August 22, 2015: The Australian, Short order: Renata Roberts, Sichuan Bang Bang and Pizzeria Violetta, Brisbane
Brisbane restaurateur Renata Roberts is a big fan of Sichuan cuisine but she also loves a good Lebanese feast.
Best recent dining experience:Breakfast at Gerard’s Bistro, Brisbane. Head chef Ben Williamson has given our city’s dining scene a wonderful edge.
Must-buy ingredient:Sichuan peppercorns and challis. Having spent so much time working in China and eating a huge variety of Sichuan food, it’s now a flavour hit I just cannot live without.
Most embarrassing pantry item:Salt and vinegar chips for hangovers. I always like to have a packet on hand, just in case.
Can’t live without: Carbohydrates, delicious breads. Many of the greatest meals I have had began with a simple, freshly baked loaf, olive oil and salt. So simple yet so decadent.
What I’m cooking at home:Osso buco and soft polenta for my new Italian family at Pizzeria Violetta.
Next big thing:I don’t believe in food fads … recipes that have a heritage are the most important to me. Provincial flavours are timeless and classic.
I hate:I am not fond of “Chaussie” foods — sweet and sour pork, honey soy chicken and other Chinese recipes bastardised to suit the Australian palate.
Favourite cuisine: Middle Eastern. I love a good meal with big, bold flavours and the wonderful use of spice combinations. In particular, I get a huge buzz from Lebanese feasts.
Worst meal I ever ate:Being witness to processed cheese being pumped from a plastic bulk dispenser and on to my breakfast at a diner in the US.
Biggest culinary influence: My dad has always been an inspiration to me. I was also lucky enough to land jobs in Australia, Britain, the US, Canada, France, Hong Kong and China with inspiring, offbeat, out-of the-box thinkers who allowed me an enormous amount of freedom, as well as teaching me their own individual styles. Paul Mathis (Melbourne) and Michelle Garnaut (China) have been my greatest influences.
Favourite cookbook:The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying. I often make mapo tofu — this dish turns non-lovers of tofu into dedicated fans.
My last supper:A big bowl of steaming, extra spicy Taiwanese beef brisket soup with fat noodles. Every year Taipei holds an annual festival to celebrate this dish, and chefs and restaurants compete for the best beef noodle title in Taiwan. I share the same passion for this dish as the Taiwanese.