When you’re lucky enough to get a visit from Sam Sifton, The New York Times’s food editor, you eat. And when you eat with Sam, you learn and you gorge.
This week, we did oodles of both at Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney, thanks to the chef Paul Carmichael.
He cooked for a small group of us. We were seated at the bar by the kitchen, giving us a chance to watch in awe as he and his team delivered a meal unlike any other. It started with a savory plantain doughnut, followed by sea urchin on crunchy cassava, duck, fish heads (they were amazing, really), a cold pork soup and a spiced cake I’m hoping will appear in my dreams.
This was the “strong personal imprint” that Pete Wells, The Times’s main restaurant critic, identified when he wrote about Paul in 2017.
Somehow, near a casino in Sydney, he wrote, there was a chef from the United States via Barbados, who “treats Australia as a Caribbean island that somehow got loose and wandered thousands of miles into the Pacific.”
In our case, Paul added a touch more detail and intrigue with each dish he sent our way. Near the end, when we got to his version of souse — a light pork stew from Barbados that he served cold and elegant — he was clearly in a groove.
We asked him about how or where he works out his concoctions. He turned us a sly smile.
“You’ve got to be connected,” he said.
“What do you mean?” we asked.
He pointed to what we were eating. It had only four ingredients, and because the pork came from oft-unused parts of the pig ( the feet, the face etc.) the flavors and texture changed with each batch. The timing of when to serve it changed too, he said, depending how the ingredients interacted.
“If you just sent someone the recipe, and they just did that, it wouldn’t work,” he said. “You’ve got to be connected.”
Aha — suddenly, I got it.
This was not the usual “connected” — it was the opposite of email, of social media, or of the “connected” sometimes used to refer to mafia figures or real-life power dynamics.
This was the connected of concentration — deep concentration and the maintenance of focus in service of creativity.
It was the same radioactive element described earlier in the night by Kylie Kwong, the owner and chef behind the restaurant Billy Kwong, who was interviewed by Sam at Carriageworks for Times subscribers.
She talked a lot with Sam about becoming “obsessed” — with native Australian ingredients for one — and about how she’s happiest when living in the moment.
For both Kylie and Paul, staying connected to what you make seemed to be a prerequisite for fulfillment. I tend to agree: Whether it’s food, fiction, art or journalism, there needs to be time and room for holding on, trying, reflecting, trying and trying again.
In today’s world, this is not an easy thing to pull off. Many of us need help.
When we looked at February’s most popular Times stories for Australian readers and readers around the world, these two came up:
• Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain
• Let Children Get Bored Again: Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency.
What that tells me is that something deep in our collective soul — or at least the collective soul of Times readers — seems to know that we need more of what Paul’s talking about.
We need to be connected … the question is: How?
Next time Sam comes to Australia, I’ll do my best to keep probing. And eating. And learning.
Now here are a few stories to chew on, chosen by our bureau’s hungry up-and-comer, Isabella Kwai.
In this Times Insider piece, Damien Cave and our reporter Livia Albeck-Ripka take us behind the scenes and into the courtroom. (And also about being willing going to jail.)
This week’s big international news story: All Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are believed to have been pulled from use worldwide after an Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday that killed over 150 people raised questions about the plane’s safety. It was the second such crash in months.
The victims were from around the world, including professors from Kenya, aid workers from Ethiopia, a career ambassador from Nigeria and a fisheries consultant from Britain. Three generations from one Canadian family also perished in the crash.
We created a graphic of all flights that used the Boeing aircraft globally, including Fiji Airways and SilkAir, who operated it on routes to and from Australia.
Got questions about the aircraft? We answered some of them here.
Federal prosecutors in the United States have charged 50 people, including actresses and business leaders, in a college admissions scheme where wealthy parents paid bribes to secure spots for their children in big-name American universities like Yale, Stanford and U.S.C.
As someone who went to an American university for my undergraduate degree, the grueling application process is hard to forget: SAT prep, letters of recommendation, after-school extracurriculars, documents for financial packages and essays upon essays.
But this week’s news was a reminder for students at high schools across the country (and the world) that there is nothing equal about the process.
More reporting around the scandal:
… And we recommend
Don’t miss Somini Sengupta, our international climate change reporter, at the National Gallery of Victoria on Tuesday (19 March) for a discussion titled: Hot Cities on a Hotter Planet.
Details and tickets are here; New York Times readers can use code NGVNYTimes for a 10% discount.
And here’s a bonus and a challenge: Kylie Kwong’s duck recipe, which she revealed on Wednesday at our Times event after a question from a duck fan.
You can do it at home, she said. Just buy a whole duck. Marinate it in salt and Sichuan pepper water overnight. Let it sit until it reaches room temperature. Steam for about 90 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Lay it out, cut it in half at the breast and debone.
Then, chop the duck into slices, coat them in flour and shallow fry. If those instructions were too vague, here’s a more by-the-book recipe.
Let us know if you give it a go.