Chef Jason Roberts on G’Day Neighbour, Regenerative Agriculture, the Commercial Kitchen and Connecting to Community Introduction
Today, my guest is executive chef Jason Roberts. Jason hails from New Zealand but has been involved in some of the top restaurants here in Australia and in the US. Jason’s just his love of food has been a driving force, as you will hear, and it’s truly inspiring. He talks a lot about food in this episode, mouthwatering. So but far more important than that, we talk about the story of food and why suppliers are so important.
I actually met Jason at Soil to Stomach event, which was in March at Fairlight in Sydney with Charles Massy, and Gab was the keynote speaker. And Charlie Arnott was also speaking. And I happened to be on the panel and Jason contacted me a few days after that. And we got talking and realized that his story is such an interesting and important one because this Soil to Stomach event really opened his eyes and brought stuff together, as you will hear.
Look, it was just such a great conversation. He’s such a lovely guy involved in such great, he’s involved in such great movements, he started one himself called G’Day Neighbour, which you hear all about and inspired me to call this episode G’Day Neighbour 2, I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Jason Roberts.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:07] Welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Before we start, I’d like to acknowledge to the traditional owners of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and recognize their continuing connection to land waters and culture. I pay my respects to their elders of the past, present, and emerging.
Well, today, my guest is executive chef Jason Roberts. Jason hails from New Zealand but has been involved in some of the top restaurants here in Australia and in the US. Jason’s just his love of food has been a driving force, as you will hear, and it’s truly inspiring. He talks a lot about food in this episode, mouthwatering. So but far more important than that, we talk about the story of food and why suppliers are so important.
I actually met Jason at Soil to Stomach event, which was in March at Fairlight in Sydney with Charles Massy, and Gab was the keynote speaker. And Charlie Arnott was also speaking. And I happened to be on the panel and Jason contacted me a few days after that. And we got talking and realized that his story is such an interesting and important one because this Soil to Stomach event really opened his eyes and brought stuff together, as you will hear.
Look, it was just such a great conversation. He’s such a lovely guy involved in such great, he’s involved in such great movements, he started one himself called G’Day Neighbour, which you hear all about and inspired me to call this episode G’Day Neighbour 2, I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Jason Roberts. Welcome to the show, Jason.
Jason Roberts [00:02:13] Dr. Ron, thanks for having me very excited.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:02:15] Jason, you and I have connected through an event we both attended, not that many know about a week ago.
Jason Roberts [00:02:23] Mardi Gras.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:02:25] Mardi Gras. That’s how we spent Mardi Gras. And I’ll tell you what, I’ve spent Mardi Gras. Well, anyway, let’s not go into that. But we’ve attended an event called Soil to Stomach. And it was great. I mean, there were over a hundred people there. We were listening to Charles Massy and Charlie Arnott, who I think we both agree to both legends. And I was surprised to hear that this was kind of a new thing for you. And I just wanted to hear a little bit about what you thought of the evening and what you took away from it.
Jason Roberts [00:02:57] I think for me, Ron, there are many aspects to what happened that night and what transpired that night. My background as a kid, I grew up on a dairy farm. So, yes, I understood farming. I’m a human, so I need to eat.
I got to meet you. I’ve been to the dentist. I’ve had holes in my teeth. There were all these fundamentals that I’m aware of and food for me. You know, I’ve had over 30 years experience in the restaurant industry, restaurant, and media. So I really you know, my lifestyle comes in and out of different things and understandings.
And I guess honestly, in my forty-seven years of life, with all the books that I have and my understanding on a philanthropic side and who we are as humans. It’s like. Everything came together in that one night, everything just made sense, and I don’t know if you know the movie Avatar, where it talks about, you know, where we see this piece in the movie and the trees call, it’s the giving tree or something like that. And there’s life and death, but it’s how we coexist with the planet and with the earth, with the planet in that scenario. But it’s like the penny dropped. All right.
Now it’s time to get serious. There’s still opportunity to really do something for our next generation. We really can start living an optimal lifestyle if we start becoming more conscious and more aware of what’s going on around us.
So there we just all the right people were in the right space. I connected. Look, the mothership had arrived and he was a bounty of knowledge that I was ready to receive and that some time is the thing, you know, everything is laid out in front of you and everything that we need isn’t here, but it’s when are you going to be ready to receive it? When are you is going to be OK? When are you going to shut up and just listen? So I listen that night and my boat opened up and here we are today.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:05:02] What were some of the aspects that, you know, that you kind of gone, aha! Yeah, this connects with that, and that. You know, Can you tell us a bit about what was going on in your head?
Jason Roberts [00:05:12] I guess we’re just think about first and foremost, Ryan at the Feili. But you had reached out to me maybe a couple of weeks early. And we’re talking about, you know, what he said, you know, we would love, I’d love to work with you in change that you work on something. And he came over here and bought a piece of he bought some of, actually, I was doing a community event outside my house and basically feeding neighbors tacos to raise money for the metro Australia. He came over, brought some lamb, just happened to be Charlie Arnott. Biodynamic Lamb and he told me the story then he told me about this event.
I thought it was going to be OK. Why do you guys mate where if you’re here, you should come alone. But I think, more importantly, he planted that seed. And I got to know Charlie Arnott was, we actually jumped on an Instagram live and we chatted to him and it’s like. But I grow up on a farm and initially,
Charlie was old school methods of farming in the sense of, you know, they were plowing up the fields. But then on that night when Charlie was talking about, no, you don’t plow up the fields, you don’t plow up that cover crop, you don’t let the wind blow it away all the way over to New Zealand,all that hard work that goes into the soil, but everything from moving livestock from paddock to paddock and the way they walk on the ground in the debates. And that’s all you need is understanding the animals, too.
So obviously, having Charlie there and then listening it on our restaurant level as well, and the connection to consumer through Lucy alone was really special to me because I hadn’t seen Lucy in many years from when she, you know, she was Luke Madigan’s partner. And so the last time and see Lucy was forever ago. So I made that connection to her listening to her talk about the relationship between food and the hospitality and the way we use it and what it is with chefs.
Jason Roberts [00:07:06] You know, twenty-five years ago, we were very proud to put the farmer’s name on a menu, the person who made this particular, you know, and then it goes through a phase of, well, you need to make money and therefore you half buying stuff in from Thailand and Vietnam and everything that I wasn’t really to tell people that, but I’ll use it because it’s cheaper. There is this process and now it’s going to be at this event again.
It was like it’s so, so important that we support local farming. It’s so important that we pay homage to the pharmacy doing it. And I’ve always thought the person in the food chain, you know, in the line of my job, that person does it the hardest is the farmer because they’re the ones who have to do with droughts, floods, all the natural elements.
You know, it’s not like they can just pick up a phone and call someone to deliver water or do something. They’re relying on Mother Nature itself. And that’s probably the most complicated. And so they were many aspects. And then meeting Murray from the roof farm and just listening to him in the way he’s working with this Local Aboriginal Community.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:07] What a great story. I mean, Murray’s coming onto our podcast, too, so our listener is going to get that amazing story of Murray and [00:08:17]the naguru farm,I think that’s how you say it. But, yeah, go on. He was amazing. I was similarly blown away by him.
Jason Roberts [00:08:24] Yesterday, there was, I just went on to his website a bit earlier, and there’s this Pasir. And it’s an old Aboriginal proverb where all visitors to this place, this time we’re just passing through. Our purpose here is to learn, to grow, and to love and then we all return home.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:40] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jason Roberts [00:08:42] That sort of really does some I guess who Murray is, what nuru farm is, but also what that evening was to. We are all here for a time and we are here to be part of the circle and not look at it and how we make money from it. And I think that’s something that Charlie had pointed out or you can tell Sir Charles Massy have pointed out, is that rather than taking a look at the bigger picture as far as farming and food and agriculture become part of the circle, but that’s when you remove yourself from trying to capitalize on the planet. So, yes, it was very much a full-circle moment. I just, I feel blessed to have been in that space and I took so much away from it.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:31] Yeah, you’ve hit on so many parts of that evening and it’s not a new story to me. I’ve been following it for quite a long time, but I was similarly moved by it. And that’s what I found so interesting, Jason, that we met you express that kind of thing to me. And I thought, hang on, I knew a lot of that stuff and I’m still amazed by it.
But listen, you know, the other thing that I’m I really want to talk to you about and, you know, this fact that you’ve grown up on a dairy farm is even, makes that journey even more interesting is that to reach the point in the food industry and the hospitality industry of being executive chef of some of the, well, I think there’s two or three-headed restaurants that you’ve been involved with. And I am a huge fan of two-headed.
OK, listen, I reckon you should have got a third-head because, OK, there it is, but my point is that we all go into restaurants and we all order food and a waiter brings that to us. But there’s a lot that happens, particularly in the Top End restaurants where you’ve been involved and become an executive chef. Can you just share with us a little bit about your journey that got you to that point?
Jason Roberts’s Journey
Jason Roberts [00:10:42] Yeah, look, I’ll jump over fast track here a little because at the age of four, I knew I wanted to cook, I knew I wanted to cook.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:52] Yeah.
Jason Roberts [00:10:53] There was no other choice. At four, I don’t want to be a policeman, I don’t want to be a fireman. Nothing. It was nothing else.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:59] Wow.
Jason Roberts [00:11:01] And so I sort of followed my heart and then I sort of, I grew up in a dairy farm in Queensland, born in New Zealand, growing upon a dairy farm in Queensland at the age of 13, moved back to New Zealand. So throughout high school, I did home economics. I did the cooking. So I had to do the sewing side as well. I could do a pretty mean stitch too if I need to.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:19] I grew up in the clothing business. Me too.
Jason Roberts [00:11:22] Well, interestingly enough, this is me, I’m a bit all over the place, but I may start ten sentences and finish one, you have to be right. I think if I didn’t get into cooking, I think I would have been making women’s shoes.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:35] Right. OK.
Jason Roberts [00:11:40] Whatever I had to do, it had to be a way to a woman’s heart.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:44] But four years old is very young to think about it. Was that influence in your, must have been through your family, obviously. Where are you getting other influences?
Jason Roberts [00:11:52] Yeah. So I had my grandparents on my mother’s side where the caterers had to go to school in the south part of New Zealand. So I do remember any time that I would spend with them.
I just remembered them as jolly people, you know, they would count me around the kitchens under and you know, in arms, so they were showing me around the kitchen and with all these, déjame that women in the kitchen and I were quite big and jolly that they were smiling. And I think that my grandmother was so proud of me and she would take a biscuit from the pastry section or something and give it to me.
And I just felt like it was a place of giving, a place of love, a place where I felt safe. I know in that first, you know, seven years of your life, it’s your understanding of unconditional love and trust so if me the women, my grandmother, the white coats, the love in that space, the complete sense of freedom.
I didn’t know, you know, 20 years down the track that I’d be doing 80, 90 hours a week for someone else.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:12:57] Yeah, those I was just crazy. But go on you. I can see what the appeal is here. It sounds so appealing.
Jason Roberts [00:13:04] So jump forward, you know, I ended up, my parents were very young when they had me, so they split when I was young. So I met my dad for the first time, really met him when I was 18. And he actually lived in this house that I’m in right now. And where I’m sitting right now was a futon that I slept for three months at the age of 18. Now, where I host this, you know everything out of Instagram, it’s just I look back at my life sometimes and it’s like even being at the event the other night, you know, it’s sort of stomach I’m just.
Wow. How did I just reach this point right now anyway? My dad is still living. He lives north up on his yacht. And but this was the space where I first moved to. I started my apprenticeship, you know, I got into cooking.
My first job was Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was really, it was a kitchen to me I didn’t care if it is food and I wasn’t looking at all that was on the idea of looking for something that I wouldn’t have was. I didn’t know what I was chasing. Ideally, I didn’t know where I was going either. But that was my first job. I had to get some money rolling in. I had to get off this bloody fool that I was sleeping on.
And so I live with my dad for the first three months, and then, he, actually my dad’s an interior painter. Dr. Ron, he might have painted your house at some point. He’s that person, does everyone’s house. He got me my first job at Ravesi’s and this is back in 91, working for Megan Brown. That’s when the movie, the food was sort of tick’s mixed south-western.
There was a lineup every weekend for breakfast and they would only ever do scrambled eggs, you could not get a fried egg, we’re not doing any variation on that menu. And I went from there, I was there for a year and a half, so my first year, my apprenticeship was there and I went to Armstrongs and Manly, where I worked with Mark Armstrong. I worked for Grant Lawrence and Steve Nichols. Steve Nichols and Grant Lawrence, this is a long-winded story.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:14:59] That’s OK. I’m kicking the boxes here, Jason. I’m just a fan of those two so far and keep going.
Jason Roberts [00:15:06] So you get, you know, Mike Armstrong, another Kiwi chef, had landed here sort of thing but also started to become one of the pioneers of cooking in Sydney at that time but Grant Lawrence and Steve Nichols, which were obviously going on, they became chefs in their own right, but that at some point they were apprentices Momensbay Espenson. Momensbay Espenson was Damien’s business partner and butlers
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:15:36] Hang on, Damien, for the listener, we know about who that is. But to tell us who we’re talking about here, because, I was going to ask you about mentors.
Jason Roberts [00:15:46] This guy.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:15:47] Yes, yes, yes.
Jason Roberts [00:15:51] Stepping forward a little bit. So Damien Pignolet has been my mentor. Since, literally since 2000 sorry, since ’93.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:16:00] Wow.
Jason Roberts [00:16:00] Good friend and mentor to the point. He’s been a big part of my life. I’ve been there and I know I’m a big part of his life. I was there at his 15th birthday and cooking with Tony namedrop some names. Right now we you know, we had the Brandenburg Orchestra playing at his birthday. We had cooking alongside Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander.
In fact, I can’t remember what page it is. But Damien, actually, he wrote Dead Jason’s on behalf of salmon is in this book as well but it pays homage to that day and his 50th but I just cannot believe he’s now seventy to seventy-three. That was 20 something years ago, that birthday.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:16:36] Wow.
Jason Roberts [00:16:37] He was like yesterday. So Damien so I guess this track’s back a little bit to who I am as a person. So yes, I cook for 30 years. I’m going into the restaurant. I chased Hetz for a little while, but I still
I still elected. I end up at Bistro Moncur my third year of my apprenticeship. I moved through the ranks pretty quick because I love the industry. I did the hours because I was building something that I was going to need in my future that I didn’t know at the time I was just doing it. You just do those hours and I think in hospitality you do those hours
Ron, I, I don’t know what it was. I grew up so, but growing up on a dairy farm and somewhat dysfunctional in the sense that alcohol was very prevalent, I didn’t drink, till I was thirty-something and that my mom always said don’t drink. So when I was, so when I moved through the ranks, with Bistro Moncur, I was apprentice, the pastry chef, the second chef, and ultimately becoming the head chef with Damien still as a guide and a mentor. I did not drink through that time.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:42] Well, and in that industry, that can’t be easy.
Jason Roberts [00:17:46] Well, it was easy for me because I knew that I was never going to drink. I think.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:50] I can say.
Jason Roberts [00:17:51] It was probably harder for other people going why don’t you drink?
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:55] Yeah.
Jason Roberts [00:17:56] Just have a drink. People try to tell me we should drink. I just, because I was head chef at Moncur and responsible for two hands and I always thought that I was responsible for two serve, I was responsible for 18 people Where 90 percent older than me. Yeah.
So I just, I had so much on my shoulders. learned to deal with stress, I learned to manage with stress but part of that managing it was no alcohol, no drugs, early nights. I mean, I could get, I could go home after an 18-hour day or 17-hour day go straight sleep, wake up the next morning at five-thirty to be on the bus and outside work. And good to go, Monami, this time of my life, you Hunt. Hunt, because I valued life.
I value the connection I had with Damien, the respect that I had for Damien, the respect that I had for the industry, the respect that I had for the people who came and ate at Bistro Moncur, and knowing that they need, that they wanted the French onion souffle or steak for the parrot. I knew my role in this world. I knew that I was the facilitator of happiness and meals and something ultimately that would foster nostalgia, just always been, I’ve always known that I cannot explain what it’s like, just that.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:20] Yeah. I mean, for the people from Sydney, they will, of course, know Bistro Moncur but for those listening from other parts of the world, I should just say that Bistro Moncur is and has been one of the top restaurants in Sydney for the last 30 plus years. I think 30 plus years would be a fair description.
Jason Roberts [00:19:47] It maybe just, it maybe like twenty-nine.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:50] But it’s been around for a very long time with those two hats and the interesting thing is just what are hats, I mean how do you get them and how do you keep them.
Jason Roberts [00:20:03] Yeah. For anyone who’s tuning in from around the world it’s very similar to what the Michelin star rating system. There are judges and you are judged and I think over the years it’s changed, you know, I always felt like the reason we didn’t have the third or couldn’t get the third hat was because we didn’t have access to toilets for wheelchairs, you know, like this little trial.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:20:33] There a lot of boxes to tick.
Jason Roberts [00:20:34] Yeah. Basically, there are boxes to tick. But I think the thing that we had on other side was not just the space that we were in and our love and for the food and our awareness of the local farming at the time. But I think it was, I think a lot of it was just to do with consistency, you got the same thing every time, if you were going to stick up for the part, you knew you were going to have lunch before you got there.
And it was the same thing every time, during my time that you’re close to 10 years of being there Damien would be able to come in, Damien would sit on the table one or two and he would come and have lunch. But that was Damien’s job, was to keep us consistent. You would hear the paper go because, you know, the time still doesn’t had linen. We hear of the butcher’s paper and in the kitchen.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:27] Yes, I do remember they had a linen cloth in a butcher’s table over the top of it. Yeah.
Jason Roberts [00:21:32] So, Damien would sit there, he would order the specials, he would try several different things. He would make notes and it would be like, so did you hear that, Rip? It’s like, well, I’ve got something to learn here or game and had just enough vinaigrette on his salad, the potatoes were cooked nicely, the beans were cooked through and the bread was fresh. Damien would always make notes. And that’s, so that’s the real connection that I had today.
I mean, in my time, just as a mentor, but Damien was the one who made us or gave us responsibility. It’s like he was the perfect parent. He’s the perfect parent. He created boundaries for us. He showed us when we would he told us when we were stuffing up. He gave us the tools. It wasn’t like, I guess, modern kitchens now, but they run differently in the states of.
Twenty years ago, Ron, I looked to my left, I look to my right and everyone can cook. It doesn’t happen anymore. There is a lack, ther is a major shortage of chefs. We have a lot of immigrant cooks, people who are coming in to seek opportunity here who may not necessarily know how to cook, eventually will get there with the right teaching and love and mentorship behind them but it takes time, but this was going back then to turned up by the bus loads outside Moncur looking for opportunity.
Hey, any chance we can come and go a star, any chance we can come and learn some things? I love when people come because I was, I love making terrine and sausages and potatoes at least once a month. I would do it close to a twenty-two hour shift because I would put I would do would be terrine day, which was a three-day process. And on the night of cooking them, service would finish at ten-thirty to eleven. We would clean down by 12:00 that night.
I would be mincing or chopping, hand chopping livers and separating terrine mix the grain most of my packing probably 20, 30 kilos with a meat into terrine molds, putting them in the oven for close to two and a half to three hours till they reach an internal temperature of 68 degrees Celsius, full amount later the risk for now stack them with bricks like these, like teaches making sure they didn’t fall over.
They would sit for two hours before they would cool gone to the oven. And it literally was at seven a.m. Six thirty. The next shift would come on out to be like high five. And still, I don’t need to sleep for days, but I love that process.
I love that process. And so I would bring, young kids would come and say, can I come with you at terrine day? So on several occasions that we just can’t believe he’s still awake. And secondly, I just want to cook. That was my job to inspire people. And I feel like that’s who I am today. My job is to inspire the next generation of cooks and it ties everything back to what soil to stomach is.
I’m going through a process and what Covid has really taught me wrong is that. There is no point holding on to all this incredible knowledge that I have, and I know for a long time shifts we would write cookbooks and I know chefs that would not give out their recipes.
They don’t want you to know how to make the French onion souffle that no one should know how to make Tetsuya’s vinaigrette, because I’m in a process now of I need to tell you everything I know. I don’t want any secrets anymore.
You need to go and make this for yourself. I need to create space for new knowledge, so that’s where I’m at. And so when I sat down last Friday, I think it was at least, you know, it was a week ago and that my head was clear and ready to receive all that information. And now I know where my path lies.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:25:13] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, you’ve identified also putting in a twenty-two-hour day. You said I’d do 90 hours before and then you said we’re not getting all that many shifts lately. And I kind of think, yeah, this is kind of a sequence there but the difference is you were at the end of that twenty two day and you still loved it because you saw all those terrines packed up. And I could relate to that.
I just think that that creativity and that construction of something that people are going to enjoy is amazing. But back to the food, because as what I’ve noted in restaurants now and you mentioned twenty-five years ago, you mentioned the farmer and that’s come back to some degree. We’re in top restaurants. They often talk about where the food is come from. How do you, get involved in that connection at your level with the person producing what you want?
Jason Roberts [00:26:07] Yeah, provenances has been a big part of the way I’ve cooked for a long time and understanding local communities in a big pot. So when you’re running a restaurant or cooking recipes, but they do day at home as well. But I think for me initially it was when you’re in a restaurant situation, it was having provadores the connection for you with you. So at the time when I was, I guess it wasn’t really till I was at Bistro Moncur as somewhat of a senior chef, you know, at the party or a sous chef. And I was involved in the day to day of ordering or talking about specials where I started to understand the provadores that came in and the time it was met browns grains.
It was Anthony Baharch from GICs Mates. It was great coming from coming seafood. They would come in and I don’t know if maybe it was. They made time to come and see me. That’s what was important, and so when they come, they would come in, and we would go out, I hope this is the right word, but they would gloat about the punches they would have oh, this is we done in beef, this is a short legged highland beef cattle, this particular farmer produces maybe six every three years or whatever. They have beef shin at the moment. There is this much meat on it. This is what it’s fed on. And so you become part of the story and you’re not thinking cost of the time.
You’re thinking, why consumers want that story, why consumers need to be part of this. And the same thing transpired through fruit, vegetables, through fish, and then to the point where we have importers who would bring in this beautiful Italian flower or pasta or, well, all this asparagus or chanterelles or truffles or whatever it was, and we could pick and choose.
But more importantly, every item on your menu came with its own story. So there becomes this is how you were able to romanticize our menu. This is where Damien excelled, was being able to write a menu that was romantic and maybe they’re not romantic anymore.
It stays baked chips sauce they got pickles, cheese sauce, something the Damien would write in a way, And I’m just so grateful today. I mean, and I have to share this too. But I have a library of books, unfortunately, that sits in California. Mostly I feel like a good handful of which Damien me. But they were books written by Claudia Roden, Julia Child, Elizabeth David.
In a way, some of these people wrote about food and Elizabeth David was fantastic as she would talk about a suit being, you know, the colors of a spring dress and what had been it’s. Words is so powerful. And the way Damien writes a menu to me is romantic. It’s a reason to want to go and eat at that restaurant. You feel like you’re part of it.
Damien was able to transcend a farmer’swork through a menu, we were able to not only mention the name, but the way we describe certain things, but to think that means presents well, eating a meal is a pretty powerful thing. And I remember probably one of the first maybe Undem cooked menu meals, but I remember one time he invited me to his house to cook a meal.
Jason Roberts [00:29:32] And it was I don’t know if you remember, there was scallops with three foot on the eve and hazelnut parsly and a lot of like a sherry vinaigrette, which is just fantastic. So Damien had made this three course dinner and at the time he had a rotisserie on his wall in his kitchen.
No one has a rotisserie on the wall and it keeps Damien up. And he taken a chicken. And I would have to think at the time it would have been a Kangaroo Island chicken or maybe a piece of a roasted chicken. And it was stuffed with tarragon butter, cooked it on the rotisserie, and he made a beautiful rice pilaf, which is just rice that cooked.
Would have had a bay leaf for sure, maybe three white peppercorns activity. He would have braised it in the oven. There would have been a dessert that. Oh, sweet. That would have followed. It may have been like mango instead with cracked black pepper or something.
It’s amazing how you can remember these things some 20 years ago. Yet I couldn’t tell you what I’ve done for the last week. This particular meal I rented me to tears and the tears sort of came from interestingly enough, it was this is not the best of it. There was a vessel and it was a saucepot and the top leak you could pour the fat from.
So he kept all the juice from the chicken and the butter that come out. So from it was a half size that there was two spaetzle one higher, one lower. The higher one, you could pull the butter onto the rice and the lower one you could pull the broth off. I can’t even explain just by chipping in different ways because they split up the same level. And anyway, I just remember being in Damien’s presence, it was a one on one situation and I just thought, here I am and my mentor is cooking and teaching me and I’m a grown man and the love that we share over food, friendship. It’s so special, actually, I mean, it maybe this where.
Jason Roberts [00:31:37] There was a book written by a famous French philosopher. Actually, he was 50 when he decided he want to be a philosopher and cook food, Brillat Savarin. Brillat Savarin was a lawyer up until the age of 50 then realized his whole family was and for whatever reason, he got into food, but he wrote the book on the physiology of taste and how food correlates to life, death, dreams, love. And this is who Damien has been to me.
He’s like my own Brillat Savarin. So, Damien and I have done events in particular when I could think about was a winery. Wyndham Estate, maybe in the Barossa we did that event 2 days with maybe close to 500 people, but the thing I remember about that, there was several dishes that we cooked on was a comfy might have been going to make dark nic and coffee dark. And there was there was trait in it but had coffee dark in it.
One was this big rice pudding that we made in this big bread pan like this in my arms were in it and it was cape gooseberries and rhubarb. It’s just delicous but the thing that I took away from that with we drove there together and it might have been a sob at the time, but the sound system was amazing and he was playing I think, Buena Vista Social Club.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:32:52] Right.
Jason Roberts [00:32:53] And that music is what connects me to that moment. So music has become a big part of my life and the vibration through music and food and connection is just this is what this is what makes me happy now.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:33:08] Yeah. Well, you know, you mentioned his ability and your ability to tell a story around the food. And that really is the key for us all, really, not just to see it as a burger and chips and it’s a one or two-word description, but an awful lot of life. And ours went into the production of even that burger and chips, let alone the other stories that you’re telling and making my mouth water.
The connection between these suppliers also is part, so much part of that story. And I think it’s what a lot of podcasting is about is to make people realize its big story. But I always have thought that a commercial kitchen must be a very stressful place.
Jason Roberts [00:33:52] Yeah.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:33:53] What are some of the elements that make it particularly stressful? You mentioned consistency one. What are some of the elements that make a commercial kitchen stressful? And how do you overcome that stress to make it work? Well.
Jason Roberts [00:34:07] I guess one of the things where you hold a knife, you can cut yourself, you work with the fire, burn yourself, floor’s slippery. It’s just dangerous. It’s a dangerous environment to work in. And I think the real thing that what makes it tough is just the hours in which you work and the and the heightened sense of awareness you need to have when you can be somewhat exhausted. What makes it, can be make it quite dangerous.
We would begin nourishment. And eating together as a group, as a family, so I think, yes, it can be quite a tough environment, can be dangerous at times. But when you take that time out at 10 to 11 o’clock in the morning and you sit at the stop and you eat a breakfast and you share a story and you do the same thing before you go into dinner service at, let’s say, five o’clock is that you communicate and you, you remind you sort of remind each other that you really you are a family and you look out for each other.
So you know that just a kitchen can be tough, it can be dangerous at times But when you’re aware of it, you’re aware of that space and you’re aware of your team plays, you know the people who’ve got your back. And that’s what fundamentally that’s what the brigade is.
That’s what a team is, is someone who heads the whole sort of thing and is aware.
But I tell you what Ron, when you’re watching our restaurant that seats a hundred and thirty people and a lineup of people be full of football going down at Moorpark or coming in and they want steaks, when you watch six, seven people on the line just dancing around each other, it is the most powerful, beautiful thing you could ever watch because food is coming up for each table at the same time.
And you got four or five people who were who are participating in several different dishes sort of thing. And then you go out, you know, Chef is calling it and calling up the food and then you got the maitre d or the lady standing the food.
It’s so beautiful to watch but that comes from consistency, that comes from constantly checking in with your team, being aware of that, I guess their abilities, sometimes you become that strength. It’s knowing how to support each other. It really is the ultimate relationship. It really is. Till it becomes toxic.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:36:38] Yeah, but you mentioned consistency and you also mentioned how people come in to a restaurant like Bistro Moncur, and they do get the same thing that they expect. It’s that constant. It’s that expectation not just of the customer, but then balancing out what you’ve got actually in the supplier and the team you’ve got standing around you.
But I think you’ve answered it really, and that is building your team and being a family and giving responsibility and mentoring. It must be I mean, it must be an incredible scene. I can imagine
Jason Roberts [00:37:13] It’s that we had, I remember on different times we had reporters or journalists come in and sit in on a Friday, Saturday night. It’s just like they couldn’t sit back far enough. They didn’t want to be in our way, but they couldn’t.
There really is a dance and you are literally sliding around behind each other to put food up on the past. But the utilization of the, you know, the eight burners and the two ovens to make all of this, you think it really is a well orchestrated.. It’s like watching your favorite play, being in front of your favorite piece of music. Just it’s that everything works together.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:37:50] And you mentioned you will function with 500 people. And this is another part that just absolutely blows me away in this hospitality industry is that, you know, a restaurant like this from Moncur has I don’t know, what is it, 100 seats?
Jason Roberts [00:38:05] Yeah, I think we hit about one hundred and fifteen, including outside
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:38:08] A hundred and fifteen. But then you go to a function where there’s five hundred or fifteen hundred. How do you produce a consistent plate to put in front of fifteen hundred or five hundred people is kind of a mind boggling undertaking.
Jason Roberts [00:38:26] You learn time management, planning, preplanning probably today. Why I still have notebook pads, I tend to grab my calendar, I make notes and that is my that is the way I connect with a procedure, I think as you get older, you get better at it, sort of when it comes to cooking dinner party at home is the big difference. Well during my time, I know a lot of chefs who actually just didn’t cook at home.
You know, you learn to time management and then when you can transcend that into your own life, I’m in the way, If I cook dinner for six people and I’m doing like an entree, main course, dessert, well, I know I’m going to get, all the way is prepared a main course meal. I know it’s really done.
I just need to carve it will make it look more so it can be braising beef cheeks or you know what’s so crusting a leg of lamb or a whole chicken that I can cook at two hours in advance and it can still ask me to crack it open like, oh, wow, look what you did. And it makes it look effortless.
I think the same thing when it comes to doing a dinner for 500 to 1000 people. It is just time management. But ultimately you want to make sure you have some help, but you’re not doing a work for five hundred. But it is just, it really is just maddening. It still is.
Whether you’re cooking for five people in this three-course menu or five hundred people in this three-course menu. You’re just multiplying these things. And if you, to be honest, if you need sex, sometimes it’s easier if you know you’ve got five hundred people or a thousand people, you know exactly what your numbers are.
It’s so much easier to prepare and plan than a menu where you basically you’re having 40 portions of everything. And then what happens in another cost situation is you need to you need to create food that not only holds up and it’s easy to serve, but also what you may not sell 15 portions of squab at 60 bucks.
So you create food that holds about, and this is where my love of classical French cuisine comes in, is we learn about how to preserve food through coughing and salting and air drying and smoking and bottling and pickling. And that’s where my real love of French cuisine come. We know how to preserve food, how to use it. And this ties back to. So the stomach is how do you use the whole carcass.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:40:48] Yeah. Nose to tail. Listen, I could keep asking you questions about commercial. I’m being a bit self-indulgent. I want to ask you a little bit about some of the stuff you’re doing, because you mentioned G’Day Neighbour and you also I know I connected with No Kids Hungry. Tell us about G’Day Neighbour, because that sounds very appealing, particularly in our current environment.
Tell us more about G’Day Neighbour
Jason Roberts [00:41:17] Thank you, Ron. Look, yes, believe it or not, yesterday was our one-year anniversary for G’Day Neighbour. And just here to my side, I got this shot at the moment because I had to keep walking past looking in my window. I live on four level. People walk in and tap on the window. They literally will go G’Day Neighbour so during the start of Covid. We will, what do you do? What do you do? You’re in lockdown, what do you do? I’m a cook.
I’ve been doing television radio for the last year and I thought, you know what, I’m just going to cook. So I like everyone else to start making salad, to start making pasta, to start of making banana bread. And then my windows, the media aspect of the window, they opened out onto the street and people woke up.
I would have neighbors and said, hey, look, I’ve made some extra set. I can’t eat at all. It looks like I was going about heavy and I just started passing food out the window. And then it ultimately became a cooking show. I was each night at five o’clock I would go live G’Day Neighbour through the power of Instagram. And I have lived in the States on and off for the last 15 years.
I had and I was abroad connection to American ships tome so I get a shift on Instagram from the States or the UK and we would chat about food more importantly would always deliver a recipe. And at the time it started it was utilizing what you had in your pantry, teaching people to waste, not want, not using up leftovers, making the most out of it, their food budget sort of thing.
So it literally is an Instagram account that goes live five days a week and we talk about food. But what was really special, it had me, to be honest, it had me in tears yesterday. It was a young girl, the name is Major, and Major is nine years old and I called him my Victorian correspondence because we would go live and I would give her a task. And the task maybe tell us what foods should
Jason Roberts [00:43:16] we be putting in our school lunch box? And because of during Covid, she had respiratory issues. She couldn’t actually go to school so her mom would work with her on these questions and she would put together this big poster of all the things you couldn’t have. And she lay the food out and she would go live just like this and she would tell us all the things.
So yesterday and I know that major through Covid had been saving and raising money, selling lemons outside of a house or pigface, a weed, people would buy it and people become, she was raising this money to come to Sydney to meet me. And anyway, so I knew that they were coming to Sydney, I believe it was today, and made his mum and said, hey, look, we have a delivery coming for you tonight between four and five.
Major wants, would love for you to be there to receive it, but also wants to be on the live with you when you open it up. And I’m thinking, OK, so I’m going to be here. There’s going to be a courrier coming. And lo and behold, at five o’clock, I’m ready to go.
I’m doing a bone broth with osso bucco bones. And it’s sort of like I look like a really anxious bone broth because the weather is turning and lots of ginger and garlic. I’m getting prepared for it and ready. And I go live and I’m just texting Christy, Major’s mom, saying hasn’t arrived yet.
I’m just thinking we’ll just leave the window where they may come during. And I’m like, no, because they just, I know what that connection is. The knife plan something and it hasn’t happened. So they’ll be coming tomorrow anyway. So I start doing it. I cooking and talking about what I’ve learned this year and and talking about, you know, being patient and taking that first breath for yourself. And this is what G’Day Neighbour has become.
It’s become a community and an opportunity for people to tap in and to take something away. There was always a piece of knowledge. So anyway, chatting windows open, waiting for the courier. And I turn around and Major is standing there. And I just felt.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:45:19] I had a feeling you were going to say that just the tear in your eye. I thought I bet you Major shows up on a dress.
Jason Roberts [00:45:27] And I did. And it really did. And what’s been hard for me during Covid is, you know, all my family are in New Zealand. And we’re very, very close. And I would have seen them at least two or three times a year sort of thing in anyway.
So it was like it was like my own family was standing in front of the window and I just, I just, I couldn’t hold it back and to go here and she cooked with me and we just to share that space in that moment. And if I could round this out, what G’Day Neighbour is it’s about pure connection, authenticity, a space where you can come and take whatever you want, ask whatever questions you want.
If we don’t have the answers, we will connect you to those answers. And then I think you mentioned before about what No Kid Hungry is to me. So I would like to think of like I’m that I feel like I’m a charity crasher. I get involved in a lot of charities purely based out of biking. I love riding bikes. But what No Kid Hungry was for me.
I was living in the States and I was presenting on a show called The Chew was assigned to ABC America and I was doing a TV show. And at the time I was making fantastic money and there was an opportunity to do some work for my local community.
I had done a couple of dinners to No Kid Hungry will be raising money to feed kids across the country. And this is on a like a school program where it feeds kids their first meal of the day. It takes out that stigma that rich or poor, it doesn’t matter what food you have, that everyone deserves a meal to stop the day. And the kids should have to choose between the quality or quantity of food. It resonated with me. I never had to choose.
So anyway, he got involved with No Kid Hungry. And at the time, Jeff Bridges you know, Jeff Bridges, you get it. I was was speaking at an event and along with a panel with Billy Shore and several other people who were involved with No Kid Hungry.
There was a Q&A and I sort of beg the question and this came up the other night. And so it was it said, look, I understand. They need to feed children, I get that, but I love that old adage, you know, give a man a fish, sleep for a day, teach him how to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.
And actually, I think Charlie brought it up the other day and I said this, but what are we doing to teach the children to fend for themselves? Because, you know, there are parents here are going, well,Do I pay of gas bill, the electricity bill before they put food on the table? What are we doing to teach the kids? And then and then Jeff Bridges answered my question, said, well, we’re implementing school garden programs where they see firsthand the importance of planting a seed and what happens when Mother Nature gets involved, sun, water and then nutrition from the soil.
Jason Roberts [00:48:04] He answer that and I’ve got, I’m connected. We are like this. They’re jumping for probably about a couple more months. I’m sort of on a tour around the country. I’m doing live shows in D.C. and what have you. And I was doing a radio show and one of the co-founders of No Kid Hungry, just happened to be on before me. I jumped on the radio off of it to promote the show, and I was just like that.
That was Debbie Shore from No Kid Hungry. Why do stuff with No Kid Hungry? And I talked about the dinner in any way. I so Debbie heard that and reached out to me, said, hey, look, I’m going to be in York, let’s connect. I connected. And I’ve always had this idea and this plan to ride across America on my pushbike, on my road bike. And so they would just throw money at me, just throw money at me.
I’m going to ride my bike across the country. They’re going to throw money at me and we’re going to be children and do this together. And she goes, well, yeah, let’s do that. And so what we did, we piloted a ride and we started doing it instead of going across the country. We just did a small amount. So we did three hundred miles, which is close to 500 KS over three days, New York to D.C. She said, look, you get you get a group of people together.
You raise twenty-five thousand this year. Next year, we’ll invest in the ride. Went on for profit, but we had money to invest into new schemes because we need to make more money. We need to feed more children. So we raised the twenty-five thousand the following the year we did the same route New York to D.C. and we went over to the West Coast and we I think we did like Carmel to Santa Barbara. So that was another three hundred mile ride, basically.
I think we raised close to one hundred thousand or seventy-five thousand, hundred thousand. So with a bit of an investment. We had more riders and that. And on that year, this is 2017 Pink, the singer and her husband had come along. They’re also advocates for No Kid Hungry and she was] five months pregnant.
It didn’t say anything at the time. She’s just, hey, I’ll come and do the ride next year with you guys. So the following year. Sorry, this is 2016 we think, 2017 She’s doing the ride she just had a baby. She’s doing the ride and every now and then she had to stop to breastfeed her child. Anyway, long story short, we today we’ve raised close to ten million dollars.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:50:23] Wow. that’s fantastic.
Jason Roberts [00:50:27] We connect children, not just the meals to opportunity and the vicious cycle for our children is that any person that we Hinan on the children of a child turns up to school without a meal in its stomach, you don’t have to spice up, you think about education. You’re thinking, when is my next meal? I’m so hungry and it’s a real issue. And at one point it was one in four, one in five children turned up to school without having a breakfast. And then during our time, three was noted hungry, but particularly shift cycle.
We changed it in some states to one in seven. So we saw the numbers really changing. And what happens if your child turns up in school and doesn’t get the education and at fifteen, sixteen makes poor choices, ends up having a child early? We’re just rotating the same stuff in and out. So I love working with children hands down.
They look at you without expectation and they, are the greatest gift. They are why we are here and understanding that we are all someone’s child and we will always need love and support and connection. It makes it that much easier. So No Kid Hungry is a big part of who I am as a person.
But it also helps me transcend what teaching of food now through G’Day Neighbour. This connection with Iran dying along the other night is wanting to know more because I want to leave this planet, if not the way I found it, just that little bit better.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:52:01] Wow. Well, Jason, I kind of had that feeling, and this kind of reinforced it. And that’s why I was so looking forward to talking with you today, taking a step back, because we’re just going to finish up. We’ve covered some great territory here.
I just wanted you to take a step back from your role as a chef, executive chef because we’re all on a health journey through life and in this crazy modern world. What do you think the biggest challenge is for an individual on that health journey? I would say removing the obstacle of stress. Thank you, Jason had a great comment, that is. But that’s, go on, please go on. I think that’s so interesting.
The Biggest Health Challenge
Jason Roberts [00:52:45] Understanding information.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:52:47] Um, yes.
Jason Roberts [00:52:49] I’m aware of your book , by the way.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:52:53] No, no, that was a serious question.
Jason Roberts [00:52:55] Yeah, actually, Ron there is actually a serious science there because outside, I think in the last 20 years, outside of running a restaurant, I’ve sort of navigated my way through my own understanding of, I guess, nutritional medicine and the importance of what food is to us on a basic level, all talk in front of children, at schools so I’ll ask them. So what does medicine look like to you? And they would say it’s a white pill or it’s a capsule type thing in a box.
It’s something that mom and dad take. And if I always puts in butwhat if I’m holding up green leafy vegetables or carrots and tomatoes. And what if I showed you this what if I told you this is real and how we identify with different colors of the rainbow.
I know it’s an old adage, but it’s something my grandmother taught to me. The rainbow. Eat as many colors as you possibly can. So as far as the health aspect, you know, I have gone through, I remember doing, reading and reading on information, and I think more so because of my understanding of what dementia was.
The non for profit work I’ve done was based on riding bikes. But then when I get involved, when I start hearing the message as to why these things happen and why there is an increase in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and why we tend to take on more stress than we need to.
When you start changing the narrative of your own life and you start rethinking what is my purpose is my purpose, so when I get to the pearly gates and I see the dude upstairs with the big white beard or whoever they kaseem, whatever they are. And they say, so what could you have done better? What do you wish you had done more?
I wouldn’t have been doing eighty nine, 90 hours in the kitchen, I’m not a restaurant kitchen for someone else, maybe my own kitchen feeding people that I can nourish my own community. I’m all about building community. I’m all about creating awareness of, I guess, what the damage that we have done to ourselves through through the foods that we’ve eaten, where we’ve become disconnected at some point in sticking food into our mouth that has no relevance to nutrition.
Jason Roberts [00:55:09] So I feel like with what I said, that, you know, stress and I think this is why we were wired, really connected with Iran, too, is knowing the work that you’ve done this far is that it’s like these little things that I’ve been aware of for so long.
I need to make more connection to that because it’s so relevant and it’s where we’re headed. It’s where we’re headed. So for me to have made you turn up outside my window yesterday and have it to you, that’s because I’m not holding on to all the best of the past. It’s because I’m leaving space for the future.
And this awareness is purely coming from like it’s summer with fifth dimensional thing. And I don’t know what you believe in, but I can tell you my heart is full. My soul is abundant. Because I’m making space up here for new knowledge and doing what I’m meant to be doing. I’m working 11th hour and so I know what my answer is when I get up there one day and I’m going to say, no, I did my best life. I created a pathway for others’ futures.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:56:09] Well Jason, what a great night to finish on. And thank you. I’ve been looking for it, since we’ve chatted only a short time ago, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. So thank you so much for joining us today.
Jason Roberts [00:56:20] Too easy, Ron. Thank you. And we should do it again sometime, maybe with food.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:56:24] I’d love to. I’d love to. That’s a dream come true. Thank you.
Jason Roberts [00:56:28] Thanks, guys.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:56:31] So I have to admit to being a closeted rock star admirer of executive chefs, I mean, I just think commercial kitchens and not just any commercial kitchen, but the commercial kitchen of a restaurant like Bistro Moncur is a great source of fascination to me. And it was so interesting to hear Jason talk about a commercial kitchen and everyone had it being a place and potential problems on an occupational health and safety basis on the one hand, but creating a family and a team and sitting down together to eat and this great sense of team and bringing it all together.
And to be honest, the comparison, the similarities between running a busy, two hatted restaurant kitchen and running a dental surgery where our staff I mean, I’m very fortunate in my practice to have, there’s six dentists in total and we have four hygienists.
We’ve got a team of 25 people. And I very much look at our team as a family. And I remember many, many years ago, interestingly, I’ve been in practice for 40 years. And for the first 10 years, I used to work through my lunch hours and it used to be really crazy. I get in there at seven thirty. I’d finish at six, really long hard days and I decided to get a practice consultant who came into our practice.
We paid him a huge sum of money, spent two days interviewing all our staff, looking at all the figures, got introduced to the word KPIs didn’t even know what that meant. Key Performance Indicators for those that don’t. And at the end of two days, what was his major recommendation? He said, you don’t sit down and have lunch together.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:58:23] That’s what you need to do. And I looked at him and I thought, oh, wow, I’ve just spent all of this money to be told I need to have lunch. But we implemented it. And I’ll tell you what, it made a huge difference to to sit down together and connect with the staff. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last twenty-five years.
So lesson learned there. And I could totally relate to Jason sitting down with the whole team. And I also loved the thing about stories. The food has a story. And that narrative that Jason’s mentor, Damien Pignolet had was it was so good at doing. And that’s just so important for us all to know the story of the food, where we come.
Funny story, too, that many years ago I had tickets to the Socceroos, the Australian soccer teams, major game in front of 80000 people against Iran. It was I forget what year was probably 2000, 2001 or two. Anyway, it was it was 80000 people and it ended up in a penalty shootout. And my brother and my nephews had tickets for me and I had a choice. Either go and see this really important game or I could go to the book launch of Damien Pignolet. Guess which one I chose.
And I never regretted it, although I’m still living it down with my brother and my nephews, but I never regretted it. So that tells you about where my priorities lie in terms of food and that. So it was just great talking to Jason and his G’Day Neighbour and he and I are neighbors.
He’s in North Bondi, where is where I grew up, actually. And and we’re down one or two beaches for those that don’t know it in Sydney. And I’m living in Bronte. So we are virtually neighbors. And it’s been great to connect with Jason.
And I hope you enjoyed that conversation. So don’t forget to go on to the Unstress with Dr. Ron app. It keeps you informed of all the shows and all the workshops that are going on. We’ve got this great five pillars of health online course which we’re building, developing, always improving. I had this finds you. Well, until then, this is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.
This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.