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Gourmet

Coming soon to Sydney: a pop-up restaurant by chef power couple Grace Chen and “Big” Sam Young

by Yvonne C. Lam April 13, 2021

And it’s only open once a week, with a rotating guest chef.

Chefs Grace Chen and Sam Young were meant to be together. The couple first met in the kitchen at Sydney’s Ms G’s where Young was sous chef, and Chen chef de partie. It was her work ethic Young noticed first; her boundless enthusiasm for dining out second. “Before we dated, a typical day [off] was Mr Wong for lunch, Bridge Room for dessert, Automata for snacks, and Cafe Paci for dinner,” says Young. “So she’s alright.”Since finishing their roles at big name restaurants (Young at Lotus, Chen at Poly) the pair has been in demand for their combined private-chefs-for-hire service, where a “standard” dinner menu includes lobster noodles with XO, and a hibachi-grilled rib-eye.In between cooking on superyachts and at eastern suburb mansions, in May they’re launching Juicy Banana at Vibe Hotel in Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay, a pop-up restaurant with possibly the most exclusive trading hours in the city: Sunday lunches only (dinners are a maybe, pending demand), with a guest chef each week.There’s a revelry and spontaneity to pop-ups Young loves, having done previous collaborations with Ho Jiak and cocktail bar PS40. They’re no money spinner, mind you, and the logistics of ordering supplies once a week, for 100 diners, might seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But there are good times, guaranteed.”We’re all chefs and mates, and we all do this because we’re passionate. Plus it’s good to do something we’re not doing every day – just delicious shit,” says Young, aka “Juicy”. (Chen is the “Banana” in the venture.)

At Juicy Banana, the weekly mainstays are cocktails by Michael Chiem, bartender-owner of PS40; and the floor run by Alessandro Ponzoni, former restaurant manager at LuMi Dining. The guest chef line-up so far includes Toby Stansfield (Fabbrica), Alex Yu (Sokyo), Max Smith (Cho Cho San) and Scott Williams (Ragazzi). The menus will have an Asian bent to them, but really – “This is an opportunity for the guys to cook whatever the fuck they want,” says Young. “Something completely out of their comfort zone.”The first lunch on 2 May, by way of example, with former Chin Chin Sydney executive chef Graeme Hunt, will be an 11-course affair with tuna tartare with caviar, lobster wontons, and okonomiyaki fries. The following week’s menu with Stansfield will feature a main of lemon chicken, remixed.For Young, Juicy Banana is no mere vanity project. It’s about community. He’s a big supporter of Haverick Meats and Red Claw Seafoods; and the hotel owners, plus Chiem and Ponzoni, will receive a cut of the restaurant profits. The hotel restaurant, too, has been sitting empty for several months, a casualty of COVID-19. “It’s not about making heaps of money. It’s about helping people via the pop-up,” says Young.And during lockdown, customers ordered up big on his lasagne and dumplings lines, distributed through Chargrill Charlie’s. (“My mum was really proud because the dumplings are her recipe,” says Young.) Juicy Banana is about injecting some culinary largesse back into the city, to give back to the people and the restaurant scene. “We should still celebrate life. We should still be excited about the industry. The industry has taken such a hard hit during COVID, and this is like bringing life back into Sydney with a drink in one hand, and a snack in the other.”Tickets to Juicy Banana’s lunch with Graeme Hunt on Sunday 2 May are on sale now.
From $128 per person, minimum table of 4 guests.
Juicy Banana pop-up, Vibe Hotel Rushcutters Bay, 100 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay NSW
For more information, see bsyexperience.com.au