Interview With Celebrity Chef Adrian Richardson

6 Jan

I posted ‘The Best Gnocchi Recipe!’ in October after meeting celebrity chef and meat lover Adrian Richardson for the first time and I got the chance to speak with Adrian again this week. This time it was over the phone after he returned from a well deserved chill out session at the beach.

2010 was a huge year for Adrian and there’s more than just a big, juicy chunk of aged beef on his plate this year to sink his teeth into.

So Adrian, you became a pilot at 16, is that right?

“That’s right, I dropped out of school at 16 because my teacher’s thought I was a bit of an idiot and so I got my pilots license which convinced me that I wasn’t an idiot. I went back to school to be a pilot and to continue my flying lessons I had to work. I’d already done a bit of work in kitchens up until then so I thought I’d work on the weekends; Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights I’d work in a little restaurant and during the week I’d go to school.”

So is that how your love of food started, being forced into the kitchen to make money or were you interested in it before that?

“No, I was very lucky, I’ve got quite an unusual family background. My mother is Italian and my grandmother is Italian but was born and lived in Cairo in Egypt and my grandfather was from the north of Italy, so I had very strong Italian and Middle Eastern influences around me. My grandma was a fantastic cook and I spent a lot of time with her growing up.”

“On my dad’s side of the family, he was quite a famous chef who trained in France, he’s actually English and trained in London and France and came to Australia in the mid 50’s and he was an amazing chef. My dad’s side of the family were all vegetarians, my grandfather and his 9 children, so I grew up with this amazing background of food and there was always good food on the table.”

“So I always had a knack for it and working in a kitchen part time was the done thing, I felt really comfortable and enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I was half way through year 12 and doing my HSC that I realised, maybe I’ll start my apprenticeship. The guy I was working for asked if I wanted to start my apprenticeship, I said yes, finished my politics exam and started my apprenticeship that night.”

So how did your love of meat come about with so many vegetarians in your family?

“We had a farm, about 100 acres with some sheep running around on the property and when I was about 12 years old my dad said “son I’m going to teach you where meat comes from”. So we got a big 303 rifle, we killed the sheep and we took it back and butchered it, it was pretty rough in those days.”

“That’s where meat comes from and from there I had a lot of respect for meat and wanted to learn more about it. During my apprenticeship I had the fortune to work in a very large kitchen with big butchery departments. I ended up spending a bit of time there and those skills carried on and were developed over many years.”

“The other thing is, when I started my restaurant La Luna Bistro, I had to start from the beginning and I couldn’t afford to buy the most expensive cuts. So I started buying whole animals and cheaper cuts and learnt how to butcher.”

So your restaurant La Luna Bistro has been around for 12 years now. How do you keep the menu exciting for your regular customers?

“I started out with myself, one other cook and three part time waiters and now there’s 28 staff working at La Luna Bistro, so it’s a busy place. We make small changes but being a bistro I don’t think you can change everything each month. People come there for favourites and we’ve got some great dishes that, you know what, if we took them off the menu, I reckon there’d be a riot. Some people keep coming back for those same dishes.”

“Because we are busy and we do some classic dishes that we’re quite well known for, we do have a lot of fun with other things. I’ll eat out or travel overseas, get ideas and come back and I’ve got a lot of chefs that I can encourage to try these new things.”

If there was anyone you could cook with, including people from the past, who would it be?

“Oh I’d love to cook with my grandmother again. I miss my grandmother.”

You’ve got some very fond memories of your Nonna by the sounds of it.

“Yeah, I miss my Nonna. She was a beautiful cook, a simple cook. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, before I went overseas, my brother and I’d ring her up on Monday and say, Nonna we wanna come around on Saturday for lunch.”

“She’d prepare all week and we’d go around on Saturday, and being fit young men we would eat like horses and she’d give us take away containers to bring stuff back. Nonna cooked because she cared and she wanted us to eat beautiful food, all the veggies and herbs came from the garden and to me thats important; thats how I like to eat.”

I’ve actually tried your Nonna’s gnocchi recipe and it’s amazing. Other Nonna’s have asked me where I got the recipe from.

“Ok, great. What did you use to mash the potatoes?”

I used the ricer and did it exactly as you did on Boys Weekend.

“In my new book I wrote a different gnocchi recipe that I make with ricotta cheese. If you go past the supermarket, grab 500g of ricotta, one egg, a little bit of parmesan cheese, some chives, you’ve probably already got some plain flour at home and bang, you make it and it’s ready in about 4 or 5 minutes. You don’t even have to boil any potatoes.”

Oh yum!

“We’ll have to get together and swap recipes I think.”

Definitely, that would be great. Can you give us a taste of the recipes coming out in your new book in March?

“It’s called The Good Life and it’s basically a collection of recipes and a few little stories and tidbits of a year of cooking at home with family and friends. I sort of didn’t take a break from the restaurant but I spent a bit more time cooking at home and entertaining and I just had a lot of fun doing it.”

“It’s so nice to entertain at the restaurant and cook for people at the restaurant but to do it at home for family and friends it’s different and I really enjoy that and that’s where a lot of the book comes from. There’s dishes I do at the restaurant, dishes I do at home, dishes from my family and my upbringing so it’s a nice simple book. It’s about cooking and eating and maybe growing some veggies and herbs out the back if you want to.”

A lot of people are getting back to the roots of cooking and eating these days, like spending time with the family, doing things together in the kitchen and getting the kids involved.

“I think it’s great and the more of this sort of stuff we do the better. We’re very lucky where we live and if we can cook at home and pass on those skills and those old traditions, I think it’s very, very important.”

So how was the idea born for your first cookbook MEAT?

“I’d actually been doing a bit of TV and my agent told me there had been a lot of interest from publishers about me doing a book and I should sit down and put some ideas together. I sat down with a few friends and we brainstormed, came up with a few ideas and I thought what’s the dream book I’d love to write? I’d love to write about meat.”

“I put that idea on the back burner thinking “oh, no one’s going to want to publish that one” and then when we met with a couple of publishers they all said “the meat one, we love the meat idea”. To me that was the dream book, that was the one I wanted to write; I thought they’d go for the other ideas. I worked with some great people at Hardie Grant and Lucy Malouf who has written books with Greg Malouf, so we had this team and I think we wrote a great book.”

What is a common misconception that people have about meat?

“There’s a few things that people don’t understand like buying the right cut for the right dish. I think some people will buy cheap meat and expect it to be tender; they’ll buy cheap meat that’s mass produced and expect flavour but you’re not going to get it. The thing about meat is, we’ve been drawn towards the supermarkets and sure, the meats ok there, but I reckon we should get back to to the butcher and have a chat about what you’re going to cook.”

“I think getting to know your butcher is what it’s all about and moving away from going into the supermarket, buying meat in a little plastic tray with a pad in it to soak up all the blood and cling film across the top. We have to understand a bit more about meat I think.”

So do you think it’s become more about convenience to a lot of people these days and less about taste and understanding what they’re cooking with?

“I think so, yeah. It’s very convenient and that’s where the supermarkets have stepped in and filled that market and I can understand when you get home from work you want a couple of quick meals a week using something like chicken breast and fair enough.”

“A lot of people don’t use the other parts of the animal because they don’t know how to cook the tougher parts; I call them the muscles that do more work, like the shoulder, blade, bolar and shanks. Those muscles seem difficult and people get a bit funny about them because its not an eye fillet steak but to me they’re the best cuts.”

“With a little bit of work, some marinade, some ingredients, some wine or some tomatoes and in an oven for an hour and a half to two and a half hours and I reckon you’ve got a better meal, it tastes better than an eye fillet or a porterhouse. To me, that’s a better cut, a forequarter of lamb or a shoulder of lamb to me its the best part of the lamb.”

“We love a quick chop or a cutlet and that’s great, it’s easy and fast to cook, it’s easy to chew. But if you braise a piece of the shoulder, I think it’s far more superior than any other part of the animal.”

Ok, so it’s really about knowing how to cook the meat, what to marinate it in and how to treat each piece of meat to get the best out of it.

“Yeah, understanding where the cut comes from and what you can do with it; how should I cook that cut of meat to get the best out of it? Is it a cut that is cooked really quickly and seared, rested and eaten so it only takes a few minutes to cook? Or is it a cut that takes an hour or two hours to cook and once you understand those things its very easy to cook.”

What’s the most unusual meat you’ve ever eaten?

“Well horse meat is what I’ve been eating recently, I just got a fair bit of horse meat into the restaurant and that would be considered unusual I suppose. Geez, I’ve eaten everything! I travelled through China for a few months and I think I got pieces of animals that I don’t think they serve anywhere else. Eyeballs, I’ve eaten sheep’s eyeballs before, thats not pretty.”

What did they taste like?

“They go really firm when you cook them and do you know what? Lucky there’s only two of them! I don’t mind eating offal, hearts and lung, and a lot of people get funny about haggis but I think its one of the best things to cook with, its beautiful.”

I love tongue.

“Tongue is beautiful.”

It’s so tender.

“It is when it’s cooked properly.”

“So whats your background?”

My mum is Australian with Irish and English background and my dad was born in Madras with Anglo-Indian and Portuguese background so that’s where I got the taste for spices. I grew up eating curries and everything had flavour so I guess not until I was 18 or 19 did I try steak cooked on its own without any seasonings. It took me a while to get used to it because everything was always masked with flavours, even seafood, I’d never tasted that without any seasoning.

“Interesting, I know what you mean actually, I was talking to someone today about fish and for me searing it in olive oil and butter with some lemon, that’s all you need. But someone else was saying you need to dust it with flour and add some curry powder but if you’ve got good fish you just want to eat it on it’s own. Spices and aromatics where used because people didn’t have refrigeration and you needed to flavour the meat.”

“Actually when I was kid I spent 3 years growing up in Malaysia and we had an Indian nanny that looked after myself and my brother. So we grew up eating a lot of that sort of food as well, it’s beautiful food.”

Are you a bit of a chilli addict?

“I love chilli.”

Gotta have chilli on everything?

“Oh yeah, my step father’s got about 40 or 50 different chilli plants in his backyard, it’s crazy. I love that stuff.”

What do you think of meat being used in desserts?

“I know that suet is used in pies, puddings and pastry and a good Christmas pudding is made with suet which is the beef fat. I’ve used blood in pudding, a lot of Italians make a blood sausage that’s sweetened with chocolate but tell me about meat being used for sweets.”

I guess I’ve seen more bacon rather than meat being used with ice cream or sweet pancakes and bacon sprinkled with sugar and roasted until it gets a caramel flavour.

“I’ve made things like French toast or Canadian pancakes with bacon and berries and maple syrup. I reckon anything like that goes, bacon’s just a good all rounder, it goes with anything doesn’t it.”

“As long as a dish is prepared with care and thought and not just banged together for shock and awe value, I’m open to anything. Why not? If all you’ve got in your cupboard is maple syrup, bacon and pancake batter, put it together, go for it.”

So is there any particular advice that you would give a home chef?

“Going back to the basics, learning how to cook good simple food and then adding to it. Sourcing good produce, getting to know a good fishmonger and butcher, a good providore and getting back to those shopkeepers that actually care about their produce.”

“The multi national supermarkets stock a lot but at some of the farmers markets, I reckon that’s where you get real food. Stuff that’s made with passion, it usually has a story to it, you know when stuff has just come out of the ground and it’s really ripe and the farmer’s selling it, that’s the best.”

So how are you going with your new TV series?

“It started this week and it’s on at 4pm from Monday to Friday and it’s called Good Chef Bad Chef.”

And what channel is that on?

“Channel 10”

My dad actually told me he watched your show on Monday.

“Yeah, I was on with Janella and I made some Kashmiri rice and braised lamb. He would’ve liked it.”

Yeah he told me you made a curry or something and he was really excited.

“He would’ve seen all the spices going into it, I put a lot of spices in it. I cooked the rice differently, I made a caramel in the bottom of the pot and then added some ghee and spices and then the basmati rice with water so it had a sweetness and spice to it.”

When is your radio segment on the Neil Mitchell show on 3AW?

“It’s on every Tuesday around 10.45am and I talk to Neil about food and related topics, and the conversation could go anywhere. People call in to share their stories and recipes or ask some advice.”

Any plans to continue the TV series Boys Weekend?

“We’ve had so much interest in Boys Weekend. The actual show is ready to go and they want us to go to Canada this year and hopefully Ireland and travel around, but Gary in particular is very hard to pin down with dates, he’s very busy. It’s very difficult to get the 4 of us together now. I think 3 years ago when we started filming, we all just had our restaurants to run and we could get away for 4 days at a time but now it’s changed and we’re all very busy.”

“But as far as interest goes, there is a lot and I’m amazed at how many people like to watch the show.”

Well it’s so much fun to watch and I guess it was the same for you guys when you were filming. It’s just a bunch of guys getting together, having a laugh and cooking and it’s just so different to any other program.

“It was a lot like that and it was actually hard work but it was really good fun, long hours and lots of filming but the 4 of us and the crew got along really well and I really enjoyed it.”

I could tell there was a good chemistry between you, Gary, Manu and Miguel. It was like you were just having a beer and a meal together.

“There was a bit too much beer sometimes. I’ll let you in on a little secret, there was often too much beer and mainly if anything was filmed at night time, if you look closely, one of us had probably had a little bit too much to drink.”

So what was it like being on MasterChef?

“It was good, it is difficult filming because it takes all day and for me it was quite unnatural being in a huge studio with 60 crew plus the contestants. I know Gary, George and Matt quite well, I’ve known them for years so they were the three friendly faces for me but I didn’t spend much time with them. There’s such a big crew and so many people, it was actually quite a daunting experience the first time round and then you’ve got the cook off.”

“Then there’s the contestants who can’t cook as well as me but they’ve been in that kitchen for months, they know their way around, they know what’s going on and they’re a lot more comfortable than me. So I was out of my comfort zone and I really had to concentrate on what I was doing. By that time I was the last celebrity chef to go into the kitchen for the cook off and with only one or two weeks to go, I knew by then there were a lot of people watching the show.”

“There was a bit at stake because a few of the chefs had lost or come really close in the scoring so the pressure was on but I did a pretty good job, I think I got the second top score so far.”

You sound pretty happy about that.

“I was, I was. It looked like it was close but that’s the drama of television. I get on really well with Julie, she asked me to come up for her book launch in Sydney and when she comes to Melbourne she comes to my restaurant. She’s a sweetheart Julie.”

I tried to get to La Luna Bistro when I was in Melbourne but I had such a tight schedule so maybe next time.

“Next time you are down I can show you all the meat we do, we make all our own salami, prosciutto and I can show you through the place and show you what we do.”

That would be great. I’ve always wanted to see the salami’s being made.

“We start making salami in about two and a half to three months just as it starts to cool down. I’ve got people that breed pigs for me and they’ll be at the right size and ready in about three months and then we start to make our salami. I’ve got my own butcher that works with me now so we’ve got a big team of people that come in and we make all our own salami and prosciutto and it’s enough to get us through the year.”

Have you had any problem with the salami going moldy when the weather’s not right?

“Melbourne’s a bit cooler than Sydney and we don’t have the same humidity so it’s actually a better climate to be making salami but we know what we’re doing. Certain molds are actually good, like white mold but when you start getting yellow and green molds you need to be careful but we have been doing it for so long and we have very few failures.”

What’s your opinion on food blogs?

“I’ve read a few and most of them that I’ve seen are really good, just passionate people who love food and just want to share it with other people and that’s what I like. It’s a free country, you can write whatever you want.”

“If you’re going to write nasty things you’ll get caught out and people just won’t like that sort of thing anyway. If you’re going to be truthful and share your love and passion for things with other people then it’s a great thing and you can’t knock that back.”

If there was anyone that you could cook for, who would it be?

“My grandmother, I miss her.”

Who inspires you?

“I get inspired by so many people, all day, everyday. I do so much work with different people and meet so many different people that I’m always inspired. Even the young apprentice who comes in early for his shift to be ready on time and has his uniform nice and clean and neat, and asking so many questions.”

“I look at him and think, that was me so many years ago and that’s why I have to work harder so he or she has something to look up to. Those little things keep me going.”

Is there anything you’d like to mention?

“Well I’ve written the cookbook about meat and obviously done quite a bit of radio and TV, but you know, I really love cooking. I love all the other things that I’ve been able to do like be on TV, write a book and I’ve been able to travel the world through cooking and I feel so lucky and so privileged and so respectful of the people that have helped me along the way.”

“My goal is to help as many other people as I can and teach them my respect and love for cooking, and some of the skills I have and pass on my trade, that’s important. But just being in my kitchen and cooking with my chefs and doing my thing, that’s what makes me the happiest.”

“All the other things, all the celebrity and the media, it’s all fun and games and it’s great while it lasts. But I talk to these guys that are on TV and quite famous now and we’re all quite happy when we’re cooking and in our kitchens; it’s just fun and games for now.”

So when will you be in Sydney?

“Probably next year sometime around February, March.”

Thanks so much Adrian, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you.


La Luna Bistro opening hours

Tuesday – Friday

Serving lunch 12pm – 3pm

Serving dinner 6pm – 10pm

Saturday & Sunday

Serving brunch 12pm – 4pm

Serving dinner 6pm – 10pm

03 9349 4888

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