The idea of turning a commercial kitchen over to a (relatively) junior chef is one that, by its very nature, is pretty much guaranteed to produce some interesting results. But the spin Melbourne restaurant Half Acre has put on the Broadsheet Kitchen Series concept – wherein junior chefs take the reins at some of Australia's most exciting restaurants – is more than just interesting.
When Broadsheet Kitchen comes to Half Acre on September 11 it won't just be one chef taking command of the restaurant's kitchen for the evening. It'll be three – Jeanette Macko, Wei-Si Yuan and Vincent Angebault – each of whom will explore the cuisine of their homeland. With one chef from Taiwan, the second from France and the third from Australia, the result will be a culinary celebration of multiculturalism.
"I founded Half Acre around the idea of home cooking," says Adam Wright-Smith. “This is an opportunity for three chefs from three different cultures to [explore] what home means to them. It's a chance for them to tell their stories – about how they got into food, perhaps, or about something they always look back on that reminds them of home. To take a little element of their home and combine it with the skill set they've been taught over many years, and put together a menu that works ... it's an interesting challenge."
Jeanette Macko is one of the three chefs stepping up for the evening. "I love a challenge! So I'm looking forward to creating something new and hopefully surprising. I also love the concept of the younger chefs or people on the support sidelines getting the chance to tell their stories through a dish."
Her colleague Wei-Si Yuan agrees. "The idea of bringing the dishes that I love to eat and that I cook at home to the dining table at Half Acre ... that makes me excited, [but] it's [also] challenging.
With three chefs sharing responsibility for the menu, the immediate question is: who's doing what? Wright-Smith says he's chosen three staff members whose abilities complement one another. "There are five courses: two entrees, two mains, and a dessert. One chef is going to focus primarily on the dessert, while the other two will work on the entrees and mains. The challenge is for them to work together; the flavours need to work from one dish to the next."
Yuan is cagey about what those dishes will be, explaining only that, "I’m thinking of using a unique Asian ingredient and heroing it using new techniques." Macko, meanwhile, will be focusing on dessert. She's chosen to reinterpret one of the few dishes that can claim to be uniquely Australian: the lamington.
"I am a young Australian chef who uses the kitchen as a creative outlet, and I love that people will get the chance to enjoy – and maybe experience some nostalgia through – what we will create,” she says. “I'm tweaking the traditional lamington because I feel that represents pretty well not only where I am from, but [also] my journey – the lamington was also created by mistake, and I'm an Aussie who found her love of food by mistake."
Wright-Smith says that if there's one thing he hopes his chefs take away from the evening it's that "they're not just cogs in a wheel – they can have these discussions, and express what cooking means to them. It's an opportunity for them to get a feeling of what it's like for people to eat their food." He uses the analogy of music: "To be a session musician, playing someone else's songs, versus being the person who writes the songs ... they're two very different things.
"We really wanted to position the night as a celebration – not just of [our] chefs, but also of that homey feeling across three different cultures, and how food brings people together across many cultures." It's a little microcosm of what makes Australia what it is. As Yuan says, "I’ve learnt the core of modern-Australian cuisine in this kitchen – which is multicultural food."
Broadsheet Kitchen’s takeover at Half Acre is on Wednesday September 11 at 112 Munro Street, South Melbourne. Tickets are $65.