What it was like welcoming the three MasterChef contestants to cook in your LA restaurant, Maude? It was a bizarre experience, because as a chef you’re always in your own kitchen and your food is in there, then suddenly it gets handed over to the contestants. You’ve built your little kitchen from start to finish and you hope that you get it all right. I just sort of sat on the sidelines, which is unusual for me, to watch other people cooking, and I think they did a really solid job. It was good fun.
What was it like seeing the three contestants working and creating their dishes under such pressure? We asked them to put their dream on a plate, so watching them try and work through what that was, and learning how much it meant to them, was really cool.
If you put your own dream on a plate, what would that look or taste like? I think at the end of the day your dream is to be happy and comfortable, but I’ve always loved pushing my boundaries and wondering whether something’s possible and having a crack at it. Maybe I’d do something aspirational and try to weave real comfort through it. So, perhaps some really familiar ideas or tastes, done in a more modern interesting way.
Tell us the story behind Maude. It’s a tiny little restaurant, literally 24-feet. I did it to try and flip ‘farm to table’ on its head. To do that in a restaurant, I wanted to try and create something really special, dive deeper and analyse the ingredient I guess. So we take one ingredient, cook with it a dozen different ways and figure out what we can do with just that. First of all you look at what’s edible on the plant - the flower, the leaf, the bulb, and what you can actually get out of it. Then the next step is how you treat that through a really seasonally appropriate menu.
It’s a degustation restaurant. Why did you particularly choose degustation? As a chef you want to try and put as much energy and detail into every plate you serve. The idea of a tasting menu allows you to have less menu items so you can put more detail into each of them. That was sort of the concept behind it.
You’re about to open a second restaurant, Gwen, which is named after your other grandmother. Why is it important to you to celebrate your grandmothers in this way? They taught me a lot about food and dining and comfort. And you know, if you’re going to spend that much time on a restaurant, the name may as well mean something special to you. That’s why I’ve done what I’ve done.
In what ways will Gwen be different or similar to Maude? They couldn’t be more different actually. Gwen is a butcher shop, first and foremost. I’ve imported some stuff from Oz. We’ve got David Blackmore’s wagyu beef in the butcher shop, and a great variety of really local Southern California farm as well. It’s an opportunity to showcase some brilliant product at the butcher shop, then centre the degustation menu around delicious meat.
What does it mean to you to return to MasterChef, season after season as a guest chef? I love the show, I always have. You see this real transformation of these guys that start off really limited in what they know when it comes to the culinary arts, and end up really quite advanced. That’s sort of what’s so special about it. It’s done a tonne for the culinary landscape of Australia. It’s really quite significantly changed the way everyday Aussies look at food, and I think it’s really cool.
A little bit closer to home - if you were having friends over to your place in LA, what would you cook for them? Right now I’ve got a garden full of zucchini, because it’s zucchini month at Maude. I try to cook out of the garden as much as I can. I’ve also just opened the butcher shop, so I’ve got pretty good beef, lamb, pork, and chicken at my fingertips. It’s the 4th July, so I would cook a big rib eye, serve it with some fried zucchini flowers and maybe make a salad out of summer squash.