Book Review: An Oz chef's culinary biography
One of Australia's most talented and charismatic chefs, Andrew Blake, has released his second cookbook, Blake’s Feast – A Life in Food.
Even with the surfeit of cookbooks out there, this one is a must-have not only as an invaluable resource and inspirational culinary compendium, but an insightful and intriguing story of a chef’s endeavors to make a name for himself and run successful (and a few not so successful) restaurants.
Blake, or Blakey as he is more colloquially known, is a seasoned and well respected veteran among his peers, having spent his formative years under the then queen of Australian cuisine, Gloria Staley, at the Melbourne institution, Fanny’s, and trained in 1classical French cuisine.
Staley unleashed Blake in the early 1980s on the Sydney crowd when he became head chef of the wildly popular Chez Oz bistro, in the culinary awakening and hedonistic years when Australia started to discover its own cuisine and sense of casual, fun, multi-cuisine styled restaurants.
Blake ended up back in Melbourne heading up the kitchen at Cafe Kanis before testing his own entrepreneurial hands and creativity with Blake’s Southgate and subsequently, Stella, with partners, Sommelier Grant Van Every and Chef Geoff Lindsay. Then came Tonic, a groovy bar and eatery, followed by Blake’s Events Warehouse and Blake’s Cafe. Everything he opened was at the cutting edge of trendsetting in Melbourne.
Some of the partnerships were more successful than others (read all about it from his own account in the book) but the Melbourne and wider Australian dining public benefited most from Blake's innovative and breezy, down to earth cooking style that embraced everything that's good about Australian produce and multi-cultural-cuisines.
Indeed, I have always believed Blake invented a new style of Australian cuisine, or what he calls "Australian Freestyle", although I have this nagging feeling I might of helped him coin the term. This is not fusion, molecular or nouveau but a contemporary, innovative cuisine that embraces the laidback lifestyle of Australia and all the wonderful cuisines that came with the diverse emigration. It swims with the currents of the seasons and seasonal produce yet against the current of traditionalism or culinary rules.
Blake has been at the forefront of every phase of evolution in Australian culinary landscape, and still is, deserving a lot more credit for his contributions to the dining scene. Even though he does not own a restaurant these days, he’s at the helm of Melbourne’s most dynamic boutique caterer, Blake’s Feast, bringing his cutting edge, restaurant quality cuisine to your venue – ‘weddings, parties, anything’ - including feeding the likes of Bono, Christy Thurlington, Stevie Nicks, Elton John, Joan Collins and Kerry Packer, among others.
You fill find a wealth of 30 years experience in this book, literally and culinary, with each chapter delving into his career with a personal narrative of the highlights as well as the tough times. More strategically, there are the recipes and techniques of many of the dishes he created and cooked in all his establishments and throughout a colorful and dynamic life’s work.
On a personal note, I was in the trenches with Blake throughout most of my career, and have my fare share of wounds and scars too, but I would rather be in a trench with Blakey than anyone – not only is he a top bloke, least you know you will get a good feed.