Cooking with Friends – Janni Kyritsis
Sunday 5th March 2006 - Sydney Seafood School
By Simon Thomsen
Janni Kyritsis is covered
in blood and feeling nostalgic.
It’s 20 years since
he used to make blood sausage with Gay Bilson at Berowra Waters Inn. He glances
at the recipe for a prompt before memory and instinct take over, forcing the
burgundy-coloured mix through a funnel and into the sausage casing with his
We watch amazed as
the sausage takes shape, culinary archaeologists catching a rare glimpse of
In the three years since he stepped out of the kitchen at MG Garage, after a cooking career spanning 25 years
– He earned 50 chef’s hats in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, making him the nation’s most lauded chef
has busied himself working on his first cookbook, due out later this year. He’s
also been focussing on a more personal challenge, dyslexia, which makes the
book an extraordinary achievement for a remarkable culinary talent. He’s
typically humble, yet pleased, declaring his most difficult challenge to be
adapting restaurant-sized recipes for the home kitchen.
A compact, gentle and
polite man with quietly simmering enthusiasm and cheeky laugh, he’s eschewed
the celebrity chef circuit. It’s been two years since he last gave a cooking
class, but friend and admirer Franz Scheurer coaxed and cajoled Kyritsis into spending
a recent Sunday afternoon cooking some of the fifth quarter - offal – with
friends. Scheurer emailed out a handful of invitations. Kyritsis was expecting
a dozen people and was taken aback when he walked into the Sydney Seafood
School to find 30 eager disciples, from three-hat chefs to fans from Melbourne
who flew up for the day, ready grapple with tripe, pig’s ears, chicken’s feet,
sweetbreads and blood.
recalls growing up in Greece where offal was always part of the menu. Pig was
the animal you could eat from nose to tail and cooking at Bennelong in the
mid-90s with Gay Bilson, his coyly described ‘salad of pig bits’ even included
When he first came to
Australia and made the leap from electrician to chef, Kyritsis was thrown in
the deep end with Stephanie Alexander, and remembers thrilling to her dish of
veal sweetbreads with pistachio and orange peel. Now he’s using them in a
stuffing for pig’s ears. His hand slides intuitively between the ear’s skin and
cartilage to create a pocket for the stuffing as Kyritsis scans the faces of
his friends and chats. Later, the large triangles will be breadcrumbed, baked
and served with a watercress salad and a spinach and tarragon tartare sauce.
It’s irresistibly luscious and texturally fascinating, like many of the other
dishes he shows us how to cook that day: chicken livers and crumbed feet; salad
of brisket, pig’s ear cartilage and mustard greens; tripe and pork sausage;
duck gizzards and curly endive; and tripe Lyonnaise, a dish originally passed
on from Tony Bilson’s time at Berowra Waters Inn, although Kyritsis “couldn’t
cope with the imprecision” of cooking it a
la minute and came up with his own version.
The surprising thing about cooking with offal is that while it seems daunting, most of the challenge is actually mental, rather than physical. Small teams of first timers bring together each dish with ease as the master flits from table to table overseeing their efforts and regaling all with anecdotes from the heat of the kitchen.
Elizabeth David and
Jane Grigson made him curious about blood sausage – a dish Gay Bilson went on
to make infamous at the 1993 Symposium of Australian Gastronomy. Alas the
recipe won’t be in the book: pig’s blood is just too tricky to acquire. It
doesn’t take long for the jumble of breadcrumbs, spices, onion herbs, cream and
blood to coagulate. The skins are peeled away and the filling tenderly coated
in breadcrumbs before being baked in the oven and served with sautéed apples.
Five hours after
everyone started cooking, everyone sits down to a feast they’ve been aching for
since MG Garage closed. But Kyritsis is invigorated and can’t sit still,
bouncing around like the Energiser Bunny, as his instinct for hospitality kicks
Meanwhile, with each mouthful, we too are lost in nostalgia.
Below some pictures of the event