Quail, Spanish style
Matt Fowles introduces us to Jesse Gerner, a chef who had his own restaurant in his early 20s but traded down to begin a re-education at London’s River Café where the menu changes for every sitting depending on what fresh produce is available.
From quite a young age Jesse Gerner loved food.
His parents always had chooks and geese and his grandfather was involved with outback stations so, reared or wild, Jesse was exposed to the finer things in life.
“I started cooking when I was about 13 to help pay for some of my sporting activities, like windsurfing and surfing, and I fell for that environment,” he said.
“I worked at pretty lame places but I ended up doing work experience with a Swiss chef at a place called Eagle on the Hill, which used to overlook Adelaide.”
He was hired and went on to train and work in a range of quality restaurants in Adelaide and Sydney before opening his first restaurant, Grind, in Newcastle.
“Everyone was buying cakes and pastries but I put a pastry chef on; we just did everything in house and people really responded to it, we had lines out the door,” he said.
After three years, Jesse sold up and shot off to Europe.
“That is where my education really started again; I went from running a team of nine chefs to being in serious kitchens in London and starting back in the larder section before working my way up,” he said.
“The quality of ingredients in these places, the spices and styles of cooking, almost peasant style where instead of building everything up to huge heights it is more about flavour and less garnishing.”
At River Café the menu was Italian, at Moro, Southern Spanish, but the restaurants had something in common: everything served was fresh or made on site.
The food had to be treated in a way that preserved its natural flavour; tomatoes and peppers would never be put in the fridge because it affects the sugars and ultimately the taste.
“The seasonal game particularly was great and in London people were prepared to pay for it,” Jesse said.
“At River Café there was a new menu every service so if they could get some pheasant or grouse in, it would be added to the menu.
“As a chef, you would get a dish or a dish and a half to do but it had to be spot on every time; they wanted quality and people were paying for it.”
Working at Moro led to regular trips to Spain, partly to open his eyes to food styles and traditions but also as a means of smuggling charcuterie into a backpack for the return trip to England.
“I was staying in a hostel in Cadiz where it was five euros for a mattress on the roof but it was a base for food journeys,” he said. On return to Australia Jesse started his own Spanish restaurant, Anada in Gertrude St, which was soon voted one of the best in Melbourne. He’s since expanded and opened Bomba, a Spanish worker’s tapas restaurant and rooftop bar in Lonsdale St and Green Park in North Carlton. Every year part of Jesse’s routine is to return to Spain to indulge his taste buds and make new discoveries. Quail isn’t out of the ordinary but Jesse jumped at the chance to work with >>