Photography provided by Small Talk PR
With a Lebanese heritage and a passion for Middle Eastern cuisine, Australian chef Greg Malouf (previously of MoMo) will be hosting a Middle East Banquet feast this Friday the 8th of November in St Kilda. Having earned him a Michelin star through his work at Petersham Nurseries Café in the UK the Middle Eastern Banquet will feature a Turkish Delight martini on arrival, a camel race and live entertainment at the recently restored West Beach Bathers Pavilion. Mr LB from Brunch Addict interview Malouf to get the inside scoop on the upcoming event.
Hi Greg and thank you for doing this interview. You have certainly taken your chef whites all around the world and making your mark on Middle Eastern food. What do you think is so appealing about Middle Eastern cuisine?
First of all, its diversity! The Middle East is a vast region, encompassing cultures such as Iranian, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian and Moroccan… One thread that runs through all of them, though, is a spirit of generosity and abundance. This comes from the belief in family and hospitality which is a cornerstone of all these countries. Most Middle Eastern dishes use an exciting blend of spices and/or herbs to create exotic and enticing flavours and textures. The dishes themselves range from humble (think of a simple platter of garden vegetables eaten with fresh white cheese and olive oil or a creamy dip) to sumptuously indulgent (such as the sophisticated, jeweled and layered pilafs of Persia).
Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of Melbournians primary associate Middle Eastern food with their beloved 3am Lebanese kebab. Is Melbourne becoming more appreciative to Middle Eastern cuisine when compared to other countries? Do we still have a long way to go?
Actually I think that Melbournians have embraced Middle Eastern food like no other city in the world! When I started my career, back in the ‘80s, it was probably true that most people associated Middle Eastern food with kebabs and take away tabbouleh, but these days nearly every bar, café and fine dining restaurant in the city – if not the country – features some nod to the Middle East. I think this spread and embrace of Middle Eastern flavours has been driven by the fact that we are one of the great innovative food cities in the world and we are fearless when it comes to trying different cuisines.
Going from MoMo in Melbourne to taking over the reins of the world renowned Petersham Nurseries Café, your options seem diverse. What drew you to Petersham Nurseries Café? It certainly must have been a challenge to retain the Michelin Star status when you took over the reins?
I already had some history at the Nurseries, having cooked at special events to celebrate the launch of some of my cookbooks. As a result I had developed a great fondness for the place and I really admired what Skye Gyngell (the previous chef) had achieved. After Skye left (at the end of 2011), I was invited to run the kitchen through to the end of the summer and I jumped at the chance. I was drawn to the idea of being in London, I liked the philosophy and vision of the owners (the Boglione family) and the thought of working in such an intimate environment, using extraordinary produce and with a team of fellow Australians in the kitchen was all I needed to make the move.
The Michelin Star status was the last thing on my mind when I took over and if anything, I assumed it would be removed once Skye had left. A restaurant like Petersham Nurseries can really put things into perspective for a chef as it’s such a unique (some might say challenging!) and intense environment. As a result, I was much more focused on the various day-to-day business of getting new menus in place, training staff and learning about all the amazing produce available. When we got great press reviews and retained the star I was thrilled, of course, but it was only the cherry on top of an already delightful cake!
So you will be back in Australia to host a Middle Eastern banquet feast at West Beach Bathers Pavilion. Without giving too much away, what inspiration have you drawn when preparing the banquet?
The inspiration for the banquet arises from what I’ve been learning during my time in Dubai coupled with influences from the seasonal, produce-driven menus I developed at Petersham. The Bathers Pavilion banquet will be a total of nine small dishes plus three canapés to start the night – including a very luxurious Middle Eastern cocktail. I love banquets as they offer the chance to experience so many different flavours. Plus this kind of communal eating experience breaks down so many barriers.
What can guest attending expect from the night?
Guests can expect a very generous evening! I suggest they eat a small breakfast and light lunch…they will need a good appetite and will definitely not go home hungry. I plan to showcase some of my favourite dishes and ingredients and I hope to come out and join the party when desserts are served. It will give me a chance to chat about the dishes that the guests will have eaten and share some of my experiences of life in Dubai
So your next stop is opening a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dubai. What do you hope to achieve with this new venture?
Firstly there is the personal challenge to myself, to create from scratch something entirely new and exciting in a totally different culture and environment.
Although Dubai is a dynamic and economically thriving city, and the hospitality and food scene is vibrant and diverse, the focus is mainly on international ‘brand’ name chefs and restaurants, and they are usually being set up in big hotels.
And while Emiratis do value their own food culture, I have to say that it is not very much in evidence in Dubai, and what Middle Eastern food there is, is mainly represented by very traditional Lebanese restaurants.
So I think that Dubai will be a great platform for me to present my own contemporary Middle Eastern food to both locals and expats, all of whom are generally well-travelled, have understanding palates and I think will welcome a change from regulation Lebanese dining.
My own food philosophy has always been to explore and reinterpret my own culinary heritage (Lebanese) as well as to develop exciting new ideas from my travels around the Middle East. Through my menus and books I try to present dishes that I believe showcase the very best of what the various Middle Eastern culinary traditions have to offer…and I’m hoping to find a receptive audience here in Dubai!
I hear as part of the event there will be a camel race on St Kilda beach! Any chance we will see you on a camel?
Let’s just say for now that I’m planning something much bigger than a camel ride!
Details for A Food Adventure with Greg Malouf:
A FOOD ADVENTURE WITH GREG MALOUF
West Beach Bathers Pavilion
330A Beaconsfield Parade, St Kilda VIC 3182
$135 per person or $1,500 for group booking of twelve ($125 pp)
Price includes Middle Eastern banquet feast, cocktail on arrival and entertainment
To book, email email@example.com