Family Dinner at IDES

Family Dinner at IDES

It’s three thirty, and Smith Street’s on siesta. Banged-up vans are double-parked before empty restaurants, as deliverymen bounce trolleys up the gutter. Occasionally, one of them carts a wax-lined box inside IDES, the experimental bistro Pete Gunn opened after leaving Attica.

Inside, the waitstaff are still in civvies: pink polo-necks, blue hoodies and long-sleeve tees. Natasha Dunk is folding napkins underneath a long stretch of mirror, while fellow section waiter Eliza Hendren considers the problem she’s developing with Netflix.

“I went through a period where I didn’t watch any. It was good; I got my life back. I started off yesterday reading a book. But I went to Netflix very quickly.” she says. “I have an addiction. I’m watching four episodes of Shameless, and I’m like what’s going on in my life?”

Tash, herself originally a Briton, explains to restaurant manager Liam McCurry, that Eliza can’t handle English take of life in a Manchester council estate. “She watches the American Shameless, because she finds the British one too traumatic,” she says. “It’s too close to home.”

“In the British one, you actually feel like this guy is on his last legs,” explains Eliza. “In the American one, he’s a bit more fun. He’s like the guy next door, the joker. Here he is! Just doing something funny.”

Liam sympathises: “It’s so brutal,” he agrees.

The point Eliza is making, however, is not about the relative merits of British television or their American remakes. Rather, she’s talking about the impossible demands that Normal Life makes on hospitality workers, who finish their shift while the rest of the city is beneath the douvee, farting quietly. “After service, it takes a bit of time to switch off,” she says. “So you hit the hour mark, and you could probably go to sleep now, but you’re already engrossed in a movie, so you just end up keeping watching. And then, OK, it’s pretty much morning. We don’t have the luxury of a four-hour wind-down.”

“Try telling that to my wife. She takes it badly,” complains Liam, huddled before a laptop to which he’s absently attending. “But she doesn’t go to bed at 6.30 in the night when she finishes at five.”

Meanwhile, owner and chef Peter Gunn is laying foot-long steaks on the grill, while chef de partie Kyle Nevans and junior sous Henry Salt carry bowls of mixed-leaf salad, chickpeas and pasta bake out to the bench top. Front of house quit their serviette-folding. “This goes alright, boys, doesn’t it?!” enthuses Liam.

“Fuck it, I’m starving,” says Kyle forlornly.

“Nothing like linguine,” observes Liam.

“Nah, it’s fettuccine,” corrects Henry.

“It looks really nice,” says Kyle, quietly.

“I’ve never seen you be so polite,” ribs Henry.

“It’s unnerving,” adds Liam.

Everyone loads up their bowls, and makes way to the large leather table. Occasionally, the 86 trundles past. A listless jogger peers in the window. It’s a rare moment of equanimity in a restaurant - for half an hour, during family dinner, staff can be the eccentric selves they are when they’re not singularly and obsessively focused on bussing tables and smashing dockets. We talk a lot about ‘atmosphere’ when we’re discussing hospitality. That’s mostly created here, when the waitstaff turns the music up too loud and the commis teases the apprentice.

After assessing the prep situation, the conversation turns - inevitably - to reality TV. “If you were on a reality show, you’d probably just block it out. You’d never even notice that they’re there,” predicts Eliza, between forkfuls of fettuccine. “The Kardashians probably don’t even notice.”

“I’ve never liked the Kardashians,” chimes in Pete, as he takes his place at the table.

“Don’t make a night of it?” asks Henry.

“Remember that chef who every Monday, him and his girlfriend used to go down to La Porchetta and watch Survivor. Smash a pizza. Every Monday religiously,” laughs Pete. “Then he wanted to become a cop.”

The table considers the process of becoming a police officer: “I know someone who wants to go into, like, you know in Law and Order, those people who work for the city? The person who prosecutes the bad guy?” Says Eliza.

“But you have to do all the hectic shit first,” suggests Henry.

“It’d be hard in a position where you have to kill someone. That’d be pretty traumatic,” considers Eliza. “If you’re a police officer and you’re in that situation where you’d have to shoot someone. That’d be tough.”

Suddenly, we’re in more serious territory. “Garry’s fucking been in the Army,” say Henry, looking up at chef de partie Garry Jihwan Kim, who looks cheerful and nods.

“When that happens, you don’t even think anything,” explains Garry, laying down his cutlery for a moment. “If you don’t shoot them, they’re going to shoot you.”

It turns out that, before becoming a chef, Garry served two years in the military - and not in the kitchen either. “I had like seven tests, and the government picked me up. Me and about 140 people, we did really hardcore training Ive been on operations, wearing night-vision. I’ve got some photos,” he says, some of the table giggling in disbelief. “We met enemy - they were like 900m away. They were yelling, “What the fuck are you doing?”. We were like, “Don’t say anything, hide.” Then we started shooting. I don’t know to this day if I killed anybody.”

Everyone takes this relatively well. It’s worth noting that ‘brigade’ is the official term for a kitchen team, and there’s definitely something deeper to its etymology. Bourdain always said that kitchens are a refuge for misfits. That a South Korean soldier should be cooking in one of Melbourne’s best restaurants is, when you think about it, completely unsurprising.

As K chases the last chickpea around the bowl, Pete turns to the real talk: where we’re at with the bacon broth and daikon radish, when to pour the oil and where to place the flowers. Everyone stacks up their plates and repairs to the kitchen.

“Thanks guys, that was great,” says Tash.

“We should do this more often,” exclaims Liam.

“Same time tomorrow?” suggests Henry.

Liam nods and upends the dregs of his sparkling water: “Now we can go back to hating each other.”

IDES Family Dinner Recipe

Beef flank split in half lengthways, seasoned with lots of salt and pepper. Grilled and then finished in the oven and drenched in lots of caramelised apple balsamic and sliced to serve.

Pasta bake which was a simple tomato sauce of lots of onion, garlic and tinned tomato, mixed with some pasta with lots of parmesan cheese then baked and finished with lots of fresh chopped parsley.

Left over salad greens just presented plain but with a side dressing of diced shallots, white wine vinegar and olive oil.

Baby cucumbers quartered lengthways and salted the dressed with some lemon oil and pepper.

Chickpea and turnip salad, tinned chickpeas drained off mixed with some grated turnips with a lemon dressing.

published in broadsheet