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
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
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