Remember the time we dug into bone marrow and interviewed head chef Kyle Street from Depot? This time we sat down with Depot founder and celebrity chef Al Brown to get the lowdown on his latest book “Get Fresh”. And all this wouldn’t be complete without dipping our fingers into Depots’ secret recipe mustard and an impromptu cheese tasting!
In 2 sentences: Al is one of the founders of the Wellington fine-dining restaurant Logan Brown where he was the head chef for 12 years before moving on to write cook books, film TV series, and promote all things Kiwi. And of course, he recently just opened the famous Depot last year (2011).
So what’s different about “Get Fresh” compared to your other books?
It’s more light-hearted. Like the TV show, this book follows 10 provinces from North to South of New Zealand with three dishes that represent that province. But with filming, sometimes we can spend 1 week in one province and it gets shrunken down to only 21 minutes of air time when there’s actually so much more. So this book really celebrates NZ and even has a CD with music that captures the vibe and feel of the different places. I met with Mike Chunn from Play it Strange and together we matched the different songs to the provinces. They’re all Kiwi and that’s what I love about it, it’s about celebrating New Zealand.
I’m a big fan of music as well. Actually I celebrate anything New Zealand, not just food. It’s all about the people. If I can sell 15 or 20,000 books and it can help some of the Kiwi artists, this it’s a way for them to step up.
With the recent changes in the Auckland food scene, do you think fine-dining is getting less popular?
I think there will always be a place for fine dining. For me, food evolves you know? As Kiwis, we’re more relaxed than anyone else; a lot of the food is all about freshness – all you need is a bit of salt and pepper, maybe a bit of lemon juice and it tastes great. If you were in the South of France and you ordered a plate of scallops; you would probably get a big plate, with three scallops and some foam in the middle with something artistic. But in NZ if you ordered a plate of scallops, you’d get a simple plate of scallops.
As Kiwis, if we were to ask anyone right now if they would rather go to say… The French Café or a BBQ right now, 80% of people would pick BBQ, because we’d rather be relaxed in a social comfortable atmosphere than somewhere where we need to be sitting up right with white tablecloths and be afraid if the fork fell on the floor or something.
So what makes food at Depot special?
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s about the people and the place. People don’t actually like the food to be handled so much. We don’t disguise the food and plate it up perfectly. With the casualness of the atmosphere, we serve up good food in a generous hospitable way. Don’t need the formality or the bullsh*t!
Depot’s famous habanero mustard – Apparently it tastes awesome with steak (and anything else)
Des Harris from Clooney mentioned one of the major things you taught him was “food must pass the eat well test” What’s that about?
Taste always comes before looks. Food has to taste good before you work on the looks. Get the flavor right first, texture, then looks. If you look at a beautiful lamb rack with a huge stick of rosemary sitting on top – I mean how do you expect to get the flavor from that?
You were at Logan Brown for 12 years, in the fine dining scene; why did you choose to move away from it?
I believe life has different chapters, and it was time for a new chapter. What I wanted was a challenge – see if I could write books, do different things.
Do you cook at home? What kind of food do you cook?
I cook very simply at home sometimes on a Sunday night we just have corned beef and potato. I’m not a food snob so I’ll have a bit of protein, salad, carbs… and I’ll mix up the different types of carbs. My fridge door is just full of condiments. My favourite – habanero mustard that you can get at Depot – I’ll just add that to everything.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done in the kitchen?
I don’t think there’s ever been an embarrassing moment for me – we all make mistakes. I do remember when I was training in France, I had a chef (a very dear friend now) who taught me everything. He would always tell me: “Al you should be a leather shoe maker” because everything I cooked would be overcooked and tough like leather. That was years ago though.
So there’s a few words about Al’s philosophy on food. It’s quite different to the fine-dining style we always see on TV shows, but I think this is as Kiwi as it’ll get – I do wonder what tourists would think if they were to use “Get Fresh” as a tour guide to travel around New Zealand.
I’m sure you Omnommers know about our Facebook competition now for Taste of Auckland (If you don’t, click on the link and go enter now). And with Taste of Auckland coming, we have a series of chefs who we’re featuring and interviewing. Do you have any questions you would like to ask chefs? Let us know what they are!
Until next time. Nom.