It captures the intensity of working in a high-pressure environment, especially when those dockets roll in.” That’s chef Ben Shemesh from Small’s Deli in Potts Point, complimenting the realistic in-the-kitchen grind depicted in season one of hit series The Bear.
Like the lead character Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, Shemesh knows a thing or two about preparing world-class sandwiches during a hectic lunch rush. After graduating from nearby wine bar Dear Sainte Eloise, he opened Small’s with graphic designer Emily Van Loon in March 2020, on the cusp of the pandemic. The compact eight-seater was lucky enough to remain open for takeaway throughout lockdown, offering made-to-order sangas with a strong European influence (think baguettes and paninis).
When The Bear’s first season released on Disney+ in mid-2022, the kitchen staff at Small’s had just started donning blue aprons like the ones worn by characters on the show. “It was a strange coincidence,” says Shemesh. “And it’s funny because there’s obviously this big trend of sandwich shops at the moment, but we’ve been open since 2020.”
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In FX’s The Bear, Carmy is a decorated fine-dining chef who returns from New York to his hometown of Chicago to take over his recently deceased brother’s ailing sandwich shop, The Original Beef of Chicagoland. Culture clashes ensue on several levels, with a steep learning curve for both Carmy and his inherited kitchen staff. The much-anticipated second season – dropping July 19 on Disney+ – follows Carmy as he takes on even bigger challenges, starting with a dramatic shop makeover that proves much more convoluted than he had planned.
Despite the show’s distinctive Chicago setting – and its focus on that’s city’s juicy Italian beef sandwiches – Shemesh was very much up for the challenge of putting his own spin on the regional favourite. In fact, he’s collaborated with Broadsheet to create The Carmy, an indulgent new menu item that will be available only between Thursday August 3 and Sunday August 6 to coincide with the new season.
Pairing smoked and sliced silverside in jus with a creamy cheese sauce, zesty oregano-based marinade salmoriglio and leafy rocket, it’s a European-style spin on Chicago’s longstanding sandwich of note. “It is what it is, so it’s kind of hard to change it,” Shemesh says. “But we made it a little more decadent.” That starts with a mac’n’cheese-inspired blend of pecorino and cheddar, with some hot English mustard and horseradish for added warmth. Then there’s the gremolata-like salmoriglio, which sneaks in a bit of chilli and lemon zest for extra zing.
“And the sweet and sour peppers are both the sweet and acidic element,” says Shemesh. “They cut through the richness of the meat and the cheese. They’re the final piece of the puzzle, on top of the sandwich.”
As for the silverside, it comes from Whole Beast Butchery in Marrickville. It’s leaner than brisket, giving nicer slices that hold better on the sandwich. Meanwhile, the toasted panini from Paddington’s Organic Bread Bar lends structure and crunch. “That’ll hold all the juices in,” he says. “But the Chicago-style sandwich itself is such a wet sandwich, we figured we could get away with a bit of extra moisture in there. It’s basically got three sauces.”
Shemesh has been to Chicago and sampled the authentic Italian beef sandwiches there. And while it’s the first time he has ventured into Americana at Small’s, he acknowledges that Aussies are all too willing to borrow specific regional styles from all around the world and make them our own. “Australia doesn’t have a problem [taking] something and making it a bit different,” he says. “If it’s tasty, we’ll do it.”
As for the current boom in inventive sandwich-making – which has enjoyed an even greater boost thanks to The Bear – he thinks it’s partly to do with putting top quality, creative ingredients in an approachable format. “It’s just an easy way for people to access flavours they might not have in the past, in the guise of a sandwich,” says Shemesh. “They’re big, hearty and delicious. It’s not as simple as a cheese-and-salad sandwich anymore. Basically whatever you can put on a plate, you can put between bread.”
The Carmy will be available to purchase directly from Small’s Deli for a limited time only, from Thursday August 3 to Sunday August 6, 2023.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Disney+. Stream the new season of FX’s The Bear on Disney+ now.