Roy Ner - Head Chef of Nour Restaurant, Sydney
What we do here is take middle eastern cuisine in a way that has been approached before, but we look at it with fresh eyes. We were all born there, so we aren't just trying to play on the flavours. All the dishes that we have here are dishes that exist back home, innovated with Australian produce.
First thing, the identity.
I am connected to my roots and where I am from. We don’t cook just for the sake of cooking, we cook for ourselves, so when I do a new dish, I start with a mother dish from back home, I start with something that I used to either eat, grow up with or ingredients that I am connected to.
From here I begin to innovate.
Our ‘Stuffed Vegetables’ for example, I grew up on stuffed capsicum, something my mum used to cook (in fact if my dog smelt it, he refused to eat his dog food and would go on strike until my mother put a bit of the sauce on his). So, we’ve done the same thing but a bit more innovative. I needed something for the vegetarian section of the menu, so we cooked it with freekeh, barberries and a bit of mint. And instead of just the capsicum I made a little garden with stuffed cabbage, mini bell pepper, smoked cherry tomato and aerated labneh. It’s still humble, still a hearty dish, but there’s a lot of play in there.
Then we’ve got other dishes like the hummus.
Hummus to Middle Eastern cuisine is like pizza to Italian cuisine, you innovate but you don’t mess around with the concept of dough, sauce and cheese. The hummus we’ve created is very, very simple. We don’t try to make some weird and wonderful dish. For me, hummus must be served hot, you can’t serve a cold hummus, it’s just wrong.
We smoke wild goat loin in zaatar, put it on the hummus with a dry Persian lime, pickled turmeric cauliflower for acidity, pomegranate and a little bit of baby coriander. The composition is very simple, but the flavour is what I’m looking for. It’s served with wood fire bread, because you can’t eat hummus with no bread, and you have to eat it as soon as it’s baked!!!
And then there’s ‘Old City Mix’.
In the early 60’s, in Jerusalem a little place called ‘Stekiyat Hazot’ (Midnight Steak House), started a new dish that uses all the parts of the chicken (liver, hearts, spleens) with spice mix that came from the ‘Machneh Yehuda Markets’ (Jerusalem’s biggest food market) and created what is now the national dish of Jerusalem, called ‘Meorav Jerushlmi’ or Jerusalem Mix. In Israel this dish is everywhere and nowadays there are many variations of it.
We don’t cook just for the sake of cooking, we cook for ourselves...
At Nour we call it ‘Old City Mix’ to humble that story. We are doing it a little bit different to tone down the textures of the dish by confit the chicken hearts. Funnily enough It’s one of my best-selling dishes. People probably eat more chicken liver and hearts here than in any other restaurant in Australia (I can’t really know, but it will be up there!). The way we serve our ‘Old City Mix’ is with yogurt bread, breakfast radish, red cabbage pickle, tartor sauce (yogurt & tahini), coriander and the Jerusalem mix. Again, a dish that started in the 60’s is still here and relevant in 2017-18. This is what we do here.
The concept that we focus on, sharing food, complements the Australian needs and our story. Bringing our customers together through food that means a lot to us and to them. In the middle east the focus on hospitality is massive. For example, when you visit the homes of any of your friends or family, straight after the greeting they will put on a spread of food, and everyone will sit around the table. Sometimes it will be just dips, pickles and bread, sometimes just fruit but there will always be a spread. And if you go to any Grandmas house, you would wish you’d not had breakfast because there would be enough food to feed a small village. Funny right? In our culture we engage through food, and we are trying to bring some of that to a modern-day dinning experience in Nour.
We look at every detail in Nour.
For example, we designed our own plates. They don’t exist anywhere else in Australia. I designed all the shapes, because I wanted to share food. Every time I go to a restaurant I get these big plates that don’t compliment the table size, they’re saying it’s all sharing but there’s no space on the table, it gets very crowded. I was looking for a solution to how we can share food, so we went and designed a variety of unique plate shapes and sizes to accommodate that.
By sharing food we’re trying to interact with more senses, and have achieved this with more engagement, similar to a feast in the family home.
For inspiration, I travel a lot.
I try to go to the middle east every year or every second year and reconnect with those flavours.
We do about 4-5 pop ups or collaborations per year with other chefs, all over the world. We go to see how the people that are number one in the world do what they do. We are looking for chefs that have a similar approach to food as us, but not always middle eastern. The way they look at and approach their venues is similar to what we believe, so we connect on a personal and professional level. We’re also able to offer something different to them.
We just came back from LA where we cooked at ‘Otium’ one of the best restaurants in LA with Tim Hollingsworth. Tim used to be the head chef at ‘The French Laundry’ for Thomas Keller for over 10 years then opened Otium. The restaurant setup, it’s like something you never seeing before. Its an open kitchen but a bit more adventurous, a customer can literally go through the kitchen at any time. It’s a masterpiece.
Then we went to San Francisco and cooked with Chard Robinson at ‘Tartine Bakery’ which is by far the best bakery in the USA and arguably best in the world. When I went to Tartine, their process for fermenting the local wheat just blows my mind. So I collaborate with them and pick up what you can implement in your system. This meant the world for me as a Chef. In Nour, we bake every day 7 types of breads. Visits to China & Italy have been a highlight of this year as well.
Advice for the young chef...
Don’t look at the hours and the pay.
Look at what you want to achieve as a young professional. Don’t spend time working for someone that you don’t feel like you’re learning and progressing with on a personal level. Start early if you can, I started in Sydney when I was 23, I worked for about 6 years before that in Israel. It’s long hours like 60,70,80 hours a week and you have to go through the trenches.
Don’t skip any stage.
Otherwise when you become a manager, you don’t have that strong foundation, so you forget things, because it’s not really in you, you’re not whole as a chef. A lot of the young chefs want to climb as quickly as possible and be a superstar as quick as possible and they are using modern techniques to try and leverage on other things to do that. But the reality is that you need to find out who you are as a chef and as a person.
If it’s not clear as to who you are as a chef and you don’t have the experience to really understand flavors and origin of the ingredients, how can you connect with people through food?
25 January 2018
Roy for someone who is at the top of there game and so humble is a lesson for not only the up and comming chef but all professionals
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