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Sydney Tastemakers

When a million visitors show up for the Olympics next month, they'll find more than sports: Sydney is one of the most exciting places in the world to eat. Here are some of the people who shape the city's food scene.

Jill Dupleix & Terry Durack

Claim to fame: She's the food editor and he's the restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald. Together this husband-and-wife team produces The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.

Why they matter: The Good Food Guide is indispensible--it is Sydney's restaurant bible. Chefs who lose a toque (on a scale of one to three) nearly lose their heads. Some pundits say that Rockpool's demotion in the 2000 edition is what made its owner, chef Neil Perry, consolidate his far-flung operations earlier this year.

What their critics say: Too much power in four hands, and a touch of favoritism for the young chef du jour.

Why their marriage is so remarkable: They work from home, eat nearly every meal together and have never been heard to exchange a cross word.


Janni Kyritsis

Claim to fame: He's the chef at MG Garage, an adventurous restaurant inside a showroom for luxury cars.

Why he matters: He's not afraid to take a pig's ear and introduce it to a pig's trotter and a few snails and call it a salad--and his reputation is so extraordinary, people aren't afraid to order the salad and even eat it.

Background: A native of northern Greece who grew up in a house with no running water, Kyritsis taught himself from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Track record: In 15 years, he has racked up 38 toques in the Good Food Guide, more than any other chef.

How he describes himself: "A Greek electrician who does Australian cuisine."

How he describes his cooking: "You could say I am doing Mediterranean-influenced food, but I draw from all over the world. If I use taramasalata, it's because I like the flavor, not because I am trying to do Greek food."

Why his boss loves him: "Janni is like a Shakespearean actor; he knows the whole repertoire," restaurateur Ian Pagent says. "He has about 400 dishes in rotation, but they're always different every time they reappear."


Stan Sarris

Claim to fame: He owns Banc (one of Sydney's best restaurants), Wine Banc (a wine and cigar bar with food and live jazz), Mint Room (a groovy lounge with DJs) and GPO (a $5 million emporium in the historic General Post Office building, with a bar, steak house, brasserie, sushi bar, cafe, coffee stand, juice bar, wine store, cheese room and food shop).

Why he matters: In light of his many venues, with their strong emphasis on design (he's often compared to Britain's Sir Terence Conran) and their smart recycling of noteworthy old buildings, Sarris deserves much of the credit for bringing Sydney's Central Business District back to life.

Background: Sarris, who proudly calls himself "an urban boy," restricts all of his enterprises to Martin Place, the square at the heart of the city.

Philosophy: Every detail counts. Even the cigarette machines found in Sarris's restaurants and bars are custom-made to blend with the interiors, and the rest rooms are minor works of art.


Simon Johnson

Claim to fame: He owns Simon Johnson Purveyor of Quality Foods, a set of shops with superb cheeses, breads and packaged foods. He even has his own olive groves.

Why he matters: Like his colleague Barry MacDonald, who has a retail shop called Fuel, Johnson provides Sydney's chefs with ingredients that get star billing on their menus. He imports high-end items like Valrhona chocolate and Cordon Rouge cherrywood-aged balsamic vinegar; at the same time, he promotes Australia's own boutique food producers.

Praise from a fan: "He has single-handedly made olive oil as fashionable as Chardonnay," says Leo Schofield, the dean of Sydney food writers.


Five Rising Stars

These chefs, all of whom have opened restaurants in the past two years or so, are Sydney's most visionary young talents.

Mark Best of Marque. After working with Alain Passard in Paris and Raymond Blanc in England, Best returned home to open this sophisticated but unstuffy French restaurant.

Luke Mangan of Salt. He received his initial acclaim at CBD, a pub-turned-restaurant, but Mangan's inventive food is more suited to Salt, a glam venue in a sleek boutique hotel called The Kirketon.

Kylie Kwong of Billy Kwong. A graduate of Neil Perry's Rockpool and Wockpool, Kwong specializes in authentic, seasonal Chinese food. Her roast duck with fresh plum sauce is a must in late summer.

Martin Boetz of Longrain. Boetz is a disciple of the brilliant David Thompson, the man behind Darley Street Thai. At Longrain, Boetz's bar-restaurant in the hot Surry Hills neighborhood, he puts his own twist on Thai haute cuisine.

Daryll Taylor of The Jersey Cow. Like Mark Best, Taylor worked in Britain, then opened a restaurant in the smart suburb of Woollahra that has been popular since day one.


Damien Pignolet

Claim to fame: He's the chef and owner of the seven-year-old Bistro Moncur, and, more recently, of Cleopatra, a chic guest house in the Blue Mountains with a museum-quality collection of contemporary Australian art.

Why he matters: With Bistro Moncur, he was the first to convert an old Australian pub into a bistro and bar--a formula that many others have now copied. He cooks the classic French repertoire with an angelically light hand. He also promotes Sydney's culinary talent with the Josephine Pignolet Award (in memory of his first wife), which enables one young chef each year to study cooking in Europe.

Signature dish: French onion soufflé gratin. "I was just playing around and made a double-cooked soufflé with the flavors of a French onion soup."


Neil Perry

Claim to fame: He's the owner of Rockpool, Wockpool and MCA Cafe.

Why he matters: With the opening of Rockpool in 1989, Perry simultaneously invented the modern Sydney restaurant and Aussie-Asian fusion cuisine, combining homegrown flavors with those of the East.

Background: Sydney born and bred, Perry learned about the cuisine of China from two Chinese students who lived with his family while he was growing up.

Weakness: Opening too many restaurants.

Strength: Extracting himself from all but the best of them.

In his spare time: He's completely overhauling all the food for Qantas.

Praise from a prominent fan: "The opening of Rockpool was to local foodies what Joan Sutherland's debut was to opera lovers: testament that Australian talent is occasionally up there with the world's best," Leo Schofield says.


Donna Hay

Claim to fame: She's written three best-selling cookbooks, The New Cook, Entertaining and New Food Fast, which won a James Beard Foundation Award for photography. And she's only 30.

Why she matters: She's persuaded multitudes of Australians that cooking at home doesn't have to be a chore.

Philosophy: "A recipe has to be short. If it isn't something I'll cook when I get home at 7:30, it doesn't get into the book."

Key ingredients: "It's so damn hot here in the summer--coriander, mint and all those other fresh Asian flavors go well."

Best recipe: Chicken with balsamic vinegar and grilled lime, from The New Cook.


Franck Crouvezier

Claim to fame: He's the sommelier and co-owner of the Italian restaurant Bel Mondo.

Why he matters: With his professional training course, he is educating Sydney's next generation of sommeliers. He is also helping establish Australia's first national sommelier awards. "I want to help create a demand for sommeliers, so people will see it as a career."

Modus operandi: Bel Mondo's wines come from about 300 producers around the world. To promote them, Crouvezier runs a vigorous program of wine dinners and winemaker-of-the-season features.

Passion: Boutique Australian wines, such as the 1997 Clonakilla Winery's Shiraz Viognier.

Why he loves Australia: "In France, where I was born, everything has either been done or can't be changed. Here you can see the effects of your contributions."

Maggie Alderson came to visit Sydney for five weeks and stayed seven years. She is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Published August 2000
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