There are many hallmarks of a good conversation. One of them must certainly be having a chat whilst drinking beautiful Languedoc rosé, sampling a cheese that’s been brought into the country in a suitcase and savouring the lobster bisque made with saffron and cognac.
Having run backpackers’ hostels in Mexico and Lyon and travelled through 56 different countries, Adam Davies knows hospitality, and his knowledge and love of the art of food, wine and good conversation is palpable.
Adam, you’re a little bit different from other chefs I’ve spoken to. Do you do the cooking at Fortify?
I have short order cooks working for me. I tell them what to cook, taste it, I introduce new flavours. I’m like a reverse chef. I started as a customer; I’ve been to more fine dining restaurants than anyone I know. I was forced to cook as a child because my mother couldn’t cook. My dad had steamed vegetables every second day, so after a while I couldn’t eat the food. It was either rice or some of my mother’s old French cookbooks. Mum didn’t want to cook and dad didn’t want to spend the money. So I started off on these old French recipes cooking by myself; cherry duck, moules mariniere and stiff like that. Then I started working in hostels and I had chefs coming in and they taught me more things later in life.
So were they French chefs teaching you to cook?
No very few were French. Mostly Americans. That was in the hostel in Mexico. We had a Lebanese British girl who would make amazing things with spices and cucumber and yoghurt. The hotel was on a huge hippie trail in Mexico so there were people from a lot of different backgrounds came in. We had a meal every night for our guests, so every night we would prepare something. That was for six years. It was about getting people together and start the socialising. We had a lot of meal and a lot of different types of cuisine.
So you’re really about the essence of hospitality; looking after people, feeding them, making sure they’re having a good time.
Most bars here are really boring. When you go to Japan, there are all kinds of games or good designs or a really groovy DJ. If I had my way…every hostel was set up in a circle so you could sit down and you were already in the conversation. You didn’t have to ask to sit down, you didn’t have to butt in, you were already in the conversation. That’s what I’d like to do here. It’s a work in progress.
It’s tricky because I think when people are traveling and staying in hostels, there’s a certain freedom that comes with traveling and they are more open to meeting new people because they’re traveling alone or in couples and they’re out of their normal context. When people go to a bar in their own city, they’re not necessarily out to talk to other people. Well, depending on the bar, I guess.
I think most people who go to a bar want to interact otherwise why would you pay four times as much for something you can get at Dan Murphy’s for much cheaper. I think there is a real lack of opportunity for people to meet and interact I think it’s the job of hospitality to facilitate that.
Tell me about the food because you’ve chosen to go French rather than French or Mexican or any of the other foods you’ve come across.
Mexican would be safe because the Mexican food here is horrendous. I looked around this area at all the French restaurants and the menus are almost identical. There are a lot of French dishes that aren’t beings served anywhere.
First of all I wanted to bring in original French stuff that I’d had in France or French influenced countries that wasn’t on menus here.
I love that Ile Flottante is on the menu.
Nobody knows what Ile Flottante is. I have to explain it.
It’s my favourite.
I haven’t seen one place in Melbourne that puts cognac in their lobster bisque. It’s crap without cognac. Chicken Chausseur; I haven’t seen it anywhere in Australia and people love it. Boeuf Bourguignon is one I caved on. You have to have it. I wanted bistro/gastronomic French.
When I lived in Lyon, there were the Bouchons, which are all about offal. I don’t think Australians are ready for that.
A few people are doing it. It depends how you do it I think.
I’d love to do it.
You’re in a fairly traditional, family part of Melbourne.
I think it’s important to emphasize value here. You get good food for your money. We’re about to work on a new lamb shoulder croquette with anchovies.
That’s a good combination.
That’s what we’re working on today. We’re always experimenting. Everything is my idea; my flavours. I season it, add things take things out. It’s all inspired by meals I’ve had in other places and then I like to add to them to make them better. I can make the meals but I’d rather be talking to customers about wine. So I’m usually out the front.
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