The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

Lee Tran Lam

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry - a food podcast with Lee Tran Lam

  • 53 minutes 38 seconds
    Kerby Craig – Ume

    In memory of Kerby Craig, here's the podcast I recorded with him in 2014.

    I listened back to this episode after I heard about Kerby being gone and it made me re-remember all these great things from that day, so I thought I should share these stories again, in tribute to Kerby and his enthusiasm for cooking, Japanese food culture and hospitality …

    As a 15 year old, Kerby Craig was fascinated by the world of restaurants – seeing a chef breakdancing in the middle of service (!) confirmed for him that this was the industry that he wanted to work in. By accident, he ended up at the original Tetsuya’s as a teenage apprentice chef and, after stints in Sydney and overseas, later helped Koi earn a hat in The Good Food Guide. To mark this achievement, he actually got a chef’s hat tattooed on his neck – an act that was memorably referred to in Terry Durack’s review of Ume, the restaurant that Kerby opened after his time at Koi. (“That’s a hat you can’t take off him,” Kerby’s manager told Durack at an event. “That’s a hat I would never take off you, Kerby!” replied the Herald food critic.)

    Despite earning acclaim, Kerby’s experience with the industry has endured some rough lows – including the business failure of Koi – and opening Ume was “very very stressful”, he says. “I don’t know how we got a loan!”

    Also in this podcast, Kerby chats about his own adventures dining from Kyoto to Fukuoka – and enjoying the next-level hospitality of Japanese establishments.

    If you'd like to support me on Patreon, head to From $1.50 a week, you'll get access to my weekly podcast and newsletter, where I cover all the good things I’m consuming: the best food stories I’ve read, food podcasts I’ve listened to, what I’ve been eating and I also dive into what I’ve been working on. Plus a lot of enthusiasm about Japanese food culture, too – from Tokyo favourites to the birthplace of soy sauce and my favourite Kyoto food shop.

    20 June 2022, 3:12 pm
  • 47 minutes 31 seconds
    Billy Wong – Golden Century, XOPP

    The best dish in the world, according to chef David Chang, could be found at Golden Century – the Sydney institution that Billy Wong's family ran in Chinatown for more than three decades.

    There was more to Golden Century than the XO pipis, though (despite Chang's major endorsement of the dish). The restaurant's fan base included shift workers taking advantage of the restaurant's famous 4am closing time, as well as massive stars like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, royalty from Tonga and Morocco, and even Chinese presidents who made special requests: Xi Jinping had his order sent straight to his Sydney hotel, while Hu Jintao had the signature XO pipis delivered to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra – 300km away from the restaurant itself.

    Chefs such as Morgan McGlone and Dan Hong have been regular diners and Analiese Gregory called it a “dream” to drop by the kitchen on Munchies Chef’s Night Out. Billy recalls how hard his parents worked to make the restaurant a success (his dad used to sleep in the car in between shifts) and also shares many amazing memories of growing up with Golden Century.

    Golden Century's family of restaurants also includes The Century at The Star and its newer spin-off, XOPP at Darling Square, which we briefly cover as well.  I recorded this episode in late 2020 and sadly, Golden Century has since closed its Chinatown location, but its spirit lives on at sister restaurant XOPP: some of the staff, menu items, and even its trademark seafood tanks can be found there. You can also get Golden Century finish-at-home meals via Providoor and you know what, it wouldn't surprise me if one day Golden Century did open in a new location. I'm sure everyone – shift workers, world leaders and chefs alike – hopes that might happen. If you'd like to support me on Patreon, head to From $1.50 a week, you'll get access to my weekly podcast and newsletter, where I cover all the good things I’m consuming: the best food stories I’ve read, food podcasts I’ve listened to, what I’ve been eating and I also dive into what I’ve been working on.

    8 February 2022, 1:00 pm
  • 1 hour 17 minutes
    Paul Carmichael – Momofuku Seiobo

    “I literally got here and the first two weeks, everybody quit." Despite this challenging start to becoming Momofuku Seiobo's executive chef, Paul Carmichael has since scored many awards (both Gourmet Traveller and Time Out named him Chef of the Year) and he's been called one of the world's greatest chefs by his boss, David Chang. The restaurant has received two glowing reviews in The New York Times and been ranked as one of the best places to eat in the world by Besha Rodell in Food & Wine. Paul isn't about basking in the acclaim, though. "You’ve got to become comfortable with failing,” Paul says. "We’d make something, it’d be shit." Then, after a lot of work, it becomes great.

    At Momofuku Seiobo, he's created a one-of-a-kind menu that reflects his upbringing in Barbados. The food is also a way to represent the Caribbean, which people often reduce to holiday-spot stereotypes. “I feel like the way they talk about it, they talk about it like a club,” he says. For Paul, it's his life – not a gimmicky theme – so throughout the podcast, we talk about dishes from the region: like coucou, which his mother makes with a special stick that's older than Paul; and roti that originated in India and ended up in Trinidad – which he grew up eating as a kid. A lot of these dishes have travelled.

    “It had an origin somewhere, but this is where it ended up being," he says, "The Caribbean is 500 years of fusion. Maybe that should be the name of my book.” Migration and colonisation also shaped the cuisine – as did slavery, which isn't as far into the past as we'd like to think.

    The chef doesn't want to “elevate” dishes that have generations of history, but also show that you can present a dish that's rice and vegetables and prove how it can belong in one of the city's top restaurants. “It looks like a pile of goop - but there’s so much that goes into it,” he says.

    Paul also talks about how people still turn up to Seiobo thinking it's a Japanese restaurant (five years after Paul introduced his Caribbean menu), how he lived off supermarket specials while Seiobo was closed during the lockdown, using "mum tricks" to stretch Seiobo's budget in its current COVID-adapted incarnation (where staff also wear face masks in the colours of the Barbados flag). We also talk about his favourite budget meal, what to order at his favourite Chinese restaurant – as well as tougher topics: like having to deal with blatant racism and the cops pulling a gun on him just for asking for directions. We also cover the media pressure of taking over a highly acclaimed restaurant, too. This podcast was recorded last year, but is especially relevant now with Momofuku Seiobo announcing its last service for late June. I loved talking to Paul on this episode, I hope you enjoy this podcast, too.

    Support me on Patreon (from $1.50 a week) and you'll get a bonus member-only Crunch Time podcast - where I round up the latest food news and also talk about what I'm eating, reading and writing (with bonus details on projects I've worked on – from podcast interviews to food stories):

    30 March 2021, 3:33 pm
  • 1 hour 1 minute
    Joanna Hunkin – Gourmet Traveller

    Reporting from murder scenes and interviewing Lorde live at the Grammys – that's what Joanna Hunkin did before she became editor at Gourmet Traveller. Enduring these high-pressure situations meant she wasn't too shaken by her first year at the magazine – which has been incredibly eventful and challenging, and involved her relocating from Auckland to take up the role.

    On her very first day on the job, at the Restaurant Awards at Bennelong last year, she was handing out honours to chefs Ben Shewry and Kylie Kwong. Then, as the pandemic hit, she found herself having to produce a magazine under lockdown – a tricky feat, given that photo shoots, recipe testing and other group activities are key to  Gourmet Traveller's coverage. Her team used some leftfield ideas to complete cover shoots and other editorial work while socially distancing!

    We talk about some of the most memorable stories that have run in the magazine in the past year as well as relevant topics such as "authenticity" in food and how chefs feel about dealing with dietary requirements (from diners who claim they can't consume anything "shiny" or beginning with the letter 'A' to legit allergies to gluten and wheat – I wrote about this for the October issue of Gourmet Traveller).

    We also cover her early days in Hong Kong (where her mother fed her microwave bacon!) as well as Joanna's return to the city later in life, where she dined at secret restaurants hidden inside Hong Kong's high-density apartments.

    Joanna also chats about her top three Australian restaurant experiences of the past year, as well as her favourite dining spots in Auckland. If you'd like to support me on Patreon, head to From $1.50 a week, you'll get access to my weekly podcast and newsletter, where I cover all the good things I’m consuming: the best food stories I’ve read, food podcasts I’ve listened to, what I’ve been eating and I also dive into what I’ve been working on.

    23 October 2020, 3:47 pm
  • 1 hour 23 minutes
    Topher Boehm – Wildflower

    They're not obvious candidates for making beer: wattle, strawberry gum and leftover sourdough from Ester. Topher Boehm turns to flower cuttings and other NSW-only ingredients to create wild ales for Wildflower, the Sydney brewery he runs with brother-in-law Chris Allen. They've named beers after their children – including the wild-raspberry-flavoured St Phoebe, which was selected over 1500 drinks to be named Australia's best beverage. And his curiosity with fermenting has led to Topher brewing 200 litres of soy sauce in a barrel, just for fun. Maybe his revved-up creativity shouldn't be a surprise – Topher once had 70 home-brewing experiments on the go in his apartment (until his wife fairly decided that perhaps that was just a little too much to co-habitate with).

    So how did Topher go from making frozen sandwiches for his family in Texas – and studying astrophysics and considering a career in shoemaking – to brewing beers that are found in 10 William Street and other top bars and restaurants around Australia? It's a pretty surprising path that also involves a really sweet love story (and a literally stinky town in New Zealand).

    You don't have to be a deep beer nerd to enjoy this episode, as Topher is a great storyteller – just listen to the unbelievably "epic" tale behind the coolship vessel that's being made for his spontaneous beers. The vessel has survived bushfires and flood – intense conditions that literally swallowed a truck belonging to the Blue Mountains blacksmith who is making the coolship. And while Topher has learnt about beer from hanging out in Europe and the US, he is keen to create a beverage that gets its flavours from sources you can only find in his home state. “We were calling beer local, but it was made that way from where it was brewed, not the ingredients it was from,” he says. Which means Topher is especially interested in bush foods, like saltbush, and is experimenting with the idea of bringing back his sold-out St Phoebe run using native raspberries.

    This episode actually features two parts: one recorded in January (before the pandemic) and a part two that sees us catching up remotely a few months after lockdown sets in.

    We also cover historical aspects of beer: it's the reason for the world's oldest recipe and, despite its cliched blokey image today, it was actually women who traditionally were brewers. (Go back to Ancient Egypt and it was women who tended to beer.) PS The cherry beer you hear fermenting in the background is actually now available from Wildflower (it's delicious)!

    18 October 2020, 2:16 pm
  • 43 minutes 12 seconds
    Natalie Paull – Beatrix and "Beatrix Bakes"

    Natalie Paull once pointed a brûlée torch flame in the wrong direction – and accidentally set a whole docket rail of dessert orders on fire. She's endured brownie explosions and baking disasters, too. But people rightly associate Natalie with oven-baked triumphs – like the brilliant sweets from her popular Beatrix bakery in Melbourne. Think passionfruit cloud chiffon cakes, Tart-A-Misu, Moroccan Snickers tarts, cinnamon-glazed apple fry pies (without the fryer’s remorse!) and more. Her sugar-laced cakes have a transformative power – even for people who've undergone heartbreak and tragedy. Natalie has received letters of appreciation that have made her cry.

    Because Natalie is a big believer in "cake for breakfast", we talk a lot about desserts – from the blockbuster "floating" cake she made for own wedding, to the four-hour spiced quinces from her Beatrix Bakes cookbook, which have the most surprising story behind them. She also recalls her days working with chef Greg Malouf (after his heart transplant), Maggie Beer, Cath Claringbold and more.

    We also cover some of the "all-time favourite cakes" she's ever eaten around the world, from Kanazawa to Barcelona and beyond (including the "most perfect bite of cheesecake" in Tokyo)!

    17 June 2020, 4:11 pm
  • 41 minutes 59 seconds
    Shinobu Namae – L’Effervescence, Bricolage Bread & Co.

    Shinobu Namae runs one of Tokyo's best restaurants: L'Effervescence. It has two Michelin stars and is known for its sustainable focus (nearly everything served to diners comes from Japan, even the cheese) and the menu is inspired by everything from McDonald's fried apple pie to world peace. Even the dish names are memorable (you can order something called 'Hurrah')!

    Namae-san has worked for Michel Bras in Hokkaido (the story behind this proves that overeating in New York is always a good thing to do) and he was Heston Blumenthal's sous-chef at The Fat Duck. Even though Namae-san grew up with an American-influenced diet, the chef has devoted his career to showcasing Japanese ingredients, from the artisanal wheat in the oven-baked goods at his cafe, Bricolage Bread & Co., to the menu at L'Effervescence. (The story behind the Japanese cheeses at the restaurant is pretty surprising.) He also talks about some of the memorable food he's had around the world – including his experience at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, which he calls one of the best meals of his life. (He also has a sandwich inspired by her on his menu at Bricolage.)

    This episode was recorded when the chef was here last year, for Tasting Australia. 

    11 May 2020, 5:08 pm
  • 46 minutes 44 seconds
    Charlotte Ree – "Just Desserts"

    Charlotte Ree once ate 30 different kinds of croissants during a trip to France – then got a croissant tattoo afterwards. She's so dedicated to pastries that she'll stay up until 5:30am to finish a baking marathon. Pulling 120 cakes out of the oven during the hours people reserve for sleeping – and then going to work the next day, as communications manager for Pan Macmillan (the publisher of Hetty McKinnon's cookbooks) – well, that's just a normal whirlwind day for Charlotte.

    Charlotte's love of all things sweet is clear on every page of Just Desserts, her latest cookbook. It features recipes for Nutella thumbprint cookies, peach and raspberry tray cake, tiramisu swiss rolls and chocolate ganache Bundt (Charlotte likes big Bundts and she can not lie). Just Desserts also includes "a nod to the king of biscuits" and is laced and frosted with a good dose of puns (sieve the day)! Charlotte talks about how to land a cookbook deal (when you're not a celebrity chef), being on the publicity trail with Hetty McKinnon, as well as Charlotte's personal baking triumphs, fails and memorable moments. Plus, we take an express trip to her favourite patisseries around the world (I've saved her Tokyo recommendations for my next trip)! Note: this was recorded a few months ago, before the current pandemic and lockdown hit. So, social distancing is paramount, but please take note of eateries you can still responsibly support as they need the help right now. And there's plenty in the podcast archive (the Christina Tosi episode, the one with Lune Croissanterie's Kate Reid!) if you're keen for a self-isolation soundtrack or audio company during this unprecedented time.

    25 March 2020, 12:43 pm
  • 1 hour 12 minutes
    Angie Prendergast-Sceats – Angie's Food, Two Good

    Angie Prendergast-Sceats once was an olive oil judge, where she had to watch out for vintages that tasted like "rancid feet" and "baby vomit" (such references really did appear on the flavour chart that's deployed in these contests).

    But for the last three years, she's been the culinary director and head chef of Two Good, which used recipes by top chefs (Peter Gilmore, Christine Manfield, Ben Shewry) to create soups and salads that would be sent to women in domestic violence shelters. You'd order two soups: keep one and the other would be donated to someone in a refuge. The food was cooked by women from shelters, who were paid above-award wages to do so. In her role, Angie would oversee this work – and there some memorable/hilarious times when they did their cooking in a nightclub's not-so-conventional kitchen – and she also ran Two Good's Work Work program, training long-term unemployed women, refugees and disenfranchised people to help them get jobs. It was far from the aggressive stereotype of a kitchen where you could yell at someone to hurry up with the carrots; in working with people who might not know how to hold a knife or are still dealing with trauma, cooking 1000 meals a week is a different kind of challenge. We also talk about Angie's recipes – which appear in the new Two Good cookbook, her memorable trips to Japan (where she had nine bowls of ramen in five hours and visited a 1000-year-old miso shop) and what she's doing next with her Angie's Food enterprise.

    23 December 2019, 5:46 am
  • 38 minutes 45 seconds
    Monty Koludrovic – The Dolphin, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar

    “I was the guy who had the cream gun explode, trying to top the iced coffee.” Monty Koludrovic's early days in hospitality were "pretty calamitous", but one triumph was ending up in the kitchen of The Boathouse at Blackwattle Bay. It was a meal there, at age 12 (that he can still recap with incredible accuracy), that inspired him to pursue a career in restaurants.

    Since 2014, Monty Koludrovic has overseen dishes at Icebergs Dining Room and he later became executive chef of Maurice Terzini's other venues: The Dolphin, Scout, Bondi Beach Public Bar and Ciccia Bella. Besides introducing excellent dishes (like the Tokyo 7/11 sandwich at The Dolphin), he's also played a role in the restaurant group's collaborative events, like Aperitivo Hour, where Luke Burgess might turn The Dolphin's wine room into a falafel house or Ben Shewry might DJ in a safari suit as his Attica team lay down snacks from his award-winning restaurant. There was also the pizzeria pop-up by Joe Beddia (who makes the best pizza in America, according to Bon Appétit magazine) at the Bondi Beach Public Bar and, most memorably,  $1000 dinners for Good Food Month featuring Hiroyuki Sato, whose Hakkoku sushi restaurant in Tokyo has a six-month waiting list. (Despite the hefty pricetag, all six sessions sold out.) The Icebergs team built two custom sushi counters for the events and the restaurant's seafood supplier said of the beachside location: “When you’re eating fish and you look at the fish’s home, the fish tastes alive.” Monty says, “We billed it as the world’s best sushi restaurant that day.”

    Monty also recaps his memorable (and hilarious) time eating at the OG Hakkoku in Tokyo, which also involved an encounter with attendees of the vampire-themed bar nearby. We talk about why the quality of food in Japan is so exceptional (“You’ve got 70-year-old sous-chefs over there and they’ll never be head chef unless their dad retires”). 

    We also discuss what's next for Monty, now that he's leaving the Icebergs group after six years, as well as his final Aperitivo Hour at The Dolphin which is on this Sunday, December 1: it's Monty's Last Supper, featuring Clayton Wells, Dan Hong, O Tama Carey, Mat Lindsay and The Venezuelans (who are  copywriters and baristas who were such regulars that they ended up doing their own Aperitivo Hour after the Attica guest slot). It's on from 5-10pm, see you there!

    29 November 2019, 10:04 pm
  • 1 hour 14 minutes
    Josh Niland – Saint Peter, Fish Butchery

    Josh Niland can make fish scales taste like sugary cereal and fish eyeballs resemble prawn crackers. In his hands, seafood can become Christmas ham, mortadella and caramel slice. He can even turn calamari sperm into something you'd want to eat (no really)! His creative, waste-free approach to using every fin and scale is a response to the typical method of ditching 60 per cent of everything caught from the sea (“How is that 40 per cent of a fish is getting all the credit?”) and his innovative thinking is showcased at his acclaimed Saint Peter restaurant, Fish Butchery shop, and within the pages of his new publication, The Whole Fish Cookbook.

    Niland's interest in food started not long after he was diagnosed with cancer at age eight. His mum's chicken pie and the excitement of food media offered comfort after intense chemotherapy treatment – he even pinned pictures of chefs he admired on his bedroom wall. These well-known figures later ended up applauding him when he won Best New Restaurant for Saint Peter at the first national Good Food awards.

    Before opening Saint Peter with his wife Julie Niland (“Julie and I thought about this restaurant for so long – in every single meal that we ate together"), Josh worked at Est., Glass and Fish Face and shares the many "hectic stories" of his culinary education. A crab-eating competition, funnily enough, led him to being mentored by Fish Face's Steve Hodges, and ultimately inspired him to open Saint Peter (which landed Niland multiple Best Chef honours and a World Restaurant Award nomination alongside Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber).

    It's fascinating to talk to Josh about everything from the Starlight Foundation wish he was granted as a kid to all the unending possibilities he sees in every scrap of seafood (from cultivating single-origin bottarga to using fish fat like butter in desserts). Many of these ideas are featured in his book, which René Redzepi calls, "an inspiring read, something to return to again and again", and are compelling even if you don't eat fish. (That said, I'm hoping Josh can be convinced to bring back his self-saucing potato scallop one day.)

    14 September 2019, 7:23 am
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