We Asked Big Poppa's To Throw Us a Mini Dinner Party
Head chef Liam O'Driscoll cooked up three courses of rustic Italian food — and there was the cheese, wine and hip hop Big Poppa's are famous for.
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There's a great anecdote behind Big Poppa's. It's three guys sitting around, eating cheese and drinking wine while listening to hip hop and deciding that their current activity was a) costing them too much money — they were literally spending thousands of dollars on cheese — and b) a great concept for a restaurant.
And so, Big Poppa's was born from Lewis Jaffrey, ex-operations manager at The Baxter Inn, Frankie's and Shady Pines, and Jared Merlino, owner of The Lobo Plantation and Kittyhawk. It's a two-floor ode to Biggie Smalls that plays hip hop until 3am, and serves cheese, wine and Italian food until the doors close. The restaurant is upstairs, the bar is downstairs — it has bare brick walls, candles, dark blue leather booths and the face of Biggie Smalls is tiled on the floor. It's an unpretentious space, and it's worth the wait for a table.
We've partnered with KitchenAid to celebrate the launch of the KitchenAid Mini, and we asked two chefs from two of our favourite restaurants to throw a Mini Dinner party (and create a Mini Moment) for their friends. Liam O'Driscoll, head chef at Big Poppa's, former Sydney hip hop DJ (although he probably won't enjoy us calling him that) obliged. He cooked us up a three-course dinner of the simple, rustic Italian food he serves at Big Poppa's, and told us what he loves about cooking at home.
He reveals his menu in advance — it's so beautifully Italian I have to research it so I know what we'll be eating. There's salsa salmoriglio, parmigiana-reggiano, pangrattato, flat iron tagliata and potato al forno. This appears on the table as globe artichokes, pasta sprinkled with cheese, a thinly sliced flat iron steak, potato with rosemary butter and a simple semifreddo nougat dessert.
O'Driscoll adores Italian food. "I love pasta," he says specifically, "if I was on a desert island and there was one food I could take, it would be pasta." With Italian food, he explains, less is more — it's about the quality of the produce over anything else. "It's not like French food where there are so many ingredients and complicated techniques to learn. Some Italian dishes only have three to four ingredients, so the produce is left to stand for itself."
Big Poppa's isn't fine dining, it's casual dining. Produce is sourced from quality suppliers, and the food is presented in its simplest state. Despite having a background in fine dining (he just came from Pendolino in the Strand Arcade), this is how O'Driscoll chooses to cook. The preparation at his dinner party is simple, as is the service. Food is served in the pan, and friends help themselves to steak and potatoes.
"One of the beauties of cooking is being able to share food with the people you love," he says. "There's a communal feeling in everyone being able to dig into a dish that's on the table, as opposed to everyone having their own particular meal".
Liam pulls his tub of semifreddo straight from the freezer and starts to scoop it out and serve. "When you're home cooking you just slap it on a plate," he says. "If this was a nice restaurant, I'd shape it into something. But this is rustic cooking — everyone agrees that they would like it better like this."
What he says doesn't really have an impact until the next morning, when I'm sitting in a café and I look down at my breakfast. It's piece of toast that's been delicately scattered with edible flowers. While beautiful, they don't really add anything to the dish in terms of taste.
"It's not about it being pretty," I remember Driscoll said. "It's about what it is."
Images: Samantha Hawker.
Published on October 18, 2016 by Kelly Pigram