AT THE TA­BLE WITH TEAGE EZARD Wok-star sta­tus

Mel­bourne-based restau­ra­teur Teage Ezard re­cently opened his lat­est ven­ture, Ginger­boy Up­stairs, in city-cen­tre Cross­ley Street. He talks to Michelle Rowe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HO has been your big­gest culi­nary in­flu­ence? In terms of peo­ple, it’s my men­tor (now re­tired Two Faces chef and restau­ra­teur) Her­mann Sch­nei­der. He was the man who took me on as a risk; he broke me, re­built me and helped me carve out a ca­reer in cook­ing, and I can never re­pay him enough.

In terms of places, it would have to be the large cities around Asia: Bangkok, Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. In many of th­ese cities you can eat on the street di­rectly be­low a five-star ho­tel serv­ing the best cui­sine in the city.

I am in­flu­enced by the di­ver­sity of th­ese amaz­ing cities, not only from a culi­nary per­spec­tive but vis­ually. I love au­then­tic­ity, par­tic­u­larly with street food and dim sum. What are and why?

Fish sauce, lime juice, palm su­gar, chillis and tamarind be­cause th­ese pro­vide the clas­sic flavours of the Ori­ent: hot, sweet, sour and salty. You helped cre­ate two restau­rants in Hong Kong, Opia and the more ca­sual Y’s. Tell us about your time there.

Th­ese restau­rants in­spired [Ezard’s Mel­bourne ven­ture] Ginger­boy. Y’s is a con­cept driven on a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the street and hawker foods sold through­out Asia. Most of the menu was con­ceived from woks and steam­ers. It was my time in Hong Kong — from 2003 to 2006 — that en­abled me to take the ex­pe­ri­ence back to Mel­bourne. What are the main dif­fer­ences be­tween the Hong Kong and Aus­tralian food scenes?

The qual­ity of the pro­duce and the in­ter­na­tional edge that Asian cities have.

In Hong Kong, construction costs, labour and de­sign costs are a lot cheaper than in Aus­tralia, there­fore restau­rant fit-outs have the edge.

The food, how­ever, is an­other story. A lot of the fresh pro­duce is flown in from Aus­tralia and Europe. There are no fresh mar­kets in most large Asian cities; some su­per­mar­ket chains spe­cialise in pro­vid­ing up-mar­ket food but it’s not the same as go­ing to your lo­cal mar­ket, where the food is fresh, re­gional and lo­cally grown, har­vested or fished.

There is an im­pact on the cre­ativ­ity, bal­ance and ex­e­cu­tion of restau­rant dishes when ex­pat chefs have to cre­ate menus from in­gre­di­ents they are not fa­mil­iar with. There is a huge dif­fer­ence in fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes and seafood from place to place. A Brazil­ian fig is a very dif­fer­ent thing to an Aus­tralian one, for ex­am­ple.

And hav­ing to use in­gre­di­ents flown in from all around the globe places enor­mous pres­sure on chefs, who need to have com­plete trust in their sup­pli­ers around the world. It’s very hard to send a box of toma­toes back to Mel­bourne if they are over­ripe.

Hav­ing said that, Hong Kong has the best dim sum I have eaten, and that’s be­cause it’s cooked and served by peo­ple who know the phi­los­o­phy of dim sum and un­der­stand its heart and soul. What’s miss­ing from the Aus­tralian din­ing scene?

Not enough time and di­rec­tion is be­ing put into young chefs th­ese days. It’s a pro­fes­sion that’s be­com­ing too soft be­cause of bu­reau­cratic changes and pro­cesses. There is too much em­pha­sis on the role of

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five must-have in­gre­di­ents,

Fin­ish­ing touch: Award-winning Mel­bourne chef Teage Ezard at work in Ginger­boy’s kitchen the ju­nior worker and what the ju­nior de­serves. To be a pro­fes­sional chef you have to be hum­ble, start from the bot­tom and earn re­spect. Too many kids think the other way; those don’t make it to the top of the field. A lot of young chefs are also mod­el­ling their ca­reers on tele­vi­sion and the celebrity that comes with it, and when they find out how hard it is to work at a pro­fes­sional level they quickly re­alise it’s not what they want. The Aus­tralian din­ing scene needs to be driven by young chefs who have been taught in the right way and in the right en­vi­ron­ment. Th­ese days there is a lot of em­pha­sis on cui­sine styles, such as molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy, which steer away from the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of cook­ing. Without learn­ing the fun­da­men­tals as a ju­nior you may risk a very short ca­reer in the West­ern world. What was your worst mo­ment with a diner in one of your restau­rants?

Some­one had a fit in Ginger­boy and we had to call an am­bu­lance. There is noth­ing worse than an am­bu­lance, with its lights flash­ing, out­side a restau­rant full of din­ers. The sec­ond worst in­ci­dent hap­pened on our busiest day of the year. It was the last Fri­day in De­cem­ber and we had a kitchen fire; our restau­rant, Ezard, was full, it was 8.30pm and the fire bri­gade turned up and walked through the din­ing room with a 100m hose. We closed the kitchen and no­body paid. Have you any plans for new ven­tures?

In terms of Asia, I have had sev­eral of­fers and am still talk­ing to many con­tacts and friends over­seas, but there hasn’t been any­thing that I would con­sider to be a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for the ex­pan­sion of the brand just yet.

On the home front, I have no plans in the short term, but I do have plans for the next two to three years. Your most loved and most loathed foods?

I loathe green cap­sicum, over­cooked green veg­eta­bles, any veg­etable that’s tinned and tough meat. My favourites are fresh­wa­ter cray­fish, foie gras, wagyu rib eye, hand-made cho­co­lates, French triple cream, caviar, truf­fles and mum’s crumbed lamb cut­lets.

Flavours of Asia: Ezard’s Ginger­boy restau­rant

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