Kitchen Diaries

Kitchen Blog

Friday 20th September 2011

Since I have started cooking, many years ago, I have always thought that there should be camera in the kitchens.  What a story, what a reality show!!  So many thongs happen, so many emotions and so many things that are taught and learnt in the kitchen and let me tell you, it’s not all lessons related to food either.  Life lessons, team comradery and team dynamics.  So many variables in one day and so many faces you have to put on just to get on and when you’re tired, grumpy and busy with work, then that is when all the fun begins and it’s when the show reel gets really entertaining.  Chefs shouting at each other, other chefs pushing another for perfection, some are lazy, some are hard workers, some have too many bloody problems they have brought to work and is now affecting their cooking, so variables and with so many outcomes to each day.  A choose your own adventure book, kind of like the opens I used to read when I was kid.  Same book every day for a few weeks but every time a different ending.  Cooking in a commercial kitchen is pretty much the same and then we produce food amongst all that!!

Today how ever, I am not cooking in my own kitchen.  Today I am lucky enough to be flown into Sydney and lucky enough to be staying at one of our flag ship hotels, Sydney Hilton to help with the World Chef Show Case.  Every year all the Executive chefs of all the properties in Australia and New Zealand come together and have a conference discussing how we as a group and can better our positions in the market.  This year we have chosen to do it during the show case so we can meet and cook with some of the worlds famous and very talented chefs.  On the list were chefs like Luke Nguyen, Matt Moran, Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore, Alex Atala, Mark Best just to name some.  What a great opportunity, every chef’s dream to see how these guys think and cook.  I love watching great people and how they move, walk, talk and in this case cook.  I want to see what top chefs look like at the top of their game, to gauge how far I have to go, what I have to learn and what I have to practise.  Today, I learnt a lot.  It was amazing to sit there and watch greatness all in one room.  Yes they’re normal people, but exceptionally talented people, talented chefs.  This is the reason why I feel excited, why I get excited.  The feeling reminds of when I was a young man washing dishes, polishing plates whilst I absorbed the energy of chefs cooking in the Grange Kitchen, watching the great Cheong Liew lead his chefs into culinary greatness.  His presence was overwhelming and energy was huge.  To me he seemed 7 feet tall, powerful and strong, a scary man with temper but as I got to know him and got to show him how I cooked and how I worked, I started to the see the real man that stood before.  He was actually shorter than I am and that’s short!!  I actually had more of a temper too but I can see in his eyes the genius that never seemed to stop thinking about food.  There was a certain child like innocence about how he approached food and his thought process but the end result was nothing but culinary magic.  Today, I will see if once more, culinary geniuses at work and I’m like a kid in lolly shop, bursting with excitement, but I gotta act cool!!!

Wow, I worked with Luke Nguyen and Alex Atala today.  I was their prep chef for the day.  I wore a full bib apron and my name and title was covered so it was nice to be treated as an apprentice.  Sounds weird but I really loved being told what to do for something different. It’s nice not to think and just fully concentrate on the food, understand the ingredients and how it’s prepared.  Tomorrow is going to be even more fun, all the superstar chefs will in.  Today is just a prep day, tomorrow is fun time!!  For now my sous chef Jon and I will dine at Marque restaurant, Gourmet Traveller’s restaurant of the year.

Saturday 21st of September 2011

Marque was fantastic.  I would have liked to take photos but didn’t want to look like a grommet!!  I was amazed at the level of class the restaurant had and learnt a lot of things about how to present food on a different level.  The kitchen was small but very well organised.  The restaurant was full, all having the degustation menu.  When you arrive, you don’t get a menu, it’s what ever the kitchen cooks for the day.  You get the menu when you leave.  It’s been a while since I have been to a good restaurant.  Adelaide seems to have this gap in great restaurants at the moment.  I have my theories on that but that is for another discussion

Morning started at 8am and with Alex Atala, well known Brazilian chef.  Learnt about the seafood and how to make little salmon roe bounce like rubber balls by marinating them in mirin over night.  It was dressed in in oyster water and served with brioche crumbed oysters, yummo!!

Helped Luke Nguyen and prepped with his chef.  Served a barramundi dish with rice noodles and nuc chum mam sauce, a Vietnamese fish sauce with chilli and sugar.  That was delicious and nice to work with a super star chef in Vietnamese cuisine.  He was a pretty nice dude too!!  We will be working with him next week in Adelaide at The Good Food and Wine Show

Sunday 22nd of September 2011

Working with Matt Moran again all morning this morning.  But when Matt arrived today, it was like a dream.  Matt Moran walks in, next minute Neil Perry walks in the kitchen, followed by David Chang of Momofuku, then not far after that, Dan Hong of MS G’s restaurant walks in.  It was amazing and I couldn’t stop but stare, again mesmerized by how they were more than who they were.  I wanted to see all of them, and I did.  I tasted and helped with all their cooking demos, bloody awesome.

Later on the day, after noon shift cam in which included chefs like Peter Gilmore, and Mark Best of the acclaimed Marque restaurant.  We were fortunate enough to speak to his sous chef who was full of knowledge and was willing to share information, that was exciting.

In all, the week end in Sydney was an absolute treat.  It was truly amazing to see great chefs all in one room;  the dream team for chefs!!

Next week, we have Matt Moran cooking with us and Luke Nguyen visiting us for The Good Food and Wine show in Adelaide.  I prep with the boys to make sure the events go well and I also prep for our own on line cook book to be photographed.  The photography will be done in one day, so it’s going to be a really week then the following week, I fly to Colombo Sri Lanka to cook there for two weeks.  I get back and literally get on another plane to Port Lincoln to visit the fisheries down there for 3 days to see where we get all of our South Australian seafood from.  I do not know when I will get to rest and I cannot picture he end but I guess you and I will know by the end of the month.  So here we go and see you on the other side!!

Friday 7th of October 2011

This week has gone so bloody fast.  I arrived back in Adelaide with a pile of work to catch up on and yes they’re all administrative stuff, boring and painful work for a chef!!

Matt Moran dinner was on tonight.  It was an absolute pleasure to work with him again this year and it nice that he likes working with us.  He says he will never do a dinner again with any other kitchen but ours because he loves the team and their passion.  I hope next week, Hilton Colombo gives me the same experience.

We welcomed Luke Nguyen tonight as well and he was gracious enough to sit with the team and have a drink with us.  The team celebrated their successful night with Matt Moran and as a thanks, the General Manager and the owners representative of the hotel sat with us to say thanks and to bought a round for the chefs as a gesture of their appreciation, fricken awesome of the owners to that, great for the teams morale!!  The chefs were chuffed at meeting another celebrity chef on one night and Luke was awesome to sit there for a long time to chat with the crew.  When he left, they guys were all like kids, like they have just met God or something!  Awesome to see them smile and enjoy that little bit of brush with fame.

Saturday 8th of October 2011

Hung over, along with every one else.  I didn’t realise until about 4am that along with every one else there, I had to be back at work in three hours.

Today, I have to get the prep completed for the Hilton on line cookbook to be photographed tomorrow, all 14 recipes, bloody hell!!

Sunday 9th October 2011

7am start!!  Tired now and I have that deep thumping head ache on the sides of my temple and as every step I take makes it thump harder and longer!!

The day went well.  We thought we would be there for the whole entire day until midnight but Belinda and Jun Pang.  They had it all mapped out and with props in motion.  All I had to do was cook and plate up.  The pictures looked great and the more importantly, the recipes worked!!  Cant wait to see the final product!!

Tuesday, 11th of October 2011

Hopping on a plane to Sri Lanka to do an a guest chef appearance at the Hilton Colombo.  Don’t really know what to expect!?!?!  I have cooked for the president of the United States, Royalty and super stars but nothing compares to the to this feeling of unknown that is rolling through my head every 5 minutes.  Firstly, I don’t know if the food I have ordered has arrived there in Sri Lanka.  I have ordered all my ingredients from Australia to be shipped into Sri Lanka.  It takes 24 hours to get in.  I bloody hope that it just gets there in time.  Organising that was just so hard.  Suppliers to deal with and getting Hilton Colombo to make sure they know it is coming in and to set it aside.  Things like lettuce, potatoes, herbs etc.  Apparently ingredients are so hard to get.  It is hard to imagine that for me, hard to get lettuce??  I guess I will se for myself.  So, in general, in my head I am to cook a degustation menu with hardly any ingredients……………………..awesome??

Wednesday, 12th of October 2011

Too tired for writing.  Over 24 hours of travelling and that is in Sri Lankan time. Arrived at Hilton Colombo at 1230am.  I am exhausted and very stinky!!

My first impression though, the smell is different, like all the other smell of other Asian countries I have visited like Vietnam and Thailand.  For me, it is so distinctively Asian!!  The people are very, very awesomely polite.  They smile at you every time and say hello, some just stare and smile and pause like a statue, stare and smile, a little creepy but you know it is harmless, its more out of curiosity than anything I think.  The humidity hits you like brick wall and I immediately start to break out in sweat.  The streets at night look a little like the wore torn countries of Baghdad or something but I am sure it will be different in day light.  The prices for things look cheap.  I have not worked it out completely but, it looks like it is cheap.  My room is old, but the hotel is old, I am sure I will find grandeur in this old place tomorrow in day light but I love the view.  I am right on the coast line here and beyond the Hilton complex it looks a little ”dirty” and a tad intimidating but I am sure it is because of unfamiliarity!!  But, I am too bloody tired for this now.  Made too many mistakes and too tired to fix them!!  Sleep please!!

Wednesday, 12th of October 2011 – same day!!

Woke up at 4 am!!!  Bloody hell, no sleep.  Jet lag at its best!!  Adelaide is 5 hours in front so it would make sense that I am up at 4am because at home it is 9am in the morning, the time I get up or usually driving to work.  Exhausted still but nothing I can do to make this weary head sleep.  Too much to think about and too much to prepare.  My stomach feels a little sick from the stress now.  I have to prove myself to the Sri Lankans and Rudolf, the general manager of Hilton Colombo who invited me in the first place to cook this dinner event.  The executive chef here also has a massive reputation in this country and of course my personal pride doesn’t allow much room for failure.  For now, I’ll try again for a little extra sleep, I have to be in the kitchen at 10am

Wednesday, 12th of October 2011

Could not sleep, so I’ll have to see the day with 3 hours sleep in the past 30 plus hours.  I think adrenaline is the only thing keeping me awake and moving and the stress and anticipation of what crew I will get and if my ingredients have come in, what equipment I have to work with and space that is allocated for me to work in.  Foreign kitchens, it does not matter where you, wether it is at a home or in the commercial world, foreign kitchens takes a long time to get used to and merely slows you down.

There is a massive language barrier that I just cannot break.  I have a head ache and the smile that greeted me are now annoying me because I instruct them to do a job and check on them a few hours later only to be greeted with a smile and job that is incomplete.  They’re lovely people but what I can do at home in a few hours have now taken so fricken long to finish.  Worried the dinner will be on time!  WORRIED I won’t have the product I have in mind served.  Oh and note to self, sugar in Sri Lanka does not react the same as sugar in Australia because they treat it differently here due to the heat and moisture.  And also, flour sucks!!  I have to re-teach myself to because yeap, you guest it, they treat their flour differently here too.  Oh and none of my ingredients are in yet and the ones that are, are the wrong ones.  I been in this situation before, it ended with heart ache, stress and lots of alcohol!

Friday, 13th October 2011

Fed the owners of Dilmah tea and most of the ambassadors of consulates including of course, Australian Ambassadors.  I didn’t know I going to feed them, slightly freaked myself out.

Took a couple of hours off here and there and one of the chefs took me around Colombo.  Amazing place, I can see this country being a tourist destination a couple of years.  Went to the markets and boy was that sight.  Like a kid in lolly chop walking around with smile from ear to ear.  Street food was awesome and it was nice to have s tour by one of the chefs.  He did a graveyard shift, then spent the morning showing me around the place!  What an awesome man

The food did come out!!  A lot of modifications to the recipes but none the less, it went it.  The chicken came out a little small, because I think the chickens didn’t come any bigger than a size 8, which made it hard to de bone and stuff the legs.  And my ingredients finally came through with only hours until doors opened.

I saw the most amazing function that the hotel did.  They performed a catering function at the town hall (around the corner really) for over 4500 people!!  I have neve seen an even of that size being catered for externally.  I have never seen so many chefs.  All the food as made at the hotel by 170 odd chefs, by far the biggest brigade I have ever seen in my entire life.  Every item on the buffet was made from scratch, nothing was bought in, so imagine, over 4500 bread rolls, ice carvings n buffets, desserts and so on, unbelievable, cooking at it’s best.  The hotel has over 18 F&B outlets, I cannot imagine controlling that!!

Tomorrow is the last night of the dinners.  I am then travelling to Dilmah teahouse to visit the tea factories.  Can’t wait to relax and can’t wait to eat street food.

Saturday, 14th October 2011

Really quick up date!

  1. Saw Buddas tooth at the temple
  2. Drove from Colombo to Kandy where the tea houses are.  Stopped at temples to pray (although I don’t the religion I’m fascinated by it all).  Kandy is beautiful
  3. Stayed at one of the most beautiful tea houses in Sri Lanka owned by Dilmah
  4. Ate so many street food, favourite so far, curry wrapped in roti! Just Roti in general.  They have these cheese filled ones with green chillies, what a combo!
  5. Seen some unbelievable scenery, Sri Lanka is a great place.


Sunday, 13th May 2012

Mothers day!

Absolutely bloody busy all the day.  The restaurant was full “all” day.  We ha breakfast which was fully booked all morning plus we opened up an extra room to allow more guests in.  Then we had brunch, fully booked out people eating so much food that all day I was thinking that they must have starved them selves so long to be able to eat so much.  Then high tea was served, again, it was the most intense service.  People every where, people eating like food on earth was going to run out.  It seemed though they all enjoyed them selves and it seemed that they were al enjoying the food, which for me is the important thing, other wise we would not have a job.

The kitchen was in full swing all day.  It was really nice to see so many chefs all busy and all doing their duties with such precision like they briefed the day before.  I love seeing days like these hen the chefs know exactly what they have to do, it makes my job easy and that is to concentrate on how to drive day, the shift or the service, the buzz is amazing and the adrenalin runs through your body.  It is one of the reasons why I like cooking.  I played sports all my life in a competitive level.  When you’re playing things go so quick in your mind, decisions are made in a split second and that rush of adrenalin flows through your entire body.  It makes things clearer, makes you react quicker, wakes you up and reminds you that you are alive.  This happens through service.  A busy 4 hour service would seem like half an hour when our finished and you walk around wide awake, its why chefs don’t sleep because by the time they get home, they’re still wired up.  Some times we after a big service, like on a Saturday we all go out to celebrate a good service and get our drink on to help us sleep.  This seems to happen less with me now though, I think it’s age thing but I still don’t get to sleep until very early in the morning.  Part of chef’s life I suppose….


About dnleslie

Chef and food lover. Passionate about cooking, learning from people and teaching. View all posts by dnleslie

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