Fresh from finishing his roving Jewish-Hungarian pop up, Ételek, top Sydney chef Adam Wolfers is Queensland-bound. This time he's not prepping for another temporary restaurant adventure. He's playing for keeps – helping to write the next chapter for Brisbane's progressive Middle Eastern restaurant, Gerard's Bistro.
The recruitment marks the end of a six-month search to find a replacement for former Gerard's Bistro's executive chef Ben Williamson (who's due to open 22 Agnes this spring). Landing Wolfers to fill the role, Gerard's Bistro owner Johnny Moubarak says he feels like he's won Lotto.
Wolfers is well-known to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra diners through Ételek, his recent project with Cornersmith's Marc Dempsey, and from his successful stints at the likes of Est., Marque, Monopole and most recently, Potts Point plant-based restaurant, Yellow.
"I'm smiling from ear to ear," says Moubarak, who's keen for Wolfers to steer the well-regarded Fortitude Valley restaurant into what he describes as deeper waters. "I've been following Adam for two-and-a-half years and I love his whole philosophy. His dishes look so simple and yet have so much depth and technique to them."
Moubarak wants Wolfers to dial things up, steering the menu in fresh directions. "No one can do Lebanese food like my mother (Salwa Moubarak who still makes all the restaurant's flatbreads) – so why would you try to replicate that? We want to take that influence, and blow people's minds," Moubarak says.
Wolfers is set to start in Brisbane mid-May. He's excited to have the chance to dig deeper into the cuisine of lesser known Middle Eastern regions and plans to integrate Australian native ingredients into the mix, bringing amazing spices, ferments and new signature breads to the table.
While Gerard's will be Wolfers first actual Middle Eastern venture, he says his Jewish heritage and extensive travels in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Middle East have had a big influence, helping to hone his approach which will help inform the menu.
"When I met Johnny Moubarak, we got along straight away and just started throwing ideas at each other," says Wolfers. "The direction that Ételek was moving in was a mix of Middle Eastern and Eastern European food. It's the kind of food I grew up with, as someone who's Jewish."
Wolfers is looking forward to the move to Brisbane with his young family. Former Sydney peers Alanna Sapwell (Arc Dining, Brisbane) and Patrick Friesen (Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane) have recently made the switch to the Sunshine State and Wolfers says he's impressed at how fast the dining scene is progressing.
"My friend Alex Munoz Labart has a restaurant on the Gold Coast. When I went up and saw how good his lifestyle was, that really tweaked me," says Wolfers. "When the call came from Moubarak, it was a question of all the right stars aligning. "It came at the right time. I need to do something else and thought if there's anywhere I can see myself working, it would be Gerard's."
Gerard's will continue its focus on share plates and diners can expect Wolfers' first offerings to include plenty of twists yet showcase traditional techniques. Lahoh, a fermented potato pancake from Yemen, might come with roasted bone marrow, native lime, local herbs and wattleseed, while local coral trout could arrive thin-sliced and raw on a seaweed tabbouleh studded with sea veg, with an inhouse sardine garum and coriander oil.
Breads are an obsession and Wolfers is excited to get a masterclass from Salwa, but he's also bringing a few surprises of his own – a fried pita to be spread with a version of the Moroccan tomato paste, matbucha, incorporating smoked tomatoes, eggplant and strawberry gum, and an inhouse miso flatbread to serve with a combo of smoked celeriac, desert lime, beef tendon crisps and zhoug.
With Yellow on his resume, you'd also expect plenty of clever plant-based dishes. "I know Brisbane people love their meat, so it's not going to be full vego," Wolfers says. "But as a chef you can really explore with vegetables – if you get a carrot you can cook it a thousand different ways, but if you have a great piece of beef – sometimes, the best way is to just cook it one way."
Moubarak says Wolfers ticks 99.9 percent of the boxes. "It's also about his attitude and humility. He's a family person and he's Jewish. He's bringing so much more to the second chapter at Gerard's. I'm just so frigging excited."