Two years ago Bulli’s singular strip of shops offered no more than a bakery treat to the passing traffic of north bound visitors, with many continuing their pilgrimage to the promises of Thirroul’s join-the-dot shops and cafes.
Much has changed in recent times with the re-igniting of several fading stars along the flowing road of the Princes Highway; the Bulli Showgrounds and the Heritage Hotel. These two beacons of freshness, foraging and fire have arguably changed the face of food in the coast side coal town.
Andrew Burns of Burnsbury Hospitality and former executive chef of the Diggies Group, has stepped up to serve the plates at the Heritage’s bistro and we wanted to know a little more about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Why the Heritage?
I’ve been to a lot of gigs at The Heritage and have always loved the room that is now our bistro. We were also very interested in the dinner and a show concept. Already having McColl’s kitchen up and running at Dicey Riley’s it made sense.
What motivated you to leave your role at Diggies Group and pursue this?
We wanted to start our own business, create something of our own doing the style of food and service we love.
What do you hope to create? Could you describe your vision/dream of what you want the heritage to be?
We want to show people what bistro food can actually be using fresh, seasonal produce and treating it as it should be. The specials we are doing at the moment along with our smoked dishes are a good representation of what direction we want the menu to take – and it’s being extremely well received by our customers. The room is also great for private events, weddings Christmas parties etc.
Would you call it a family oriented operation?
Definitely! My sister and I have always wanted to open something together, along with our partners Gav and Gen, we have a pretty good formula for our two venues.
Bulli has become somewhat of a destination with the introduction of the Forager’s Markets. Is this a direction you hope the area continues to move in? Why?
We are hoping so, the foragers markets are great, we are heading down Sunday to collect produce for our specials from Field To Feast; their farm is situated in Catherine Field. We also buy our Pepe Saya Butter from Country Valley Dairy, who also have a stall at the markets.
Word on the street is you also have beastly smoker?
Yep, our Yoder Smoker is a loaded Wichita, it’s big enough to fit a whole suckling pig on, it has a second shelf, which gives us plenty of room. The smoker came over from Kansas State to Grill Pro in SA. The boys from Nicholson and Saville in Sydney shipped it up for us, they also supply us with some of our meat.
So, how does this smoker work?
Our smoker is an offset smoker, which means there is a cooking pit and a separate firebox. You basically start your fire in the fire box with charcoal and dry hardwood and then cook your meat in the cooking pit, which we run at around 230° Fahrenheit.
We are currently using red iron bark that has been seasoned (dried for over 12 months) and gidgee charcoal. We will also be collecting some apple wood from orchids to smoke with soon.
Meats have all different cooking times, some people smoke brisket over night, I work off the internal temperature of the meat. The general rule is “low and slow”.
This type of cooking is popular in America, right?
American BBQ is very popular in the southern states, they all have their different methods of smoking the meat. I first ate American BBQ in North Carolina at Allen and sons- and loved it. It is now pretty popular in Melbourne. Places like Le Bon Ton, fancy hanks and Blue Bonnet Barbecue.
What other American influences inspire you? Any particular chefs?
Sean Brock from McCrady’s and Husk, David Chang of Momofuku, Andrew McConnell of Cumulus Inc and Cutler and Co and Fergus Henderson and St John.
They are all really interesting chefs, what made you want to be a chef?
Watching the head and sous chef at my first job as a kitchen hand during service, I loved the flow and intensity of what they were doing and wanted to be a part of it.
When was this? How long have you been cooking?
1999. I started my apprenticeship at Craigmoor Winery restaurant in Mudgee. I worked in Mudgee for about 6 years in various kitchens. I moved to Wollongong about 8 years ago.
You have clearly worked in numerous kitchens with countless chefs, which ones do you think defined you the most?
Different things from different chefs and kitchens. I’m pretty driven, so that’s a big help as a chef. Everywhere I’ve worked has added to the way I cook. My first head chef Nick had a massive emphasis on things being done the right way, from simple mise en place to service. I took a lot from that.
You have cooked a wide array of different menus. What style of food do you love cooking the most? What are you looking forward to plating up this summer?
I loved some of the more complex dishes we were doing at Dagwood, but what Mick, Gav and I are putting on the specials board at The Heritage now is definitely the way I like to cook. Fresh berries, Stone fruits and seafood – whatever Field to Feast have to offer me from the markets!!