A night at Melbourne's Huxtable restaurant
Thursday 4 Jul 2013 3:03 p.m.
The first thing chef Daniel Wilson asks me when I arrive at his restaurant is if I've brought him a Georgie Pie. The Kiwi expat is not too proud to admit to a hankering for his childhood favourite, and says he has been educating his Australian chefs about what they're missing out on.
This lack of pretence and food snobbery is also a hallmark of Mr Wilson's restaurant, Huxtable. Located in the hip suburb of Fitzroy, the smart-but-casual eatery prides itself on doing "all the things that work and none of the things that don't".
That means vegetables picked and delivered fresh from an organic farm outside the city, and pork supplied directly by the farmer who raised the pigs.
The Huxtable menu begins with small 'bites', then moves on to sharing plates categorised by origin: sea, land and earth.
- PHOTOS: Huxtable's delectable delights
The dishes traverse a range of cuisines, but Mr Wilson takes care not to stray into "that awful F word". He means fusion of course – his food stays true to its origins, heavily favouring Asian flavours. Shiso, yuzu, radish and sesame accompany a lightly spiced tuna tartare, while stir-fried squid gets the Chinese treatment with lup cheong (sausage), chilli and oyster sauce.
Dessert gets an Italian twist, with Aperol jelly accompanying a delicate chevre (goat's cheese) cheesecake and strawberry sorbet.
The kitchen is open-plan, with just three chefs beavering away and a remarkable lack of fire or flared tempers.
"Can you order a fancy lettuce?" Mr Wilson calls out to one of his staff. "You know, the frilly one!"
Don't mistake this humour for ignorance though – the US-trained chef's accolades include 2003's The Age Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year, and a nomination for Best New Restaurant in last year's guide.
Mr Wilson's childlike sense of fun is even evident in the restaurant's name, which it shares with the bumbling, lovable family on The Cosby Show.
Across the road, the burgers at his takeaway joint Huxtaburger also take their names from the sitcom. Denise, 'the hot one', features jalapeño and sriracha mayonnaise, while Rudy is a basic burger for the kids.
His own young children, however, are just as likely to be found devouring one of their dad's burgers as they are enjoying a degustation menu at a top restaurant.
As we talk (he while effortlessly assembling one picture-perfect dish after another, me while trying desperately to keep my meal off my dress), it is clear that Mr Wilson is in the serious business of enjoyment.
He has no plans to set up shop back in New Zealand, instead content with the occasional trip back as a guest chef for places such as Huka Lodge.
Melbourne's burgeoning food scene is keeping him more than busy, with a nerve-wracking 'immunity challenge' against contestants on the wildly popular Masterchef Australia last year helping raise his profile.
And given how easily he and Huxtable have charmed the Australians, I can't help but wonder how long it will be until Georgie Pie gets a cult following over there.
Kim Choe travelled to Melbourne with the assistance of Tourism Victoria.