The 50 things that top chefs can't do without

Tea is just one of the things these chefs just can't live without.

Tea is just one of the things these chefs just can't live without. Photo: Rodger Cummins

1. Bird's eye chillies

MY MIDNIGHT snack is dim sims dipped in lots of bird's-eye chilli swirled in soy sauce. Chilli sauce, unless it's home-made, is too vinegary. I prefer the fresh kind: that clean, fragrant and tingling sensation you only experience with good chilli.

Adam D'Sylva, Coda Bar and Restaurant, 141 Flinders Lane, city.

2. Kaffir lime leaves


MY COOKING is all about fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves give me an instant hit of flavour and smell. I don't have to process the product, I don't have to treat it in a different manner; it is the most natural product and the most efficient. We have a big tree and we simply pick them whenever we need.

Jacques Reymond, Jacques Reymond, 78 Williams Road, Prahran.

3. Salt


IT'S THE essential ingredient in just about everything on the savoury side of cooking. And it has a great many uses for sweet dishes, too. Not only do we use it to season a roast, we also roast our meat and fish on a bed of salt. And, of course, tomatoes, sliced and eaten with salt, come to life. If I can give any tip to budding cooks it is to understand that salt enhances and brings out flavour, stops food being bland and is a tool you don't want to be without. All great cooks should respect it.

Ian Curley, European, 161 Spring Street, city.

SALT is so important for me - with curing everything from bresaola to prosciutto to salamis, it's a significant component of our kitchen. We use Sicilian salt to make salamis because it creates the right environment for the yeasts to develop - we use [the brand] Iblea Sale. We use Himalayan salt for its softness and the iron flavour it imparts to the outside of the meat. And I use some Australian fine sea salt because it has a lot of strength, which helps to draw out moisture.

Anthony Simone, Simone's Restaurant, 98 Gavan Street, Bright.

4. Texture

I BELIEVE texture is just as important as flavour in the kitchen: a crunchy fresh apple; a bowl of silky noodles; the texture of good gelato.

Peter Gilmore, Quay Restaurant, The Rocks, Sydney.

5. Scottish whisky

MANY women are probably not vocal about loving whisky, but I am. It's the way I finish an evening. I have to say I've drunk quite a lot of Scotch whisky so I’m partial to those. I particularly love a drop called the Oban. It's a real pudding-wine whisky: medium-range but still serious. It's accessible and delicious. The kind of whisky that is easily drunk by someone who would never normally drink it.

Jo Corrigan, The Commoner, 122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

6. Local olive oil


WHEN I make my nightly salad from greens gathered in the garden, I don't add anything other than Australian-produced extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of salt. Olive oil is the cornerstone of my cooking and Australia is pouring the most outstanding examples, including Cobram's newly pressed extra-virgin, oil from Rose Creek Estate in Keilor and my favourites from Nolan's Road and Maggie Beer.

Stephanie Alexander, founder of the Kitchen Garden Foundation.

7. Tea

MY ADDICTION to tea is a running joke in the kitchen. I like it nice and strong - at least five cups in the morning and three or four in the afternoon. I mix Earl Grey and English Breakfast. With milk. Tea bags only. It certainly keeps me in the bathroom.

Daniel Southern, Comme, 7 Alfred Place, city.

8. Jerez de la Frontera

THE food from this Spanish region is spectacular - really pristine, simple seafood - and it's where you'll find the classic Spanish sherries. The town of Jerez itself has an amazing market and these fantastic old bodegas.

Frank Camorra, MoVida, 1 Hosier Lane, city.

9. Japanese boning knife

KNIVES are a chef's best friend. The Japanese boning knife - "garasuki" - is ideal: the blade is about 15 centimetres and it has a heel so you can perform a chopping action as well. Compared with the Western boning knife, which is flexible, Japanese knives are quite stiff and thick, so can be used to cut bone as well as flesh off the bone. It is really functional and at service it always sits on my board. MCUSTA makes a beautiful knife, or Chef's Armoury can supply one from its bespoke range.

Michael Ryan, Provenance, Beechworth; see

10. Rottnest Island scallops


BEAUTIFUL Rottnest Island scallops are in season for only three months, so right now we offer them as often as we can. By doing this, we operate sustainably and are using the produce when it is at its best. It is not just about respecting the produce; we're also respecting the people who harvest and produce it in a sustainable way.

Guillaume Brahimi, Bistro Guillaume, Crown, Melbourne. See

11. Water

IF YOU need purity in your food, you need to use pure water. It's something I started to think about as I became more involved in brewing tea; the water you use has such an impact on the flavour. It is the same with food. Water really is such a precious resource.

Peter Kuruvita, Flying Fish Restaurant & Bar, Jones Bay Wharf, 19-21 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, Sydney.

12. Cumin

I DO love the fact that cumin is so robust and strong. It's the earthiness of the flavour that brings out so much in both Middle Eastern and Western cooking. Often I'll talk to my chefs about the difference between a masculine and a feminine spice and cumin is definitely the former: as a seed or a powder it's in there with cardamom and clove and those direct spices that show their weight.

Neil Perry, Rockpool,

13. Mortar and pestle

RATHER than always using a knife I tend towards the mortar and pestle - grinding spices for a curry, or I even use it for vinaigrettes. For ingredients such as garlic and spices, the pulverising action gets more flavour and really releases the aromatics.

Nicky Riemer, Union Dining, 272 Swan Street, Richmond.

14. Go slow

IF ROASTING or braising a dish, take the time to do it gently. The rich flavours of a soup or an osso buco, for example, need time to develop and intensify. I see young chefs all the time jack up the heat on a dish and it just turns into a washing machine - it cooks more quickly, but it doesn't have time to develop. Start cooking earlier if you have to. The expression, "it's better the next day", came about for good reason. My castradina [below] simmers for two hours - but can take up to a day.

Guy Grossi, Grossi Florentino, 80 Bourke Street, city

15. Bread


BREAD made with love is the link that holds the European table together. I love crusty, light loaves with hearty dishes; darker, denser bread with cheeses. I'm not too particular - just loaves made with care.

George Biron, Sunnybrae Restaurant and Cooking School, 4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra.

16. King Island

I'VE been going to King Island for 25 years and it's about the whole hunter-gatherer thing. You jump off a plane and go diving for abalone. Dinner depends on what's in the garden. It takes me back to the grassroots of what's in season.

Karen Batson, Cookie/The Toff in Town, 252 Swanston Street, city.

17. View from Bras restaurant

THERE is nothing like eating at Bras, in Laguiole, southern France. One whole wall of the dining room is glass - you're left overlooking a view of wildflowers and rocks. The restaurant connects you to nature to the extent that you feel you are among the wildflowers as you're eating.

Analiese Gregory, Quay, 5 Hickson Road, The Rocks, Sydney.

18. Masala dosa

I LOVE street food, particularly in India. Masala dosa is a favourite - I like the textures and the flavour contrasts of the sour bread, the coconut chutney and the spicy sambar. I don't have a favourite Indian in Melbourne. If I want to eat Indian food, I go to India. Or cook it myself.

Christine Manfield, Universal, Republic 2 Courtyard, Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney.

19. Slippery jack mushrooms

SLIPPERY jacks are something I go out looking for most mornings when it's their time. We use them raw, shaving them really finely, and you get wonderful earthy flavours of unadulterated pine forest and grass. This year we've been serving them with a dish of home-made sourdough poached in a liquor of water,  eggplant, yeast and a little bit of sugar and then braised until its like a soft sponge. Sliced slippery jacks are scattered over the top and served with native spinach, clover and hazelnut oil.

Dan Hunter, Royal Mail Hotel, 98 Parker Street, Dunkeld.

20. Indulgence

I'M NOT a real sweet-tooth, but Giovanni [my partner] and I would drive 30 kilometres for the doughnuts at the pier in Portarlington. They're perfect - fried, with hot jam inside, and handmade in all shapes and sizes. I think they're a bit like the ones at the Queen Vic market, only better. They make and sell them from a little caravan and it's only there in the summer - their last day of trading is Australia Day, when they pack up and go.

Rita Macali, Supermaxi, 305 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy.

21. Tasting spoon

I CAN'T do without my spoon. It's the thing I use to taste, adjust and tweak. It's the alchemy - every mechanic needs a spanner and every chef needs a spoon. And every chef has a spoon that they love. I've had the same one since I was an apprentice and it's always in my back pocket when I'm on the pass. The spoon is the connection you have between the chef, the cook, and what you make. I "acquired" it from the first hotel I worked at and just never gave it back.

George Calombaris, The Press Club, 72 Flinders Street, city.

22. Mussels

MUSSELS from the Sea Bounty mussel farm in Portarlington are, in my opinion, the best. The farmer, Lance Wiffen, should be applauded for growing such a reasonably priced, nutrient-rich, sustainable source of protein. We shuck them raw, crumb them in rye crumbs and fry quickly at hot temperate to seal in the  mussels' moisture. They're served with a locally foraged sea succulent.

Ben Shewry, Attica, 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea. See

23. Chickpea flour

I WAS talking to our oyster supplier, Steve Feletti, and he mentioned that he was making chickpea flour from the chickpeas he grows on his farm in Cowra, NSW. We ordered a bag and started playing around with it with great results. We now use it in our chickpea-crumbed eggplant with labna, shanklish, almonds and fennel. Steve produces some of the best oysters in Australia and he's now producing some very fine chickpeas.

John-Paul Twomey, Cutler & Co, 55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.

Source from Brasserie Bread Company, 150 Thistlethwaite Street, South Melbourne.

24. Clotted cream

THE Lanesborough Hotel in London serves clotted cream with its high tea. I thought it would be impossible to find the rich creaminess of Devon clotted cream in Australia but, lo and behold, a company in Tasmania is doing it - Meander Valley Dairy. Love it with our house-made raspberry jam and freshly baked scones.

Andrea Reiss, Chez Dre, 285-287 Coventry Street, South Melbourne. See or call 6394 8092.

25. Pasta making

PEOPLE believe they need to use an egg wash when making filled pasta, but in fact it's detrimental - best to use the natural stickiness of the pasta, otherwise it becomes slippery and difficult to handle. It's the case with all pastry. There should be enough natural moisture to make it stick.

Philippa Sibley, Albert St Food & Wine, 382 Sydney Road, Brunswick.

26. Tomatoes

I LOVE tomatoes, the very best I can find. I don't think there is a day that goes by that I don't use tomatoes and I go to great lengths to find them, no matter where I am in the world. My favourite casual weekend meal? Kofte with spicy tomatoes and baked eggs.

Cath Claringbold, food consultant and consultant chef.

27. Chocolate

IT GOES without saying that we love chocolate, especially anything from Chocovic's Selvatica range. They use a yoghurt powder in the milk and white chocolate that gives a beautiful sour note and takes away that sickly sweet taste. We use it in everything. I don't think there's a cake in our range that doesn't have it, whether it's there as a chocolate-velvet spray finish or present as a straight-up chocolate bar to which we've added freeze-dried fruit.

Darren Purchese, Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, 647 Chapel Street, South Yarra.

Source at Burch & Purchese or

28. Le Creuset pot


I COOK everything at home in my Le Creuset pot. Basically that's how the idea for Four in Hand came about: it's the sort of cooking we wanted to do, no fuss, you can do it all in one pot and nothing's a drama. We put a lamb shoulder in the other day in the morning before taking the kids to day care and leave it at 80 or 90 degrees. When we come home our cold house is warm and dinner is done and hot. It's one pot and it saves on the heating bill.

Colin Fassnidge, Four in Hand, 105 SutherlandStreet, Paddington, Sydney.

29. Milawa chicken

OUR rotisserie is the focus of the dining room, particularly in winter when it's cold outside. We cook everything on it - duck, the rack of lamb - but the free-range organic Milawa chicken is our most popular. We season with salt and pepper and it is self-basting on the rotisserie for 45 minutes until it's moist and crispy with beautiful colour. Not everyone has a rotisserie at home so the oven is the next option: cook 15 minutes on each side then 15 minutes on the back for a total of 45 minutes. Baste throughout and add garlic and rosemary. It's something I always do for Sunday lunch.

Philippe Mouchel, PM24, 24 Russell Street, city.

Source from Milawa Free Range Poultry, 5727 3659.

30. Oxfam Fair Trade coffee beans

IF FOR some reason I have to get up before 10am (funerals, flights, natural disasters), I won't consider speaking to anyone until I have a double macchiato made with decent beans. The idea of paying unfair prices to producers in marginalised economies is even grimmer than waking up with no coffee at all, so I go for these Oxfam East Timor Fair Trade coffee beans.

Simon Bryant, The Cook and The Chef, ABC TV.

Source at Oxfam shops or see

31. Lardo

I MAKE my own smallgoods and I love my lardo. Some people call it white prosciutto or pork butter. It's incredible - you can have something that is pure fat and turn it into something that's so delicious, decadent and wrong. I find the best way to use it is slice it into a nice, thin curl, put it on to a crouton, and sprinkle with Murray River salt.

Adrian Richardson, La Luna Bistro, 320 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North.

32. Thai basil and Vietnamese mint

THAI basil and Vietnamese mint are essential for the cookery I do at Longrain. In Melbourne, I go to Springvale. I love the shops there; many are run by Cambodians with a nice line in Thai herbs. Recently I bought little pots of Thai basil and flatleaf coriander there, and I planted them at home.

Martin Boetz, Longrain,

33. Ice-cream


ICE-CREAM is the best food and mint-chip is the best flavour. It's my Achilles heel. Ideally eaten at a beachside cafe.

Nathan Johnson, Felix, 2 Ash Street, Sydney.

34. Chinese-style suckling pig

ALL cuisines have their own style of barbecue but I still think the best in the world is the Chinese roast meats, my favourite being suckling pig. It's such an art form and it's dying here because no young guys want to learn the trade: the process they go through to make it - drying the whole animals before they roast to make the skins nice and crisp - is quite laborious.

Dan Hong, Ms G’s, 155 Victoria Street, Potts Point; and El Loco, 64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, Sydney.

35. Old No.7 Jack Daniel's

I DRINK Jack all the time, as well as using it in my cooking. In Porteno's Old-Fashioned, we use banana-infused Jack with smoked maple syrup, and we use it in ice-cream. A lot of people see it as being a cheap whiskey but it's not at all. So much care goes into it. We get spoilt at work because we have all these high-end whiskies and I do appreciate it. But every time I have Jack, it's like coming home in a glass.

Elvis Abrahanowicz, Porteno, 358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, Sydney.

36. Plum vinegar

VINEGARS are essential in my cooking because of their ability to round out the balance of flavour. There are some interesting examples in my pantry at the moment - cherry, pedro ximenez, apricot - but plum is a favourite. We use it on a foie gras dish [above] to create interest and balance. The vinegar just brings everything else together.

Grant King, Gastro Park, 5-9 Roslyn Street, Potts Point, Sydney.

37. Biltong

I GREW up on a cured meat called biltong in South Africa. My dad used to make it and now I have started to do the same. It has taken me a while to get the flavour I remember. You need Malaysian coriander seeds and these must be slowroasted. We cook on the Robata grill and serve with seafood. It brings salt, spice and depth to the plate.

Ross Lusted, The Bridge Room, 44 Bridge Street, Sydney.

38. Broth

FOR me, it's all about a good chicken stock or broth. It's something that I had from a very young age and
it's something I feed my children now; it makes a house or a restaurant feel really homely if you have a chicken stock cooking. There are times I just drink it in a cup like you would water. I like to use a whole chicken, having taken the breasts off, and just bring it from cold to a slow simmer for 45 minutes, usually with bay leaves, lots of garlic, onion, carrot, celery and fresh parsley and thyme. It's as therapeutic to cook as it is to eat.

Karen Martini, Mr Wolf, 9-15 Inkerman Street, St Kilda.

39. Japanese frying pan

THIS frying pan is known as oyaji-noteppanyaki, which translates to "middleaged man's pan". It's just a remarkable cooking surface to work on. There is no non-stick surface, no coating; it is the quality of the cast iron and the way that it's forged that makes it non-stick. It fries the perfect egg and is awesome for pancakes. To clean it you basically run it under water with a nylon brush. The pan's got a slight curve to it and it transfers heat incredibly well. All around just perfect for the middle-aged person!

Jared Ingersoll, Danks Street Depot, 2 Danks Street, Waterloo, Sydney.

Source at

40. Huffman's Hot Sauce

CHILLI sauces are big in our house - there's one for every occasion. From the plum chilli sauce that I make to eat with roast pork belly to the XO chilli sauce from Flower Drum we keep as leftover when we get takeaway. But the Huffman's is special. Nick Huffman was a chef at the Matterhorn in Wellington, New Zealand, when they were restaurant of the year and then he decided to make his own hot sauce. Incredible. It's good with eggs and great with quesadillas.

Daniel Wilson, Huxtable, 131 Smith Street, Fitzroy.

Source at

41. French inspiration

NOT to be confused with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Art of French Cooking is the first English edition of the L'art Culinaire Francais, published in France in 1950 by Flammarion. My old blue copy was passed on to me about seven years ago by Pam, an elderly customer who found it in her shed. Apparently, soon after as it was first published, Flammarion became a household word for food-lovers in France. My copy was published and updated in English by Paul Hamlyn in 1960; it contains no fewer than 3750 recipes and really is a compilation of secrets from the best French chefs over 200-plus years. It includes so many classic combos, and it has become a little bible for me, whether I'm stumped or need a bit of inspiration. Right now, I'm cooking the flattened quail with paprika, toasted crumbs, pommes Anna, mushrooms, horseradish and madeira - just not with the potatoes formed into a pseudo nest. The photographs are bad; it reinforces that food photography was not always what it is today. It's also a reminder that in food, nothing is new.

Annie Smithers, Annie Smithers Bistrot, 72 Piper Street, Kyneton.

AS A very young woman I was more than just a little in love with the American expat Richard Olney, who wrote Simple French Food. Engaging and often hilarious, for me he lent respectability to the food habits of my childhood - understand the importance of good food, cook with what is around you, source from friends or people you know. I was, after all, a young wog girl whose folks frequently bartered produce and had chooks and tomatoes growing in the front yard rather than a lawn. Olney championed terroir, seasonality and provenance as tenets central to a particular way of life. As I matured as a cook, I was also able to articulate these and develop them as the foundations of Lake House.

Alla Wolf-Tasker, Lake House, King Street, Daylesford.

42. Liquorice herb

WE HAVE a great kitchen garden and at the moment I'm using our liquorice herb a lot. We forage our own stuff but a mate came in and said they sell it at Bunnings - not romantic at all, but I bought up all they had. It's a herb that resembles rosemary, only with finer leaves. It tastes seriously like liquorice allsorts,
in a slap-you-around-the-chops sort of way. We use it with duck brined in star anise, sugar and coriander seeds. It gives the sweet duck a little bit of spice. It's quite strong, so a little sprig is enough for one plate.

Darren Robertson, Three Blue Ducks, 141-143 Macpherson Street, Bronte, Sydney.

43. Long Lane Capers


ROWENA Ellis from Long Lane Capers in Mansfield has produced the first capers in Victoria and they are amazing. It's a world away in flavour and texture from the overseas capers we know - like biting into a ripe blueberry, there is a little bit of resistance and then it explodes with robust, earthy flavours. At home, I put them through a pasta or a salad.

Matt Wilkinson, Pope Joan, 77-79 Nicholson Street, East Brunswick.

Source from Long Lane Capers, (03) 5779 1783 or 0429 612 082.

44. Jerusalem artichokes

I AM loving Jerusalem artichokes. They're in season at the moment and have such a unique, sweet and earthy flavour, and have an amazing texture when slow-roasted.

Brent Savage, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, 320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney.

45. White peach

MY FAVOURITE food has always been a perfectly ripe white peach. They bring memories of my grandmother's backyard and being able to pick and eat them direct from her tree.

Christopher Whitehead, Mad Cow, 330 George Street, Sydney.

46. Red Burgundy

IT HAS to be a good red burgundy with cheeses, especially a washed rind. The style is not too heavy but still complex. And while I love a white, the red is easily drunk all year around. I don't tend to stick to one label. But for an antipodean alternative, I do recommend Rippon pinot noir, from Central Otago in New Zealand.

Eugenio Riva, Uccello, Level 4, ivy, 320 George Street, Sydney.

47. Mullet roe

MULLET roe is the main ingredient in the taramasalata, our signature dish and just a staple in Greek cooking. We dry and cure it to shave over dishes or grate into salad dressings; we brine it to make mayonnaise or emulsions. You can get it all year round but there is a six-week season in the year and at that time we try to get as much as we can and preserve it. This means buying up mullet at the fish market so we can harvest the roe ourselves.

Jonathan Barthelmess, The Apollo, 44 Macleay Street, Potts Point, Sydney.

48. Vitamin C tablets

VITAMIN C tablets are always in my kitchen. I crush the tablets and use the powder to wash my lettuce, and I put some in my guacamole to keep the dish fresh. Remarkably, I find it better than lemon juice for creating freshness.

Ewart Wardhaugh, The Merrywell, corner of Clarendon Street and Crown Riverside, city.

49. Slow Food Revolution

MY FAVOURITE cookbooks are all in Italian but there is a really great book that has been translated into English called Slow Food Revolution. It's the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, in conversation. It doesn't have recipes but it's fascinating; it speaks of why and how the organisation came into being. This is a movement that's very important, a group that has done some great things throughout the world.

Steve Manfredi, Balla, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, Sydney.

50. Ras el hanout

WE ALWAYS have the Maha ras el hanout - I leave a container of the spice blend at mum's and one at home. I use it in everything. Put it on hot chips with salt and pepper. Our secret recipe? Allspice berries, raw sugar, flaked sea salt, sweet paprika, ground turmeric, ground coriander, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, fennel seeds, cardamom pods, black peppercorns and ground cloves.

Shane Delia, Maha, 21 Bond Street, city; St Katherine's, 26 Cotham Road, Kew.

From: Good Living


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