Meet the Maker - Robbie Bell, City Larder
Originating from the UK, Rebecca & Robbie Bell established City Larder in 2015 after settling in Australia. They have harnessed their combined years of professional cooking and hospitality experience in Europe & Australia with their love of artisan food creating handcrafted terrines, pâtés and condiments.
We caught up with Robbie Bell for quick chat in the first of our Meet the Maker series of interviews.
Why is City Larder so successful?
Consistency. It’s the secret to any successful business. If you pick up a cheap pizza and it's consistently not very good then you know what you're going to get and you're not disappointed. Vice versa, if you're going to a high-end place and it's fantastic every time, you don't mind.
When there’s no consistency, it's embarrassing because there's no confidence in that brand. Consistency is the key.
What was the first experience with charcuterie?
Probably working for a chef called Terry Laybourne in England, he had a Michelin-starred restaurant for a long time. He was big into it; he was doing nose to tail before it is what it is today.
But that was just the way it used to be, you'd get full animals and break them down. You’d use the premium cuts on the à la carte menu, cheaper cuts on other parts of the menu then you’d have lots of trim leftover to make terrines and sausages.
I got right into it. It's a real craft, a real skill when you're making something.
Cooking a fillet steak is nice, but there's nowhere near as much satisfaction as the whole creation process: taking pork shoulder, chicken livers and back fat, onions, port & brandy, shallots & garlic, lining it in caul fat or pancetta, emulsifying it all together, cooking it, pressing it, taking it out a day later then slicing it and seeing that mosaic of the different colours of the nuts & fruit.
There's a lot of skills and old craft that people are still craving. Bread’s a classic example; that went through supermarket/white sliced to chain-style bakeries and now there’s a real surge in artisan bakeries popping up. You've just got to look at history to see the future.
What was food culture in your family growing up?
Like a lot of people, my grandmother was a big cook - Sunday dinner, corned beef slice, fairy cakes, lot of pies. Nanny used to knit as well, she’d always have her pinny on all day until 9 o’clock at night when she finished. It was a full-time job: scrubbing the step, making cordials, cooking pheasants, filleting fish, brining legs of pork, making pies, knitting hats, nurturing people, making sure she had the whitest laundry on the line – that’s how people lived.
Coming out of the war and coming off rations. She’s 86 now, strong as an ox and happy as Larry.
If you weren’t making charcuterie, what would you be doing?
(after a long pause) I am so I don't need to worry about it (laughs). It would be with food, there’s no two ways about it. If I hadn't had my son, I would still be in restaurants doing service because I loved it. But because we had a baby, it’s not for me not being there in the evening and weekends.
Can you think of a mistake that has taught you something?
Oh man, I make them all the time. I make the most out of anyone and I learn from them constantly, they are just part of the workday. Like not checking that the grease trap was big enough - that nearly cost us 12 grand but we managed to negotiate from there. We don't dwell over them, we deal with them and move on.
When you get a chance to cook a meal for family or friends, what do you like to make?
I'd probably order Indian. I do love food but I'm moving more away from it. People refer to me as a chef but I'm more than that; I've evolved from there.
Tell us something interesting to do with a City Larder product someone may not have thought about.
A classic example would be pâté on a steak like Tournedos Rossini, instead of foie gras. Plus any of our charcuterie products work really well with charred bread. There’s something about the bitterness of the char that works really well with fattiness of the products – butter in the pâtés, in lard in the rillettes and back fat in the terrine. That’s the nature of the product, they’re very rich. Pair that back with something acidic, something pickled like pickled onions or cornichons.
Pickled + charred + fat work really well together!
Describe your ultimate cheese toastie
Whatever Olivia hands me, she knows what she's doing in that sector more than I do. I don't need a big choice, me personally, as long as it's good.