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Of Sandwich & Smoke: Chewing the fat with Yon Miller from Sandy Goodwich

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Picadilly and its immediate surrounds are too often associated with eyesore and undesirable, a strung out epicentre of attitude and misdirection. Yet, as one makes pilgrimage uphill toward the healing sector of our great city, they may come across a better cut than that being stitched up in emergency. On upper west Crown is the quaint and cute shopfront of Sandy Goodwich, squeezed amongst physio and caterer, is this source of great comestible comfort. The lovechild of Yon Miller and Emma Huber, Sandy Goodwich has been slinging ‘sangas’ to the practitioners and people of Wollongong for some three years now.

The Sandy Goodwich vibe reverberates onto the footpath from its often-crowded doorway, where the toasty smells of an open kitchen smother your senses. As your stomach catches on and you pull seats, a cladding of chalkboards dictate the lunchtime recourse. Collectively East Euro choices cuddle with classics and mix amongst the more interesting. The unifying factor lies beneath the bread in a homemade mantra of well-sourced ingredients and a paddock to plate integrity.

Yon Miller, chef and owner had a coffee with Horse so we could hear his tale.

H: Yon, how long have you been a chef and where did you cut your teeth cooking?

Yon: I’ve been a chef for about 25 years. I started working in Sydney in a small restaurant called 391. It was just a little neighbourhood diner basically, but the head chef came from a very good background. He was from Melbourne and the place was owned by 2 brothers; one was the head chef, one was the maître d’. I was there for about 2 years and I guess that set the scene for my temperament, how I work. It taught me all my good knife skills, how to work cleanly and efficiently.

 

H: Did you always want to be a chef or was there a particular time when you realised like, “This is what I want to do”?

Yon: I actually wanted to be a carpenter when I first thought of leaving school, but there were no jobs going into carpentry so the chef profession was put to me by my parents, knowing that I liked to be creative and use my hands. I went for 1 job interview and got the job, and haven’t looked back since, really.

 

H: You still make fair bit of stuff with wood, don’t you?

Yon: As much as I can, but having 2 children and a small café doesn’t leave much time for that.

 

H: How would you describe Sandy Goodwich for somebody that hasn’t been here before?

Yon: Sandy Goodwich is a space where we’ve tried to set it up as if you were coming into someone’s home, as if you were sitting in someone’s kitchen watching them cook a meal for you. The openness, the way that everyone is quite friendly, it’s quite relaxed, customers are free to come up to where the food is being prepared and have a look over our shoulder. Everyone in the team interacts with the customers, just open and inviting and trying not to be too pretentious with what we do.

 

H: That extends through the menu, doesn’t it, where a lot of your food is home made?

Yon: We try and make everything ourselves. We try and make everything here. Bread, we make a couple of times a week. The cheese we don’t make, although we have been known to make some cheeses. Yeah, as much as we can. That way we know what’s in it, where it’s come from, how long it’s been sitting with us, and we can tell people exactly what it is that’s in the food, which is quite comforting to people, because a lot of the time people will ask. Is the chicken free range or does it have dairy in it? Does it have nuts in it? If we can tell them with a lot of confidence that we know exactly what’s in it and what’s not in it, people tend to feel a lot more comfortable eating our food.

 

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H: That’s kind of like a philosophy behind the café, would you say?

Yon: Yeah, absolutely. Everything’s got to be sourced. All the raw products are sourced from, I guess, as local producers as possible. Yeah, we try and know as much as we can about our food, and that way make it interesting and inviting for people to eat.

 

H: With the menu that you have now, would you say that there’s a particular style of cooking that you are pulling from?

Yon: I guess all the food that we do here is largely based on how we’ve grown up eating and our cultural background, I guess, which comes from how we eat. Everything we do at home and with friends and family, and it’s all shared meals. It’s very seldom that we put a single meal in front of one person to eat. It’s usually big plates put on the table and everyone helps themselves.

 

H: That idea is also behind the dinners that you do once a month?

Yon: Yeah, we do a communal dinner once a month. The idea of that is people coming together around food that sometimes has a theme, sometimes doesn’t have a theme, but the general idea is that people with like-minded thoughts on food and friends come together, share a meal. You may sit next to people you know. You may sit next to people you don’t know. Everyone just shares the food, which is a common interest.

 

H: The dinners often have an interesting menu, where do you find the inspiration for them?

Yon: All the food we do is from experience from eating out and from family. Chefs that I look to for inspiration are very seldom big name chefs. The guy that I worked for at 391 for my first 2 years, Marcus Mano, he was rated one of Sydney’s top chefs, but he really wasn’t in the scene. There was another guy that I worked with, Jared Donohue, and just various people that I’ve worked with that have had good work ethic, good ideas, good technique. I’d say I take most of the inspiration that I cook with just from people that I’ve worked with in the past.

 

H: Yeah. You make a lot of the small goods yourself, like the bacon and the pastrami for the Reuben. Can you walk us through how you go about making some bacon?

Yon: Yeah, I can walk you through the bacon. Actually, for me, I find it quite simple. I’ve been doing it for almost 3 years now here, and probably 3 or 4 years before we opened the doors. At the moment, we use free range pork, so that’s a whole pork loin. Comes with the bone in, so we have to debone it. Then we make a mixture of sugar and salt in a particular quantity, and that sugar and salt gets rubbed all over the meat. That meat sits for about 10 to 12 days depending on the thickness of it, getting turned every couple of days so that the salt and sugar is distributed evenly over the meat.

That mixture draws moisture out of the pork which forms a brine. At a particular stage, once all of the moisture has come out and the cells have ruptured, which is what happens with the sugar and salt, the flavour of that brine, which is combined with the original flavour of the meat, goes back into the meat. We wait till that becomes a particular firmness, like I said, about 10 to 12 days. Then it’s hung to dry in the fridge for about 12 to 24 hours and then it’s hot smoked to a particular internal temperature. That’s bacon. Then we slice it up here and use it on our bacon and egg rolls.

 

H: That sounds good. You do a bit of this kind of smoking at home. What are other sort of things you smoke here?

Yon: We smoke pastrami. We smoke the bacon. We smoke salmon. In winter when we make soups, we smoke ham hocks. We smoke ribs. The ribs that we smoke are taken from the bacon. Generally if there’s anything else that we need to smoke that’s going to be done in small quantity, we do it ourselves.

 

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H: You’re going to start doing nights here soon. What sort of atmosphere do you hope to create, especially with the extension next door and stuff like that?

Yon: The space that we have now feels quite warm, inviting, friendly, so we hope to extend that feeling into next door. It’s a space that’s quite large, so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge, but I guess the atmosphere that we’re hoping for is friendly, warm, welcoming. Somewhere that someone can sit and not feel like they’re in a huge, cavernous space, but also not feel like they’re sitting in a dark corner. Somewhere comfortable. Somewhere that’s hopefully reminiscent of their own lounge room or a friend’s living room.

 

H: Yeah, quite relaxed.

Yon: Yeah, very relaxed.

 

H: What sort of things are you going to be doing for the menu for the nights?

Yon: It’s going to be a completely different menu from what we have on during the day, although we will have a couple of sandwiches on it for those people who just can’t get enough. What sort of food? It’s basically shared food. The dishes are not going to be a meal within itself. It will be elements of dishes that can be ordered to make up a whole meal. Say 2 or 3 people are sitting down to a couple of drinks. They could order a meal. They could order a couple of dishes that would be a meat dish, a vegetarian dish, possibly a seafood dish that would, sort of eaten all together, would result in a complete meal.

 

H: And a full belly.

Yon: Hopefully!

 

H: Coming into autumn and winter, what sort of ingredients are you looking forward to playing around with and working with? Anything in particular?

Yon: I’ve kind of gone blank there. … Stews and soups… Yeah, a lot of braises.. Anything that can be cooked long and slow. We’ll be looking at doing some more hearty soups. We’d like to try to utilise the ingredients that we already use on a day-to-day basis, but make them a little bit heavier. Perhaps slightly larger portions of the bacon… Instead of slicing the bacon to go on a sandwich, we’d have almost like a steak sized piece to make up a whole dish with some braised cabbage. I guess, hearty eastern European food… Peasant food.

 

H: Peasant food, awesome.

Yon: I don’t know that we’ll be doing a lot of nose to tail, but there probably will be some elements. If we can get people to eat it, maybe offal. A few of the lesser-known cuts or lesser-appreciated cuts.

 

H: Such as?

Yon: Tongue, blood pudding, maybe make a brawn or a head cheese which uses a whole pig’s head. I’d like to see maybe a tripe dish on. Skirt steak. Yeah. I guess a lot of secondary cuts.

 

H: Do you like that sort of nose to tail attitude towards cooking?

Yon: Yeah, I think Emma and I both appreciate the fact that if an animal has to die for a meal, for food, then you use as much of that animal as possible.

 

H: Yeah, and is that reflected in some of the things you cook, if not necessarily here, but at home?

Yon: I guess one thing that is a big factor in what we cook at home is having two small children and what they will eat. Unfortunately most of the time we cook to their appetite and their palate. On the odd occasion we will cook for ourselves, and that could be something as simple as spaghetti Bolognese or something more intricate. Fried pig’s tails, deep fried eggs.

 

H: Yum. Thanks for speaking with us, Yon.

 

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