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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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Food
Tobie Puttock Gets Healthy
Words by Mark Hughes on 4 Aug 2016
As far as chefs go, Tobie Puttock is far from being on the list that needs to look at his health. He’s always been fairly lean and away from the kitchen is pretty active. Admittedly, over the past years he noticed a slight spreading around his middle, but it didn’t worry him too much. What did motivate him to make a change in his life was love. His wife, Georgia, wanted to get fit, not that she was overweight, but, as Tobie says, “she wanted to achieve a body image that she was happy with.” She hit the gym, was working with a trainer and getting really good results, but then she plateaued. No matter how hard she worked, she couldn’t get over this hump. A meeting with nutritionist Donna Ashton was the key to the change. “She asked Georgia what her diet was,” says Tobie. “When she replied that her husband was a chef, Donna suggested that I go in and have a chat. “I was a bit apprehensive because I thought what we were eating was healthy food. However, Donna showed me that what I thought was healthy and what was needed for weight loss, were two different things. My idea of health food – things like quinoa salad – was heath food, but it was not ‘weight loss food’.” After reading a pile of recipe books penned by dieticians, Tobie realised that while the recipes might be great for weight loss, they were pretty bland and tasteless. So he set himself a personal challenge to create healthy dishes that also taste great. It was a process that reawakened the chef inside him, found him a publishing deal and led to a whole new lifestyle. Sitting down with Donna to devise a weight-loss plan for Georgia, Tobie created three lists – foods that you can’t eat ever, foods you can eat sometimes and foods you can eat as much of as you want. “I started cooking some dishes and, as you do these days, I put a picture of them up on social media. I got a call from Julie Gibbs from Penguin who said, ‘What the hell are you cooking here? I’ve not seen you do this before because you normally do Italian food’ Then she said, ‘Let’s do a book’. Then the fun really started.” A new horizon Tobie had been a chef for almost two decades and had graduated to the point of being a restaurateur. But the hassle of running a business coupled with the pressure of managing people had quashed his creativity in the kitchen. Taking a hiatus from the restaurant game and working on this project gave him back his culinary mojo and opened up doors he’d never considered walking through. “I realised I didn’t have to cook Italian food anymore, I could do whatever I wanted,” says Tobie. “It really took a while to get my head around trying to make things taste good without using heaps of butter and olive oil and without the deep fryer. I haven’t reinvented the wheel, but for me personally, it was a huge learning curve and a big thing to happen in my cooking. “So I found writing this book to be a huge creative process and I really enjoyed it. The most satisfying part was seeing the results for Georgia. She lost 10 kilos of body fat through the writing of the book – she wasn’t big to begin with, but she managed to smash through her plateau.” Don’t mention the word diet There is a saying that dieting is like holding your breath – at some stage you have to let it out to breathe. Tobie affirms his recipes are more lifestyle than diet. “I still love eating chocolate, I still drink beer, but now I do it in moderation,” he says. “All I have done is take dishes that are familiar to us and re-jigged them by lowering the fat and carb levels. “This means that in the book, there are basically no carbs, there is not a potato in the whole book, but there are beautiful sweet potato dishes in there. I tried to make dishes that taste good to try to over-ride the desire for things like potatoes.” As well as healthy recipes that taste great, another important aspect of the book, and his change in eating, is the fact that ingredients are accessible and cheap. “I want people to be able to cook most of the recipes in this book from your local supermarket, so the ingredients are accessible and dishes are easy to make. “I am not trying to get people to give up everything, because the most important thing is to be happy, and happiness comes through balance. But if you cook from this book a few times a week, you are going to get results.” The Chef Gets Healthy by Tobie and Georgia Puttock is out now on Penguin (RRP $39.99).
Food
Jamie Oliver - cooking up a revolution
Words by Mark Hughes on 26 Jan 2017
Jamie Oliver admits he questions reality when he is centre stage at places like the World Health Assembly giving a speech on global nutrition or in the inner sanctum of British Parliament planning the obesity strategy with the Prime Minister. “It’s absolutely nuts,” he tells me down the phoneline from the UK. “To make it even worse, everyone listens, but  I  still feel like the naked chef." It is admirable, but why him? Why has Jamie felt the need to change the way we eat? Why has he became the flag bearer for the food revolution? Responsibility and right place, right time is only part of it. Happily married, he and wife Jools have recently welcomed their fifth child, River, into their lives. “It is brilliant and amazing and we are very thankful,” he says of his newborn son. “Sunday, I looked around the table and everyone was around it and I just went, ‘Bloody hell, how did this happen?’ I know how it happened...but you know…” And there’s the answer. Every parent knows, as does any responsible adult. For Jamie, it's about giving children the nutrition they need to be the best they can be. All this starts with education. Kids, adults, governments; everyone. Life Changes to Eating Australia and Britain are up there with the USA in adult obesity rates. How has this happened in just three short decades? “People always find a way to shortcut,” reasons Jamie. “And the minute they find a way to make time on a job, they fill it up with other stuff. Technology has really added to that. Everyone is juggling more things, more money and more responsibilities – life has just changed. “The reality of it is 56% of Aussies are overweight or obese and health problems are shooting through the roof because of it. And this is at the same time we have more knowledge and beautiful produce. But it comes down to two things: knowing how to cook and access to good food.” Jamie’s plethora of cookbooks and cooking shows is helping solve the first issue. But he’s gone above that, setting up initiatives such as The Ministry of Food, a hands-on community cooking school, The Kitchen Garden Project to introduce growing food and cooking into schools, as well as being part of The Obesity Strategy, Sugar Smart UK, and the list goes on.
Look at What you Serve The second part of the solution – access to good food – is getting people to look at the produce they eat. In short, it’s about more fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and beans. “I just spent two years going around the world to where people live the longest,” says Jamie. “These places are not rich, they are not scientists or nutritionists – they just happen to be good at cooking food that is delicious and really good for you. And it is pretty much vegetarian. They eat meat and fish, but really only twice a week. “Take Korea, for instance. I sat down at a table where there were 10 plates of noodles, heaps of veg – steamed, stir-fried, pickled, fermented – colour everywhere, and then a plate of meat. By default, that is super balanced, super healthy.” The thing is, Jamie knows his stuff. Alongside over two decades of cooking, he has been studying nutrition for the past four years. A full diploma. As a consequence, each recipe in his most recent cookbooks has nutritional information such as calories, fats, protein and carbs, plus special sections offering healthy tips and ways to balance your meals. “Nutrition can be very technical, very scientific,” says Jamie. “So I have tried hard to build bridges between science and understanding it in the real world.” Still the Same Guy All of this seems far removed from the knockabout chef that burst onto our TV screens all those years ago.“I often think the Naked Chef did well in Aussie because, back in the day, my attitude was all about having a laugh and using food to make cool memories and I think that’s very Australian. To a certain degree, nothing has changed. I am inspired by the same things. The food that made me tick, still makes me tick. “But I have always been driven by what people want and these days people ask, what is balance? What does ‘good food’ look like? So the point of books like  Super Food Family Classics  is to create something where every choice is a good choice. “It isn’t about getting it right all the time. Personally, I try to eat to the principles of the book, Monday to Friday lunch. That’s how I do it. And then, guess what? Friday night, I don’t even think about it – the whisky is out, I am planning the weekend, I am getting amongst it. Everyone will find their own pattern, but that generally puts me in a good place.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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