Lennox Hastie is fired up about cooking with wood, an art he mastered at renowned Spanish restaurant Etxebarri. Here he gives us a taste of what he cooks in his own backyard - even the drinks get a good grilling.
Lennox Hastie thinks grill markings are overrated. "I grew up with things being almost charred into submission on a barbecue," he says. "I don't think it was until many years later I found that, in looking at some of the traditional cultures around the world, there was beautiful technique that could encompass much more."
Hastie's kind of cooking involves a lot more than flicking a gas switch. It goes beyond the comforts of recipes and exact temperatures and measurements to a place heavily reliant on human instinct. He favours cooking over wood coals, something he came to master working in the kitchen of Etxebarri, the celebrated wood-fired eatery in the Spanish Basque Country. "My fascination with fire very much began at an early age," he says, "and I think it's something that's innately human. It's a very primal element."
Wood, for Hastie, is an ingredient in its own right with unique characteristics - determined by type of tree, where it was grown, its age, how long it's been dried - that come through the burning embers to lend "subtle aromas" to each dish. "Some of my favourite woods are fruit trees because they underline delicate things that can be grilled," he says. "I also have a great love of grapevines. They burn with a very intense flavour over a short period of time which is great for meat."
He keeps his food unadorned for the most part, letting the quality of the produce and perfume of the embers do the talking. "It's the less-is-more approach," says Hastie. "That's what I think is the beauty of cooking with fire. It's such a simple technique, complex in flavour and it only serves to enhance the flavour of the ingredient itself."
Hastie is in the midst of setting up for the April opening of his Sydney restaurant, Firedoor, where he'll serve his signature hyper-seasonal food, prepared over the embers of around half a dozen different woods. In our January 2014 issue, though, he shares with us a simplified offering - the type of open-flame cooking he enjoys at home. "It's things I love to cook for my friends and family. It's a simple, relaxing, exciting way to cook."
For those taming the flame for the first time, Hastie advises caution ("fire can be very addictive"), allowing plenty of time and, most importantly, letting your instincts be your guide.
"Cooking with fire is hard work and requires a lot of patience," he says, "but it's ultimately extremely rewarding."
Firedoor, 1a/23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills, NSW