In a coup for Adelaide diners, former Garagistes chef Luke Burgess will join locals Duncan Welgemoed and James Erskine for the most anticipated Africola takeover to date.
Luke Burgess’ famed Tasmanian restaurant Garagistes closed it doors earlier this year. The closure of one of Australia’s most exciting restaurants was of little surprise, as the three owners (Burgess, Katrina Birchmeier and Kirk Richardson) had been looking to sell for a while. Still, the eatery left a hole in Australia’s gastronomic scene, justified by the fact that Garagistes was the only non-NSW or -Victorian establishment to make the top 30 of the recent Top 100 Restaurants by the Australian Financial Review. AA Gill raved about Garagistes and the Hobart destination was a regular inclusion in Gourmet Traveller’s annual top restaurant list and was renowned for its innovative use of local, fresh produce. It was also the first Australian restaurant with an all-natural wine list. With no concrete plans regarding his future, Burgess’ Africola takeover is a coup for local diners and another exciting attainment by Africola’s Head Chef Duncan Welgemoed following appearances at his South African-inspired eatery by David Moyle (Franklin), Jared Ingersoll (Danks Street Depot) and Dave Verheul (The Town Mouse). Burgess and Welgemoed will prepare three dishes each for the six-course menu with wines to be matched by Jauma’s James Erskine for the theme ‘fresh and preserved’ on Monday, June 8. Burgess says the night will be a “simple but fun way of looking at wine and food”. The theme of the night is based on a conversation Burgess had with Erskine around “fresh ferments from the last harvest un-bottled” paired with “ingredients that have had salt, vinegar and all sorts of preservation applied to them and how they will play out over the course of the evening”. This trip will be a chance for the Sydney-based chef, who has never visited Adelaide, to “experience produce from a place on my first visit and have the local guides (aka Duncan and co) take me through their larder”. Burgess, who trained at Sydney’s Tetsuya’s and spent time at NOMA, is known for his use of local ingredients and foraging. He is looking forward to what South Australia has in store with regards to its produce. “I can imagine there will be a crossover with some products and for others it’ll be a totally new experience,” he says. “I hear that we’ll have a trip around the [Adelaide] Hills prior to the dinner and it’ll be a chance to see what the climate provides and take in the sights of the region. If we find a few edibles on the way it’ll be a bonus.” In March, Burgess told The Australian’s John Lethlean that he would return to Sydney after Garagistes closed and that he’ll “have to get a job at some stage but for the time being I have absolutely no plans except to eat and drink”. “It’s no secret that I’ve lived up to my prediction,” he says in regards to eating and drinking, “but I’ve taken on swimming as a way to balance it out. There are no firm plans for anything bar a few collaborations and a few photography jobs. I’ll be needing a job not too long after and I imagine the kitchen is where I’ll be.” Has the break recharged his batteries to get back in the kitchen or changed the way he views food? “It’s a weird sensation to go from having so little [free] time to having the whole day at your disposal. The habit of business ownership is completely consuming and it’s strange for it to disappear overnight. I’m certainly enjoying the break, but it won’t change my approach to how I see food. It has changed the way I see a restaurant and what future I have in food. It has firmly connected me to the need for a garden and the access to growers with whom you have a daily interaction, and also that small is beautiful. To aim for longevity in cooking is by going smaller, not larger, leaving more time in your day to further yourself and always maintain a connection with your customers and staff. I’ve been the beneficiary of great advice from mentors while in Tasmania that goes well beyond what you can learn in a kitchen. That’s how I hope to return to cooking.” For Burgess, it was important that Garagistes finished on a high. “It was always important to do the best we could each day at the restaurant and finishing on a high was no different. In this industry you can be gone overnight. It takes focus to run any business but I think restaurants, in particular, are one of the most exposed businesses due to the margins and transient nature of fashion, styles and staff, not to mention the rapid increase in venues around the nation. “I always hoped we’d see out our first lease and, if it so desired, to sign on again. Had we sold the restaurant earlier, it’s obvious we would’ve moved on, but it panned out completely differently. With the loyal dedication of our staff and firm support of my business partners, we were able to achieve a sale and go out in way that we could all be proud of.” With Birchmeier – his former head sommelier and business partner (who was a former judge of The Adelaide Review’s Hot 100 Wines) – now general manager of James Murphy’s (ex-LCD Soundsystem and The DFA) new place The Four Horsemen in New York, his girlfriend hailing from Brazil and Burgess’ NOMA experience, will he return overseas to continue his career? “Absolutely. Travel has always been a passion and such an inspiration for understanding culture and gastronomy. I hope that I can travel for the rest of my life and to incorporate that into my next job or business will be an important consideration. I think it’s important to put down roots, but also to make a base that affords us the gift of what modern day travel is. I discovered this while living in Tasmania and my partner feels the same, so it’s easy to envisage many more trips into the future.” Africola x Luke Burgess $85 for six courses (food only) $135 with matching wine and cocktails Monday, June 8 Africola, 4 East Terrace africola.com.au