Thank goodness all the Christmas stuff is now over. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like the whole build-up to the festive period. But that’s probably because I don’t have to worry about it professionally (catering). I worked out that for the best part of 25 years, I had spent many hours preparing and cooking Christmas food. The festive bun fight started for us in early November. Yes, turkey, trimmings, puddings and mince pies are eaten in huge amounts. So by the time Christmas day arrived, you were thoroughly fed up with it. Now Christmas is a joy, cooking for just a few people is really nice and a real pleasure. There is also the added bonus of valuable time off with the family. Something again that I did not have when cooking in hotel kitchens.
This year I had the added excitement of knowing that I was going off to Australia filming for ITV’s This Morning programme. The bizarre point is that almost 30 years ago to the day I set off to Australia travelling as a young chef! So I am really interested to see how the whole place has changed. Aussie food has come a long way over the past few years. Outstanding chefs such as Neil Perry & Tetsuya Wakuda have really paved the way in putting Australia on the world foodie map. Even a certain Mr Blumenthal is relocating here whilst his mini-empire in the UK is revamped.
We have spent months working on the whole project trying to get an excellent feel for Australia’s very cool food scene. The whole movement really is based on good raw products and then cooked carefully. So many countries around Australia have influenced present-day Australian food. Indonesia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia all play their part. So with all the bits and bobs in place, I set off.
Like always, it’s an early start; the Ethiad staff are very organised at Heathrow’s terminal 4. Me and Will (my director) have to film me pitching up and checking in to kick start the first film. The staff are charming and professional, apart from a rather grumpy Ethiad boss who seems to bark at everybody. I recognise him from the Airport programme. The documentary was screened a few years ago. Oh well, we all have off days.
After a nice breakfast, I board the plane and settle down for the seven-hour flight to Abu Dhabi. The plane is clean and the staff very helpful. I order a cappuccino that arrives cold, but I do not complain. Instead, I catch up on my scripts and finish off a lot of reading. Lunch is good; I order asparagus, scrambled eggs, roasted tomatoes and bread. On the whole, it’s okay but lukewarm, and I decline a second cappuccino.
After a quick nod off, we are starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. It’s dark, and as we disembark, I’m met by a charming Etihad member of staff who takes me through a quick re check-in and x-ray and then off to the lounge. We only have a couple of hours to wait before the second half of the flight.
The lounge is cavernous, with chilled and hot food stations, plus a spa, a huge bar and plenty of space to spread out. The food offering is pretty spectacular, blowing away anything I have eaten at Heathrow. From sushi to steamed River Nile Perch in coriander sauce (I had that, and it was very good) Steamed rice, freshly and perfectly cooked vegetables are first-rate. Before long, my lady returns and escorts me right to the door of the plane; that’s great service.
The plane is full, and due to bad weather in Australia (not a good omen), we are delayed by two hours. Eventually, we take off, and I settle down to a quick film and a little cheese, then sleep, if I can. With a flight time of thirteen and a half hours, there is no rush for anything.
We arrive in Sydney, the weather is overcast, but it’s hot, feeling a bit tired now, but happy to be here.
Border control and customs clear I meet up with my transfer driver David. We chat about various things whilst we drive into Sydney. He is Chinese and has been in Australia for well over 30 years. We also chat about China’s one-child per family policy that came into force in 1978. It’s a bit grim, so we quickly move onto how beautiful Sydney is, and within no time, we arrive at the Adina apartments that will be my home for the next two nights. I say goodbye to David and check-in.
My room is okay, large with a kitchen area and small balcony and a sideways view of the Darling Harbour area. I unpack, shower, shave and put my feet up. After having a good few hours’ sleep on the plane, I’m not really tired, so I head out to explore the area.
It’s Friday night, and the place is buzzing. The harbour is packed with bars and restaurants, and music is everywhere. It’s certainly a happening place and full of people enjoying the start to the weekend. Back at the hotel, I settle down to a cold beer and watch the Australian football team on the telly.
I didn’t sleep at all well; it was so frustrating. The harder you try to sleep, the worse it is. So I get up and watch the telly for a bit. I make a cup of tea and make a few notes on the trip so far. After dozing off in the chair a couple of times, it’s just after 6, and the sun is just rising.
I am the first customer at breakfast and sit out on the quiet back street. It’s a bit of an odd arrangement; it’s basically a Turkish restaurant that serves breakfast to the residents. I order a delicious cappuccino and think about what I am going to do for the day. Laptop open. I check to see which restaurants are open for lunch. All the big boys are not open for lunch damn (it’s a Saturday). The only one is Tetsuya Wakuda and has been one of the founding fathers of seriously good Pacific Rim (I wouldn’t say I like that description, it sounds like a disease). I also noticed a steak restaurant called Steerson’s on my quick trip around the harbour. It looked quite promising with ageing meat in chillers all on display. I eat a nice plate of baked/scrambled Turkish eggs with flatbread and another good coffee, then head to the reception. Chatting to Mikayla, the receptionist, she kindly offers to book Tetsuya for lunch and Steerson’s for dinner for me. I return to my room and pack a few bits and head off to explore the harbour area. As I pass reception, Mikayla informs me that both are booked, the only slight problem being Tetsuya’s only serves a 12-course lunch! Oh well, I have nothing else to do, and I’m always up for a challenge.
The harbour area is tranquil, and the weather is pleasantly warm. I wander past the tourist restaurants, pleasure cruisers and bars. It has changed so much since I was here last. I stop in a coffee shop and reread my scripts and make a few notes.
Heading off around the other side of the harbour to take a few photos, I bump into a couple from the UK ask if they can have a photo; how weird is that. I wander around for a couple of hours and then head back to the hotel and have a 30-minute kip.
Around Sydney Harbour
After a quick shower and change, I head off for lunch.
Tetsuya is only a 10-minute walk, but I forget it’s summer here and forget how hot it gets. By the time I arrive, I’m quite happy to be in an air-conditioned restaurant. The nice Michael Dore shows me to my table; Michael is the restaurant Service Manager.
The restaurant is already full, and it’s only 12:30. A waiter asks me if I would like a drink. After ordering a chilled sherry and sparkling water, he explains the procedure, no choices and no menu; the courses will just arrive.
My sherry is nutty and full and chilled perfectly, a good choice from my wine waiter. Two breads arrive, a dark rye sourdough and plain sourdough. The butter is whipped with truffles and is slightly salted, and served at room temperature. It is terrific.
The first course arrives, two superb southwest Australian oysters, raw with a sweet and sour dressing and fresh ginger. They are sweet as a nut and delicious.
Next, the lightest steamed egg custard is flavoured with Dashi (a Japanese stock used in miso soup) and Avruga caviar. It is so light I wonder how they cook it. Seasoned beautifully, the seaweed extract flavour is amazing.
The third course, raw tuna with fennel, cream, black pepper and puffed rice, again another delicious dish.
I won’t describe every dish, but I feasted on raw scampi tails with liver parfait, ocean trout with caviar seaweed dust, Barramundi with mushrooms, the softest flesh smoked quail, duck, lamb loin and all polished off with basil soup and the most beautiful glazed chocolate cake. I’m stuffed.
As I pay the bill, a toasted peanut truffle and (I have to say the best I have ever eaten) lychee macaron tips me over the top. I waddle back to the hotel and fall on the bed!
The next thing I know, fireworks going off in the harbour wake me, it’s dark, and it’s 8 o’clock, so I wobble onto the balcony and watch the pyrotechnics in the warm balmy night air.
After such a big lunch, I cancel my dinner booking. I did return when we came back to Sydney later in the trip, but more about that later. Will and Laura arrive from the UK, and we head off out to catch up and chat about filming the next day. Unfortunately, Laura’s bag has still not arrived. Hopefully, it will by tomorrow and before we go to Hayman Island. After a beer and catch up, I feel like I’m getting my second wind, but it’s 11 pm, so we decide to hit the hay and be ready for a busy few days filming.
Day 3 - Hayman Island
Breakfast at 7, then a catch up on the day, it’s pissing down, and we take a pic for the folks back home. Turkish eggs again, and a couple of good coffees.
Today is the first real day filming, and it’s a pretty good one to start with. We are heading to Hayman Island to film the Great Barrier Reef. We will meet our cameraman Chris and soundman Bronson at the airport, as we are using a local crew. The car duly arrives, and we pack in all our gear, and in no time, we are at the airport and hook up with the lads. Laura picks up her lost bag, and we all check in.
On the other side, I buy some cool shorts for filming, and we all have good coffee. In fact, it’s pretty amazing coffee for an airport. I spot whilst waiting for the coffee a Lamington Krispy Kreme doughnut! Wow, that really is a first. Lamingtons are one of the iconic foods of Australia. It’s sponge coated in chocolate and dipped in desiccated coconut.
In a flash, we are boarding the plane for the 2-hour flight to Hamilton Island. On the approach to the airport, our pilot suddenly decides not to land, and we soar away from the runway. We all look at each other with concerned expressions on our faces. Over the radio, he explains that a yacht is in the way, so we circle and, this time, land safely. Staff from the One & Only Hayman Island resort are ready and waiting to transfer guests.
We set up the camera, and I do my first piece to camera getting on the huge motor launch. The launch is very cool, and as we cruise the 50 minutes or so to the resort, we film more pieces to camera on the sun deck. The water is a lovely colour, and it’s very warm indeed.
Before long, we arrive at the island. It is truly stunning, set in a beautiful crystal clear sea, palm trees and white sandy beaches. Here we are met by Tracey, our Australian tourist guide and Rosalynd, who looks after the PR for this island resort. We film getting off and getting into golf buggies to be taken to reception, check-in and lunch. The resort is open, cool and very plush. My suite is vast and spotlessly clean, and nicely designed. I unpack and quickly head to the poolside bar/ restaurant for lunch. Huge swimming pools surround the bar area. I don’t think I saw pools this big. Lunch was delicious. I order fish tacos, deep-fried ham wrapped around avocado (yes, it sounds odd but is very good), griddled asparagus with macadamias and sparkling water. The coffee is good, and we chat about the afternoon ahead.
We are quickly shown around the main part of the resort and meet up with Grant, the executive chef, to chat about equipment and cooking utensils I will need for my cooking sequences. He’s accommodating, and nothing is a problem. He gives me a tour of his massive, yes massive airline-style kitchens, and they are enormous.
He’s clearly a very busy man looking after 5 large restaurants, staff feeding for 400 plus breakfasts, room service for up to 160 people plus picnics, weddings and functions. He seems a little stressed, then I realise why after a quick chat. He’s had no air conditioning for 4 months and is 26 chefs shy of his full team… fair enough. I then feel guilty about being here and adding more pressure on him.
Will and Laura explore the best place for my 2 cooking sequences. This takes a little time, but we have to get it right. We decide on the beach right out the front of the breakfast restaurant and the decking outside my room. We then film a few walking shots around this stunning place and by which time it’s getting dark.
Back in my room, I get a chance to take it all in, its lovely, soft linen, nice bathrobes and a nice big shower room. Fresh fruit, Champagne and handmade chocolates finish it off perfectly. My rooms have two decks that overhang the beautiful pool, complete with large comfy sun loungers. My view is of the pools and the neighbouring island, and it’s just about perfect. I make a few notes and have a quick nap, then shower.
We all meet in the bar for dinner: the General Manager Gunter, host drinks at 6:30. Then, we have dinner in the more relaxed tapas restaurant. It’s delicious, scallops in smoked salmon, delicious paella, good cheeses, hams, fries and tortilla chips, salmon rillettes, mini steaks all perfectly acceptable. Finally, Rosalynd walks me back to my room, and we all retire early as we have an early start tomorrow, fishing and cooking!
Day 4 - Great Barrier Reef
I sleep okay but wake up at 5 am, open the curtains and catch up on emails and stuff. The sun is slowly rising; it’s a lovely sight. I’m the first to breakfast when it opens at 6 am. Will is not far behind. The breakfast offering is very good, with great breads, pastries and even homemade baked beans. The staff are very professional, really well turned out and knowledgeable. Nothing is too much trouble, and as I order a second cappuccino, Bronson, Laura and Chris arrive. We all discuss the day and what equipment is needed. I pick up a banana to take on the boat for later. Tracy explains that it’s such bad luck to take a banana on a boat; if you do, you’ll never catch any fish! I never heard that one before, but take her advice.
When the buggy’s turn up, we head off to do a couple of bits to camera on the way to the quay. We meet Ben, Ross, Kai and Christina, our crew, for the morning. We film getting on the boat and have a safety chat.
The outer reef is only 20 minutes away, so off we go. It’s a beautiful warm morning, and already the sun is scorching.
We fish right on the bottom, and before you know it, we are into the fish. Some big Trevally and Jew Cod (think that’s what they were) are caught, my arms burn as I try to reel them in. Ross explains that if you’re not quick, a shark may try and take it is a good chance. It’s great fun. However, after an hour or so, I start to feel a little queasy. I struggle to keep focused and try so hard not to let it get to me. I the end, though, I’m really sick. Not just me but Tracey and Rosalynd are also pretty rough. Ben, the skipper, loves it and takes the mickey. The crew has a good laugh at our plight. As we head back and after a few minutes start feeling a lot better.
Back at the quay, there are a few people gathered around looking into the water. I ask what they are looking at. Ross explains they are feeding Jacko, the friendly Grouper. Apparently, he’s been coming here for 30 years for elevenses.
We all gingerly leave the boat and say goodbye and then have a quick look at Jacko. He is enormous; they reckon 500kg…and could go to 1000kg and live to 60. He tries to bite our Gopro as I do a piece to camera.
After filming more bits, we have lunch at the pool bar again, then a quick swim to cool off.
At two, we head back to the main beach to film a couple of walkie bits, meet up with Grant, and film him cooking in his enormous kitchens.
Heading outside to interview him, he chats through his 4 dishes. Spanish Mackerel with cucumber and apples, Tasmanian wild salmon with avocado and corn tortillas, grilled fish with salsa verde. He explains Australian food uses minimal cream or butter, and they love fruits, herbs, spices and oils. He’s outstanding on camera, and we do it in a couple of takes.
One of his number 2’s, Andre, helps me with all the prep for my cooking slot. Nice chap. We set up the bar-b-q and table on the beach and wait for the sun to go down slightly; god, it’s hot!!!
I cook Red Emperor in foil stuffed with herbs, citrus and fennel on the bar-b-que. I then make a mixed fruit dressing with peanuts and finish with the fish cooking juices and fresh pomegranate. All looks good, and Will is thrilled.
Chris and I take a few pics, and we pack up just as the sun is setting. Then, all done, I head back for a quick swim and a cool off.
Out for dinner in the Italian restaurant, with Warwick Jones, director of services. He is hilarious.
I have a pappardelle with soggy mushrooms and no salt, bland, sadly. Dessert is a Tiramisu. It is okay but not a real Tiramisu with small coffee jellies.
Back in the room, I fall into bed and sleep well, finally.
Day 5 - Great Barrier Reef
It’s a hot one today, and it’s only 5 am. Will is already at breakfast. Over some good coffee, we chat about the day ahead with our guide Tristan. He tells us about flora and fauna of the island. We cream up heavily and head up to the trail. On the way, he points out the hundreds of bats that roost on the island every day. These are huge fruit bats, and they make a hell of a racket. Heading up the trail to the lookout, where we get a magnificent view of the islands. It’s sweltering now, and we are all really feeling it. After filming more pieces to camera, we head back before we completely fry. We see Rock Wallabies and lick, yes lick the backsides of green tree ants on the way down. The acid kick startles me, and it is so sharp. The Aboriginal people used this as a source of vitamin C. Once licked, the ant is returned somewhat disgruntled to the tree or bush.
Thank goodness we are back to the main resort before it gets too hot. We drink coconut water and recover. Finally, the buggies arrive, and we head off to catch the seaplane to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
Our pilot, Lee, coolly lands the plane on the sea and taxis over to us. After a full safety brief, Nadine, our divemaster, also joins us. Then, fully packed and another quick safety briefing later, we are off bouncing over the waves, and in no time, we are up and away for the 20-minute flight. The view is truly stunning; I have never seen anything like it in my life. Mile after mile of turquoise blue water, peppered with a coral reef just under the surface as far as the eye can see. In fact, it’s an amazing 2,000 kilometres long.
We carefully land near a tiny pontoon and taxi to it. Lee secures the plane, and we all get off and squeeze ourselves into blue skin-tight suits. Not because it’s cold, but to stop jellyfish stinging us. These tiny jellyfish are only here at certain times of the year and are no bigger than your little fingernail, but can have you in hospital in hours and, in a worst-case scenario, can kill you….
Nadine and I sit on the float of the plane and chat about the barrier reef on camera. She has been here working for 4 years as the divemaster. She explains that she used to sell pensions in Germany and decided she wanted a change. Well, I think she made a great decision and welcomes me to her ‘office’; we laugh and do a couple of takes. She is very relaxed on camera, which makes my job so much easier.
Fully suited up, snorkels on, we head off to explore and film. It truly is breathtaking, and as we dive and swim over the many corals, colours, and fish. I really am struggling to explain its natural beauty fully.
Sadly after an hour or so, it’s time to move on; we all get out and chat about the experience. We take off and head to film at Whitehaven Beach, one of the best beaches in the world. Well, I can see why as we circle and land in the sea. Its silica sand is gleaming white, and there is hardly anyone here. You can only get here by seaplane or boat. We film a couple of pieces and get Lee to fly over us so we can film him. Lunch is a picnic from the resort right on the sand. We feast on prawns, chicken and salad. This place truly is paradise, and it’s not often I say that. It is so hot, and I struggle to even walk on the hot sand, so we all cover up with hats, shirts and slap on lots more factor 50. After lunch, we load up and head back on the short flight to Hayman Island, flying over a few of the 74 amazing Whitsundays islands.
Back at the hotel whilst the barbeque is being set up, and Will and Chris are sorting things out, I take a quick dip to cool off; it’s lovely. Having seen the great fish and shellfish offerings at the poolside bar, I thought there really is only one thing to cook. A huge pile of the most spectacularly barbequed fresh shellfish, I would drizzle an Asian inspired dipping sauce over this. The star of the show was going to be Moreton Bay Bugs or Slipper Lobster. A weird-looking, almost flattened small lobster without claws, a local delicacy. We film the sequence pretty much straight off and finish just as the sun was lowering in the sky, perfect!!!!
After a long day, we are all exhausted but still had to meet chef Grant for dinner. So that night we had dinner with him in his ‘Serious’ restaurant. The meal was very good. Indeed, the star being Wagyu tenderloin baked in salt. It was so tender and full of flavour. So, off to bed, all this excitement tonight has made me really tired.
Day 6 - Back to Sydney
The sun is just rising as I sit writing and responding to emails. It’s 5 am, and I am packed, ready to go back to Sydney. I’m the first to get to breakfast and order the best coffee yet, and it’s delicious. As I order a second, Laura arrives, and we chat, then Will joins us to plan the day ahead. After breakfast, we do a couple of walking shots, and it’s scorching again. We say our goodbyes and thanks to Warwick, Rosalyn, Grant and Gunter and head to the boat to take us back to Hamilton Island. I feel quite sad to be leaving. The boat back is really hot, so we sit inside sipping sparkling water. We check in all the gear and pretty much board straight away. Flight is 2 ½ hours, so we all have a kip.
Back in Sydney, we meet our driver Michael, pack the bus, and head back to the Adina apartments to unload the gear. We have to be quick as we have a meeting at the famous Sydney Bridge at 5.15 pm.
At the bridge, we meet up with Nicole & Baxter, our climb leaders. Yep, we are going to climb the famous bridge. It takes a good hour to get suited up and our full safety briefing.
All strapped in and everything secure, we head off, first along the bottom of the bridge, then up to the road and rail level.
Built in 1921, all the steel came from Middlesbrough and was shipped over, some 52,000 tons in all. 6 million rivets were used, and everyone was checked. The wharf built to unload all the steel is still there, but it’s an amusement park now.
We climb up, doing more and more pieces to camera, finally reaching the top. It’s a beautiful and stunning view, really worth the wait and climb. The sun is low in the sky, it’s 30C, and the breeze is very welcome.
The Opera house in the background and the view of the biggest harbour in the world is truly amazing. We film a couple of bits to camera and make our way back down. The whole trip takes 3 hours. Finally, we get unsuited and say our goodbyes and head off to meet Michael, who is waiting for us.
After a quick shower, we head off out to dinner at Neil Perry’s Bar & Grill for dinner. He opened his first restaurant in Sydney in 1988 and has been at the top of the food scene ever since. The restaurant is very cool and set in an old bank, with an open style kitchen, a bit like Scott’s in London but on steroids…
We start with 12 oysters, 6 I can’t remember where from, but the other 6 are from Sydney Bay, small creamy and sweet, really great. Next, 36-month dry-aged ribeye, creamed corn with chipotle, and potatoes roasted in Wagyu fat with rosemary and garlic. These were delicious. Other sides included mushrooms, broccoli and cabbage. Then, finally, have the Passion Fruit Pavlova, huge, light with a tiny amount of cream for dessert. It was probably 250 cm high with light fluffy meringue. I have never seen it like that before, but I remember eating one with a similar texture in New Zealand many years ago.
It has been another long day, so we head back and drop into bed exhausted.