Its large plates filled with zingy Middle Eastern, South East Asian and Mediterranean food made Peel St Restaurant one of our city’s favourite eateries but, despite the accolades, head chef and co-owner Jordan Theodoros still manages to fly under the radar.
Far from being a touring glamour chef, Theodoros likes to stay planted in the kitchen of his Peel St Restaurant that he co-owns with Ben McLeod and Martin Corcoran. “We take nights off here and there,” Theodoros says. “The unspoken rule is that one or two of us will be here to look after it. We worked stupid hours the first three years, we’re talking 90 hour weeks, and that’s not sustainable. Now it’s fewer [hours] but you’ve still got to give it a lot of attention and love.”
Theodoros will make a rare guest appearance outside of his kitchen as one of the Long Lunch chefs for Adelaide Festival. Theodoros had to be convinced to leave his kitchen as he originally declined an invitation from curator Gill Minervini.
“Generally I don’t do a lot of [outside] stuff,” Theodoros says. “I don’t know anyone else’s business, I only know what I do, but when guys are outside their kitchen doing a lot of other stuff: what’s going on inside their restaurant? I’d rather have a restaurant that’s successful and consistent with its quality than be a rock star guy who’s everywhere.”
Last year’s Long Lunch series was based on the ground-breaking Adelaide dining experiences of the ‘80s. For this year’s events Minervini wanted to capture the contemporary scene.
“That’s why I wanted to have people like Jordan involved who, in my view, is one of South Australia’s best assets when it comes to food,” she says. “Peel St is a landmark institution. Jordan is quite hard to convince to do events, it’s not his thing. I think it [Peel St] is such a great snapshot of where Adelaide’s food is right now. There are other great restaurants like Africola, The Pot and others, but I wanted to give exposure to a chef that’s a quiet achiever. He’s a great segue from one era to the other. He was at Mezes [under Lew Kathreptis], so he’s got that pedigree but his contemporary approach to produce is just brilliant.”
For the Long Lunch, the food philosophy will be similar to that of his restaurant: large sharing plates reminiscent of a family get-together. No smoke and mirrors, just dishes featuring beautiful fresh produce.
“The criteria: it’s got to be delicious and abundant. I don’t want people paying big bucks going, ‘That was a waste of money’. I want them to walk away saying, ‘That was delicious. I’m full and I felt like I went to a friend’s house for lunch.’ That relaxed feel. I don’t do gels and foams. That’s not me; it’s just fresh herbs, beautiful tomatoes and awesome fish that are generous without being ridiculous.”
This philosophy has served Peel St Restaurant well over its five year journey.
“The philosophy’s stayed pretty strong here from the start. It’s always been an extension of what I like to cook at home whether it be Middle Eastern, Asian or Greek – simple, fresh and delicious food. I do stuff at home and then I try to tweak it so I can do it on mass.”
Theodoros has worked under chefs who share a similar philosophy.
“Lew Kathreptis, who I started my apprenticeship with many years ago here in Adelaide, he was full of life and very generous with his approach to food. A larger than life sort of character who is still the best guy I ever worked with. I really think that started me off on this path. David Thompson was generous with his knowledge and food. I picked up on that. I just looked at the way they did their food: abundant, fresh and lively. It all rubbed off.”
Despite the accolades, Theodoros is constantly surprised at the success of his restaurant.
“I never thought we’d be this busy,” he says.
“I just did it [Peel St] to do something. After Ben and I sold the other business [Aquacaf], I had maybe six to 12 months where I did casual work and worked around the traps and sort of lost my way a little bit. He said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’ I thought we’d be lucky to have a few customers. I didn’t really know what I was thinking to be honest. Now, I believe in it.”
Photography: Sia Duff