Ross Lusted stopped cooking in 2002 and went on to learn more about food than he had in a stellar career fronting the stoves. The 44-year-old owner and chef of Sydney CBD’s newest fine-dining hotspot, the two-hatted Bridge Room on Bridge Street, changed roles within Amanresorts in that year to oversee the food and beverage side of the group’s openings from Mexico to Sri Lanka. It was a time of massive expansion for the Singapore-based group, founded by Adrian Zecha 25 years ago.
In the mid-90s, after a successful career in Sydney as head chef of Rockpool and the Park Hyatt’s Harbour Kitchen & Bar, Lusted took off to travel and work in Asia. In Singapore he rekindled an earlier business relationship with Zecha, and he and his wife, Sunny, went on to run resorts such as the spectacular Amankila in East Bali for the group. However, it was his corporate experience with Park Hyatt that saw him selected by Zecha to work on new openings at an exciting time for Aman.
On the food and beverage side, that included working out how to bring local foods into the Aman kitchens and prepare them in such a way as to appeal to an international travelling elite. It was a task that had its amusing moments as well.
“There was this wonderful pasta in Montenegro. They’d go up into the mountains and collect these long, thin stalks and back home the women wrap dough around the stalk and then draw it out to create this long, thin noodle. I said, ‘We’ve got to have this,’ but the male chefs in the kitchen wouldn’t touch it. ‘That women’s work,’ they said. So I had to bring in the old ladies from the village to make it. Which was great, but these [were] the kinds of things you’d have to adapt to.”
He recalls that after setting up the kitchens in the five Bhutan resorts (each is in a valley and guests move through all five over their stay to complete a “journey”), the cooks took to the actual floor to do their chopping. “I said we can’t have this; we’ve got health and safety stuff to consider. And they said, ‘But it’s the way we do it at home.’” I told Adrian about it and he said: ‘Well, you should have designed the kitchens to take that into account.”’
Needless to say, Lusted learned a lot about cultural exchange on these projects. In particular, he was often reminded that Westerners can be a bit quick to assume they are introducing better and newer ways of doing things. “I can remember trying to explain to these farmers in Montenegro about organic fruit and vegetables; about what made them organic and I could see them looking at me nonplussed. Of course, they are so ‘backward’, supposedly, that all their fruit and vegetables are organic. They have never grown things any other way.”
Apart from the food for the new Aman projects, Lusted was involved in everything from kitchen design, architectural specification, the selection of operating equipment and the styling and presentation for each new resort. That side of his experience shows in the design detail for the cool and stylish Bridge Room.
If he got one thing from working with food in all these cultures, Lusted says, it would have to be a greater understanding of where flavour comes from. “It’s hard to evaluate how and where you take up all the ideas I was exposed to, but I’d kept an ideas notebook all those years and looking back over it recently I could see that what I’d absorbed over that time is reflected in my food here at Bridge Street.” Maybe that’s the “completeness” of his food, which one distinguished restaurant critic described as “quite dazzling”.