A Place at the Table with Adam Wolfers
A life-changing health scare has not stopped the resolve of Adam Wolfers to elevate and celebrate his heritage, as Alastair McLeod discovers first-hand.
I've been to Gerard’s Bistro many times over the years, so on a recent visit it was a pleasant surprise to be sat next to friend and fellow chef, Jack Stuart, who has caused a stir at his new restaurant Blume in Boonah; it’s always good to eat where a chef eats. On my other side, talking rapturously about the food, was Nigella Lawson; it’s always amazing to eat where a domestic goddess eats.
Gerard’s is tucked away in a discreet laneway off James Street, a leafy inner-city spot that’s home to local and international designer stores and some of the best dining in the city.
Wolfer's has been a part of Gerard's Bistro since 2019.
This buzzing and awarded bistro has been at the vanguard of Brisbane’s dining scene for over 10 years. A decade ago, it served as a disruptor, self-assuredly suggesting a top end restaurant could dispense with tablecloths, or demand stuff needn't be poured from tiny teapots. Plates, free from foam and gel, were instead lusty, spiced, exciting and encouraged to be shared. A cracking wine list, a fit-out of bare brick walls, Moorish tiles, amber cushions, warm timber and a masculine concrete bar served up something new to Brisbane.
In this time only two chefs, Ben Williamson and Adam Wolfers, have directed the food. The media chatter surrounding Ben’s departure three years ago was supplanted by the calm chutzpah of Sydney-born chef Adam Wolfers.
Thirty-eight-year-old Wolfers has impeccable training including tenures at est., Marque, Monopole and Yellow with Messer’s Doyle, Best and Savage. He also staged internationally with chefs similarly recognised by a single soubriquet – Dufresne (at WD50) and Dacosta (at the eponymous Quique Dacosta).
This pilgrimage gave him the clarity and confidence to begin exploring his Jewish heritage through a series of extended pop-ups called Ételek, which translates as 'food' in Hungarian. Wolfers has Jewish blood in his veins – one half Ashkenazic and the other from the Sephardic community.
He speaks fondly of his grandparents from Eastern Europe: Wolfers’ maternal grandfather was detained in a concentration camp, while his maternal grandmother was hidden by Austrian sympathisers until she could escape. Both independently made their way to Sydney where they later met, fell in love and started a family in a far-away land.
My Grandmother has passed now but I like to think she would be very proud of what I'm doing.
Adam Wolfers elevates and celebrates his Jewish heritage.
Gerard's Bistro interiors feature Moorish tiles, amber cushions and warm timber.
Wolfers describes his Jewishness as a sense of family and bringing people together. He grew up observing Shabbat every week at his grandparents’ house. The family also observed Passover, “For a week before coming together to feast over 10 courses of food. I like to think I’ve replicated that style of eating at the restaurant.”
He speaks fondly of his grandmother's matzo ball soup. “I’ve eaten many soups in my day, but hers was the best. She would cook it over 24 hours, would use the whole chicken and use the shmaltz.” He opines, with a twinkle in his eye, “my mum changed the shmaltz to margarine and it was never the same.”
Jewish American food critic Ruth Reichl once said, “do not offer your food to one who has no appetite for it.” It’s a seemingly simple yet culturally compelling commentary. Wolfers steered Gerard’s food in this most personal of directions. Critics fell at his feet as he introduced a culture and cuisine heretofore not experienced in Brisbane. Gone were the signature bekaa wings and wagyu brisket, making way for a menu of light, vegetable-focused dishes and a vibrant tasting menu.
Wolfers describes early conversations with owner Johnny Moubarak: “People are going to be a bit shocked by these changes, but we need to push through.” He went on, “Johnny had full faith in me.”
Wolfer's describes his Jewishness as a sense of family and bringing people together.
Wolfers had the world at his feet until three months ago when he suffered a stroke on his road bike. He explains, “I was literally riding with a couple of guys; I was at the front and, at an incline, I pushed myself and then it happened.”
What, exactly? “You know in the movies when someone has a stroke you hear the needle screeching off the record? That’s exactly what happened.”
In the aftermath of the event, he has endured months of rehab and has dealt with aphasia and chronic fatigue, but his passion for the work at Gerard's remains undimmed. That’s the measure of the man; an indomitable yet gracious resolve to heal and further pursue his metier.
The life-changing health scare has not stopped Wolfer's resolve.
Tucked away behind James Street in Brisbane, is Gerard's Bistro.
The Art of Simplicity
Wolfers' food today, evolved and informed by clan, culture, and confidence, reflects what truly good food is – and more importantly what it isn’t.
“I don’t like fussy food," Wolfers explains. "I like a messy tear-the-bread style of eating.” Enjoying a lunch with Wolfers, he answers my amused expression as I look at a dazzling table of ‘simple’ dishes. He concedes with a grin, “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind this to prepare the food, but visually it’s very simple.”
We enjoy roasted bone marrow and lahoh – an extraordinary Yemenite flatbread with sesame, inspired by his grandfather. Scoop the marrow onto the lahoh and spritz with lime. The wood-fired potato bread with muhammara and walnut is transcendent. Lamb collar with a smokey biber salçasi and garlic yoghurt has a brulée-crisp exterior with flesh that yields to any cutlery you have at hand. Wood-fired king prawns hook me with their lively whey butter, and the panoply of produce from the earth dazzles: sugarloaf cabbage, macadamia, tabil tahini and lime is Wolfers' current favourite; the smoked onions, pine nut, goats’ cheese, and schmaltz is mine.
Wolfers has remained at the helm whilst convalescing. He speaks with pride and gratitude about how his chefs have stepped up and maintained the impeccable standard of food. It speaks of good leadership and mutual respect. He's started meditation and deep breathing exercises to soften the stresses associated with his injuries.
He continues to forge an enviable connection with producers across Australia to create dishes that faithfully and humbly share his heritage: through ancient spices, childhood memories and inspiration drawn from across the diaspora. Wolfers reflects, “My grandmother has passed now but I like to think she would be very proud of what I’m doing.”