“I think I’ve learnt more about food from travelling than from actually standing in a kitchen,” says Ross Lusted, the chef, restaurateur and creative force behind Sydney’s The Bridge Room.
“When you’re overseas, you know the produce, but it’s also so very different. Some places don’t have a word for organic because organic food is all they have – they simply can’t afford pesticides so they don’t need to differentiate.”
We’re talking about the inspiration behind Lusted’s upcoming dinner for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, One Night On Earth, a collaboration with chef Paul Wilson, Jake Nicolson (head chef, Circa) and sommelier Sally Humble, focusing on local and organic produce – something that Lusted is a passionate advocate for.
His signature style champions fresh produce treated with simplicity and respect, and has developed through his long career working with many awarded and respected establishments, including roles at Rockpool, Park Hyatt Sydney’s Harbour Kitchen & Bar and as head of food and beverage for Aman Resorts.
“I spent a lot of time in Japan,” he says. “I’ve travelled a bit and I’ve found the food I liked was food cooked naturally or in a wood oven, and we developed our kitchen here in Sydney around that. We use a robata grill, which is Japanese. You don’t grill in the traditional sense; rather it’s over smoke. You’re cooking above the charcoal.”
Inspiration can be found anywhere according to the chef, especially when you are exposed to new ideas and methods uncovered both internationally and closer to home.
“I was in Kyoto where I have my ceramics made for The Bridge Room and the monks there cook from the gardens, and that’s an inspiration. You’re exposed to all different things through travel, no matter where you go. But recently at a dinner in the Hunter Valley I saw a technique that I hadn’t seen before. You pick up new things everywhere.”
The menu for One Night On Earth promises six courses, each matched with carefully chosen wines to compliment the seasonal, local and organic ingredients.
“As chefs, we look at all the ingredients and what’s available at the time we are cooking. That’s how it starts,” says Lusted, explaining the development of a collaborative menu. “But we’re still in the process. Because we are working with local ingredients, we cook in the last minute. It can change at the last second due to what’s available on the day and in the location.”
It’s this kind of flexibility and appreciation for region and local nuance that Lusted finds inspiring. “I’m still talking to Paul [Wilson] about what fish might be on hand for us to use, but we have three types lined up and a list of ingredients that might be available.”
Even the array of what is in season is affected by where the chef might travel to, be it as close as the hop from Sydney to Melbourne. “The seasonality in Melbourne and Sydney is quite different. So even lettuce goes to seed at a different time.” It’s a subtle balancing act that requires a love of ever-shifting ingredients.
But despite all the inspiration of travel, there are still benefits to be found through time spent in just the one place.
“I was meeting so many new chefs when I was overseas and learning new things, but it’s nice to be with your own chefs, and in your own neighbourhood and country once in a while… I’m looking forward to working with the guys in Melbourne. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”