I was just a 15 year old kid when I started in hospitality. I juiced citrus and was a general shit-kicker and storeman at the Bayswater Brasserie in my school holidays. I loved the people and the atmosphere. While travelling overseas I was always amazed by how other cultures ate and drank. Roaming around on my own through India, Nepal and Thailand I got my first real taste of authentic Asian cuisine. I loved it. My whole world opened up and I began to taste things in a different way.
In London working at Quags, I really saw how wild hospitality could get. The celebrities. The women. The powerful clients. The things I saw on the floor there still make my hair stand on end. I remember Mick Jagger coming in with The Stones and someone offering him a bib to eat his crab with. Needless to say Jagger did not wear the bib. I served Princess Diana and Pamela Anderson in the same week.
London was so great then, for a time I thought I’d never leave. But alas I missed Sydney, the beach and I still wanted to check out the states and Mexico.
New York beckoned me too, once I was finally 21 and could legally drink. So over the ditch I went quite a few times. I always stayed with my cousin Rachel who was the photo editor at Rolling Stone magazine. We saw plenty of live bands for free and the nightlife in NYC was intoxicating. I remember telling Rachel I was going to come back to Sydney and start my own place with a long communal table. I don’t think anyone believed me. But once I landed back in my home town, it took me a few years to save up and then I actually did open Longrain in 1999. I had just turned 30.
Longrain did good things. It was only Bills, Sailors Thai and us doing the communal table thing at the time. Sydney diners were up for something new. South East Asian food was moving out of the burbs thanks mainly to Neil Perry and David Thompson who paved the way.
At Longrain, I got to mix together all my great loves; travel, music, wine, food and people. Those first years were wild. I worked hard with different partners like John and Rob Sample then last year I took over the reigns of Longrain Sydney 100% myself. It feels good. With new Thai places moving onto the scene like Chin Chin and David Thompson’s new restaurant Long Chim in the city - it feels like things are coming full circle. People are returning to appreciate the sweet soulful simplicity of South East Asian food.
Lately, its been exciting for me to open The Apollo and Cho Cho San with my other business partner Jonathan Barthlemess in Potts Point and to open The Apollo this year in Tokyo, with our Japanese partners Transit Group.
Visiting Tokyo brings new ideas or insights every time. I get a kick out of being around the Japanese, just to see how they do things, the discipline they apply and their dedication to perfection. I hate the air conditioning, the poor air quality and lack of beach - but then I come back to Australia and soak it all up again. Being a restauranteur has given me so much. Talking and writing about food now is second nature. Whether it’s a fish taco from a street truck in La Paz, a mystery soup enjoyed on a back road in Thailand or some excellent heirloom tomato on toast for brekky, I am always questing to find that balance of acid and crunch. Something I continue to admire in the art form which is Thai cooking.