Eat & Drink

Chef to Watch – Simon Sandall

There was a twinkle in Simon Sandall’s eye when I mentioned watching Matt Moran carve Moran family spit-roasted lamb for a queue of eager revellers at the Sydney Opera House’s swanky New Year’s Eve party. I’d hazard a guess that getting the boss out on point was his crafty idea. Seizing the opportunity, I ask what it’s really like working with a well-known Sydney celebrity chef. Simon’s reply is straight down the barrel: “I think the fact that I have been working for him for ten years says it all! I am one of many employees that has been working for Matt for over ten years so I would say that his biggest strength is support and loyalty – I think that for any boss to hold on to staff for that period of time is testament to his work ethic.

Loyalty is clearly also a strong suit for this thirty five year old chef, who boasts twenty years of experience in the restaurant game. Simon’s other strengths lie in a love of “great produce that speaks for itself on the plate” and a sense of practicality when it comes to “being able to serve it to a big number of people without mass stress.

After being head chef of Aria for seven years, Simon was asked “to head up the kitchen for Opera Point Events.” Watching the battalion of beautifully presented (and thoughtfully timed) canapés emerge from makeshift boardwalk kitchens on New Year’s Eve, I could see why. Simon makes a mean canapé; and with a partner working in the arts, canapés are practically a food group for me, so I’m a tough critic. Add to that a distinctly pleasant memory of two (miniature) wagyu beef burgers consoling me through DJ Samantha Ronson’s abysmal set. After that my night gets blurry.

Turning to the year ahead – Simon tells me that as you reach for an Opera Point Events canapé tray in 2010 you can expect a return “to old favourites with a modern twist, using delicious, fresh, local produce.” He also hints at innovative “ideas in service to mix it up from the normal cocktail parties offered around town.”  Leaving practicality to one side, Simon would tempt your tastebuds with “a plate of scampi, grilled and finished with garlic butter, followed by four week dry aged Ranger Valley Sirloin with hand cut chips cooked in duck fat with béarnaise sauce.” After cursing myself for not asking whether he’s single, I recall my first meal at Aria. I had scampi, chosen largely because they were a favourite. After eating them I felt humbled because I realised it was the first time I had ever had them cooked properly. It certainly was nice to chat with the man responsible for educating my palate.

WEBMiguelMaestre

Miguel Maestre
Speaking of chefs worth keeping an eye on, media darling Miguel Maestre of Miguel’s Tropical Kitchen (Lifestyle Food) and Boys Weekend (Channel Ten) fame launched his new restaurant in Manly this week. It’s called El Toro Loco, and it’s already being touted as the biggest Spanish restaurant to hit Australia. Before jumping behind the pans, the handsome Spanish chef tied the knot… probably for the best, as his fiery dishes have been known to ignite the passions of his lady diners.