Butcher and the Farmer at The Tramsheds, the latest exciting drinking and dining precinct in Sydney’s bustling inner west, is a culinary homage to the ever-important relationship between producers of quality produce, and those who put it on the plate. Now, with autumn just around the corner, the bright and airy space is getting a fresh change, in the form of a new menu. Earlier this year saw an opportunity to not just change the food on offer, but completely rethink how it is prepared, cooked and presented from start to finish. An opportunity that the savvy owners couldn’t pass up, they enlisted the services of two of Australia’s best-loved TV chefs, who are now proving they’ve got just as serious chops in the commercial kitchen as they do in front of the camera.
When Will Stewart and Steve Flood took out the coveted My Kitchen Rules gong back in 2015, they didn’t predict that they’d be running one of Sydney’s most exciting new restaurants within just a few years. Taking out top spot (and winning culinary-inclined hearts across Australia as the clear crowd favourites), the self-declared Gourmet Pommies turned their backs on a lucrative career in the banking industry to follow their shared passion of working with food, in any capacity.
Open from breakfast through to dinner, the new menus see fresh and lively flavours on offer at any time of the day. To start the day, classic breakfast fare is served, but with balance at its core. House-made pork and fennel sausages are offset with apple and herb salad, and beetroot-cured salmon is dished up with pickled fennel and dill. Both come served with poached eggs.
An all day menu is offered from 11am-9pm, and ticks all the boxes you could want ticked, from a lazy brunch to a boozy lunch, or a long, slow dinner. Shared snacks like scotched olives, chorizo with corn and croquettes open the door to small plates of blackened broccolini, sweet potato and warm grains, all of which also make perfect sides for larger shared dishes like duck breast with pumpkin hummus, house-made sausage cassoulet, and crispy skin salmon with white bean and coriander puree.
While an MKR win is a huge leg-up, and helps to forge a public profile, it’s been three years of consistently hard-yakka for the duo, who’ve refused to shy away from putting in the legwork required to stay ahead of a famously competitive industry. With brand endorsements, pop-up kitchens, TV appearances, their own brand of sparkling green tea (Social T), large-scale cooking demonstrations and an award-winning cookbook all on their CV, it’s their latest venture, at the helm of Butcher and the Farmer, which has got them most excited.
Their new menu takes the venue in an exciting new direction, with a focus on great produce and shared dishes that sit at a lower price point, so that diners can enjoy more, and return on a regular basis, a very smart move given the huge amount of residential property that surrounds the drinking and dining precinct. Butcher and the Farmer is already a crowd favourite, and a regular haunt for many of the locals. Will & Steve will play to these strengths, while offering new and exciting flavours from some of the best suppliers in NSW and abroad.
Sitting in the open, sunny room that is Butcher and the Farmer, we spoke with Will & Steve about everything that’s got them to this point, how they’re enjoying their time in the kitchen, and why they’re excited about a future in their new roles.
I want to talk a bit about what you’ve been doing in your time since the big MKR win.
Will: It’s a really different industry. Banking’s our background–14 years in the industry–but MKR is this huge springboard to launch into . We enjoy everything we’ve done but this has taken us, for example, to Thailand, with OzHarvest, to open the equivalent over there. We’ve done three national cooking tours now… Had the book published.
Steve: When you win the show, you’re left to your own devices to either sink or swim. We did pop-ups, brand associations, recipe development… Anything we could do to keep our brand in the market, and keep cooking. There are brand associations that are really fun, like P&O for example. You’ve got 3-400 people in an auditorium looking at you, waiting for you to entertain them. That kinda stuff really makes or breaks you.
Will: Which is hard for Steve because he doesn’t have a personality. But it’s brilliant. It’s great. We loved it.
And you released a cookbook?
Steve: Yeah, the really big break for us was that we were able to put a book out. And it had nothing to do with Channel 7. We shopped around for a few publishers, bounced around a bit and found the right home for it, and a team that believed in us, and we ended up making it to the world Cookbook Awards. We came third in the world! Our first crack, having never written a good cookbook before.
Will: And it’s how we got introduced to Butcher and the Farmer. We were doing a jaffle & shiraz pop-up bar here at The Tramsheds. Super simple concept, and it was really successful, but the restaurant manager came over for lunch. Saw us, got chatting, and then introduced us to the founder of the Organisation, who said he wanted to get us involved with Butcher and the Farmer as a brand. We’re very fortunate.
Let’s talk about the menu at Butcher and the Farmer, I know you’ve made some big changes not just to what’s on offer, but to the formatting also. What can people expect when it launches on the 11th?
Will: It’s very much shared plates, and as far as any particular cuisine as it were, it’s possibly modern Australian, if you were to categorise it… But we don’t really want to do that. It’s more about sharing plates of food as opposed to individual serves. And, I guess what we’re about is community, where everybody sits around the same table, almost like a family dining table back at home.
And we’ve really tried to get the price point down so people can come and eat here regularly, to get consistent food on the menu that’ll keep people coming back for more and more and more. We’ve got such a wonderful setting here at Tramsheds, it’s such a cool place to be and hang out, and we want Butcher and the farmer to be the place to be at Tramsheds.
Steve: We thought about how we like to eat. How the industry has been shaped by such talented people trying to get as much flavour into a dish as possible. It’s no longer about trying to get huge hunks of beef or brisket, and hiding behind the generosity of something like that. It’s more now about showing a bit of restraint–guiding our diners towards a completely different sort of experience, where we’re going to say okay, we’re actually going to tell you what to order.
You like the duck with the pumpkin hummus? That’s going to go perfectly with this, this and this. Keeping people in the restaurant for longer, eating good food and drinking good wine, is a much better experience than just having a big plate of food and a glass of wine and leaving after 45 minutes.
We came to Tramsheds so much before we even stepped inside Butcher and the Farmer, because we were working the pop-up kitchens, and when we finally came in it was so beautiful; it was so cool, and we could never at that stage have ever believed that we’d be leading the place. But with all the experience we had in the Tramsheds we knew that it was expensive, and it often underdelivered. So when we started to write this menu that was the huge focus.
Produce is a huge focus for the two of you, how are you working with producers to get what you need?
Steve: We’ve been pretty lucky that we’ve come into this restaurant with complete autonomy over which suppliers we use. It’s really about having a strong relationship with those suppliers, and working with them. Being able to call up and say “we need fresh wild garlic” on a Monday morning–something you can’t just get at the supermarket–and having a supplier willing to go and get that and bring it to you … that’s such a beautiful thing, something that we’ve inherited from other parts of the business, about building those relationships.
It’s our job now to take those relationships to a new level. By talking about the produce we use, how it differs from what you find in a supermarket.
The first menu has been geared to really hit the autumn/winter (theme). Essentially our job within this business is innovation, developing, training … so as soon as we drop this new menu, that’s the first thing we’ll be looking at. How can we create a Summer menu that’s going to meet the needs of a busier Tramsheds.
You’ve stepped in to manage an existing team, how is the dynamic of working in a kitchen like Butcher and the Farmer? Will you be spending much time in the kitchen once the new menu is live?
Will: We’ll absolutely be in the kitchen. We need to make sure that the food we’ve created is deliverable on a regular basis. That’s going to be the hardest thing, so we’re absolutely going to be in the kitchen, burning ourselves more than we have done in the past, cutting ourselves from head to toe … but it’s part and parcel of executing great food.
Steve: It’s not easy to come up with a menu, but it is quite natural for me to write menus in the way that I do. But you can’t quite get that vision across to your staff unless they see you do it and they actually start to live that vision with you. It’s probably been one of our biggest challenges. We’re coming off a type of menu that’s very different to ours, and a chef who worked completely different to us.
It isn’t a conventional start to a career in the kitchen—many start when they’re very young, getting yelled at by an irate head chef for years before burning out at 25. Do you see a positive change happening in the industry, especially for people who might want to come to it later in life?
Will: I see no need to shout and scream at the top of your voice in the kitchen, if people are trained well enough and the person being trained listens. Everybody should have a notebook on them, anytime they’re doing training. That’s the kind of mentality I want in there. That’s not to say you can’t be assertive. Behind the scenes here it’s very much a family approach at Butcher and the Farmer. If you can harbour a family, positive mentality– if you can do that then people will want to come and work in the kitchen. Cooking is a creative space. I’m not very creative personally, Steve’s extremely creative, and I’m learning from that, and that’s exciting and that’s why you’d want to be a part of that. I think that for people who’ve been cooking in the kitchen, it’s a viable outlet to be creative and have that outlet, and enjoy themselves, and you don’t need to have been pummeled down. Maybe it worked back in the day, but that was societal. Society was very much discipline orientated.
Steve: What people are starting to realise now is that you can have 20 years’ experience, but if you’ve lost your passion, you’re useless. You’ll never learn, you won’t continually reinvent yourself. You won’t work hard, you’ll just try to get through the days. We’ve come in with so much passion, and zero care for whether we have a TAFE certificate, or whatever, we just present what we do and what we love, and if people like it then great. And that’s what we’ve done.
We’ve been mentored by certain people like Colin Fassnidge–people in the industry have just been great to us and just accepted us. We actually got taken aside when I spoke to Colin and I said, “Should I go to TAFE and become a chef?” and he said, “Why would you do that? You know what you know. Just do what you’re doing and in five years’ time, you’re going to be so much further ahead than if you took ten steps back, just to get a piece of paper that doesn’t say how passionate you are, or how hard you might want to work, or how creative your brain might naturally be at cooking.
At the end of the day, if you’re destined to be in the kitchen, cooking great food, making diners happy, then you don’t need a piece of paper to do it.
Will: We do acknowledge the fact that we’ve been very fortunate. It’s been great coming as outsiders, we love being taught new things. I’ve learnt more in that kitchen in the past twelve weeks than I have in the past three years. I learnt more in the past three years than I did in the previous 38 years.
And what’s ahead? Once Butcher and the Farmer is where you’d like it, will you keep growing the brand?
Steve: We don’t see why Butcher and the Farmer can’t move at least interstate, if not globally. There’s a lot of potential for us to take our English Australian Heritage over to different countries, or even take it home.
Will: We’ve got massive ambitions basically. We’re not just going to sit here and be like: “Oh, that’s it”. Because we’re getting excited about it. You may think we’re getting carried away, but you’ve got to have ambition.
Steve: It’s about laying the perfect foundation—if we don’t start with a really good base then we’ll never be able to pick it up and move it, or recreate it. Sometimes people are a little bit taken aback by how much detail we want to go into, essentially as executive chefs, but we want the uniform to be perfect; we want the pickles to be on point. We’ve kind of looked at it and said: “We want the entire dining experience to be perfect”.
Will: And to add value wherever we can.
Butcher and the Farmer relaunches on the 11th of April, at The Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge.