Lennox Hastie is fascinated by fire. He is chef and owner of Sydney’s Firedoor, Australia’s only fully wood-fuelled restaurant, having learnt how to work with fire in Spain’s Asador Etxebarri. The small asador has a strong tradition of wood-fired grilling, and Hastie’s work there earned the eatery a place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and its first Michelin star.
Hastie says the primal act of lighting a fire is a satisfying ritual, and here shows us how he lights a fire and keeps it going.
Lighting a Fire
Fuel, heat and oxygen are the three elements required to start a fire. People often struggle when building one because they don’t appreciate oxygen and heat are as important as the fuel. It is often seen as a triangle, because without one the others fail.
There are many ways of lighting a fire depending on your circumstances and the materials at hand. I prefer the ‘log cabin’ method, which promotes significant airflow. Unlike other designs, the structure does not collapse, enabling you to use it for indirect cooking straight away.
What You’ll Need
Eight pieces of dry-seasoned split hardwood.
Eight pieces of dry kindling made of split softwood, such as pine.
One handful dry tinder, such as pine needles, dried grass or twigs, shaved strips of softwood. Ignition, such as matches, lighter, or flint and steel.
How To Do It
Create a stable foundation. Place two logs parallel to each other, approximately 30 centimetres apart.
Bridge two logs across the first pair of logs; these should also be 30 centimetres apart. These provide support for your fire and help protect it from wind.
Lay four pieces of kindling across the second pair of logs, creating a hollow.
Nestle your tinder in the hollow of the kindling.
Bridge four additional pieces of kindling across the second pair of logs, enclosing the tinder.
Bridge two more logs across the second pair of logs on either side of the kindling.
Nestle tinder on top of the second layer of kindling.
Bridge the last two logs across the third pair of logs, maintaining an open structure.
Ignite the layers of tinder at each level to create initial flames, which will catch and set the ‘cabin’ alight. Gently blow air on the flames to aid combustion.
Recipe for Firedoor’s 200-Day Dry-Aged Beef Rib
At odds with the typical grill restaurant, most of the menu at Firedoor comprises fish and vegetables. I knew though, if I was going to have one steak, it had to be a great one.
I approached Anthony Puharich from Vic’s Premium Quality Meat – a man as passionate about meat as I am about fire. We began exploring which breeds would work best.
Today we work with two main producers: Rangers Valley in northern New South Wales, which produce angus cattle grain-finished gradually for 270 days; and O’Connor Beef in Gippsland, Victoria, which breed grass-fed hereford-cross angus cattle. I find it difficult to describe the flavour, with a profile ranging from intense umami meatiness through to old sherry and aged parmesan.
There are, of course, several ways to cook steak, but there is so much going on with this steak it needs very little embellishment other than the aromatic flavour of the wood and good salt. It is important the steak is brought to room temperature before cooking to allow the fats to render through the meat.
Prepare your embers and suspend a grill approximately 10 centimetres above them.
Holding the steak by the bone, brush it across the grill rack three or four times to baste the grill.
Place the steak on the grill and immediately season well.
Leave for one minute and rotate 60 degrees, adjusting the height of the grill or the embers as necessary to ensure the steak is only being licked by flames.
Repeat the rotation five times until the surface is caramelised to a rich mahogany.
When ready, turn the steak and season again.
Repeat the rotation and adjustment process (steps 4–6).
Remove the steak from the grill and allow to rest in a warm place for five minutes.
With a sharp knife, remove the bone, trim the sinew line on the inside of the rib and carve into five millimetre slices. Serve immediately.