MAN MIS­SION

Can you change the world through food? It’s am­bi­tious, but Aus­tralian Dan Churchill, one-time co-pre­sen­ter of , has taken his mes­sage to the Big Ap­ple and is turn­ing heads, writes MAG­GIE SCARDIFIEL­D. “CHARLEY ST HAS A CORE M

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Dan Churchill has just cooked din­ner for an élite alpine ski racer. “She’s chas­ing her fi­nal world cham­pi­onship,” he says over the phone from Åre, Swe­den. “I’m here to make sure that break­fast, lunch, snacks and din­ner are op­ti­mised for her per­for­mance and re­cov­ery.” No pres­sure.

At the din­ner ta­ble is Amer­i­can three­time Olympic medal­list Lindsey Vonn. Churchill, a for­mer fit­ness coach who caught the pub­lic eye in the 2013 sea­son of Masterchef Aus­tralia, has cooked for Vonn all over the world, in­clud­ing at last year’s Pyeongchan­g Win­ter Olympics.

But Churchill grew up a long way from snow-cov­ered slopes. He was born on Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches with “sand in his nappy”, he laughs, and spent his early teens surf­ing and de­vot­edly cook­ing Jamie Oliver recipes. Be­fore his megawatt 23-year-old smile had a chance to melt hearts on tele­vi­sion, he’d done a Masters in Ex­er­cise Science and had al­ready pub­lished his first cook­book. There were an­other two books af­ter that, be­fore he re­lo­cated in 2015 to New York City, a man on a mis­sion.

“As a chef in this new mil­len­nial age with so­cial me­dia, there’s ac­tion points,” he says. “It wasn’t just like, oh I’ll have a crack. To change the world through food you have to have a voice, you have to have an out­let, you have to have a reach.”

‘Chang­ing the World Through Food’, as his email sig­na­ture states, is no small task but one he’s con­fi­dent he can gauge. “When I teach some­one how to cook right and eat right, they then want to train right,” he says. His food phi­los­o­phy is pretty sim­ple. “I call it easy, colour­ful cook­ing. It’s like In­sta­gram’s Ex­plorer page. What ul­ti­mately at­tracts your eye are the things with the most colour.”

At Charley St, the café he opened last year in Man­hat­tan’s Nolita dis­trict – “so I can get a de­cent cup of Proud Mary cof­fee ev­ery day for the rest of my life” – that colour-code ap­proach equates to a menu of toasts topped with the likes of co­conut-beet spread, ap­ple slaw and whipped goat’s cheese, and bowls, per­haps shak­shuka with spicy chick­peas and pesto.

Cook­ing for an ath­lete like Vonn, mean­while, might mean roast chicken, “the juices saved for an epic three-grain salad”, or on race day PB&J oat­meal. “I don’t talk about health as six per cent body fat and just hav­ing steamed chicken and broc­coli,” says Churchill. “Colour­ful food pro­motes the re­lease of sero­tonin, and that leaves you feel­ing in­spired to hit the gym or go for a run the next day.”

The 29-year-old wasn’t keen to open a 200-seat res­tau­rant that re­quired him to be there ev­ery minute of the day, and so the fast-ca­sual con­cept of Charley St was born. He sees it as a scal­able con­cept and he in­tends to open more else­where. “I want to have the abil­ity to build kitchens in Third World coun­tries,” he says. “I could have 100 Charley Sts in dif­fer­ent parts of the world. It has a core mes­sage that can go places.”

It’s al­ready go­ing straight to In­sta­gram, thanks to de­signer Liza Kuhn and her av­o­cado-print wall­pa­per in the bath­room. The whole café, in fact, makes a com­pelling case for #nofil­ter. Churchill is well aware of the role so­cial me­dia can play in telling a brand’s story and he knows how to hash­tag hus­tle. For that very rea­son, they’ve built a stu­dio kitchen in the base­ment and shared the process step-by-step on his chan­nels. It will be used for cre­at­ing orig­i­nal con­tent as well as staff work­shops on sea­son­al­ity, for in­stance, and host­ing high-in­ten­sity work­outs with post-sweat-ses­sion jars of al­mond-milk chia.

As well as re­spond­ing di­rect to his 60,000-plus In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, Churchill is a reg­u­lar on Good Morn­ing Amer­ica, caters din­ner par­ties for Naomi Watts and was re­cruited to pro­vide nu­tri­tion ad­vice and recipes for Centr, a new fit­ness plat­form from Chris Hemsworth that launched this month. Per­haps his big­gest achieve­ment yet, how­ever, came late last year when he was listed in the 2019 Food & Bev­er­age cat­e­gory of Forbes’ 30 Un­der 30. The first thing he did? “I walked into Charley St, and whether it was the per­son who does the dishes or the barista, I went around to ev­ery sin­gle mem­ber of my team and con­grat­u­lated them. They’re a big part of this, too.”

While oth­ers might pre­fer to dis­tance them­selves from their re­al­ity TV be­gin­nings, Churchill says he’s “for­ever grate­ful” for his time on Masterchef, and later his host­ing gig on Surf­ing the Menu: The Next Gen­er­a­tion with de­li­cious. con­trib­u­tor Hay­den Quinn. “I learnt about cam­era an­gles, how to deal with dif­fer­ent mem­bers of a pro­duc­tion team. I look at it as the big­gest crash-course in food pos­si­ble.” Th­ese days he looks to peo­ple such as chef Dan Bar­ber, of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, for in­spi­ra­tion on sus­tain­abil­ity and agri­cul­ture, and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, for his “far­fetched ideas and abil­ity to think out­side the box in busi­ness”.

With the recog­ni­tion from Forbes and a namecheck by The New York Times in Charley St’s first six months, 2019 is look­ing colour­ful, all right. “I could’ve stayed in Aus­tralia do­ing what I was do­ing and I’m sure I would’ve loved it and surfed ev­ery day,” he says. “But in New York, peo­ple con­stantly throw you ideas and op­por­tu­ni­ties. And you’re noth­ing but ex­cited to be a part of them.” For all your res­tau­rant news, travel tips and recipe needs head to de­li­cious.com.au.

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