5 Things Simon Toohey Missed Most About Australia While Living Abroad

From cliffside beaches and craft brews to local radio and his mama’s cooking, Chef Toohey shares what he loves most about Australia – including a family recipe

simon-top For me, travelling is the ultimate form of creativity and freedom,” says Chef Simon Toohey. “Whether it’s travelling overseas or locally, it’s a time to clear your mind, to get inspired and connected with the world we live in.

Formerly a contestant on MasterChef Australia, the chef and intrepid traveller has been to far-flung destinations across Southeast Asia, India, Nepal and worked across Europe. “Every single country I go to is like a new ingredient or recipe in the big book of recipes that I have in my mind. When you combine all of them together, it’s just a beautiful cookbook,” Toohey says, with his trademark grin.

One thing he noticed during his travels was how much people held on to local cooking traditions. “No matter which country I visited, the pride in tradition was evident. When a recipe is cooked a particular way in a family or a region, it always has to be cooked that way and that’s that – no questions asked. If you cooked it incorrectly, the host family or even some random person on the street will have no problem pulling you aside to tell you that you put the tomatoes in too soon or that a particular spice doesn’t belong in a dish like this. I absolutely loved it but have also felt the wrath of a grandmother for cutting onions the wrong way!”

Despite having travelled far and wide, Australia is still home. Here, Toohey shares particular things about his home country that he missed during his time overseas.

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role For me, travelling is the ultimate form of creativity and freedom. role

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role For me, travelling is the ultimate form of creativity and freedom. role

Byron Bay

This coastal town in New South Wales is where he grew up so it has a special place in his heart. “I even have a particularly favourite corner where we used to drive to and admire the ocean views from a cliffside beach. [While] Byron has lost some of its old-school charm it continues to be a vibrant tourist town where you can rub shoulders with Hollywood stars and indulge in some truly spectacular dining,” Toohey says.

Local radio

“This may be a weird one but I really missed our local radio stations, in particular Triple J, which is a government-funded radio station that plays mostly indie and underground music.” Toohey points out that there are no ads and the music is exactly the type he enjoys. He notes how every year, they host the “Triple J Hottest 100” where people vote for their favourite songs from that year. That was always his favourite day of the year. “It reminds me of backyard barbecues with good beer and good times with my mates, just hanging out and enjoying the music.”

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Local coffee

Melbourne is internationally renowned for their coffee and rightly so. There are over 2,000 coffee shops in Melbourne and some of the world’s best baristas, each taking pride in their craft brews. “A lot of care and attention goes towards the sourcing, roasting and brewing of coffee here, so each cuppa is perfectly made and absolutely delicious,” Toohey says.

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Local radio

“This may be a weird one but I really missed our local radio stations, in particular Triple J, which is a government-funded radio station that plays mostly indie and underground music.” Toohey points out that there are no ads and the music is exactly the type he enjoys. He notes how every year, they host the “Triple J Hottest 100” where people vote for their favourite songs from that year. That was always his favourite day of the year. “It reminds me of backyard barbecues with good beer and good times with my mates, just hanging out and enjoying the music.”

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Summers in Australia

Anyone who has moved to the United Kingdom will know what Toohey is talking about next. “When summer hits in the UK, it’s the best time ever but it only lasts for a week or two and the water is still absolutely freezing. Summers in Australia, however, are what dreams are made of,” Toohey recalls. He’s not just referring to Bondi Beach for a spot of sunbathing or going for a leisurely stroll. “My favourite summer memories involve driving to the beach with the windows down, loud music playing and a surfboard attached to the roof. My mates and I would find a deserted spot with no one else around, set up camp and enjoy an entire day of surfing.”

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Local food

As a chef and foodie, local food was something he missed most while abroad. “I missed vanilla slices (also known colloquially as “snot blocks”) and freshly baked pies and sausage rolls from local bakeries, chicken salt (which actually doesn’t contain chicken) on fish and chips, and many more. But the one dish I really missed was my mum’s oily pasta,” he says. Toohey adds on how whenever he goes home, this is the first and last dish he requests during the stay. “This dish has travelled around the world with me and it helps me stay grounded whenever I’m starting to feel flighty. You can make it practically anywhere in the world as the ingredients are easily available,” Toohey shares.

Mum’s Oily Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 70ml olive oil
  • 1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • ½ packet linguine
  • 2 lemons, zest only
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To serve

  • ¼ lemon, zest
  • ½ bunch parsley, finely chopped

Instructions:

  1. Place the pasta in a pot of heavily salted boiling water
  2. Place the oil in a flat pan on low heat.
  3. Place in the garlic and spring onions and cook on very low for 5 minutes until they have infused the oil and softened nicely. Add in the chilli flakes and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  4. By this time your pasta should be cooked to a level just before al-dente take it out of the water with a pair of tongs and drag it to the oil mixture pan. The more pasta water you drag over the better.
  5. Turn the pasta and oil mixture on high and stir with the tongs or a fork to emulsify the mixture. Squeeze in half a lemon.
  6. Turn the heat off.
  7. Place the pasta in a large serving bowl and top with lemon zest and pepper.
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Top Australian Food Markets Every Tourist Needs To Visit

Melbourne-based chef Simon Toohey shares his top picks for the best food markets across Australia – along with a recipe for his one-of-a-kind po’boy

From the coast to the valleys, Victoria state has some of the best produce in the world – from wine and cheese to mushrooms and incredible organic vegetables. Victoria state may be one of the smallest in Australia but provides the country much of its sustenance.

When Chef Simon Toohey enthuses about something, you can’t help but get swept up with his infectious excitement. The MasterChef Australia contestant is known for his love affair with all things plant-based, even setting up a pop-up vegan smokehouse to much success in 2019.

“I wanted both meat eaters and vegans and everyone in between to come and enjoy what I believed was just truly good food,” says Toohey of the Williamstown pop-up. “Initially, I didn’t think people would be so interested but we ended up selling out our first run and had to extend our dates several times.”

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He credits his culinary creativity to the abundance of local produce available in Melbourne. “The thing I love about Melbourne is how much people make and grow in their own backyard, from garlic growers and foragers to small-batch miso producers. Melbourne’s culinary arts are a representation of the hyper-local produce we find here; we are lovers of supporting local.”

While the Melbourne-based chef is partial to his hometown, he’s also a big fan of the unique produce found across Australia. “The sheer size of the country means we have nearly every type of climate, which allows us to grow so much of the world’s produce,” Toohey shares. “We also have some absolutely mind-blowing native produce, including plums, finger lime and bush tomatoes. Of course, it’s important to remember they aren’t here for the taking – it’s vital to ask for permission before foraging for native ingredients.”

Like all good chefs, Toohey is inspired by the local markets he visits. Here are some of Chef Toohey’s absolute favourite markets in Australia:

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quot Melbourne’s culinary arts are a representation of the hyper-local produce we find here. quot

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South Melbourne Market, Melbourne

Established in 1867, Toohey sees this as a must-visit for anyone who wants to get up close with the best of Victoria’s produce. Open every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8am, the market sells everything from fresh seafood and produce to artisanal chocolates and cheeses. There is also a diverse array of restaurants, patisseries, coffee shops, bakeries and bookshops. “Some of my top spots are Clement Coffee for what I think is the best coffee in Australia, Agathe Patisserie for the most amazing sweet treats, and Theo’s Deli, a family-owned and operated business that has been churning out excellent gourmet produce for over 30 years,” Toohey says.

Prahran Market, Melbourne

Prahran Market has been serving the community for over 150 years. It is open daily except Monday and Wednesday, and has a “convivial vibe” that Toohey loves. The stallholders are all passionate about their produce so if you want to learn about food, this is the perfect place to go. Toohey also notes that it’s the place to get a great bargain. He recommends Pino’s Fine Produce for finding a box of fresh vegetables for cheap. “Make time for the many deli shops here, as well as the Greek sweet shop for delicious Mediterranean goodies. One stop I always make is at Pike’s Mushrooms. As the name suggests, this is where you go for all things fungi, from local and imported to the very exotic,” Toohey says.

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Kings Cross Organic Food Market, Sydney

“This is located right around the corner from my old apartment in Sydney and was my go-to place whenever I needed a market fix,” Toohey says. Everything here is organic and cultivated with the deepest love and care. It is the type of place that offers a true understanding of seasonality and how imperfect-looking produce can be some of the most flavourful and delicious. They are only open on Saturdays, so be sure to arrive early if you want to get your hands on the freshest fruits and vegetables.

Adelaide Central Market, Adelaide

With over 70 traders packed within a charming brick building, this vibrant market is packed with so much to see, try and do. Aside from fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat and poultry, the market also carries a wide range of cheeses, baked goods and health foods. “There is a stall tucked away in the side alley that sells the most beautiful steamed buns, as well as a Korean street food stall that sells mouthwatering breakfast and lunch sets, which you absolutely cannot miss,” Toohey says. The market is open daily, except for Sunday and Monday.

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Farm Gate Market, Hobart

“Without exaggerating, this is my favourite market in all of Australia. I would move to Hobart for this market alone,” Toohey raves. This market takes place every Sunday along Bathurst Street and features an ever-changing lineup of fresh seasonal produce. It started with just 12 producers and has now grown to be one of the top five farmers’ markets in the country. While every stall has its own unique offerings, Toohey’s favourites include the sourdough crumpet shop, the SOYOYO tofu and tempeh shop, the Asian greens stall and the fresh pasta stall. When you need a breather, head to Pigeon Whole Bakers for some top-quality coffee and pastries.

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Roast Mushroom Po'Boy

Ingredients:

  • 1 oyster mushroom bunch
  • BBQ spice rub

Slaw ingredients:

  • 1/4 red cabbage
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 red onion
  • Sour cream
  • Mayo

French dip gravy:

  • Onion
  • Leftover mushrooms
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Red wine
  • Stock
  • Vegemite

For the bun:

  • French stick
  • Margarine
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Rub oil and salt onto the mushroom and compress on a bbq or between to pans on the stove.
  2. In the meantime, make the gravy by browning off the mushrooms, chopped onion carrot and celery with a little salt. Once dark in colour add the wine and reduce by half then add the stock and vegemite and reduce by half again.
  3. While that’s happening, shred the cabbage, carrot and red onion and place in a bowl mix in the juice of the lemon, sour cream and mayo and mix everything until combined. Add some seasoning and tabasco for extra kick.
  4. Once the mushroom has been cooked for about 5 minutes on each side, take off the heat and let rest.
  5. Cut your french stick lengthwise and scoop out a little of the filling butter as much as you like. Carve the mushroom and place on the bottom, add the slaw and some extra seasoning.
  6. Once the stock has reduced and is full of flavour, strain out into a bowl.
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