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My guest today is someone that I regard to be a champion of excellent quality, sustainable and creative food practices in Western Australia.
Introducing Stuart Laws, convivial Head Chef at Don Tapa in Fremantle.But, let me just preface that statement first. Stuart was not being cheerful in the first thirty minutes of our intended meeting, because when I first arrived at The Mantle, Stuart was nowhere to be seen. I gave him a call to check we hadn’t got our wires crossed. But no, it was the stupid alarm, somehow it didn’t work and Stuart completely forgot about me. No sure, fine, my feelings aren’t hurt at being forgotten. But, Stuart was sufficiently embarrassed, apologetic and offered me coffee upon his arrival. All is forgiven, I am won over by coffee, sad I know, but coffee is good. You understand. And in any case, soon as we started chatting I realized I was on a winner. Stuart is passionate about food, and happy to share his food journey with me. And we get to talk about my favourite subject, lets go, get to it!
How does one come to be where they are? This is my first question for Stuart.
We actually didn’t take the normal chronological route through time with this discussion. That is, as Stuart describes it, “kinda boring”. And too, Stuart makes a rather interesting point at this junction, and one I have often considered myself. You are presented with choices and opportunities throughout your life and depending on which way you decide to go, it makes your life experience either more, or less interesting. In his estimation, the food he is cooking now is a direct result of the decisions he made when he got started in the industry. This is the road Stuart took.
So according to Stuart, if he had taken the apprenticeship at Cocos he probably would have turned out ultra boring as a Chef, his worst nightmare. He recalled the day he was going for the Cocos interview and he had made it to the bottom of the steps at Cocos, and just froze. Being 16 at the time, it was particularly daunting, especially for a lad from Carnarvon. Stuart never did make it up those stairs, and he is thankful he didn’t. Instead, Stuart started his apprenticeship at the Palace Hotel (fancy) in Southern Cross (does that count as a foodies hub? questionable).
Stuart was given freedom to explore his culinary expressions. Something he is sure would never have happened at Cocos. And as Paul Kelly (legend Australian) sings so poetically ‘from little things, bit things grow’. Not a truer statement could be made in this instance, coz look at Stuart now.
His Nikkei food style (mix of Japanese and Peruvian) is his latest passion. Stuart’s enthusiasm is exuded into his dishes. I have been frequenting Don Tapa for quite some time, enticed by the choripan, a chorizo sausage within a soft bun and drizzled with smokey ancho, chipotle sauce and salsa. Or the oozy deep fried cheesy goodness that I came back for twice it was soooo good. Little did I know that all the amazing food he is putting up is born of his passion for supporting sustainable food practices. We are so lucky here in Australia, we have developed a sustainable industry with certification so we can feed the people top quality, and delicious produce.
It is Chefs like Stuart that understand the importance of this initiative and support it wholeheartedly by putting the produce on their menus. Anyone for Alpaca! Yes, this is actually true. Stuart currently has it on the menu.
Stuart tells me customers are pleasantly surprised at how good it is, and the market is mature enough to want to try new things, of course, once they get over the fact they are eating cute fuzzy alpacas. That can be a deal breaker for some, Stuart notes. I haven’t tried Alpaca before, but thanks to my ‘try anything from a chef I trust’ approach, I got the lowdown on what to expect. It is gamey in flavor like venison, Stuart explains, but they are cooking it long and slow in a mole, so it becomes sticky, caramelized and melty foodie goodness in the mouth. Mouth watering. Yes, I am coming to try it next visit, thanks Stuart. It is staying on the menu for now, there is still time folks!
Aside from Don Tapa escapades Stuart is heading to China next month to cook for a delegation of 300 people at the East meets West Conference. Stuart, along with two other west aussie chefs will be showcasing Western Australian sustainable produce for the dinner. Stuart is pretty chuffed at being invited to do this dinner. He hopes it will further promote the amazing produce that is on offer in Western Australia and continue to grow the industries that are feeding us now.
Coming away from our interview, I believe that Stuart is walking the path he was born for, being passionate about mouth watering and sustainable food, and bringing the Nikkei food scene to us here in Freo. Nikkei food already enjoys a great following in the US and Europe, and I think we are damn lucky to have Stuart bring it to us here, in our quirky corner, of good ol Fremantle.