Tim Crick reckons he's a 'bit of a cranky chef', but I have formed the opinion that he's a good man, especially when it comes to the delicious and honest food he cooks for his diners at Crowes Restaurant, The Gundaroo Colonial Inn.
As you may have gathered through my Conversations series, I am always interested to find out more about chefs and what makes them tick. Tim and his wife, Iwona (pictured above), met through food many years ago and make a great team running their own restaurant. I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Tim following one of our many visits to Crowes Restaurant. Our conversation follows below:
Tim, thanks for taking the time to talk. Tell me how you got started as a chef.
You're welcome, Liz. I think the word 'chef' may not be applicable as I started in the 'dishpit', and never received formal training. I do however think this made me better as I had to tear every taste of knowledge from the bone, sometimes when no one was looking.
I graduated to salad bar and on and upwards over the years. Eventually scoring better jobs based only on experience not paperwork. I was lucky enough to be offered a job at Ottoman Cuisine, I worked for Serif Kaya for a couple of years and learnt many invaluable lessons to do with the craft of food and pride in food. With Ottoman Cuisine on my resume many doors opened for someone of my skill set, I then was able to apply for head chef positions despite the lack of paperwork.
As for the beautiful Iwona, my wife, we first met in the kitchen in Mama’s Trattoria about 20 years ago, she was the head chef and heart and soul of a very busy pasta place. Iwona has extensive cooking experience and is irreplaceable in the kitchen, but her true value is her charm and ability to run the floor keeping everybody happy! [True].
What is your earliest food memory?
My earliest food memory although vague is of blinis, I lived in Moscow as a very young child (5) and remember our Russian nanny making the Russian version of pancakes for my brother and I. I also remember my grandmother making spaghetti Bolognese and roast with all the trimmings in the middle of hot Sydney summers.
Who are your food heroes and what inspires you most when it comes to food and cooking?
I have to admit as a working cook/chef/owner/whatever, I don’t really have time or thought for food heroes. And, to be honest, what’s a food hero? I love, live, eat, breathe,sleep and dream food. My lovely wife makes me watch food TV after 14 hours of cooking! Food is work, food is recreation, food is life. Looking in my fridge and making something from nothing is what inspires me. I ran out of ribs again on Sunday night, I gave three customers a half serve of ribs and a nice big slab of Hickory smoked pork belly that I hadn’t decided what to do with yet, they were all happy and loved the pork belly. Problem solved, happy customers. Numero uno for me is the customer. [I like this!].
What is your philosophy for the restaurant at Crowes?
At the ground level I feel my philosophy for Crowes is what any chef/cook/owner should have for their own establishment. Nail your demographic and never send a meal out that wouldn’t 100% please you and your family. I feel that is this congruent with any establishment, from fast food to fine dining, it’s all about the execution of every meal from the basement to the attic.
What's the most popular dish on your menu? I suspect, the ribs!
Most popular dishes are a tricky entity. My Hickory-smoked pork spare ribs are a massive hit, my wife’s Polish goulash and cabbage rolls are also a massive hit, I couldn’t smoke duck breast fast enough for the Thai red curry Duck with smoked tofu this weekend, but who can resist the new schnitzel, the Madrid, homemade piri piri sauce topped with house smoked chorizo sausage and a melted blend of cheeses. The favourites change as we invent them.
Your smoked dishes and smoked products are quite divine. Tell me more about the smokehouse.
The Gundaroo smokehouse has been operating since March 2013. I had a wedding function booked and the people asked me to include a great deal of smoked meats on their menu. I had planned to purchase the smoked goods and incorporate it into the menu, however unfortunately the cost of all the goods was too much to allow me to offer a fair price to the couple-to-be. So, with the deposit I bought a smoker and taught myself to smoke food... with a day to spare!
For the last two years I have honed my craft and expanded my repertoire and for the last few months have been working diligently on the construction of the Gundaroo smokehouse as a separate commercial entity at home, much like Ron Miller's Jolly Miller Cider business. I’m planning on providing my own restaurant and hopefully some restaurants in Canberra with my smoked meats and Tapas style goods. I was also recently contracted to provide the American Embassy with 100kg of hickory smoked pulled pork for their fourth of July Independence Day celebrations. [Yum!].
And finally, what's for dinner tonight?
Something simple tonight. Nutella toast, or maybe cheese on toast.
Thanks again, Tim. I can see how busy you are and greatly appreciate the time.
My pleasure, Liz!
If you plan a visit, make sure you go with a hearty appetite, for you are going to need it! And be prepared to be patient, as Crowes does get busy, but the food is well worth the wait!
There is a standard 'pub food' menu, but the 'specials' menu is extensive and includes offerings such as hickory smoked pulled pork as well as beef or pork spare ribs. Trust me and my belly, they are seriously good! There's apple smoked duck breast on pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with a red wine jus. Peter's cousin, Thomas (visiting from the UK), swore it was the BEST duck he'd ever tasted! Peter's mum absolutely loved the spicy pork smoked bangers and mash. The bangers or sausages are produced with the locally produced Jolly Miller Cider. The hickory smoked lamb rump with red wine jus is superb too. I'm going back for another round of that as soon as I can. Iwona's Polish specialties include Pierogi dumplings, cabbage roles, braised pork with potato dumplings and chicken dumplings with mash. Oh, and the desserts, including Tim's ice cream varieties and profiteroles, are excellent and well worth tasting too. If you have room, that is.
Crowes Restaurant at the Gundaroo Colonial Inn, 23 Cork Street, Gundaroo, NSW. Open Wednesday/Thursday for dinner 5:30-8:30pm, Friday dinner 5:30-9.00pm, Saturday lunch from 12.00-3.00pm and dinner 5:30-9.00pm, and Sunday lunch 12.00-3.00pm and dinner 5:30-8.00pm. Telephone +61 2 6236 8060.
Good Things first visited Crowes Restaurant earlier in 2015 as a guest of Tim Crick and Yass Valley Tourism. The Good Things team has been back with visiting family members numerous times since then on our own steam. Opinions expressed our entirely our own. Note, there is no apostrophe in 'Crowes'. Watch this space for my upcoming story about Ron Miller and his Jolly Miller Cider.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy 'good honest food' as much as Peter and I do?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.