If you drive down a little village lane in Collingham, towards the River Wharfe, at the bottom of the road you will see a car with the number plate ‘DOC 15 OK’. Enter the adjacent house and a tune will play to announce your arrival. You will feel an air of mystery, much like you have entered a wizard’s lair, for among the many eccentric items sits a large collection of grandfather clocks. In fact one of the largest collections known to man. If you look carefully between two painted dial clocks you will see a framed cricket scorecard. Run your eyes down the batting line up and you will notice none other than legendary Yorkshire batsman Geoffrey Boycott. Bowled on 98. The bowler? Dr. D.C.G. Firth.
Here is where the problem begins. I know this wicket taker by a different name: Grandpa. And with such sporting heritage, I never really stood a chance of avoiding the cricket bug. Although I never reached the talents of ‘the Doc’ (who bowled a particularly deadly Chinaman – a left arm unorthodox spin), I did manage to develop a less active addiction to the sport. So it is with a certain degree of guilt that I admit my time in Melbourne was not spent writing blogs, but rather sat, bitter in hand, pie in mouth, watching England receive an almighty thrashing in the Ashes…But then again I am a Yorkshire man; there’s nothing I love more than to moan and wallow in self-pity.
Despite of my bone idleness during my free time I did, however, manage to squeeze in four jobs in Melbourne. Now the Ashes whitewash is finally complete, I can bring you up-to-date on what I got up to.
Melbourne’s coffee culture is world renowned. The city’s caffeine obsession started in the early 1950s with the arrival of Italian and Greek immigrants and flourished through the proceeding generations. (I should add that I planned to research this more with a trip to Pellegrini’s, est. 1954. This, however, drastically backfired when the only history lesson I received was the owners sexual exploits with various Australian women – “I can assure you Alex, they all taste the same”, are words that will stay with me for many years to come.) Having already spent time as a coffee farmer in Brazil, I was keen to make the most of Melbourne’s current reputation for coffee innovation by shadowing the team at Market Lane Coffee, a speciality coffee roaster, cafe and retail outlet in Pranham market. I had witnessed from farm to bean and wanted to learn more about roasting and brewing.
Market Lane take their coffee very seriously, with just 3 outlets they are able to source the beans directly, rather than through a wholesaler, and hand roast in small batches to bring out certain characteristics of the beans. I learned how ‘pulped’ beans lend better to a lighter roast to bring out fruity, acidic and complex flavours, while ‘natural’ beans are heavily roasted for nutty, chocolate aromas ideal for full bodied coffee and espresso.
You may think that freshly roasted coffee is pretty kick ass, but as I learned, you must wait up to 4 days before brewing to allow for the C02 to die down (C02 acts as an aroma barrier). And don’t even get me started on the barista side of things…weight, grind, extraction rate, water temperature…syphon, chemex, french press…long blacks, flat white, cold drip. No wonder baristas devote their entire lives to the intricacies of making coffee. Market Lane take their coffee so seriously that they wouldn’t let untrained moi anywhere near a 3/4 latte (yes I genuinely heard someone order that one)!
One of the most distinct aspects of Melbourne’s coffee culture is the quality of food served at many cafes. Although Market Lane focuses almost exclusively on the coffee side of things, I was invited to cook with the team at Silo by Joost, Time Out Melbourne’s cafe of the year. Silo ain’t no ordinary cafe though. Set up by Joost Bakker, a pioneering sustainable architect, Silo is one of the only zero waste cafes in the world. Zero. Nada. Nothing. All the scraps are even dehydrated down into compost. So cutting edge is Silo, that it has regular visits from chef deity such as Alex Atala and Rene Redzepi…and now Foodish Boy.
When you step inside Silo, it smells of a health food shop and with good reason – the food is super nutritious (Silo freshly roll their oats as they lose 120 vitamins after 20 minutes). The ‘zero waste’ philosophy not only impacts on the choice of food – a new lunch menu is served everyday to use up what is available – but also the techniques used. You can’t go making ballotines without any cling film. But this keeps the food fresh, seasonal and simple – just what you want from a cafe.
As an English man in the kitchen, it wasn’t long before conversation turned to cricket, though not quite the cricket I was expecting. Executive chef, Matt Stone, treated me to ‘sustainable protein’ with a portion of deep fried crickets with sichuan pepper and lemon myrtle. Possibly the only cricket session I enjoyed while in Oz.
Having heavily focused on kitchen experiences over the past few months I wanted to utilise my time in an English speaking country to work in another side of the industry – food styling. After almost two years corresponding I was pleased to finally shadow Caroline Velik and her assistant Jamie on a project shooting a summer BBQ range for supermarket Coles, as well as some new shots of Grill’d burgers new sliders range. If you find yourself flicking through a Coles catalogue and come across a shoddily cooked lamb steak, this was the work of yours truly.
Finally, in the run up to Christmas, having received so much generosity, love and support this year, I wanted to take some time to give something back. It was a huge honour and privilege to help out the guys from Big Umbrella’s Real Meal – a charity that provides hot food to the marginalised communities of Melbourne. Spending time with these guys it was clear that the food we cooked was much more than just a meal but a time to share, create friendships and build trust with people often neglected by society.
A huge thanks to everyone who helped me out in Melbourne, and a special thanks to my fellow Yorkshireman Chris Tetley (and Renee), for keeping me company on the sofa to witness batting collapses at their finest.