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    Quote Originally Posted by Matchbox View Post
    It’s Election Day here in Australia. Voting is mandatory here (if you don’t show up and do something with your piece of paper, they’ll fine you...ignoring all your options and drawing a huge anatomically correct dick on it instead counts as “doing something”) so, of course, I did.

    We have a fun little tradition on election days. Boys and girls and others as appropriate, it’s time to embrace the democracy sausage.



    For the record, the democracy sausage stall at my kids’ school was on point this year. Sausage, cake AND coffee!
    We had something similar. Well, same same but different. Drunk voters.



    Open Bar: America’s History of Buying Votes With Booze

    For a variety of reasons — email scandals, Bernie blues, orange cotton candy hair and the brain sitting beneath it — more than a few voters might be tipsy in the voting booth this year. Even if we choose to go the responsible route and vote soberly, we’ll probably find our way to the nearest liquor store to drown our electoral sorrows in some all-American hooch.

    Turns out this isn’t a new phenomenon. The sadness and psychological rage, maybe, but the concept of coupling drinking and voting? That’s been around longer than the country itself. Really, however much booze is consumed to grease political wheels in D.C. power-player watering holes —and we shudder to imagine lobbyists knocking back $2,000 bottles of wine — that’s nothing compared to the way early American political candidates would use alcohol to essentially buy votes from the electorate. Maybe “buy” isn’t the right term. It was more like a little friendly elbow nudge, with booze. They even had a nickname for the practice. Well, two, actually: “treating,” or “swilling the planters with bumbo,” aka rum.

    It seems counterintuitive to get your electorate nice and sauced before it votes, especially back in the day, when we can only imagine voting involved lighting candles or dripping hot wax onto a parchment. But it actually made some sense. For one thing, in Colonial times, voting day was really a day. You weren’t just leaving work two hours early to head to some fluorescent-lit community center polling place. You were traveling, often by arduous means, to a distant town center where voting was centralized for a township. Given the physical exertion, and the fact that a generally scattered community was actually coming together, it seemed natural (even festive) to serve some light refreshment. Yes, even alcoholic refreshment.

    Voting Reenactment
    A reenactment of Colonial voting, photo courtesy of History.org
    And we should bear in mind that colonials drank more than we do, “more than twice as much hard liquor” than the average modern American, according to historian Dennis Pogue. Serving cider or rum at a polling place wasn’t necessarily an invitation to mayhem. It did, however, become an easy way for candidates to influence the vote, and the equation was fairly simple: serve more booze, earn more votes. In fact, it was so customary, if you didn’t serve alcohol you were almost guaranteed a loss. Robert Dinkin, author of “Campaigning in America: A History of Election Practices,” notes that “if a candidate ignored the custom of treating, he often found himself in great difficulty.”

    And that’s exactly what happened to none other than George Washington, our cherry tree-hating, momentous river-crossing, marvelously resting bitch face-having first President. Except it wasn’t the presidential election. It was back in 1755, when a 24-year-old Washington was running for the House of Burgesses (essentially the Virginia state legislature). He knew of the practice of treating and adamantly objected, having already complained to the governor that local Commonwealth bars rendered his soldiers “incessantly drunk and unfit for service.”

    So Washington says no to bumbo, and loses the election. Hard. As in his opponent gets 271 votes and he gets a mere 40. Fast-forward three years, and Washington runs again. Not only has he changed his mind about treating, Washington goes out of his way to serve 144 gallons of alcohol (rum, punch, hard cider, and beer), or roughly half a gallon per vote of the whopping 331 votes that won him the election, according to historian Daniel Okrent. In fact, Washington had done such a 180, he was actually concerned he hadn’t served enough booze. As he wrote to his campaign manager, James Wood, he hoped they hadn’t “spent with too sparing a hand.” Kind of like when you’re throwing a party and you’re wondering how much of a booze baseline you need to shell out for, except that party is America.

    Washington wasn’t the only important statesman, and eventual president, who initially refused to engage in treating. According to Dinkin, when James Madison tried to campaign in 1777 “without ’the corrupting influence of spiritous liquors, and other treats,’ he lost to a less principled opponent.” By the time he was elected president in 1808, we have to assume he’d learned his lesson.

    Voting laws eventually evolved to end treating. In 1811, Maryland passed the first campaign finance reform law ever, “[prohibiting] candidates from purchasing alcohol for voters.” Over time, states also began to ban the sale of alcohol on Election Day itself. Most have since dropped that practice, though not necessarily because our prospects have gotten any better. We’re just guessing states need that Election Day hooch revenue.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleMsSunshine View Post
    I think it's really funny when people come on here, and automatically assume that everyone here is a gung-ho, hoo-rah, i-bleed-red-white-and-blue, kiss-my-military-ass, people-in-uniform-can-do-no-wrong, and i'm-entitled-to-everything bitch.
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    Ah yes, I knew about that



    Apropos of nothing...would you be willing to drink deer milk? A company in New Zealand seems to be producing it, and I’m weirdly (morbidly?) curious.



    A group of 12 prominent Sydney chefs including Paul Carmichael from Momofuku Seiobo, Firedoor's Tony Gibson and Black Star Pastry founder Christopher Thé, are seated at a long table 47 levels above the city at O Bar and Dining. The Sydney skyline glimmers under a soft wash of rain as the guests exchange gossip and jokes.

    In front of everyone is a glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV. And next to that is a glass of milk. It's not just any milk. This is deer milk. The first deer milk to be produced commercially anywhere in the world, and it's the reason for today's gathering. It's not every day that an entirely new raw ingredient enters the world. "It's almost like finding a new colour or a new music note," says O Bar and Dining's owner Michael Moore as he swirls the tumbler of creamy, yellowish milk and brings it to his lips.

    The first note, however, falls a bit flat. "It reminds me of when my kids were little and you'd mix up baby formula," he says. Everyone chuckles. He's not wrong. Due to the lack of fresh processing options available for the limited quantities of milk produced, Pamu, the NZ company making the product, sells it in powdered form. It's then reconstituted with water, giving it – at least at first – the grainy aftertaste of Eau d'Enfant detected by Moore.

    However, as Pamu's business development manager Hamish Glendinning explains, the glass we're tasting is freshly-mixed deer milk. To allow the fats to properly emulsify and the graininess to dissolve, you have to let it sit, refrigerated, for at least eight hours. A second glass appears in front of the chefs, this one properly rested, and the group agrees that the milk has taken on a much more palatable smoothness and a clean, rich taste.

    But all this resting and reconstituting goes some way to explaining why deer milk hasn't become a thing until now. Those steps are only part of the difficulty. The other is that deer – in Pamu's case we're talking about European red deer – aren't particularly easy to milk. Cows, which have been domesticated for around 10,000 years, will stand in a shed and let humans relieve them of their milk without much fuss, whereas deer, being flightier and less tamed, are more likely to kick or become otherwise alarmed.

    There's also the matter of yield: dairy cows currently produce roughly 100 times the amount of milk as deer. And then there's the hardware. "Did you have to build an entirely new milking apparatus, considering deer are built differently to cows?" I ask Glendenning.

    "Yes."

    "That must have been expensive?"

    "Oh, you have no idea," he says with a wince.

    In theory humans could drink the milk of any mammal; if we had the patience and the inclination we could be putting whale milk, cat milk or bat milk on our supermarket shelves. But the most popular and viable milks are the same ones we've been drinking for millennia – cow, goat, camel and in a few geographical pockets, water buffalo (India and Italy), reindeer (Russia) and horse (Mongolia). Cow milk is not only the easiest to acquire, it's also the most versatile. It has a similar make-up to human breast milk so it's naturally palatable, and it easily separates into cream, which is essential for cheese-making. Goats also give a good yield – although not as good as cows – and that distinct "goaty" flavour makes covetable cheese. Camel milk is also growing in popularity. Not only is it considered particularly tasty, it contains high levels of vitamins A and C and low levels of lactose, which means it's suitable for many people who can't tolerate cow's milk.

    There'll always be someone who'll try to expand our dairy diets. Several years ago US chef Edward Lee decided he wanted to milk pigs. It didn't end well. Not only do pigs have between 12 and 14 tiny nipples, as opposed to conveniently-graspable teats like cows, but they've also got a temper. "You get within 15 feet of a sow, she'll get up on her hind legs and get defensive," he told Modern Farmer at the time. "She might charge you. And once she charges you, just forget it." Nonetheless he eventually managed to extract a small amount of milk from one of his pigs after sneaking up on her while she was asleep. He made ricotta from the milk, which he claims was "delicious" but the experiment ended there. At this point the words "pig cheese" are – mercifully – yet to appear on any menus.

    Deer milk, however, may be set for a brighter future. O Bar's executive chef Darren Templeman, who created the afternoon's tasting menu of deer-milk buns and deer-milk ricotta, venison with deer milk skin and a deer-milk gel, and a dessert that included deer-milk custard and ice-cream, says that while the product was fiddly to prepare, he was pleased with the results. They've already put an entrée using crisped deer milk skin on the menu. Black Star's Christopher Thé believes that there are possibilities to use the milk skin as a decoration for cakes, perhaps in a confection that worked with a broader "deer" theme.

    Firedoor's sous-chef Tony Gibson added that while he thought the milk produced a beautiful, rich ice-cream and would likely take well to smoke, he still had reservations when it was cooked in other ways, and he'd need to put lot of time into testing it before he'd make up his mind. He also stressed that pure novelty wouldn't be enough to get it over the line. "We won't put it on our menu just because it's deer milk," he says. "It has to work as well or better than milks we already have."
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    Can I add scotch or chocolate syrup?
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleMsSunshine View Post
    I think it's really funny when people come on here, and automatically assume that everyone here is a gung-ho, hoo-rah, i-bleed-red-white-and-blue, kiss-my-military-ass, people-in-uniform-can-do-no-wrong, and i'm-entitled-to-everything bitch.
    "RIP Blackie, and Whitey, New Whitey. Goodbye Poopers and Momma Beige and Lady Grey. New Blackie and the Whitey Sisters rule the roost now!"
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guynavywife View Post
    Can I add scotch or chocolate syrup?
    I see no reason why not. If you can use those things on deer meat (and you can; dark chocolate and venison pair pretty well, and you can never go wrong with a whisky sauce on game) then deer milk is easy.

    Chocolate and blackberry deer milk ice cream, with a nice little boozy kick in it. Let’s try that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matchbox View Post
    I see no reason why not. If you can use those things on deer meat (and you can; dark chocolate and venison pair pretty well, and you can never go wrong with a whisky sauce on game) then deer milk is easy.

    Chocolate and blackberry deer milk ice cream, with a nice little boozy kick in it. Let’s try that.
    Oh yummmm
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleMsSunshine View Post
    I think it's really funny when people come on here, and automatically assume that everyone here is a gung-ho, hoo-rah, i-bleed-red-white-and-blue, kiss-my-military-ass, people-in-uniform-can-do-no-wrong, and i'm-entitled-to-everything bitch.
    "RIP Blackie, and Whitey, New Whitey. Goodbye Poopers and Momma Beige and Lady Grey. New Blackie and the Whitey Sisters rule the roost now!"
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guynavywife View Post
    Oh yummmm
    If we’re going to be using whisky...I can’t afford the bottle price, but I’d LOVE to use this!


    Adelaide Hills Distillery has just released what is arguably the most innovative Australian whisky to date.

    Since founding the distillery in 2015, Sacha La Forgia had the goal of creating a whisky using 100 per cent native Australian grains.

    He experimented with distillation of grains including kangaroo grass, spinifex and salt bush, eventually settling on wattleseed as best suited to the project at this stage.





    "Wattleseed was grown by the Aboriginal people in a huge grain belt through the centre of Australia that was destroyed shortly after colonial settlement," La Forgia says.

    "It was a staple grain in the Aboriginal diet and there is proof of a 65,000 year old stone mill that was found in the Northern Territory.

    "This suggests that the Aboriginal people were milling their grain and perhaps making bread. If this is the case the Aboriginal people would have been the first culture to make bread in the world!"

    So La Forgia argues that while it may not be internationally recognised as such, wattleseed is a cereal grain just like barley, wheat, corn and rye.

    And he believes it could be the future of Australian whisky, which to date has largely taken its cues from Scotch whisky's long established norms and traditions.

    "We've been so lucky to have the whisky makers that have come before us in Australia, because they've given us an opportunity to start a distillery," he says.

    "But if we want to be taken seriously and have an edge in market overseas, there's no point trying to be Scottish. We need to try and be Australian."

    La Forgia says the biggest barrier to distilling whisky from wattleseed is the cost, which is $80 a kilo, as compared with $1.20 a kilo for malted barley.

    As such, the debut release Native Grain Whiskey has been distilled from a grain bill composed predominantly of barley, with a smaller percentage of wattleseed.

    “The end goal is to have something that is 100 per cent native Australia grain, but it's probably not going to happen in the next ten years," La Forgia says.

    “There hasn't been the same level of research and development into Australian foods… it's probably going to be more like 20 years until we can make them a crop that's easy to farm, yields well and can be automated and mechanised like barley is."

    The wattleseed is roasted and ground, prior to being mashed in with the malted barley, to bring out its intense flavours.

    "It has a beautiful chocolate and nut character that matches really well with whisky," La Forgia says.

    Native Grain whisky has been matured in 100-litre barrels for the minimum two years required under Australian law for it to be called 'whisky'.

    A younger release of the product, dubbed Native Grain Project, quietly picked up the gong for Best Australian Grain at the World Whiskies Awards 2019.

    The judges said: "Funky fun. A little mustiness alongside some oranges and red fruits. Fresh lemon juice. A little yeasty, with some slight industrial metallic quality beyond. It's unusual. Some cherries and slipping into Bourbon territory with vanilla. Cinnamon and oak spices on the finish."

    Just 141 bottles are available of this first batch of Native Grain Whiskey at an RRP of $450.

    But Adelaide Hills has more stock undergoing maturation for future releases, and La Forgia is bullish on the potential.

    "We want to see other distilleries adopt this approach and even use other grains and create a new category that is truly Australian whisky," he said.

    "We've seen it in the gin industry, our biggest advantage is the botanicals we have here in Australia that no one else has.

    "You go to the UK and try and sell a London dry gin, and they're not interested. But you go over there and say this gin's got lemon myrtle, strawberry gum and finger lime, and people say, 'that's amazing, I'll buy that!'"




    Truly, I’d love to use that. Wattleseed is delicious.

    Thoughts?
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    Jeremy Strode had just enjoyed the gastronomic trip of a lifetime. It was July 2017 and the executive chef and founder of Sydney restaurant Bistrode CBD had spent 10 days sampling the finest bistros of Paris and London. Taste testing alongside him was Nathan Johnson, head chef of the Sydney brasserie Felix. Dispatched by Merivale, the parent company of their two restaurants, the aim was to fire up their imaginations and inspire fresh platefuls of brilliance back home.

    As such, they were obliged to eat with gusto: two lunches a day plus dinner, preferably squeezing a cheese shop or patisserie in between. Strode, a lightly bearded Englishman with an easy grin, was determined to enjoy the opportunity. "He told me he just had the best time," says his wife, Jane.

    Five days after his return, on the Sunday night, Jane went to bed, leaving her husband and the father of their two children on a sofa in the lounge of their north shore Sydney home. Still a little jet-lagged, Strode was quietly watching TV and drinking a Scotch. That was the last time she saw him alive.

    After staying up all night, at about 5am, Jeremy Strode took off his watch and left it on a table, along with his wallet and keys. Then, stepping into the mild winter's morning, he walked out, and took his own life. It was the week before his 54th birthday.

    Cradling a coffee, Jane Strode, 44, sits at the kitchen table of her high-rise apartment in North Sydney. The outlook sweeps from Centrepoint Tower in the city to the Blue Mountains out west, the scale of the view somehow fitting for one still grasping for perspective on such an unfathomable event. Jane only moved into this apartment a week ago with her sons Hunter, now 14, and Nathaniel, 10. As a result, the walls are still bare and boxes remain unpacked. It's a snapshot of a life in the tentative stages of rebuilding.

    Her platinum hair is carefully blow-dried, but Jane's hands are notched with burns and knife scars from her years as a pastry chef. Having run restaurants with her husband – the pair opened the first incarnation of Bistrode together in an old butcher's shop in Surry Hills in 2005 – she understood his world on multiple levels. Yet Jane remains bewildered by his death. "I'm not a grieving widow, I'm a seething widow," she says simply.

    Jane recalls how when Strode lost his brother-in-law to a heart attack a few years earlier, he was distraught at the funeral that his niece and nephew would now grow up without their father. "And yet, he's done that to his own children," Jane says. "It's very hard to wrap my head around." (Strode also has another son, Max, 26, from his first marriage.)

    But she also understands that her husband did not lead an easy life. Among chefs, he was known as "The Truth" for his honest, fad-free approach to cooking that allowed every ingredient to shine. His modern British fare won regular chef hats at Bistrode, and in 2012 he opened The Fish Shop in Potts Point, a popular seafood joint with a beach-shack vibe that elevated chip-shop classics. He and Jane became recipe columnists for The Sydney Morning Herald, and published two cookbooks together. Things were looking good. "I know the hospitality industry is gruelling and hard and you're working when everyone else is playing," Jane says. "But also – for me and Jez and a lot of other people – it's a calling."

    Yet beneath his chef's whites, Strode was wrestling bipolar disorder, the brain condition characterised by roller-coaster mood swings. Jane noticed something wasn't quite right when she first met her future husband in 2000. The pair had just started working together at Langton's, a well-regarded fine diner in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. As the newly appointed head chef, Strode was charged with maintaining the three hats it had garnered under the leadership of industry legend Philippe Mouchel. "Jez walked around like he was asleep," Jane recalls. "I kept saying to someone: 'What's his deal? He's got to get fired up! This is massive!' And she said: 'Oh, wait 'til you see him when he's fired up, he's in your face, he wants to know everything, he wants to read every recipe. It's intense.' And I knew straight away that he had bipolar."

    Strode was plagued by bouts of depression followed by manic periods in which he struggled with insomnia. "He was a different person then. He'd get very agitated and angry and couldn't stay to finish a job – he totally destabilised everybody," Jane says. When she began mapping out her husband's mood swings, she noticed the manic spells tended to flare up when reviewers were due to descend.

    Bipolar disorder is a tough burden for anyone to manage. But Strode had to contend with it in a notoriously demanding profession, one in which the creative pressure is unrelenting and brutal hours the norm. Jane is intimately familiar with the physical demands of the trade, having apprenticed at Sydney's Rockpool in the late 1990s: "Back then, if you weren't giving 80 hours a week, and sleeping in your car between shifts, then you weren't working hard enough." Strode, too, was moulded by the compulsive work ethic of that era. "[Work] totally consumed him," Jane says. He routinely put in 12-hour shifts and, even in his downtime, obsessively scrutinised the competition at restaurants all over the world.

    "I really just think he was exhausted," she says of the period leading up to his death. "And he got to that point where he just let the disease – or whatever you want to call it – get the job done."

    Strode is among a number of chefs whose untimely deaths have rocked the restaurant world in recent years. The month before Strode's suicide, celebrity chef Darren Simpson from Ready Steady Cook died of a heart attack following a lengthy battle with alcoholism. Earlier this year, Justin Bull – a one-time personal chef for Russell Crowe and James Packer – took his life in Huxton's, his upmarket cafe in Sydney's beachside Bronte. Overseas in 2016, the Michelin-starred Swiss chef Benoît Violier, and another Michelin-star winner, Chicago chef Homaro Cantu, both took their own lives. Then there was the widely publicised suicide of Anthony Bourdain, the TV presenter, author and chef, who died last June.

    This body count has provoked much industry soul-searching. Why are so many chefs being driven to such desperate measures? "It's like there's this sort of epidemic," says MasterChef host George Calombaris. "And there's a lot of other chefs that we don't hear about, too."

    Strode was grimly aware of the industry's destructive potential. After he opened his first restaurant, Pomme, in Melbourne in 1998, an apprentice chef on his team took his own life. "That really, really shook Jez," says Jane, "Because he'd been to those dark places so many times himself." He repeatedly assured her he'd never take his own life, though she now suspects he must have pondered it. "He'd made all these little flippant comments over the years. He'd say: 'I'm not going to walk under a train.'" Two years before his death, Strode became an ambassador for suicide-prevention charity R U OK?, organising a charity dinner with a stellar line-up of chefs to support the cause. Speaking to publicise the event, he openly acknowledged the challenges of his beloved vocation.

    "The hospitality industry is renowned for its unforgiving nature, adding pressure personally and on our relationships," Strode said. "Having the foresight and taking the time to have a conversation with someone you may or may not know and asking if they're okay is a wonderful thing."

    Behind the linen tablecloths and degustation menus, that "unforgiving nature" has long prevailed. In 1671, Francois Vatel, the maître d' for the Prince of Condé, was instructed to arrange three days of feasts for King Louis XIV and hundreds of nobles. After working for 12 days straight with barely any sleep, Vatel was horrified to discover he wouldn't have enough fish to cover the festivities. He promptly retired to his quarters and stabbed himself to death. The fish deliveries arrived shortly afterwards.

    Kitchen memoirs invariably glorify the craziness and trauma of restaurant life. In 1933, recalling his stint as a Parisian kitchen-hand in Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell described "an atmosphere of muddle, petty spite and exasperation" in which the chef would suffer crise de nerfs at 11am, 6pm and 9pm. More than 70 years later, in White Slave, top British chef Marco Pierre White boasted of reducing his soon-to-be-famous protégé, Gordon Ramsay, to a sobbing wreck on the kitchen floor with the ferocity of one of his "bollockings". As Anthony Bourdain would admit in the New Yorker essay that would evolve into his bestselling memoir Kitchen Confidential, "it's a life that grinds you down".

    There's no shortage of statistics showcasing why. In an R U OK? survey of Australian hospitality workers last year, 80 per cent agreed that mental health issues, such as feeling depressed, anxious or manic, "were a challenge facing those in the industry". The biggest reported issue was fatigue – a symptom of the monster shifts the industry has long demanded. When Unite, the UK's biggest union, conducted a 2017 survey of professional chefs in London, it found almost half worked between 48 and 60 hours each week, with 14 per cent working even longer.

    "Working unsociable hours is a big risk factor for people with mental ill-health because it disrupts their social networks, so they don't get to see their friends or loved ones," says Amanda Martin, professorial research fellow in mental health at Tasmania's Menzies Institute for Medical Research. Not only are these hours physically demanding – chefs are always on their feet – they're also intense. "There are micro deadlines all the time, because that's the nature of service."

    The restaurant business is also inherently precarious. Many chefs dream of running their own place but the reality is tough: Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that of the food and beverage businesses trading in 2010, just 52 per cent had survived four years later. "When it comes to risk factors for suicide that relate to work, we know that work insecurity and financial stress are the two big ones," Martin says.

    To decompress, a work hard, play hard mentality is baked into the business. Booze is readily available, fomenting a culture of knock-off drinks, and drugs are prevalent, too. The most recent figures are in a 2008 report from Flinders University, which found that 32 per cent of hospitality workers took illegal drugs – the highest tally of any industry in the Australian workforce.

    Such occupational hazards conspire to form an environment that, if not inherently dangerous, can easily compound any external problems a worker is facing. "It would be difficult to make it a health-promoting job," Martin concedes. "But other 'hard' industries like the police and emergency services are starting to make real inroads. So it can be done." A number of industry leaders are now determined to ensure that happens, among them TV chef and restaurateur George Calombaris.

    In a brightly lit room in Melbourne's leafy suburb of Kew, 60 people are sitting on hard-backed chairs concentrating on their breathing. They're listening to the words of meditation teacher Jonni Pollard, who's guiding them through a step-by-step process to "still the mind". At the end of the third row sits Calombaris. With his eyes shut, he looks very different to the slightly intimidating presence he has on MasterChef. For now, his fireball passion is hidden behind a mask of calm as he retreats into a quieter zone of consciousness.

    The meditation class is taking place at Calombaris's Hellenic Republic restaurant, and the crowd is a mix of chefs, waiters and front-of-house staff from across his business. He's invited them here at 9am on a Thursday because, during the last couple of years, Calombaris has become evangelical about meditation. "It saved me at a point in my life where I hit darkness," he explains before the session. "But it was a shit-storm that needed to happen, because I don't want to be a Jeremy."

    That aforementioned storm occurred in 2017, when Calombaris was rocked by two scandals in quick succession. In April, there were the revelations that his restaurants had underpaid 162 staff by $2.6 million over multiple years (on July 18 this year he conceded the amount was in fact $7.83 million in underpayed wages to 515 current and former employees of his Made Establishment Group. In an unprecedented action, the Fair Work Ombudsman slapped Calombaris with a $200,000 "contrition payment" and ordered him to make a series of public statements to promote compliance with the Fair Work Act). Then in May 2017, Calombaris was charged with assault after video footage emerged of him shoving a 19-year-old man who abused him at the A-League soccer grand final.

    He later won an appeal against his conviction, and said he'd paid back his staff entitlements in full, but the backlash was forceful and swift. Within two days of the A-League incident being televised, Calombaris lost a $250,000 deal with Bulla Dairy and almost $500,000 a year from the motor group ULR. Getting hammered in the press, he struggled to cope. "I was sleep-deprived, resorting to alcohol, erratic, not 'present' at home," he says now. "I didn't know how to deal with it."

    Then his wife Natalie Tricarico introduced him to Pollard. Originally from Sydney, the 43-year-old Pollard is creator of the 1 Giant Mind meditation app and teaching academy, and travels the world as a meditation teacher to the rich and famous. Non-disclosure agreements prevent Pollard from revealing many of his high-profile clients, but they include former Swisse CEO Radek Sali and California Governor Gavin Newsom, while online you can find pics of him locked in a smiling embrace with Richard Branson.

    Previously, Calombaris had no interest in meditation. "I was like, 'Leave me alone. I'm busy! I've got stuff to do!'" But when he finally gave in, it had an instant effect. "It was like I'd just scalded my hand on the hotpot and then stuck it in ice water and gone 'Ahhh'," he says. "That's what meditation was like for me."

    In the privacy of his Toorak mansion, Calombaris began taking regular one-on-one sessions with Pollard. The effects nudged him into what now sounds like an epiphany. The single-minded drive that had propelled his success, he realised, had pushed him dangerously close to burnout. He had only just turned 40, but already had varicose veins and was struggling with spinal-cord nerve damage from years spent hunched over a bench. "And this is all from this intense craziness in the kitchen. We're not MMA fighters, we're chefs!"

    Calombaris began to reflect. From his humble upbringing in Mulgrave in outer Melbourne, he'd worked unceasingly from the kitchen floor up to build a restaurant empire that today comprises 20 venues. He still took a hands-on role, tweaking menus, sourcing produce and getting into the kitchen whenever possible. In addition, he was filming 80-plus episodes of MasterChef and its various spin-offs each year, and had two young children. Calombaris is not a man who likes to sit still. But he started to question the long-term feasibility of his way of life.

    "I'm from the world of Jeremy, you know? That world of hospitality where you just worked. You put your head down and the only thing that mattered was the plate of food that you gave to your consumer. But during those extreme tough times [in 2017] I was like, 'You know what? I need to make some changes mentally or I'm going to freaking cook myself.'"

    Working closely with Pollard, the focus soon expanded from a self-help exercise into a program designed to introduce a softer dynamic to his restaurants. "It's about re-humanising the kitchen," says Pollard, a sharply dressed bald guy with a quiet charisma and ready smile. "Every industry needs some of that, but we're starting here because it's the one that's on fire."

    Employees at Calombaris' Made Establishment Group now have their working hours formally restricted to 40 a week. "We don't stick animals into fluorescent light boxes for 14 hours a day," says Calombaris, who reasons productivity needn't suffer if chefs push hard for the duration of their shift. "That 40 hours has to be intense." The number of emails they send is also limited in order to encourage more face-to-face interaction. The leadership team, meanwhile, is instructed to keep a close eye on the personal welfare of their teams. "I grew up as a chef in an environment where you never got asked, 'How's everything at home?'" Calombaris says.

    Further changes are required as a result of the four-year Fair Work Ombudsman investigation, which uncovered a raft of breaches including a failure to pay minimum award rates, penalty rates, casual loadings, overtime rates, split-shift allowances and annual leave loadings; and a failure to keep records of the hours worked by staff on annualised salaries, some of whom were also denied accrued overtime and penalty rates. As part of the Ombudsman's finding, Calombaris has agreed to implement new payroll and compliance systems across his stable of restaurants, which must be independently audited for the next three years, while workplace relations training will be provided to all staff with responsibility for human resources, payroll and on-site management.

    Pollard's meditation courses remain a central focus. Calombaris intends to offer all team members the opportunity to learn how to meditate. ("I can't force them because it's not legal," he says with just a hint of regret.)

    Today's session was a quick refresher for staff who'd already completed a three-day course at the start of the year. The precise roll-out of the scheme is still hazy – Pollard continues to travel a lot to see clients – but more sessions are promised in the coming months. "I want every single team member to be able to meditate so they can handle pressure better and whatever life throws at them," Calombaris says. "I want to empower them with a backpack of tools that they can grab on to, especially in times of need."

    Sceptics might question if all this is a PR move from a man whose public image is still tarnished. But Calombaris – not someone who tends to do anything half-cocked – comes across like a man on a mission. He speaks of Pollard with genuine awe ("He's a beautiful man") and has even got his kids, now aged seven and four, meditating: his son uses it to control his phobia of lifts. Fuelling his meditation zeal is a belated recognition that the old ways of running a restaurant are defunct. "There's all this chatter in the industry about the sustainability of food," Calombaris says. "For me, this is about the sustainability of our industry. It's about the sustainability of the people who work in it."

    A thousand-odd kilometres away in the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield, Mal Meiers seems to have got the sustainability memo. His home is crowded with handmade passion projects. The coffee table in his living room is, in fact, a working kiln, and piles of pottery vessels are huddled everywhere in teetering stacks. In the shadow of a vat of fermenting pear cider, his wife's homemade loom sits next to punnets of broad beans that he recently planted. It's raining too hard to go outside, but in the garden, Meiers assures me, he's growing everything from finger limes to kumquats.

    These extracurricular pursuits are not accidental. They're a very conscious addition to his life as head chef of Newcastle restaurant Subo. "I stop myself from the bad behaviours that I fell into in the past by investing in myself," says Meiers, a lean, tattooed figure in a black hoodie. More specifically, the 33-year-old is careful to ensure the kitchen no longer monopolises his every waking hour. "I can tell you first hand that's important," Meiers says. "Because not having that almost drove me to take my own life."

    Meiers became familiar with anxiety early in his career. As a 23-year-old young chef at Bistro Guillaume in Melbourne, he'd get overwhelmed with nerves in the build-up to his busiest weekend shifts. "I'd have to go throw up before service," he recalls. "I'd just get so churned up because there is no margin for error." Like most chefs, Meiers kept his head down and pushed on through. In the process, he carved out a career at some of Australia's best restaurants including Bennelong (Sydney), Franklin (Hobart) and Tonka (Melbourne).

    Some experiences were more difficult than others. In London, he worked at Michelin-starred restaurant The Square, enduring 17-hour shifts and a militaristic culture that almost broke him. "There was a lot of yelling and a lot of belittling – that was when my anxiety was probably the worst," he says. "I just started hating cooking." Once again, Meiers gritted his teeth and clung on. "You just get on with it," he says with a shrug. That suck-it-up stoicism might still persist, had it not been for a life-changing incident six years ago.

    By this stage, Meiers was back in Melbourne, working at a restaurant whose name he's unwilling to divulge, but which he really didn't enjoy. Aggravating this professional rut, life was also tricky at home, where he found himself in a rocky patch with his then girlfriend.

    To deal with his woes, Meiers began drinking harder. "If I had a bad day I'd go have a drink. Then one turns into two, turns into three and you're out until 3am. Next thing, you're back in the restaurant at 9am with a hangover. It becomes a really vicious cycle."

    Increasingly exhausted, he tried to muddle on until the summer night that took him to the brink. He can only recollect what happened in hazy fragments. After work there were drinks in the city that got messy. He ended up at a club in Prahran. Took some ecstasy. There were more drinks. At some stage Meiers blacked out …

    He came to sitting alone on St Kilda beach, staring at the ocean. "All of a sudden this darkness just hit me. I thought to myself: 'I'm just so tired. Nothing's going right in my life. I should just put myself to rest.'" Sitting there, Meiers resolved to take his own life. On a whim, at 4am he rang his best mate back in his hometown of Caloundra, Queensland. "I told him I was just going to end it," Meiers says. Luckily, his friend managed to talk him down. "He told me everything was going to be okay. He told me that I just needed to come home."

    Meiers took his advice. He quit his job, moved back home for three weeks and regrouped. He started talking to a psychologist and underwent a brief course of antidepressants. He got fit and stopped drinking so savagely. He discovered a love of pottery that offered a positive release away from the kitchen. Plus, he met Kate Christensen, a sommelier and yoga teacher whom he married earlier this year.

    Reflecting on his lucky escape, in 2014 Meiers started Food For Thought, a charity dinner aimed at improving mental health in the food industry. Thirty-five people turned up to the first degustation event at Beer DeLuxe in Melbourne's Federation Square. The initiative now extends to multiple events across the country and raises tens of thousands of dollars for mental health charities, including R U OK? and Lifeline.

    "The idea was really to raise awareness of the support services out there," Meiers explains. "I didn't see them before because I was so trapped in my own little world; I was just so snowed under with work."

    Meiers moved to Newcastle to start at the hatted Subo last October. It's his first role as a head chef and, as such, represents an opportunity for him to implement his belief that a kitchen can still run efficiently with a more nurturing culture. His style of management highlights the shifting mindset of the new generation of chefs.

    "You don't have to manipulate people with fear and negativity," he insists. "As a head chef you've got to find a better way." Suffice to say, Meiers does not take the Marco Pierre White approach to kitchen bollockings; he also points out that young chefs today are unlikely to tolerate them, either. Instead, if one of his chefs seems flustered and is making mistakes, Meiers will quietly take them aside and talk them through a circular-breathing exercise in order to help them re-centre.

    As well as limiting his chefs' shifts as much as possible, Meiers strives to kindle a sense of connection with his staff. He's currently training with one of his chefs to run Sydney's City2Surf, and encourages group foraging trips to source local ingredients like rosemary flowers and beach mustard. When he discovered another of his colleagues was an amateur brewer, he sought a way to incorporate his passion into the menu (there's now a Jerusalem artichoke and brown-ale sorbet on the dessert menu). "I had to go through all that darkness, all those kitchens full of yelling and fear," he says. "But all that led me to be the chef that I am now."

    That chef has certainly rediscovered his mojo. Driving to his restaurant through the pouring rain, Meiers chatters about a dish on today's menu that involves shaved noodles of cuttlefish topped with a smoked hazelnut crumb and served with heavily charred hispi cabbage folded together with beurre blanc. His passion for cooking appears to have returned. In front of the restaurant we get out of the car, Meiers laden with a box full of monstrous purple cauliflowers that he bought at a local farm.

    As the rain pelts down, a passing taxi zips through a puddle and drenches us. Meiers – hand-knitted beanie on head, arms full of organic veg – simply laughs and walks off towards Subo. Those cuttlefish won't noodle themselves. While the restaurant world continues to mourn so many tragic losses, even in the downpour, the future looks a little bit brighter.







    This rings more true than I want to admit. I miss Jeremy Strode quite a lot (quite aside from his talent, he was a lovely man) and he’s not the only one.

    Having George Bloody Calombaris all over the article doesn’t look so good though. He’s underpaid his staff for years, even after being caught out he was still underpaying them. He owes them millions...and the stress of not being paid enough to live on has killed more than one. To my certain knowledge.
    If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell
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