Jarrod Hudson wasn’t always a fan of Thai food – quite the opposite. In his younger years the Yarra Valley-based chef found it O.T.T. in all the wrong ways.
“Thai food’s not done really well in Melbourne... actually it’s not done really well in this country,” asserts the executive chef and co-owner of Easy Tiger, a restaurant which – sadly – will shut its doors for good on June 16.
”That’s only my opinion. It’s cheap and cheerful, with copious amounts of coconut cream, capsicum and broccoli and anything edgy. People find it too salty, or fishy or aggressive or hot. It’s dumbed down for us.”
After a stint at Sydney’s Longrain, Jarrod then took up a role as head chef under Max Mullins at Oceanic Thai. It was here that Jarrod began to realise the complexity and diversity of this oft-misrepresented cuisine.
Were it not for a job opportunity with Christine Manfield at Paramount, Jarrod might’ve quit cooking altogether.
“When I came back from travelling after I finished high school, saw an ad in the paper and became an apprentice,” Jarrod recalls. “I didn’t enjoy it that much, ’cause the hours are s***, the wages are definitely s***, and there’s not a lot to like about being yelled at everyday, that’s for sure.”
Thankfully, he was welcomed into the folds of dine dining food culture, where discipline, attention-to-detail and unique reverence is observed.
“[Fine dining] is a great background for any young cook,” Jarrod advises. “It pulled me into line.”
“It’s really disciplined; no one talks, and there’s great satisfaction after the day.”
“People aren’t willing to pay for $35 for wagyu beef when they can go to Chinatown [and get it] for $15.”
Aside from building a solid work ethic, Jarrod learnt the importance of sourcing good-quality, sustainable and, where possible, local produce. Like several other Asian cuisines, he says Thai food is often associated poor quality ingredients that don’t do the recipes justice.
“If you go to Victoria Street or Chinatown it’s always frozen seafood, [bad] meat and terrible vegetables,” he says with disdain. “It’s really had a hard sort of reputation to break... because people aren’t willing to pay for $35 for wagyu beef when they can go to Chinatown [and get it] for $15.”
Cheap and cheerful expectations might ring true, but Easy Tiger’s coconut-braised sher wagyu beef shin with pickled cucumber has become a staple for the restaurant, despite its $34 price tag. The dish has sat on the menu since day one, and will no doubt remain a favourite in the last weeks of service.
Asked why he and fellow co-owners Simon Hall and Suzanne Tyzack decided to close Easy Tiger, Jarrod cites family as the main reason to say farewell.
“[Being a chef] is hard and laborious, and there [are] massive sacrifices you make for you family,” he says. “You don’t realise until you have kids.”
The regular commute from his home in the Yarra Valley to Melbourne’s Collingwood became, understandably, too taxing, and so Jarrod’s turning his full-time attention to Healesville restaurant Giant Steps. Already a co-owner with Suzanne Tyzack and the executive chef, Jarrod will be broadening his cooking style to include international influences, not just Thai. If there's one thing we can be sure of, though, it's that the chilli levels will be kept in check.