Chefs on holiday: seeking inspiration abroad [gallery]

27 November, 2015 by
Aoife Boothroyd

When it comes to finding inspiration for your next menu, it’s hard to beat a trip overseas. Aoife Boothroyd recently caught up with some of Australia’s top chefs to chat about some of the dishes and destinations that have had an impact on their cooking styles.

“I’ve drunk pig’s blood. When I was an apprentice at Northcote Manor in the UK, I used to steal the kitchen cranberry juice. Unbeknown to me, this had been discovered by the senior chefs who then decided to fill the carton with pig’s blood to teach me a lesson. After a hefty gulp I decided to steer clear of the cranberry juice going forward.”

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While this is not his most fond culinary memory, Nelly Robinson of Sydney’s nel. restaurant didn’t let this prank dampen his desire to become an experimental, award winning chef. The cuisine at nel. restaurant is described as a contemporary interpretation of modern Australian cuisine, inspiration for which Robinson finds in an assortment of places including some unlikely international destinations.

“The quality of food in the north of England is sensational. The A59, a 60 mile road which weaves through stunning countryside, filled with cheese producers, lamb, partridge and grouse farmers houses five-Michelin star restaurants including The Box Tree, which was opened by Marco Pierre White.

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“Southern coastal India too. The street food and endless spices are truly amazing. As a chef, the freshness, colour and culture all mixed together are truly inspirational when planning dishes for the restaurant. We aim to create an explosion of all senses when dining at nel. restaurant and always look to this region for inspiration.”

Nel-Kitchen-high-res.jpgNelly Robinson in the kitchen at nel. restaurant

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While they may not necessarily be research trips per se, British-born Robinson says that every overseas adventure he embarks on is 100 percent centred around food. 

“Food first, destination second,” says Robinson. “Both my partner Ashley and I plan holidays around cuisines that excites us and we always try to eat the local cuisine when travelling abroad. Undoubtedly, the best platform for discovering new eateries is The Lonely Planet guide. When at home in Australia we always check Dimmi for nearby hotspots and of course keep a watchful eye on all the food awards each year for the top spots.”

New York, New York

For Melbourne-based chef and food consultant Glenn Flood, New York – without a doubt – is the destination that gets him most inspired and excited. A melting pot of chefs, food lovers, creative types and entrepreneurs, Flood says that the intense competition and sheer variety that each borough boasts is what keeps the city at the top of the culinary world.

“You’ve got little Italy which has a great vibe going on, as does Soho. Then over on First Avenue you’ve got Luke’s Lobster Rolls and Momofuko and Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side… I think the magic thing about it is that in one city, they’ve all got very distinctly different offerings. There are 18,000 restaurants on Manhattan Island and they are super competitive with each other so no one can get away with a poor food offering. If you’re not on the game, you’re out of the game.”

Reuben-Sandwich-at-Katz-s-Deli-in-New-York-Image-Glenn-Flood.jpgReuben Sandwich at Katz's Deli in New York – Image Glenn Flood

Outside of the Big Apple, Flood says Texas is one of the most exciting food destinations stateside. Known primarily for its low and slow American barbecue, Flood says that the culture that surrounds food in the deep south together with the burgeoning presence of talented young operators is what makes the state’s food offering so unique.

“Texas has a beautiful southern American style of food running through it. There are so many sharp operators doing great cocktails and really delicious barbecue options, but what really impressed me was that the presentation was just taken up a level. Texas is probably one of the more interesting destinations I’ve been to lately, just in terms of not knowing exactly what to expect and then turning up and being completely overwhelmed with the quality and the innovation coming through from a lot of young operators.”  

Chef-Glenn-Food-in-Texas.jpgChef Glenn Flood in Texas  – Image Glenn Flood

The subcontinent and south east Asia also represent some of Flood’s most memorable feasting destinations. A relatively recent trip to Sri Lanka gave him a deeper appreciation for the classic Sri Lankan style curry which champions the unlikely ingredient of jackfruit. Thailand also features prominently on Flood’s favourite food destination list thanks to the countless street food stalls which are a breeding ground for all the weird and wonderful delicacies that Thai cuisine is known for.

“Whenever I’m out in a new country, I’m always happy to look at what’s happening in the local marketplaces. On a recent trip I was eyeing off fried crickets from a particular vendor, and I thought, ‘look it’s been a while since I’ve tried anything like that’ so I thought I’d give it a go, not thinking that I was actually going to enjoy it. They were so delicious that I grabbed a bag. They deep fry them to order and toss them through with a little seasoning. It was almost like a soy-based seasoning giving it a nice little bit of saltiness to go with the sweetness of the cricket. It was almost like eating pork crackling – you have one and then another and another. It was just a really weird and wonderful thing and even better because it was delicious; even my son loved them.”

Ethan-Flood-eating-a-caramelised-cricket.JPGEthan Flood eating a caramelised cricket  – Image Glenn Flood

Hong Kong via Canada

Merivale’s Patrick Friesen was recently in Hong Kong as part of a menu research trip for one of the group’s upcoming launches, The Queen Victoria Hotel. With the aim of creating a Hong Kong street food inspired menu, Friesen says that he was more than happy to explore the more left of field offerings that the vibrant city has to offer.

“We basically just had a lot of food that you can only get in Hong Kong. My favourite place in Hong Kong is a place called Yat Lok Restaurant and all they do is a roast goose and you can either have it with noodles or rice. You can get veggies with it I think, but that’s pretty much it,” he says.

“There was another place out in Jordan where we had master stock braised giblets and chicken hearts with raw minced garlic and chilli oil, and then just down the street from that place we had these great northern-style hand sliced noodles. What they do is shave off a big lot of dough into the boiling water as they go, kind of like they are peeling a carrot but with every strand going into the broth.”

Chef-Patrick-Friesen-of-Merivale.jpgChef Patrick Friesen at Manly's Papi Chulo

While the likes of goose and hand cut noodles won’t be making the menu at The Queen Victoria Hotel, Friesen says variations that have been altered to suit locals tastes will be.

“Goose here is really expensive. It’s like $60 per goose so it’s not really cost effective to put that on the menu. Instead we’ll be doing a very similar roast duck and noodle soup like Yat Lok does, but we’ll be using duck instead of goose. Sydneysiders get a little bit wound up because they are used to having a lot of broth and not so much noodle, whereas in Hong Kong, it’s all about the noodle and the broth is just there more as like a sauce really. A lot of people don’t really get it so we just fuse the two to create a happy balance. But I guess that’s how Asian restaurants usually feel.”

Outside of Asia, Friesen says that a recent trip back to his hometown of Winnipeg reminded him of some of the city’s weird and wacky culinary traditions. According to Friesen, two of the city’s most iconic fast food dishes – the Fat Boy and the Goog – have never really made it outside of Canada’s borders, and although he has a soft spot for them, he’s not quite ready to introduce them to the Australian industry.

Fat-Boy-burger-in-Winnipeg.jpgFat Boy burger from Winnipeg – Image Patrick Friesen

“Winnipeg is home to this type of burger called a Fat Boy which is sold out of little burger shacks. The Fat boy is a layer of American mustard, heaps of raw diced onion, a thin patty, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, heaps of cheese and chilli sauce on top – kind of like a chilli con carne but it’s more like mince in a spiced gravy. Last time I was home, my cousin, brother and I went around the city to five or six take-away burger places and ate about six fat boys in one afternoon just to see which the best one was.

“There’s another thing in Winnipeg that’s really weird called the Goog. A Goog is a blueberry milkshake, but built on top of it is a hot fudge sundae. So it’s a milkshake, or what Australians call a thickshake – there’s no thin milkshakes in Winnipeg, a thin milkshake is just a shit shake – and then on top they put soft serve, nuts and chocolate sauce. So you drink the blueberry milkshake with a straw, but then you are eating a sundae off the top. It’s ridiculous; it’d kill you.”

Fat-Boy-burger-venue-Dairy-Wip-in-Winnipeg.jpgThe home of the 'goog', Dairy Whip Winnipeg – image Patrick Friesen