When we descend from the midday sun of Flinders Lane to the shadowy, subterranean Coda, it’s not hard to spot Hudson Tarasiuk at a glance, despite never having met him before. Firstly, at the early lunch sitting of 12.30pm, he’s at the only occupied table in the restaurant. Secondly, he’s 10 years old.
We’re meeting to talk about food. Along with Melbourne weather and Game of Thrones, it’s a pretty universal topic, but rarely a subject to broach with a fifth grader – especially if you’re after a certain level of sophistication that extends beyond chicken schnitzel and mum’s spaghetti.
But Hudson has had his fair share of culinary experiences and has dined at more Melbourne restaurants than most of his primary school counterparts, and probably most of us too. In short, Hudson likes to review restaurants for his blog Hudson Eats, and so far his hefty folio includes the likes of Cafe di Stasio, Chin Chin, Attica, Golden Fields, Icebergs, Vue de Monde and his latest addition, Cumulus Inc.
With this staggering list at the back of our minds, we may have been bracing ourselves for a modern manifestation of Veruca Salt (or maybe more of the Gloop variety), but Hudson is definitely a Bucket: a polite, gentle boy with a small, light frame, hardly seeming like a victim of excess. His nature isn’t demanding or entitled – simply quietly curious and interested in everything.
The first thing we talk about isn’t the food at all.
“First when I come here I have a look at the interior, especially if I’m waiting for someone,” he explains of his process. Absorbing our surroundings, he says that he likes that the restaurant is set underground, but particularly admires the mesh lights hanging above the bar.
Hudson has been documenting his dining experiences for more than six months now, beginning with a visit to Attica. When the staff noticed him taking notes throughout the evening, they suggested that he start his own blog, and he took it to heart. He dines out regularly with his parents, a salesman and a graphic designer, who encourage their son’s diverse and discerning palate, and also help edit his reviews.
When the waiter approaches, Hudson takes the lead, once given permission. He orders a small feast of starters to share: crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf; calamari with green papaya; spanner crab; crispy rice paper rolls with pork; Harvey Bay scallops; few pieces of mozzarella with zucchini fritters; and some 12-hour beef ribs with radish kimchi. As the small plates land on the table, he snaps photos on his iPad, a visual memento to help him when he sits down to write at home.
When tested on the chef at Cumulus, he spouts: “Andrew McConnell.” Attica? “Ben Shewry.” Icebergs? “Maurice Terzini.” Chin Chin? This one he gets wrong – confusing the chef with the owner, Chris Lucas. He realises his mistake, adding that, of course, “he owns Baby as well”. The swift answers and bubbling excitement is like a boy rattling off memorised stats from a pack of footy cards.
Hudson is surely an anomaly amongst his peers, but his keen, youthful interest might say something of prime time television’s saturation of popular cooking shows, the ever-growing cult of the celebrity chef and perhaps the beginning of a trickle-down effect of his parents’ so-called ‘foodie generation’ fuelling the current dining boom sweeping the city.
But Hudson doesn’t need to think about that. One thing he can share with us is that his personal hero is Heston Blumenthal. “He’s just mad. Not mad, but he’s very experimental,” Hudson says quickly, using his hands a lot. “And he just tries new things. Like snail porridge. He puts two things together…like porridge, a boring dish, with something fancy. Really creative.”
Hudson recounts his excitement in meeting him last year and tasting ‘The Queen of Hearts’, a ‘playing card’ revealed to be an impossibly-thin shortbread with strawberry jam, covered in white chocolate and stamped with a chocolate Fat Duck seal. The seemingly magical confectionist inspires bafflement and wonder in Hudson, like some kind of 21st century Wonka.
The waiter asks if we’d like any coffees with our desserts. Hudson asks if they have decaf and when denied he politely asks for a peppermint tea. The dessert arrives in a sprawling, deconstructed fashion: a popcorn parfait with caramel corn, raspberry sorbet and rock salt caramel.
Hudson says that he doesn’t really think he’ll be a chef or a critic when he grows up, explaining that “it’s more of a hobby”. He wants to design things, like his mum. Fashion maybe, or interiors. But in the meantime, he wants to keep tasting new food and practising writing reviews. And as he gets older, he might start garnering a little less attention in the finer establishments. “People definitely do look at me a bit weirdly.”
Read Hudson’s review on Coda here.