STORY BY CLEO BRAITHWAITE
PHOTOGRAPHY + ANIMATION BY CHRIS CHEN
It is one of pop culture’s well-worn tropes: two characters side-by-side, one lean and cynical, the other rotund and unrefined. But have you noticed Fat and Skinny are also the unlikely co-stars of current food trends? On show right now in a kitchen near you…
Act one, Scene one. Sadhana Kitchen Cafe in Newtown is a raw and vegan food haven sitting alongside a yoga studio. There’s nothing unusual about the idea that a person who attends a yoga class will want a nourishing meal and vice-versa, but the raw food movement seems to be drifting in from the fringe and gathering mainstream interest. The woman behind the food at Sadhana, Maz Valcorza has been spreading the gospel further, recently instructing a workshop at Laneway Learning in Sydney. She’s been a first-hand witness of the change: “When we opened 16 months ago, Sadhana Kitchen was Sydney’s first organic raw food café. Now so many more businesses offer organic vegan products, some raw, some cooked. There’s even an awesome raw vegan cosmetic store around the corner from us.”
Just streets away, Mary’s opened recently; a bar with a well-earned reputation as the go-to for fast food staples burgers and fried chicken. Customers are known to ‘double-down’ (double the meat, no bun), order several rounds of burgers, or hedge their bets on both a burger and bird. It underlines even speaks of its reputation as a den of excess that in such a short time the small bar has carved out its own local legend: the ‘Thunderbird’ is said to be three deep-fried chickens stuffed with cheeseburgers on a bed of mash and gravy and available to order only once a day. But ask the guys at Mary’s, and they’ll put it down to more myth than legend.
The two trends may not be as diametrically opposed as they first appear
Sadhana Kitchen and Mary’s, sitting happily at each end of the spectrum, are not perched there alone. Naked Indiana was a raw food pop-up that took over a disused shop-front in Surry Hills at the beginning of the year, and saw local office workers gather together around a communal table, sating themselves with cold-pressed juices and plates piled with a bounty of raw vegetables, fruit, nuts and other whole foods. Meanwhile, just around the corner from Sadhana Kitchen, on Enmore Road, Hartsyard opened a little over a year ago, establishing a loyal following for its no-holds-barred approach to American-influenced cuisine. Dishes such as the poutine – fried potato, short rib gravy and cheddar-beer sauce and fried chicken with buttermilk biscuit and sausage gravy have become menu mainstays.
In Alexandria, Bread and Circus have tapped in to a demand from workers in the area to break up their day with a meal packed with wholefoods. On Cleveland Street, Surry Hills you’ll find Nourishing Quarter, a busy vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurant with a nutritious ‘soul food’ ethos that’s proved so popular it requires a two-sittings per night bookings policy. Meanwhile, next door at the Norfolk they’re serving deep-fried Monaco Bars. In fact, at times it feels like ordering food in a Sydney bar or pub is to play a round of ‘can you deep-fry it?’ I’ve had deep-fried avocado (also at the Norfolk), and for The Dip’s birthday menu they went all out on a ‘deep fried Coke sundae’. Pardon? That’s deep fried coke dumplings, covered in coke syrup, topped with whipped cream, cinnamon and a cherry on top.
The blessing of trained chefs taking a high-end approach to fast food… can probably credit a global economic downturn for helping bolster its success
The two trends may not be as diametrically opposed as they first appear. Both groups could be classified as “good food”, in that as a general rule they consider the provenance of the ingredients they source. There’s an interest in obtaining high quality ingredients, rather than just sourcing what’s cheap and readily available. The difference being is that for one it’s kale and quinoa, and for the other it’s about getting the perfect crumb on that chicken or the right cut of meat. In the case of Mary’s the burgers really are better; beef patties are made to an exacting blend of two parts chuck, to one part brisket, and one part rump.
The two trends can be tracked back to the United States. The raw food movement is thought to have most likely begun with the Reverend Sylvester Graham (who, incidentally, also invented the Graham cracker), a minister with strong beliefs on dietary reform, vegetarianism and anti-masturbation. Since those early days, the trend has found firm footing on the menus of California and New York City. Meanwhile, the boon blessing of trained chefs taking a high-end approach to fast food and street food is also imported from the States, and can probably credit a global economic downturn for helping bolster its success.
What at first seems incongruous and unnatural, these two extremes in cuisine, perhaps isn’t really so strange. Animals and humans have always feasted in times of plenty, and fasted when necessary. Maybe we’re just mimicking what we’ve always done, only for many of us, with access to ‘plenty’ most of the time, have to be self-regulating. We indulge and then abstain, like any cartoon character, whether fat or skinny, with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
A Special Thank you to Mary’s, Newtown + Brickfields Bakery, Chippendale for providing both ends of a tempting spectrum.