The week that was (26 May 2016)

- Last week I failed you with promises of Fass’s rant, disappointingly linking to an article in the Tele instead. My apologies. You can read Fass giving it to little Johnny and little Larry here (you will need to be on FB and you will need to scroll down to May 16).
 
Comedy aside, the rant is symptomatic of something else, a greater problem in the industry and an important one - the business of sustainability, or, more precisely, the sustainability of the business. This week’s news stories offered us plenty to ponder.
 
Hospo Mag set the scene. They took a look at your average 180 seater, 7 day (lunch and dinner) operation (ok, so not so average, but for arguments sake ...). They broke down the figures (a pretty standard 30/30/30 split) and then tried to find places to make the savings, working on the premise that the punters won't pay more. (I’m not convinced on this point, in fact I think all food needs to become more expensive.) They take a furtive glance in the direction of award wages, apprenticeships and the proposed changes to the 457 visa. Sadly this is all questions and not many answers, beyond seeding debate and turning the glare away from the owners.
 
- One potential solution to managing costs is to look to a pre-paid system. Designed to abate some of the standard frustrations (no-shows, unnecessary food costs and nailing the balance of staff), the system was taken to task this week by Lethlean (you’ll need to scroll to find it). His grievances were largely aimed at Lûmé who are using Tock, a pre-paid reservations system run by Alinea co-owner, Kokonas.
 
“I don’t think Australia will get on board. But I’m just a Luddite who spends about $50,000 a year in restaurants, all of it the old-fashioned way. Tock will work for the restaurant. Right up until people stop buying tickets.”
 
Chef and owner Shaun Quade wrote an eloquent and considered response to Letho’s piece. In it, he explained his vision for the restaurant and shared his figures and reasoning. Read it. It’s great.
 
- Of course, there are also the anomalies, but at what cost? I'm talking about the incredible expansion of branded ‘casual premium’ restaurants: Fratelli Fresh (via UPG) have become a moveable feast, while Long Chim also appears set for rapid expansion and now George C’s Jimmy Grants, which apparently has designs on 20 to 40 new joints across Australia in the coming years. Is this the McDonaldisation of mid-range dining??
 
- Either way, it's not a solution for everyone either, and certainly not the owner/operators. I don’t know what is, but the debate’s important. Good restaurants are important. This week, Victor Liong penned this lovely ode to Marque that summed up why. Good restaurants beget good restaurants. It’s that simple.
 
- And so we move on to another controversial topic, but one that is sparking great debate. The ‘First Lady’ of wine, Jancis Robinson, posted an article on ‘Australia - The Wild Ones’.  “Until a few years ago, all of the world's winemakers seemed to be going in the same direction, roughly in pursuit of a local copy of the French classics, more or less styled to appeal to the perceived tastes of the most powerful American critics. So big and bold held sway for many years. But today a new subculture, or perhaps more accurately a counter culture, has emerged. All over the world a new generation of producers is turning its back on the conventional archetypes and is making wines quite different from the old icons.”
 
As fate would have it, I had this exact conversation with Joel from drnks last week. I find the whole natural wine debate fascinating. How amazing that our palates can vary, in that some will change (evolve?), while others hold fast. Love them or hate them, I certainly believe that the wine industry will benefit from moving away from the encyclopaedic, out of the wrong vs right. It’s taste. It can be many things: religious, personal bias, culturally acquired. But it can’t be wrong. So, we have a flavour revolution. Let the debate rage on.
 
- On a lighter note, what about all these porcini growing around Adelaide?? They’ve landed in Sydney too, thanks to Richard Gunner. I want in. Richard tells me they most likely came in on the roots of an imported plant. He also says they are multiplying, presumably spreading to other trees. This is seriously exciting.
 
- Finally, I stumbled across ‘The Seven Ages of a Chef’ this week (via Darren Simpson). It’s a rather exquisite series of interviews The Guardian ran a couple of years ago. Much within is still valid so I am including some of the thoughts I gleened from the interviews below:
 
James Lowe – “I've realised I prefer looking after people to cooking for them. I love cooking, but I love restaurants more – it's the whole package.”
 
Locatelli - “… you could see they were in love, but maybe they didn't realise it yet … At 11.30pm, I looked out and he was kissing her, and I thought, "Yeah!" I didn't look how much money we made that day; I didn't care.”

Albert Roux - (who talks as much about his appetite for women as for food.)  “It's a fact – I was born a womaniser and I adore the company of a woman, and not particularly for sex. I'd rather have dinner with a charming lady than a charming man. But sometimes it can be taken wrongly. I'm at the moment in an ugly situation of divorce which is very unpleasant, which I didn't want it to be.” Ha. The French.
 
And 83 year old Joyce Molyneaux - “A life lived through the kitchen is something I would thoroughly recommend.” And on Elizabeth David: “Old recipes like those have an awful lot to teach us. Cooks should never forget the old recipes.” Hear, hear.