Cloudland Garden Restaurant Fortitude Valley Brisbane

Playing With Fire: A Primeval Way Of Cooking

Why are we seeing a trend for chefs returning to this most basic, primeval way of cooking? We sat down with Andrew Musk, Executive Chef and Alec Kapitz, Head Chef at Cloudland Garden, to find out.

Before we get to the fireside chat, let’s take a brief look at some fun historical facts about fire. It can be a dangerous, destructive force, yet holds great spiritual meaning across many cultures. At its most basic level, fire allowed us to thrive and evolve. Its warmth and light attracted people, where they bonded and developed language. Thanks to modern gas and electric stoves most of us have lost the art of mastering fire for warmth and cooking in favour of new tech. This makes a return to playing with fire all the more interesting. Why bother, when you can flick a switch and get a consistent flame every time?

What inspired you to incorporate fire into your culinary approach?

Andrew: Being able to focus on how it impacts the flavour of the produce we’re trying to showcase. It’s a rustic, primal method of cooking, whether it’s a cut of beef, vegetables, fruits, fish, right through to desserts. So you’re having that experience from start to finish.

Can you share any historical or cultural influences that have shaped your passion for cooking by fire?

Andrew: Growing up in NZ, it’s a big part of life, especially in the summer. Open fire, the idea is what resonates with me. It’s that curiosity.

Alec: Most kitchens, you go in and see the equipment and work out what you’re going to do with it, but the grill is such a big challenge. When you’re faced with it, I find that really interesting. I think: I need to work this thing out, understand it. Find out what I can do.

Andrew: It’s almost about finding out what we can’t do with it. What we can’t cook in the wood oven or on the charcoal grill.

 

Honouring the ancient art of cooking by fire in the Wood Oven and Parrilla Grill. Cloudland Fortitude Valley, QLD, Brisbane.
Honouring the ancient art of cooking by fire in the Wood Oven.

 

How long does it take to master the art of cooking on an open flame?

Andrew: You’re always learning, especially when it comes to cooking, trying new things. It’s more about a comfort and a confidence that grows, but you’re always learning. Especially when you’ve got something as volatile as fire, where temperatures can drop quickly if you’re not maintaining it.

What are some specific techniques you use when cooking with fire, and how do they differ from modern cooking methods?

Alec: If you’re cooking on a pan at home you’re only going to get to a certain temperature before it naturally cuts out, whereas when you’re cooking with fire, you don’t have that. You’re constantly learning how hot it is, where the sweet spots are. I think it’s more interesting flavour-wise because you can impart it a lot more quickly.

Andrew: The surface of the hot metal is traditionally touching the product, whereas with fire, you’re letting the flame and smoke touch it, to impart flavour and caramelisation.

Alec: Especially a big juicy, fatty steak. The fat is constantly rendering down, dripping down onto the fire creating more smoke, more flames which directly affects the steak.

Andrew: You’re imparting more of a smoke flavour and getting a char, because of that direct contact with flame and smoke, depending on cooking heights. Some things you can hang above the grill and let the heat slowly cook it, then finish by sealing on the grill, so it has time to take on all that flavour.

How does cooking with fire enhance the flavours and textures of the dishes you prepare?

Andrew: Some things that might be sweet, you can incorporate bitterness into, depending on ingredients. Charring the outside allows the juices to be inside, with a nice sweetness, but the outside might remain bitter to counteract it.

Alec: I think it’s also a producer of umami. Foods that are charred tend to have more depth of flavour, reinforcing the umami, which is why I like to work out how they taste and what to pair with, depending on what flavour profile you want to bring out. Fire gives you more ideas on how you want to do a particular dish, or treat a certain product compared to cooking in a pan or in the oven.

What challenges have you encountered while cooking with fire, and how have you overcome them?

Alec: The fire needs to be consistently hot. Is the rack too close? Too far away? Is it cooking properly? I think that will be a challenge, but a fun one.

Andrew: It can come down to how fatty, or which products you are cooking on it.

Tell us about the Parrilla Grill.

Andrew: It’s a method that Argentinians use, parrilla literally means ‘grill’. It ties in with what we’re trying to do with Cloudland Garden. I wanted the grill to be a showcase, so we’re opening that kitchen up and having it on display, which is a big thing for the restaurant, to give that warmth and theatre to your experience. It’s going to be behind a glass enclosure, but people will be able to see the open flame and almost feel part of the cooking experience.

Alec: You’re appealing to every sense that way. You can hear, smell, see, then taste and touch the food. Gone are the days where the kitchen is out the back and food just appears.

Andrew: People get an appreciation of what goes into a dish. If you’re sitting there waiting and you can’t see the kitchen, you have no idea what’s going on and how dishes are created.

Alec: It makes people more adventurous when they can see what’s being cooked.

 

Cloudland Garden Restaurant Fortitude Valley Brisbane
Wagyu tri-tip cooking away on the Parrilla.

 

Which dishes on your menu are cooked by fire?

Andrew: Obviously the steaks, the grill section of the menu is about emphasising the quality of that produce and where it’s coming from, letting it speak for itself. With the larger cut for sharing, we want the raw product walked out and shown to the customers before it’s cooked. We’re also doing Fremantle octopus, slow cooked overnight and finished on the grill so those smoky, juicy flavours come through with smoked labneh, chilli and lime. Some of our side dishes, like the charred leeks and charred sugarloaf cabbage are cooked in the wood oven. We’re also doing a charred pineapple dessert which will be blackened and slow cooked with a rum glaze. From there we want to keep building the menu and see where we can take things.

Alec: I think it will be a nice balance between fresh and chargrilled, you’ve got to have fresh elements to counteract and balance the smoky and charred.

 

Charred Fremantle octopus with smoked labneh, chickpeas, chilli, and lime.

 

Anything else you want to add about cooking with fire?

Alec: It’s bloody hot!.