The kind of food Adam Liston served up at Northern Light is the kind of food he likes to eat himself; Asian flavours done well. Adam may well be have closed the doors on his Smith Street establishment, but the passion will live on and he is currently sharing the Korean, Japanese and Chinese inspired love in the CBD at Honcho pop-up.
You started cooking at 15. Was that’s something you fell into or did you always want to be a chef?
One of my mother and father’s family friends had a restaurant and I started helping there when I was a kid, so I just kinda fell into it. It wasn’t a choice until later when I started to take it a little more seriously.
Do you ever have days when you think of doing something else?
No not really. Ever since I’ve been an adult I’ve known it’s what I wanted to do.
What qualities do you need to be a successful chef?
You need to be calm, which I’m not always. You’ve got to be able to lead people, which at times can be challenging, especially when you’re at the top of the brigade being a head chef or an owner. You’ve got to be creative and organised.
Where does the creativity come from?
I don’t know to be honest. I’ve always been ok with the ideas side of the game. Coming up with concepts and how to produce the food we cook or how to change a recipe are things I’ve liked and come pretty easily. I do a lot of reading and have a lot of friends who are in the game as well so we bounce off each other.
[quote] Being part of Australia, and living in Australia, there is so much Asian food in a household diet these days so it’s not really a foreign thing.” [/quote]
Where does the Asian influence come from?
I’ve always cooked with chefs who were doing Asian stuff. Being part of Australia, and living in Australia, there is so much Asian food in a household diet these days so it’s not really a foreign thing. I lived in Asia for a couple of years, in Shanghai and travelled trough Japan and Vietnam.
When we first opened, the menu was more broadly Asian, but over the last two years of cooking here, we’ve fine-tuned it into being more Japanese. We predominantly cook yakitori which is Japanese skewered chicken.
[quote] I find that a big relief, that I don’t have to follow a trend or keep up with anyone else.” [/quote
What do you think of food trends?
One of the good things about being in the position we’re in is that we have decided what it is we want to cook and whether that’s cool or not is not really for me to worry about any more. I guess chefs who are more influenced by food trends are the guys who offer a broader spectrum so the whole modern Australian cuisine. I find that a big relief, that I don’t have to follow a trend or keep up with anyone else.
Do you follow traditional rules of Japanese cooking or do you adapt them?
The yakitori is the standard dish in the restaurant. We use binchotan coal and cook it the way it is cooked in a high-end yakitori restaurant but we don’t use a lot of the glazes you would find in Japan. We’ve made a lot of our own marinades or flavour profiles that we serve with each cut of the yakitori. That side of it might be considered a bit new.
Have you been back over?
I was just over there in October. We went on a research trip. I love everything about the culture. The people are really nice. We went to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The difference in cuisine in each of the three cities was significant. I am continually inspired by the way they do things over there. They just do one thing really well. That’s something that’s a bit foreign in Australian. If it was up to me, I would only cook yakitori, but my customers wouldn’t want to come in and only have that.
What do you want your diners to experience?
It would be rare for a customer to come in and not eat some sort of yakitori. At the moment we are breaking down whole chicken; breast, the tenderloin off the fillet, thigh, skin, heart and meatball. The idea is that we run a yakatori set, so people can come in and have 2 pieces of each. We really want people to come in ad try some Japanese flavours and eat yakitori and walk away saying, wow, that was really good. That’s all I really want. And then I want them to come back. It’s a competitive street. And it can be pretty hard to convince white people that there’s a white person cooking Japanese food.
What do Japanese people think?
Actually a lot of our customers are Japanese. There aren’t many yakitori restaurants in Melbourne. We get a lot of Asian guests. I think that’s a really big compliment.
1 Bourke Street, CBD
Tues – Sun 5 – 11.30pm