Clocking-off … Colin Fassnidge at 121BC. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Blame Anthony Bourdain. His memoir, Kitchen Confidential, confessed what many already suspected about chefs: they're just a bunch of drug-crazed, 25-hours-a-day party people with a knack for going straight from a nightclub to cooking a perfect steak au poivre.
While the occasional commis chef might turn up to work with a bloodstream more compromised than Lance Armstrong's, the reality for anyone at the top of the game is a little different. As one head chef told Good Food, ''I go home, watch Foreign Correspondent on iView and do my rostering.''
Others, such as Neil Perry, Matt Moran, Damian Heads and Guillaume Brahimi, are most likely commuting between restaurants in different capitals.
Hobby farmer ... Martin Boetz hopes to call his Sackville farm home. Photo: Steven Siewert
But chefs need to let the adrenaline fade after a busy service, so wondering why they're not in bed at midnight is a bit like asking an office worker to hit the pillow by 6pm.
To find out how they spent their time after clocking off, Good Food followed four leading chefs into the night at a time when normal folk are in bed reading Anthony Bourdain.
Chef party boy
Life is busy for Colin Fassnidge. The Irish-born father of two toddlers has three kitchens to run: Four in Hand, 4Fourteen and the Paddington Arms; as well as being TV show My Kitchen Rules' new kid on the chopping block. But this Tuesday night, things are a little different: an Art Gallery of NSW dinner for 160 to mark the Francis Bacon exhibition. He's enlisted 4Fourteen head chef Carla Jones to help and by 9.30pm, after a ''full on'' service, they're packing down, ready to head to Italian wine bar 121BC.
The bar serves Italian wines by the glass, but the adjacent enoteca has bottles. You walk in, pick one and they serve it adding $15 to the shelf price. Over two hours, we grab another bottle, then another. Winding down is hard work and takes two hours. The talk is mostly about work. A supplier joins us and a discussion about meat prices and possible deliveries ensues.
''This is what happens most nights,'' Fassnidge says with a grin. ''Either I catch up with some chef mates and we all compare notes on what we're paying, or someone's trying to sell me something.''
Fassnidge generally takes off Sunday and Monday nights to spend with his family. Service at Four in Hand ends about 10pm and it takes another 90 minutes to clean down. But after the last mains go out, about 9pm, Fassnidge often heads over to 4Fourteen, where the kitchen is still pumping out food until 11.30pm, for his third service of the night. After that it's a few beers, some blarney and a tendency to lose track of time. ''It's the bone of contention [with his wife] and why I get into trouble. I want to be home by two but it's usually around 3am. I'm trying to curb my ways, because my kids get up at 7am,'' he says.
Jones says the teams from all the three restaurants often head out together on Saturdays, heading to Mamak for a bite to eat, which even at 12.30am, has a queue outside, before a nightcap at Gaslight. Former party boy Fassnidge says he has slowed with age and responsibilities, too, and 4am is the end for him.
''I aint got the stamina no more and besides, my missus would kill me,'' he says.
It's peaceful sitting on a bench seat in light woodland overlooking the Hawkesbury River as the Sackville ferry slowly bounces between the two sides of the riverbank. This is Longrain chef Martin Boetz's new love: a 10-hectare farm he bought in February. Every spare moment is spent here, a 70-minute drive from his restaurant. In January, Boetz is planning to call the recently restored 1930s farmhouse home and he has a dream: turning the four-hectare turf farm on this dark, rich alluvial soil into a kitchen garden in collaboration with other chefs.
''It's an idea I had 18 months ago,'' he says, walking past rows of seedlings: tomatoes, beans, watermelon, potatoes, herbs and chillies. ''I'm calling it The Cooks Co-op.'' He planted a hectare four weeks ago. Coriander hits Longrain's plates in December, while other ingredients should begin flowing into the kitchen in January.
After work at night, Boetz drives out, parks the car on the lawn with the lights on and checks rabbits aren't chowing down on his efforts. The process of planting and simply being here relaxes him. He heads back to work the next day after an early morning inspection.
Boetz's favourite moments are heading there after lunch and planting until sunset. He plans to turn one large shed into a production kitchen and eating house where chefs can come and experiment. He's looking for other chefs to help plant out the remaining three hectares.
''It's much more satisfying than sitting in a Surry Hills terrace with no garden,'' he says.
It's the middle of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and families are celebrating, ensuring Kumar Mahadevan's two restaurants, Ahbi's and Aki's, are busy. He divides both his time and family between the two locations, named after his sons.
Tonight, he's at Ahbi's in Strathfield, while his wife, Suba, and son Aki, are working at Aki's on Woolloomooloo's finger wharf. After service, they meet at Eaton Restaurant, a late night Cantonese in Ashfield, which even at 10.45pm, is full.
Eaton's owner, Roger, comes over to say hello. It's Mahadevan's second night in a row here. Spying pippies in the tanks, he orders them with black beans, Hong Kong-style mud crab and congee along with vegetarian dishes for Suba.
They've come a long way from when Abhi's first opened 22 years ago and Suba would wait up at home, having prepared a full Indian meal for her husband's return. Nowadays, the family is keen to eat something else and Chinese is a favourite.
There's a locked glass cabinet filled with marquee Australian red wines. Mahadevan, a wine buff, eyes off the contents before asking for it to be unlocked and grabbing a 2001 Penfold's St Henri shiraz and 2004 Cape Mentelle cabernet-merlot. ''Which one?'' he asks and you know he'd really like both.
Their other son, Abhi, is currently overseas, and talk turns to the impending family trip to visit him. ''Family is very important to us,'' Mahadevan says. They try to be in bed by 1am, ready to rise at 7am and begin it all again.
The Lev Dawg, as he's known on Twitter, has a plan. As well as being chef at The Dip in the late night music hang Goodgod Small Club, he's a DJ and, later, will play a set. But before then, there's just enough time to eat at a nearby basement Korean, NaruOne. Problem is, the kitchen closes at 10pm, so Levins sends one of his team off as an advance scout to place the order before the gang descends to feast on a huge plate of gangjung, Korea's delicious alternative to KFC. For good measure, another plate of fried chicken, coated in sticky, fluoro-coloured sweet-and-spicy sauce, is washed down with 500-millilitre glasses of Korean beer.
''I just love it,'' he says. Next week he's returning to Wilcannia to work with Aboriginal children and teach them about music as part of Heaps Decent, the charitable program he co-founded five years ago.
At age 27, Levins has packed a lot into his life, having begun DJing in his teens. He fell in love with American food during a childhood visit to the country and The Dip is his homage to it. He was the dude ahead of the dude food craze, opening The Dip in 2011, despite having never worked professionally as a chef before. He's already published a cookbook, Diner, full of burger, hot dog and nachos recipes.
But now it's back to his other passion, spinning hip-hop tracks by the likes of Future,Rich Kidz and Travis Porter for the next few hours. ''The music keeps me excited about life,'' Levins says.
It's party hard until his set ends and we head to Abla's Pastry in Granville, not far from the home he shares with his fiancee, Bianca, for a peppermint tea and karbouge, a wicked Lebanese sweet that's like a pistachio cheesecake with a rosewater-scented marshmallow topping.
Cop that, Bourdain.
The wind down
Where chefs eat and drink
● Eaton Restaurant, 313 Liverpool Road, Ashfield. 9798 2332 (open until 3am).
● Fratelli Paradiso, 12-16 Challis Avenue, Potts Point. 9357 1744.
''I love Italian and if I'm working at Aki's I'll head there for pasta.''
● Golden Century, 393 Sussex Street, Haymarket. 9212 3901 (open until 4am).
''Is there a chef in Sydney who hasn't been here to eat late after work?''
● The Italian, 191 High Street, Willoughby. 9967 5469 (takeaway).
''If I finish work early, I grab a wood-fired pizza on my way out to Sackville.''
● The Apollo, 44 Macleay Street, Potts Point. 8354 0888.
''I like to keep it in the family. My Longrain business partner, Sam Christie, is a co-owner.''
● 10 William Street, 10 William Street, Paddington. 9360 3310.
''I just sit there on my own, have an Italian red or Campari and talk to the boys.''
● buzo trattoria, 3 Jersey Road, Woollahra. 9328 1600.
● 121BC, 4/50 Holt Street (enter via Gladstone Street), Surry Hills. 9699 1582.
● Wine Library, 18 Oxford Street, Woollahra. 9360 5686.
''It's like a kitchen for wine, so you learn and they let you try heaps as well.''
● El Loco, Excelsior Hotel, 64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills. 9211 4945 (Thu-Sat open until 3am).
''The whole spectrum from apprentices to head chefs, no hats to three, end up there around 1am on Saturday night. We sit around talking shop and eating the taco special or a hot dog.''
● Mamak, 15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, 9211 1668.
''The roti in this Malaysian canteen-style hang is to die for.''
● Gaslight Inn, 278 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, 9360 6746.
● NaruOne, 375 Pitt Street, Sydney. 9261 2680.
● Alba's Pastries, 48 Railway Parade, Granville. 9637 8092
● New Star Kebabs, 15 Auburn Road, Auburn. 9643 8433 (Open daily until 3am).
''The best kebabs in Sydney, cooked over coals and served with Turkish bread cooked fresh each hour.''
● Mado Cafe, 63 Auburn Road, Auburn.9643 5299.
''Amazing Turkish desserts and teas from stretchy Maras ice-cream to really amazing charred rice pudding.''