Up on the rooftop we meet. The temperamental Melbourne weather is in our favour (for now, at least). One-by-one people gather, all bought together by one reason – a shared interest in food. As the random group of guests introduce themselves, we wait for a pop-up rooftop dinner party to begin.
The once bare square wooden table is filled on all sides with people that I describe as ‘new friends’. From those that I’ve known for years with their family members, to ‘work colleagues’ from a recent kitchen stage, a food rescue mission, and even a bike tour of the city, everyone has a played a role during my 2-weeks in Melbourne.
The air fills with the aroma of spice as the sun falls behind the weathered brick buildings of the ever-changing Melbourne skyline. The sky turns from blue to white, to yellow, as our background fades into all but a silhouette; a supporting cast member. The rhythm of chatter makes it way through the sizzle of browning meat on the hot plate. As breeze turns cooler, we all gather around the brand-new countertop in anticipation of our dinner.
Plates teeming with fresh Prahran Market ingredients transform the boring stainless steel into a multi-coloured surface bursting with life. Locally sourced and primarily organic sliced field tomatoes, crisp Pop Up Patch butter lettuce, seared Indian-inspired Portobello mushrooms, a cooling slaw with roasted cumin, potent mustard oil, zingy citrus, cabbage and semi-sweet apple, Mum’s cumin and garam masala scented potatoes, and the star of the show – a hand-shaped kebab-inspired kangaroo burger with a slightly sweet toasted brioche bun and vibrant homemade coriander and mint chutney.
Why kangaroo? It was the most stereotypically Australian thing for me to feed Australians, and obviously on a barbecue! Ironically the national emblem worn proudly by Australians is also commonly served up in households and restaurants across Australia. But I didn’t tell my guests my menu plans. For me, I want to see, taste, learn and experience another country’s culture to the point that I’m curious and want to experiment.
Leaving behind the precision and production recipes involved in restaurant cooking to just make things up – relying solely on information provided by the butcher on this type of game, as well as my palette. Although intrigued by this ingredient (since my first grocery store and farmer’s market visits), it never graced my final shopping basket. With only two days left in Melbourne, it was now time to teach Skippy about speaking with an Indian accent.
Lean and gamey with a pungent, almost rancid, smell – sounds appetizing right?! But that’s just how it is. The mix needed fat, so minced pork was added to soften the almost bouncy mouth-feel as you chew and chew and chew. Next a fragrant mix of toasted spices, fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped mint, garlic, ginger, and chilli go in. Shades of green contrast against the brown and pink tones of the meat. Cooking another test batch it’s getting closer. This type of meat needed a shit ton of salt for the chosen home-roasted spices to work their magic. After all, Indians are magicians when it comes to using spices, and changing Skipp-inder for the better. The wizardry continued overnight, the day before the planned dinner.
Each guest armed with his or her build-a-burger, we retreat back to the dining table. And then for the first time that evening there’s silence (oh shit). There was no rushing and no constant checking of phones – other than to reposition the phone living inside the cup serenading us. In the words of Danny Meyer ‘A debate between people about their favourite restaurant can take on the heat of a political or religious discourse’, and we saw just that, my kangaroo kebab burger prompting the discussion. ‘Huxtaburger’, ‘8 Bit Burger’, ‘1090 on Swan Street’, the clamour rose louder and louder. Although beer and St Germain Spritzers may have attributed to that, everyone just really liked burgers and wanted to make their voice heard!
The thing about food is that everyone has an opinion. We all have to eat, and so we’ve tried a lot of it. Compared to other industries, feedback stares you in the face. We either like what we’re eating or we don’t, we’re either happy about it or we’re not. But that’s the beauty of food; we are supposed to feel something between our lungs.
Through a mutual respect for food and what it represents, nine individuals gathered around a large table for the first time. Irrespective of which of the many commonwealth countries on display that evening, it was just about sharing a meal and talking – telling stories about music, Formula One, travel, work, New York pizza, Kim Kardashian’s Melbourne mural and even the ‘chicken guy’, late into the night. In a world where we’re always rushing, we all made time, and that’s something to give ourselves a pat on the back for. Every ingredient passed through my hands, I knew every detail, how it was cooked and the story behind it. You can’t really say the same about Kraft Dinner (remember that time when we put a packet in a microwave and gathered on a rooftop and talked about delicious food?). April Fools Day was all about real food using real ingredients, for real. Next stop: Sydney and MAD SYD.
A special thank you to Renee, Abraham, Monika, Dion, Saskia, Blade, Ryan, Lyndon and Belinda for all the memories. To our pop up in Melbourne, cheers!
Indian-Inspired Kebab Burger (serves 4):
500g ground beef or minced lamb (preferably free-range from your local butcher).
2tbs garlic and ginger paste (rough chop equal parts garlic and ginger, using a pestle and mortar pound with water)
1tsp cumin powder
2tsp garam masala
1tsp kashmiri chilli (Indian paprika)
2tsp salt (or to taste)
6 sprigs cilantro chopped (washed, with stem)
2 sprigs mint chopped (leaves only)
In a bowl mix all ingredients together.
Cover and leave to marinate for 2-4 hours, or ideally overnight.
Heat up the barbecue or hot plate.
With slightly oiled hands, divide mixture into four patties. Keep the patties at room temperature until it’s time to cook.
Cook on both sides until your preferred doneness.
Serve with an artisan toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, sautéed red onion, and mint and coriander chutney.