Chefs Sam Alexander and Emerson Rodriguez are great mates who have spent many an evening chatting over a bottle of red. Occasionally it has even been productive.
With the help of sommelier and highly regarded Reserve restaurant manager Patrick Hester, the two talented chefs have been planning something exciting.
A new restaurant.
It’s called Yellow Billy and it will be located at Piggs Peake Winery on Hermitage Road at Pokolbin. The three co-owners expect to open for business in August, having signed a lease just last week.
“My phone has been ringing non-stop since the news got out. We tried to keep a lid on it but this idea has been in the works for more than two years – it’s only in the past six months that things have started to move quickly,” Rodriguez told Food & Wine.
“Sam has been a good mate of mine for a long time and he’s always wanted to do his own thing so when this opportunity came up, he jumped on board straight away.
“We know how tough it is to get good front-of-house staff so we were fortunate that Patrick Hester agreed to join us as a business partner. He’s passionate about wine and is very good at what he does.”
Rodriguez owns and runs Emerson’s Cafe & Restaurant at Adina Vineyard, Lovedale. He is only too happy to share his knowledge with Alexander and Hester, who he said were a little nervous about embarking on their first solo business venture.
Emerson’s will continue to trade as usual.
“I’ll be at Yellow Billy for lunches five days a week and back at Emerson’s for dinner service four nights a week. Emerson’s is not going anywhere. It’s staying open.”
As for the Yellow Billy menu, it’s all about fire and a special fire pit is under construction.
“We’ll be cooking on fire doing whole lamb, whole pig or whole chicken, with coal vegetables. If people want 200 grams of meat we’ll serve 200 grams of meat,” Rodriguez explained.
“Whatever is in season will be used. There’s nothing too complicated about it, we’re just going back to basics, and no one in the Hunter Valley is doing what we’ll be doing.”
Alexander finished at Reserve last week and will, Rodriguez said, be “doing some casual work around the Hunter Valley until the restaurant is up and running”. Hester’s last shift at Reserve is in July.
As for the name of the restaurant, the trio did their research: “There was a bushranger in the Hunter Valley who used to hide out in a cave and caused a bit of strife. He became an outlaw and police nicknamed him Yellow Billy because he used to cook on a billy on the fire.”
New head chef
Reserve owner Patrick Haddock told Food & Wine he wished his former head chef Sam Alexander the very best on his new venture.
“We are sad to announce that after a solid 15-month tenure Sam Alexander is leaving to pursue his dream of opening his own establishment. Thankfully his protégé Jake de Luca will be taking over the role of head chef and bringing his own influences to our already exceptional shared menu,” Haddock said.
“While Sam’s influences were Middle Eastern, Jake is inspired by Spanish and Italian flavours so he will be sure to incorporate the flavours of the Mediterranean as the menu evolves. Jake has followed in Sam’s footsteps and worked with Robert Molines for four years, entrusted in all areas of the kitchen.
“We will of course be keeping the famous shared 800-gram T-bone steak and continue cooking on the char-grill.”
In other Reserve news, the Reserve Lunch Series is on Saturdays and offers a four-course shared lunch with matched wines for just $95.
Also, A Taste of France is on June 9 and A Taste of Italy on July 21. Booking details at reservenewcastle.com.au.
Spicing it up
Hey Zeus, now known as HZ and located on Newcastle’s King Street, has added some Mexican flavours to its dinner menu. The Mexicana dinner menu is being offered alongside HZ’s regular menu, and can be delivered in Newcastle’s CBD for $2. For details visit hey-z.com.au/mexicana.
The annual Upper Hunter Wine and Food Affair is on this Saturday, May 5. Stroll along Ogilvie Street and enjoy craft beer, wine, gourmet food, live music, amusement rides and more.
The Fren family are already packing their bags for the filming of the third season of Travel Guides. Their Watt Street restaurant, Oma’s Kitchen, will close on June 30 and reopen later in the year. Book a table this week and everyone on your table will receive a free pretzel on the night. Phone 0403 128 221.
High tea fun
Australian fashion designer Alannah Hill is attending a special high tea at The Greenhouse, Wests New Lambton Convention Centre, 10am to noon on Saturday, May 12, to talk about her memoir, Butterfly On A Pin. The event is being held in conjunction with Harry Hartog Bookshop. Her story is unconventional, harrowing in places but also inspiring. Tickets $35 per person at eventbrite.com.
Don’t forget, Flickerfest comes to the Hunter Valley this Saturday, May 5. Arrive at IronBark Hill Brewhouse at 5.30pm for wine tastings and grab a bite to eat. The Best of Australian Shorts will screen from 7pm. Cost is $55 for film and food; $20 for film only. Tickets and information at aroundhermitage.com.au/hunter-valley-wine-food-and-film-festival. Participating wineries include Tintilla Estate; Misty Glen Wines; Pokolbin Estate; Wombat Crossing; RidgeView; Thomas Wines; and IronBark Hill Beers.