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Food

Peter Gunn - The New Guard

It's been 12 months since his successful pop-up, Ides, became one of Melbourne's most exciting restaurants, but this Kiwi chef is out to prove there's much more to come.

Shrugging off expectations can be difficult, something Peter Gunn discovered when he left Melbourne's renowned Attica to open his own restaurant, Ides, last year. "Being the ex-sous chef at Attica can be hard to shake off," he says. "Ben is my greatest mentor and has changed my life, but I don't want that restaurant. I think we're through that now, but it did take a while."

 

The Wellington-born chef spent five years in Ben Shewry's kitchen, having come from Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel with Dan Hunter. Guests familiar with both restaurants will see the DNA at his eatery in Collingwood's Smith Street, but Peter is definitely taking his own path.

FROM LITTLE THINGS

Ides developed from an idea to start a catering company with a friend. They had business cards printed, put out the word and booked zero jobs. Thankfully, Attica allowed him to flex his creative muscle.

"I started to have a lot of my own ideas and I really wanted them to go somewhere," says the 31-year-old. The idea of a pop-up was floated.

"Month by month, we grew. We started bringing in our own stuff, we got people involved, we started cooking better food, serving it better." Soon, it was near impossible to get a seat at the monthly events.

"Right from the beginning," he says when asked when he knew the pop-up would translate to a full-time establishment. Not that there haven't been moments when he's wondered if it would work, but he's developed a coping mechanism that involves focusing on his family, wife Nirvalla and three-year-old son Oden, on days off. They have another baby on the way and Peter's planning to spend less time in the kitchen, a move that may raise some eyebrows.

"I've learned not to give a toss what anyone thinks," he says. "I've been praised in some media, belittled in others, and if you look for approval, it can really chew you up. But I'd come into the restaurant, which was full of people enjoying themselves, and realise it didn't really matter what was going on out there."

TALKING EVOLUTION

Ask a Melbourne diner what they know about Ides and they'll likely tell you it's the place where the chefs serve the dishes.

"We started running the food at the pop-up, but we just ran it, put it down and said this is what it is," Peter explains. "These days we serve the food. We really try and engage, although not everyone is interested - they just want to eat."

There are just six chefs in the kitchen, and they create six-course menus each night for 36 diners. More recently, they've added an optional course, an appetiser and two different types of bread.

"It's really about building a repertoire of dishes I can call my own," says Peter. Rather than regularly changing the entire menu, a new dish is introduced every fortnight. "It takes about two weeks, I think, to get a dish right. We started a new, very intricate dessert on Wednesday and it's in its third version tonight."

When the restaurant opened, the menu changed each week. "But guests don't come in every week, so it was putting a lot of pressure on my small team. Now we work on one thing until it's rock solid then we can move on to the next dish."

It's not just the food evolving. With the restaurant's first birthday happening on March 15 , Peter is keen to move forward. He's introduced the Sample Menu, where diners are served dishes currently in development. One Day Sundays are the equivalent of a pop-up within the space. Then there are the guest chefs, like Federico Zanellato from Sydney's LuMi Dining, who brought his Italian offering in February.

"When your on-call mentor is gone, you call on other chefs to learn from them. We're not going to replicate his (Zanellato's) food, but we are going to learn some stuff we don't come across from day to day here."

TIS THE SEASONING

If George, Matt or Gary were to take a seat at Ides they would never give Peter a pasting about lack of seasoning.

"It's got me in trouble, but I'm a sucker for salt," he says. "And it's made me realise I need to create seasonings that can withstand the amount of salt I like. So to balance it out, I need high-intensity sugar or high-intensity pepper."

It is the ability to present those different bold flavours in innovative 
ways that has proved Ides' big attraction. "The inspiration comes from everywhere, the flavour profiles come from anywhere and, for the most part, dishes are based around produce at its peak."

He goes on to explain the lengthy development of a dish involving pork hock, tomatoes, lovage, rhubarb and blood orange. "There's a lot of focus, a lot of restraint and discipline there."

The four dishes he's presented here are riffs on classics - the mint-glazed lamb neck wrapped in roasted parsley is a nod to a traditional roast. They're dishes meant to be shared for a Sunday lunch. And all four involve full-on seasoning.

"The cos lettuce is brushed with bonito vinegar and lemon oil, then the seasoning is lots of salt, lots of palm sugar, lots of chilli, there's so much sensation going on. It's so unassuming, but the flavour is big."

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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).
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