wages and I’m grateful for that but they’re not my loyal seasoned followers who love my food and specials and who are often involved in the development of my new specials and menu concepts, with these happy folks is where you’ll quite often find me after service having a beer and a chat whilst plotting the next menu change and receiving welcome feedback.
So I explained myself to mum and requested to be kept away from tourists just for a week or so till I could adjust. However I did have one request and that was a trip to Melbourne as I’d heard it had some top eaterys and was a Mecca for the travelling foodie.
Arriving in Melbourne…..
A view of Melbourne from the Yarra river…
Arriving in Melbourne I had high expectations, with contacts, fellow bloggers and chefs to visit who had primed me well about the places I must visit, my only issue was trying to cram it all into 4 days. Like any big city it would have tourists and tourist spots but the thing I liked best about Melbourne is that it doesn’t shout about it, infact they just welcome you in and say we’ve got style we’ve got culture don’t just see it, feel it and that’s just what I did I jumped in with both feet!
At this point it’s worth noting the differences I feel seperate a “foodie” from a tourist. This is in no way meant to divisive and is based merely on my own observations. A foodie in my opinion tends to be very open minded and usually well informed. They do their homework about a place and have a high level of expectation but is also a realist and goes with the flow. A foodie is there for the experience and be it good or bad is happy that they’ve taken part an immersed themself in another culture. Rewind back to the tourist who (and this is only my opinion) can be very well informed armed with books, brochures, maps and Wikipedia lands with huge expectations. Slightly less interested in the cultural aspects of things (after all they’ve read all about it and booked a trip) they are more interested in that all important photo and “selfie” infront of an iconic land mark. I watch with amusement how tourists seem to have a herding instinct and are happy to be led around in groups, they seem to hunger for a sort of clinical factual information that is often spued out of a drone like tour guide who is about as passionate about spouting it as I would be standing in line listening to it. Like the monotone of a school kid reciting tables in detention the words boom out across the street.
Crowded around a plaque another pointless fact is muttered “and in 1807 at this very spot…..” (you can finish the rest, it would be much more interesting!) You get my point? By the way you can spot the symptoms of becoming a tourist if you look out for them, it’s something we’re all guity of at some point. The onset is when you arrive in a different country and start looking for the things you know and recognise such as brands, English breakfast, Irish pub or Marmite or Tetley tea bags. Looking for fish & chips or Sunday roast dinners abroad, spot the symptoms and act fast! Eat in a local restaurant with local people and order something you haven’t got a clue what it is until arrives.
I can relate obviously to the food culture of a place as it’s my thing and although I’m in denial I am a tourist. I’m a food tourist, l like the term Gourmet Traveller the poshness of it makes me smile, I suppose a Hungry Gypsy would be apt it’s more working class and suit me fine. It also has an air of mystique about it and conjures up all sorts of ideas, I digress…..
Melbourne has a real bustle to it and a city that is aware of its status as a foodie destination. Like any great city its strength is its people, the melting pot bubbles away here and multicultural society oozes out everywhere. It’s totally awe inspiring how so many different people from every ethnic and religious background can come together happily under the roof of this great city. The melting pot simmers away happily sharing all its cultures and cuisines laid out street by street like the ultimate gourmet tasting menu. A tasting menu I was more than willing to try, and with it not rapped up in the confines of some stuffy restaurant it wasn’t going to cost the earth.
I had done my homework before I’d touched down in Sydney and by the time I touched down in Melbourne I had a good idea of what I wanted to see, but as a professional chef this sometimes brings it’s own problems. As a self employed chef consultant a month off work meant no money coming in. As any small business owner will tell you life’s little luxuries such as holiday pay don’t exist and with a wife and two boys back home well I’m off galavanting it would be unfair to over indulge and exhaust all our finances. Infact the restaurant industry’s Oscar’s had taken place at the opera house the night before I had landed with all the top places being awarded. It came as no surprise that Ben Shewry chef owner of Melbourne restaurant Attica, had won restaurant of the year. They had already been awarded 3 hats, the highest accolade given to an Australian restaurant for its food and it confirmed my opinion that Melbourne was the place to go for top notch food. But for a £200 price tag for food and wine at Attica (a price totally worth it and actually quite cheap for a tasting menu of this calibre) I felt sure my divorce papers would be waiting for me at Heathrow on my return if I booked a table!
So my mission was to eat well on a budget and with this, the challenge was set.
Could it be done? Wait and see in part 2 of this blog.
Melbourne from the river Yarra…
Melbourne trams and this, the first tram that I have ever been on.