Is it possible to ever catch Anders Ousbach off guard? He has perfect timing and always seems to know when to appear and what to say. I remember him as sommelier at Hermann Schneider's Two Faces, then with Gay and Tony Bilson at Berowra Waters Inn, but his experience and influence in both front and back of house in the restaurant and catering industry is hugely more extensive than that.
Talking to him at Sydney's revolving restaurant, The Summit, the renovation which he realised in 1999, he was ready for the inevitable questions about his past and his answers are exquisitely to the point - "What goes around comes around. It is funny when you stand back from things and you look at starting points and you realise that every time you think that was the starting point it actually goes back to something slightly more cataclysmic. I worked here 25 years ago as a trainee manager, so I walk around and my past comes before me"
Anders started with "a great interest in wine" and talked his way into a job with the legendary wine merchant/writer/vigneron, Len Evans. His next mentor was Oliver Shaul who taught him about administration of restaurants when he trained at The Summit. And then, again by talking, Anders got a job in Hermann Schneider's kitchen before being let out front where he soon starred. Anders has a phenomenal memory and a great palate. He could taste and remember wines and had the ability to make just the right recommendations to customers whom he always seemed to remember. Even as a young waiter, he had a great wisdom.
After three years at Two Faces, Anders went to work at Berowra Waters Inn where Gay and Tony Bilson were doing "revolutionary food...I had never conceived food and presentation with this style and in this form." Then his memory and palate won him the Vin e Champagne Award. He was 22 and off to London and Paris for the first time. Here he was invited to Maxims - "So my first meal in a French restaurant was at Maxims. I walked in the door; the tablecloths went down to the ground, there were six tied roses on every table, and Aristotle Onassis was at the next table - it was perfect. I sat there mindful, I think I formulated this first principle of reality. That all reality is first a fantasy, and you create fantasies and you slowly work towards bringing them into your life. I sat there with this marvelous realisation that this is as wonderful as it should be."
You realise as you talk to Anders and he sets this scene so skilfully that his inevitable destiny had to be as a restaurateur, as someone who restores the spirit by transporting you to another world, be it by the food, the wine, the ambience, the service - or most perfectly, the combination of all factors. Before becoming a major style maker of Sydney cafes, Anders ran a catering business. This came about after he was asked to review a book about New York caterers called Glorious Food, which convinced him this was what he had to do. He had no funds and the deposit he asked of his first clients was not because he didn't trust them, but to fund the purchase of the food. The party was a success. As with everything else that he has applied himself to Anders became a great caterer.
Then he was asked to do a string of restaurant and cafe designs and set ups, including The Wharf; the cafe at the Art Gallery of New South Wales; Taylor Square; Dov which "we set up because we couldn't get a good coffee anywhere near the East Sydney Tech where I did three years of pottery at the National Arts School"; and in South Australia at Magill Estate. For a period, Anders retired from the restaurant world to concentrate on pottery but was lured back by the challenge of The Summit. "I could never have done The Summit until now. It's almost as if it has been waiting - this is what it is about. From wine and an interest in architecture and design, to be able to choose the chairs, to the understanding of linen...it has all come together for a purpose at last".
The 'all' is what he learnt from Hermann Schneider about food and still remembers vividly ("at one of the wine dinners, he had poached marrow bones, made a puree of celeriac, took the marrow out and then eased it back into the bones, and put the whole marrow bone back on the puree; dusted it with parmesan, grilled it and served it with a little Madeira sauce. Then you had the sublime experience of eating it by scooping it out with a fine little teaspoon"); 'all' that he learnt about wine from Len Evans and 'all' that he learnt about administration from Oliver Shaul at The Summit.
And, not to forget, what he learnt from his Swedish mother - "She is a wonderful cook - what the public has never understood is that the home cook has a ten thousand fold advantage over the restaurant cook. The restaurant cook has to battle against the simple truth (that we don't tell them out there) that the simplest dish prepared with love is greater than the most magnificent pheasant without care. It is the notion of genuinely bringing love to the table. It is when cooks switch off from that and think they have to do a clever dish or something that they lose the purpose for doing it".
"I'm not a chef, I'm a loiterer, I believe that is the role of a restaurateur." Anders said that some chef/owners have come out of their kitchen and mistakenly believed that they were restaurateurs. "They can't be, its not putting them down or anything, it is just a statement of fact. It's the job of the restaurateur to focus on the whole - the lighting, background music, temperature, timing and, make sure the chef gets it right".
The recipes which Anders has given here are dishes he does at home for friends. And he can't resist setting the scene for us with the soup entree - "This soup is truly delicious and although simple, relies on serving all the outer shell of the corn kernels...it's a bit like Madame Curie making radium, constantly reducing, but the silky texture of the resultant soup is well worth the effort."
Sweetcorn soup with garlic and parsley butter
Chicken poached with white vegetablesMolasses and ginger souffle with calvados cream