Chef’s Table: Lennox Hastie’s 5 rules for cooking with fire

Humans have been cooking with fire for thousands of years, but the overwhelming interest in nature-based escapes has inspired a resurgence in outdoor cooking. Here, the modern master of grilling shares his tips on how to barbecue like a boss, writes Jenny Hewett.

Sep 16, 2020

“What we do at Firedoor is pretty simple,” says Aussie chef Lennox Hastie of his Sydney restaurant, its kitchen powered exclusively by wood and flames. “It’s literally ingredient and fire, and it’s served immediately.” The Asador Etxebarri-trained chef, who features in Netflix’s latest iteration of its cult series Chef’s Table: BBQ, might be downplaying his mastery. But at a time when the world is being forced to pause and more of us are seeking solace in nature, Lennox is inspiring a generation of chefs and home cooks to get comfortable with the primal urge to cook with fire. “The whole concept of making fire forces us to slow down. We kind of switch off from the busyness of our everyday lives and we start being instinctive,” says Lennox. Here, he shares this top tips for cooking over the element, whether you’re camping in nature or barbecuing on a fire pit in your backyard

Always buy fresh

It may sound cliché, but it pays to get savvy about where you source your produce. “The only reason I cook with fire is because I love ingredients,” says Lennox. “We work with farmers on our doorstep who can get us recently picked produce within 24 hours, and the difference is so vast. Everything deteriorates as soon you put it in the fridge and it continues to deteriorate, it doesn’t get any better. Get ingredients that you have to do very little to.”

Find the oldest wood you can

“Wood is an ingredient in its own right,” says Lennox. “You never really want to burn soft woods or fresh woods. Everything we burn is old, we use ironbark from a supplier in the Blue Mountains. I call it ‘food-grade wood’, some of the stuff we use is 80 to 100 years old. You get a much cleaner burn, which then really affects your cooking method because you get the purest form of heat and best flavor.”

Learn how to build a fire

“The two main methods for lighting a fire are the cub-scout teepee formation and the log cabin style,” says Lennox. “We use the log cabin method and build the wood in a criss-cross because it’s a great conductor of oxygen. You have this cavity in the middle where the air flows through. As soon as that fire’s lit, you could put a flat plate or a pot on top of it and the log cabin become its own little chimney. A lot of people only have the luxury of cooking over a barbecue, but the same sort of rules apply. It’s the ingredient focus and taking the time to prepare the wood and live embers.”

Let the ingredients shine

“If you’ve gone to the trouble of choosing really good ingredients, allow them to speak for themselves,” says Lennox. “Don’t feel the need to disguise everything in a marinade. I prefer to serve accompaniments separately or finish something when it has come off the grill because you get a very different profile. Marinades incorporate a lot of oils and when you’re grilling on a live fire, you get lots of flare-up. Then everyone panics and it really knocks your confidence and ingredient is caked in this black soot. 

Go easy on the oil 

Refrain from brushing the produce with oil. With a steak, the fat is all intrinsic so you won’t need to add extra oil to that,” says Lennox. “What I do is use a spray of oil [from a squirter bottle]. I don’t find enough people doing it, but it’s great because it allows you to exercise a form of control. You’re adding a fine misting of oil and you can always add a bit more.”

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