Herbie, Bourdain, Gill & The Dip
Last Thursday I had myself a food-love adventure in Sydney. The motivation was the Sydney Writers Festival. I was anticipating a war of words between US chef, author and host of TV show No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain and acerbic UK food critic AA Gill via a ‘moderated’ (Tony Bilson) discussion at Sydney Town Hall in the evening. To make the most of my visit, I made a trip beforehand to the perpetual cook’s favourite Herbie’s Spices in Rozelle, to stock up on some hard-to-find ingredients. An inadvertent meal at newly unbolted underground diner, The Dip, rounded out the night nicely before I headed home.
Last week also marked the first time I’ve managed to finish a jar of spice (ground cumin) well before the expiration date. Feeling quite accomplished by this and figuring I was making some headway in broadening my ‘exotic’ cooking repertoire, I decided a trip to Herbie’s was in order. The vast knowledge of spice guru Ian Hemphill knows no bounds. His opus, Spice Notes & Recipes is a testament to his other-wordly knowledge of herbs and spices. Put plainly, what Mr ‘Herbie’ Hemphill doesn’t know about spices isn’t worth knowing.
The walls of his terrace shop in inner-city Rozelle are lined with packets of ajowan seed to zedory and every spice and herb in between. There’s 10 peppercorn and 4 cardamom varieties, a wall devoted to the chilli (this is the same place where I mail ordered chipotles earlier this year). Another wall of specimen jars containing every single variety available for purchase provides an impressive hands-on, nose-in experience. I walked out of Herbie’s with a bag full of preserved lemons, tagine spice mix, dried chillis and Greek spice mix. I no longer have a spice rack, but a spice shelf in my pantry. I really wish I’d bought the Mexican chocolate now.
Next up was Sydney Town Hall for the word wrestle with Bourdain & Gill. My knowledge of both men is scant. Any interest to date has been purely peripheral. I’d read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential many years ago after I decided not to continue as an apprentice chef and I closed the book believing I had well and truly made the right decision. I’ve seen his TV shows several times. I like his outlook, the way he appears mannered, despite his ability to pepper conversation with f-bombs. AA Gill is somewhat of a wordsmith spectacle. With razor-sharp satire and humor, his reviews of restaurants, countries and cultures is met with equal amounts of derision and endearment. After reading several of his more controversial reviews, I’ve begun to wonder if he is one of the most feared/loathed men in restaurant circles.
Despite the stop-start nature of the conversation, there was less stoush and more modicum of finesse than I’d anticipated. Both agreed that ‘fine dining’ is over. On being asked the inevitable question regarding the best meal he’d ever had, Bourdain answered, “The best thing you ever ate was the thing you needed right now.” It’s just to plainly correct. If you’d like to hear the full conversation, follow the link to the ‘Food Fighters’ talk here.
(I couldn’t think of anything clever or witty or mean to say)
To wrap things up, I decided to walk with the throng of people down George St (where I was reminded just how much I miss the rush and busy of Sydney), for a quick Americano bite at The Dip on Liverpool St. Feeling a little out of place with all the hipsters I sat at the counter where I met food blogger extraordinaire Sandra Beeston The French Wench (be sure to pop over to her blog, it’s very interesting). We’d both been to the talk and discussed the highlights while wolfing down a ‘Lev’s Dawg’ (smoked kosher hot dog with chipotle – there it is again!- mayo, tomato salsa, yellow peppers and mustard on a steamed melt-in-your-mouth bun). I would have finished up with a famed Cookies N Cream (salted caramel ice-cream sandwich with hot fudge molasses), but I was too full of grilled corn with lime mayo and chipotle salt – and again!
All in all an utterly delightful way to spend five hours in Sydney. Did you manage to catch Gill & Bourdain at SWF? What did you think?Share this on: