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Food

Colin Fassnidge the New Guard

Colin Fassnidge is hands down the coolest celebrity chef on TV. Witty, roguish and charismatic, his colourful culinary journey has been about directing the fire inside.

Colin Fassnidge is in his element. He’s hosting a My Kitchen Rules season launch at his recently refurbished 4Fourteen restaurant in Sydney’s hip Surry Hills. He’s been asked to say a few words in front of a collection of influential media and assorted celebrity guests. Tall and lean, his posture is all swagger – a cross between Jagger and James Dean as he growls into the microphone, cracking a few jokes in his gravelly Irish accent before proceeding to tear strips off his co-stars Pete Evans and Manu Feildel

He then takes his seat between the editor of a trashy women’s magazine and a noted food journalist and effortlessly holds court, managing to talk ‘gossip’ and ‘serious culinary discussion’ in equal measures. He re-tells a story of when he met the owner of Channel 7, billionaire Kerry Stokes, at a network lunch.

“Hello, I’m Colin.”

“G’day, I’m Kerry.”

“Nice to meet you, Kerry. What do you do?”

 “Ha! I like you. We’ll get along fine.” 

 

Dublin to Sydney

It’s a long way for a young lad from Dublin, who played drums in a band before being bedazzled by the rock star allure of Marco Pierre White to take up cooking as a trade. He almost burned out in the regimented kitchen of Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, before taking a break and embarking on a backpacking adventure around the globe. 

He had no intention of manning the  pans again, but while in Australia, a lack of cash saw him call up old mate Justin North, who was working at Sydney’s hottest restaurant at the time, Banc, run by the Irishman Liam Tomlin, who immediately gave Colin a job. If Blanc was an Army General, Tomlin was the Gestapo, but Colin stayed. “I fell in love with the lifestyle, the beaches,” he says.

Colin Fassnidge recipe

Get Colin Fassnidge's poached rhubarb granita with cream cheese recipe

Old ways, new ways

As executive chef at Four in Hand, Colin earned two hats and a reputation – in more ways than one. His nose-to-tail food philosophy was lauded – creative, flavoursome, seasonal dishes made from secondary cuts. But he ran his kitchen the only way he knew how – with aggression. 

“At the start, I ran my restaurants with an iron fist," admits Colin. "But after a while you find yourself all alone in a kitchen because no-one wants to work with you...and the stress was huge." 

Fortunately, a change in his personal life was the catalyst for Colin to embark on a new way of doing things professionally. He and his wife Jane became parents. By the time the couple had two small daughters, Colin had mellowed, matured and learned some valuable life lessons.

“When I had my daughters it clicked into my head, ‘What is the point of having kids if you are never going to be there with them?’," levels Colin.

"So I started to trust the sous chef with more work and it worked. I started to nurture staff instead of burning through them. I found good ones and I really looked after them. I found that anger wasn’t the way to go. I still get angry, but having kids taught me to teach more.

"I learned to be a businessman. I don’t consider myself a head chef anymore, I am a restaurateur. I am thinking on behalf of the guests now, rather than just the food."

It has also seen Colin develop a new role – mentor to a host of exciting young 'new guard' chefs.

"You get quite fatherly about it," says Colin. "I went to Monopole a few weeks ago where Paul Farag, who was with me, is cooking and I said, ‘You’ve really come on from what you were – a troubled teenager to now running a two-hat restaurant’. It is a proud fatherly feeling. You've seen these people throughout the years and they've stuck by you through thick and thin." 

Celebrity Status

While Colin is an old hand in the kitchen, he's the 'new guard' celebrity chef on TV. A few appearances on MasterChef led to Channel 7 giving him a shot on MKR. He's been a hit. His good looks and Irish charm balancing out his acerbic reviews of contestants' cooking. TV seems to have come easily, but Colin admits otherwise. 

"I wasn’t good at the start," he says. "Everyone thinks they can do it until the producers tell you you're not very good. And I got told, so I got better, quickly."

Of course, being a TV celebrity has as many drawbacks as it has benefits, not that Colin is too worried by the whole thing.

"At the start of last week, a magazine had a story that I'd been fired for being hungover, while another said Pete (Evans) had been fired and I'd been given a promotion," laughs Colin. "It does put bums on seats though – my saving grace is I am often still in the kitchen at 4Fourteen – it keeps you normal in the frenzy.

"If you'd told me 20 years ago I'd be on TV, I would have said I was a sell-out. But I have a new appreciation for what these people do. It's a lot of work and long days." 

As the MKR launch event winds down late in the night in Surry Hills, Colin is still holding court for the few remaining guests. Laughing, relaxed... mellow. Long days indeed.

Colin Fassnidge's Poached pork fillet with pearl barley and wilted greens recipe

Colin Fassnidge Poached Pork fillet with pearl barley and wilted greens

Get Colin Fassnidge's poached pork fillet with pearl barley and wilted greens recipe

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Hanging with Mr Hong
Words by Mark Hughes on 30 Sep 2015
As a teenager, Dan Hong was a bit of a rebel, emulating the ‘gansta’ life from his heroes in hip hop – doing graffiti, partying and earning the ire of the law. These days, he still has that sassy savoir faire air about him, but as the ‘it’ boy of the Sydney dining scene, a genuine Gen Y foodie trail blazer, he’s too important to ignore, but too cool to care. His resume and achievements are as full as a contented diner at one of his restaurants. Stints at Longrain, Tetsuya’s, Bentley and Marque helped him score the Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef Award at the 2008 SMH Good Food Guide Awards. Hospitality king Justin Hemmes recognised the potential. Seven years later, Dan is executive chef across three of Merivale Group’s hippest restaurants: Mr Wong, Ms G’s and El Loco. He admits though, that he would never have had any of this had it not been for his mother. Mum knows best Dan grew up in the north-western Sydney suburb of Epping while his mum, Angie, worked tirelessly at the family’s Vietnamese restaurants to give Dan and his sisters a private school education. But after he bombed out of high school, Dan admits he didn’t really know what to do. Fortunately, his mum did. She put him to work in her restaurant, got him into a cooking school and then used her contacts to get him an apprenticeship at Longrain. He’s never looked back. “I never really thought about being in the industry when I was in high school because I took it for granted that my mum had this restaurant,” Dan says. “I enjoyed cooking at home and I enjoyed watching cooking shows like Jamie Oliver, so I thought I would give it a crack.” Dan found his true calling in the kitchens of mentors such as Martin Boetz, Brent Savage and Mark Best, learning Asian, fusion and French. But it was when he cooked the food of US trendsetting chef David Chang (Momofuku) at a special function that Dan’s creative juices truly flowed. In Chang, Dan discovered a guy who broke the rules and managed to tap into the main vein of food fashion – fresh, fast and great tasting – fine dining junk food. Hemmes wanted an Aussie version and entrusted Dan and chef Jowett Yu to do the job, and so Ms Gs was born. A Mexican eating excursion for Dan led to the opening of the pop-up style El Loco. Mr Wong is Hemmes’ most expansive (and expensive) restaurant imagining yet, a Sydneysider’s vision of a hip Cantonese eatery located in the suits and briefcase end of Sydney’s CBD. It’s been wildly successful, scoring a host of awards including Best New Restaurant by SMH in 2014, and recently voted as the ninth best restaurant in the country by chefs and restaurateurs in the Australian Financial Review. The accolades confirm the inspired partnership of two great artists. “He (Justin) has this big vision and I just execute the food,” says Dan. “It’s great.” Hong style Whether it’s called refined dude food, or a super fly feast from a Kayne West of the kitchen, Dan hesitates at labelling his style.   “I don’t want to put myself in this pigeon-hole where diners say, ‘I feel I can only go there on a special occasion’. I want people to come to my places and feel like they can eat there every day. They can also come there for that special occasion, but I just want to be the whole package where people feel comfortable eating my food, drinking good wine and having a great time.” Watch our interview with Dan Hong:
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6 Wines to bring luck and prosperity in the Year of the Rooster
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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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