We put four of Brisbane’s top chefs on the chopping block.
It seems there is a new venue on the foodie scene every week, proving that wining and dining has become a Brisbane way of life. We are undeniably spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out, but there are a few local spots that are unparalleled in their innovative ideas that continue to challenge the conventional food experience.
We chat to Ben Russell of Aria, Jake Nicolson of Blackbird, Josue Lopez of GOMA Restaurant and Sean Calliste of Jellyfish to find out how they’re shaking up the Brisbane foodie scene one forkful at a time.
How do you think food has evolved in Brisbane?
BR|Aria: I have been living in Brisbane for the past seven years and it is a vastly different city now compared to then. Overall, the quality and diversity of things on offer has spiked largely due to public interest. I also think Brisbane is now developing its own dining identity.
JN|Blackbird: I think we have really begun to utilise and respect the produce on our own doorstep. We have our own identity as a food destination that we can be proud of. I have big expectations for further growth of the food scene – definitely some very talented and passionate people here in Brisbane; some very exciting times ahead for our city.
SC|Jellyfish: It’s still evolving; however, people are starting to try more unique flavours.
JL|GOMA: Brisbane chefs have really developed a penchant for celebrating locally-grown produce. With greater knowledge and social media influences, [the chefs] are seeking new flavours and ingredients to bolster their pantries and creating exciting food. Another positive trend is the greater use of native ingredients They are delicious in their own right and it is important to showcase endemic produce.
What is your signature boundary-pushing dish?
JN|Blackbird: I make a “silk purse” from a sow’s ear. I slowly braise the ears before, filling them with a chicken mousseline, packed with garlic and brown butter. It’s then steamed, crumbed and fried, I haven’t met a person yet that doesn’t say it’s delicious.
JL|GOMA: In collaboration with artist Elizabeth Willing, I have designed a dish called Wheel of Cheese, which is plated on a mirror plate designed by Willing. We create an optical illusion of a serving an entire 200g wheel of Woombye triple cream cheese. In fact, it is just a quarter segment, which has its top rind and half of the cheese removed and filled with caramelised pear, crisp honey and elderflower like a hidden garden.
SC|Jellyfish: Char-grilled octopus with sunflower seed purée.
What are your expert tips on plating up a dish?
JL|GOMA: Even after years of experience and having a vision, I often attempt a few ways of plating for every dish, trying different angles and thinking about what I am trying to convey. It is important for me to celebrate the natural form of each ingredient and present them in a very organic way. My other advice is to utilise the entire plate as a canvas and not to overcrowd the plate; smaller portions on a large plate creates an elegant look.
SC|Jellyfish: Keep it simple.
JN|Blackbird: Try not to freak out; you’ve done the hard part. I like to warm my plates in the oven at home before plating – just keeps the food a bit warmer. Also, I tend to cook meals that can be dished out at the table. It takes the stress away from plating up individual plates and creates a nice relaxed atmosphere.
BR|Aria: Like everything in life, don’t over-think it, and maybe aim for the middle of the plate.
How do you keep the foodie world interesting?
JL|GOMA: I believe striving to source the freshest and most innovative ingredients is a vital step when creating a menu that continually piques people’s interest. Innovation and genuine connection are equally important – I believe if what I’m doing is interesting to me, then usually others find it interesting, too.
BR|Aria: Travelling and eating out are the best ways to stay current. In this industry, constant change is essential.
JN|Blackbird: I research as much as I can and look for new ingredients that I can introduce into my kitchen. I focus more on creating food people love and making great produce taste delicious.
SC|Jellyfish: Always experimenting with new ingredients and flavour combinations.
What is your favourite thing about cooking for summer?
JL|GOMA: Brisbane boasts some of the most incredible weather all year and there are few days where red wine lamb shanks with creamy mash are needed as a comforting hug. Summer cooking, however, allows us to serve things with minimal fuss, vibrant variety in texture and distinct tastes.
BR|Aria: Barbecuing and being outdoors.
JN|Blackbird: Summertime generally means getting together with friends and family, and nothing brings people together more than a table full of delicious food or a BBQ with a few mates. Whether you’re the next Jamie Oliver or a backyard MasterChef, food is going to make people smile and that’s what I love about the festive season.
SC|Jellyfish: The freshness of ingredients and exotic summer fruits.
What unique produce will you be using in your summer menu?
JL|GOMA: I have found some Sunshine Coast eels that will make the tasting menu. The dish will be developed around the eels’ natural environment and have water lilies and watercress as complementing flavours in a truly unique dish.
BR|Aria: Silken tofu, smoked duck sausage, pork cheeks, tropical fruits. Not all on one dish!
JN|Blackbird: Exotic tropical fruits are in abundance during summer and there’s just so much out there you probably haven’t tasted or possibly even heard of. Look out for achacha – it tastes almost like a lemon tart. Black sapote, also known as chocolate fruit, reminds me of ripened dates.
SC|Jellyfish: Sunflower seeds, scotch bonnet peppers, kiss peppers.
Summer food is…
JL|GOMA: Colourful, refreshing and visually appetising. Mangoes and stone fruit conjure memories of a happy time of year best spent with family and friends. When cold meats, prawns and salad hit the table, Christmas is nigh.
BR|Aria: Better with wine.
JN|Blackbird: Vibrant, fresh and colourful.
SC|Jellyfish: Light, fresh and fun.
How will you keep cool this summer?
JL|GOMA: With family up the Sunshine Coast. I am very much looking forward to a few lazy beach days, esky in hand and sharing ice cold drinks and lots of Zooper Doopers.
JN|Blackbird: I’m thinking Aperol Spritz by the pool somewhere under a big umbrella… I can see it now!
SC|Jellyfish: Ice water and trips to the beach.
Best advice you’ve given or received?
JL|GOMA: Allow yourself the imagination and confidence to develop your own culinary philosophy and language to express the ingredients you choose to serve.
BR|Aria: There is no point in pointing out a problem unless you have a solution. And when one door closes… well, then it’s shut!
JN|Blackbird: Never climb ladders before you are ready. Success takes time, so be prepared to work hard at whatever it is you set out to achieve. If you have passion to achieve then half your battle has been won.
SC|Jellyfish: Be true to my cooking and don’t compromise your talent.
Favourite Brisbane brekky spot?
JL|GOMA: Gerard’s Bistro continues to push the envelope in terms of interesting breakfast fare with technical precision and delicious flavours.
BR|Aria: Pearl Café.
JN|Blackbird: If I get a chance on the weekend, I head to Gerard’s Bistro. It’s hard to go past the Baghdad eggs but there are plenty of other Middle Eastern-inspired dishes to tuck into.
SC|Jellyfish: The Cliffs at Kangaroo Point.
Favourite place to unwind?
JL|GOMA: North Stradbroke Island is the perfect place to unwind. So close to home, yet it feels thousands of kilometres away. Incredible beaches and beautiful views; a week away is restorative.
JN|Blackbird: I love taking a trip up the Sunshine Coast, stopping by Mooloolaba and Maleny along the way to grab some seafood and cheese. I end up at Noosa, watching the sun go down from the beach or an adjacent balcony of a bar serving cold beer.
SC|Jellyfish: Grenada – the Caribbean.
BR|Aria: The Gresham. It’s with good reason this place is Australia’s number one bar, one of them being that they have cold beers.
Next holiday destination?
JL|GOMA: I would love to explore the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Having never been there, I feel compelled to visit and taste the amazing produce and wines of our Kiwi neighbours.
BR|Aria: Melbourne – Christmas with the family.
JN|Blackbird: I fell in love with Bali on the last couple of visits. Of course it can be a bit touristy but the food and restaurants are just amazing. I have my hit list of places to go but new exciting venues keep opening all the time.
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