And so it was that Anthony Georgeff, food blogger, suburban cook, caterer of dishes to house guests, and amateur dabbler in food, came to be standing at a metal door at the side of the best restaurant he’d ever been to in Perth at 1:42pm yesterday wondering whether he should attempt a days work experience and find out that what he loved doing he wasn’t particularly good at, or just run for it. Mildly sweaty, quick-eze still clinging to the molars, wondering if it would be better to stake my claim at mostly ignorant or completely ignorant. I gave the bell a twirl and committed to the anxieties that had started a week ago with my fingers hovering over the phone like a teenage courter. I was, at the very least, exceptionally good at cringing.
I was let in by Mark, the fourth year apprentice chef, this alone was a good start a friendly greeting a bonus. Within about 10 minutes, the sous chef Michelle, had me in an apron, had showed me how to stop my plastic cutting board from slipping away with wet teatowel, and kindly told me my knife that I’d be pondering whether to bring or not would be fine. We were going to make gremolata and I was hating myself for always thinking of it as a kind of sweetened ice treat and only knowing otherwise that it was some kind of salsa (which it is in a kind of citric parsley way). I’d managed to make a nice pile of orange and lemon peel shavings. So far so good and shaving got this far, she showed me carefully how to slice them into couscous grain sized pieces. My turn and my fingers turned to numbed chipolatas and I managed to make a dozen cuts, none of which cut through. Michelle was then looking sideways at my knife and a solution. It turned out the board was concave so she deftly kneed it into convex in one smooth action. I think at this point I worked myself into the belief that next would be my groin if any of the peel was larger than a couple of millimetres. Slowly but exceeeedingly finely – they could have snuck through a pepper shaker. Onwards. Check what I’d done was OK, then to garlic, and then to parsley, patiently tutored with each check. Bless. The gremolata would be used to mix in to braised shanks before serving. Next was a herb mix to pluck and puree. Busy busy. Get to meet Neal Jackson, relaxed and friendly and wearing the finest set of reptilian footwear I’ve seen since ever. I am beyond impressed. He gave me a copy of the menu and wished me well.
The next person I meet is Tanya. She’s worked with Neal since forever and turns out to be Tanya who I knew as a kid and hadn’t seen for a couple of decades. Tanya’s family and mine used to holiday together every Christmas at a caravan park in Mandurah for about 7 years. Asteroids and Timewarp at Rollerskating stuff. Mucho laughter and small worlds. I feel at ease. I’m taught how to slice an onion finely, I’m assuming I know nothing at this stage – being shown how not chop a pumpkin into chunks was both humbling and necessary. An explanation on how she makes a rissotto. A careful demonstration of how to debone a quail, and I managed to do two of them over accounts of post high school life. Pureering curries pumpkin soup with the world’s largest bamix. Scrubbing oysters and then shucking them, steadying my hands so I didn’t run a shucker through my wrist. Separated half a dozen eggs and then we were all off for dinner out in the alleyway.
The second half would be service and my biggest worry was keeping busy without being in anyone’s way. Mark took over babysitting and talked me through making mashed potatoes. Next was my job for the night. I was fennel and rocket salad and vegetables with oyster sauce. As with everything so far, all carefully explained. The routine was this; Mark would yell out fennel and I would stare like a deer in headlights for a few seconds and get busy making one. The first went pear shaped as it needs a light hand, not an anxious grasp and another quick coaching. The next one had a stray leaf on the side, I was picked up on that. By the third set, an “is that your salad?” followed by “good job”. Huzzah! Felt like my culinary triumph for the year. Veges were a bit stingy on the oyster sauce but fine after that. I also carried out admirably, the thirty second microwaving of small containers of stuff. I had to like Mark, everything he asked me to do was made with the requisite theatricality to make it important. He’ll make a great dad. I did this and watched the work in the kitchen unfold and build in pace, never getting out of control. I was safely away at the other end being helped by Susan the first year apprentice 20 years my junior, who showed me how to make the cos salad.
The food here, by the way, is fabulous. I’ve been here twice and the food always seems to have an angle of smartness over and beyond the way it satisfies the senses. The dishes I had in the tasting menu all seems to have something new, something sharp, or something well chosen would eat through a yard of Spam to get to a scrap of their pork belly with scallops. I was given a couple of pieces of wagyu beef and the lipids did a happy dance with protein on my tongue. It left the otherwise excellent in any other circumstances and just so doneness of the duck in its shadow. I was also witness to a steady stream of luscious desserts from at my end of the kitchen. I got an explanation of parfaits and to try a couple of the sorbets they had. The rice and truffle was interesting tasted of the dusty bits of a shiitake mushroom, and the beef tasted like frozen beef stock but the lime and chili that goes with oyster is exceptional. Apologies for the lack of food pictures but, as you could imagine, I was reluctant to get in anyone’s way.
It was all over for the service with my last bowl of vegetable a little before ten. I made myself useful by carrying out the rubbish and gladwrapping bowls. I was well chuffed by this stage. Eight hours of work and every single interaction I’d had was friendly, patient, and instructive. The modern mythology of the angry chef was nowhere to be seen, just amiable professionals working well together. By 11 I was having a beer and a chat, with a sore back and hands, but satisfied and happy. I said goodbye and gave a heartfelt thanks. I could enjoy this. Go there. Soon.
Jackson’s Restaurant 483 Beaufort St, Highgate, (08) 9328-1177