Slaving over a hot stove can be a very enjoyable occupation for some. The amount of time spent in front of gas burners going full pelt and not noticing the heat particularly,will normally determine the years worked in a kitchen. This is so for Al McKenna, who has worked for many years in all kinds of kitchens in front of those aforementioned burners.
On the pans in places such as Onde in Darlinghurst and Tabou in Surry Hills, for 3 years, work has been constant ( and hot)There has been work in London with , Johnathan Jones at Great Queen Street ( gastro Pub) and The Anchor and Hope . And now he has returned to Onde for it’s 15th birthday year. I wish this wonderful neighbourhood Bistro was in my ‘hood , so it’s French based classic cuisine could be mine more often.
Do you like being a Chef and why?
Al: Theatre and Creativity. Love it. A restaurant is a production every night. No matter what happens , you have to put on a face and open the door. I feel that a lot of that theatre has been taken away. The focus is on things other than the food.
What are the two things you would not be without in your kitchen?
Al: Mortar and pestle and a Knife
What inspires you in the kitchen?
Al: Talking to producers and sustainability, trying to work towards being as sustainably conscious in my kitchen as I can. I am inspired by a good kitchen hand, they are a go between, and an imporatnt cog . They hear what the floor staff are saying they hear all the chefs banter and they see what comes back on plates.
Do you cook at home or are you never there?.
Al: Yes I cook at home a couple of times a week. I have a 2 year old and I cook her food and freeze it. I try to cook the couple of nights a week that I am home, just the usual stuff everyone has . Recently though that’s lots of middle eastern foods , tagines and spices
Who has been the most influencial person in your career so far?
Do you have a favourite ingredient?
What restaurant ( in Sydney) would you most like to go to?
Al: The Bridge Room Circular Quay ( Ross Lusted – Chef)
What first gave you the idea to be a chef?
Al: Watching a program on Seafood when I was about 7- I think it might have been about Doyles ( restaurant/family- Sydney) . I also remember tasting balsamic when I was very young, maybe about 3. I didn’t find this flavour again until I was about 6 or 7. My father was an attache and we moved all over the place , so I had quite adventurous tastes. The different smells of places like Hong Kong for example ,the dried fish and spices and later the fresh produce in Northern New South Wales ( Australia) where we settled. I think these things had an influence on me.
What was the first thing you cooked that you were really proud of ( at the time)?
Al: Mashed Potato. I used to come home from school and cook mashed potato, which I practised so there were no lumps
What is your dream holiday?
Al: South America trekking with the family or to Argentina or Terre Del Fuego
Sugar Cured Salmon with shaved beetroot, horseradish and chervil $18.00
Zucchini flowers with roquette, parmesan and roast tomatoes $17.00
Tender Squid with salted tomato, rocket and aioli $ 17.00
T bone with perfect pomme frittes and red wine butter $3o.00
Fish of the day ( Mullaway) with corn and lentil viniagarette $29.00
Duck confit with caramelized walnuts, apple and mescalun $30.00
Buttermilk pudding with basil, orange and blueberries and Caramelized Figs with sour cream ice cream both $12.00