The Maverick: Chef Johnpaul Fiechtner, Bistro November

Raw mutton with camomile and salted plum.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Raw mutton with camomile and salted plum.

Raw mutton with camomile and salted plum.
Raw mutton with camomile and salted plum.

Eating at Bistro November is an exercise in contemplation. The tasting menu is built not just to be a palate pleaser, but to intrigue your taste buds. What exactly are we eating? Do we really like the taste of you tiao (Chinese fried dough sticks) carame lised with eel honey and sprinkled with pork floss? And if we don’t, why not?

For Chef John-Paul Fiechtner, his creations should always be fodder for conversation.

The 36-year- old, who goes by the moniker of Chef JP, has a zerowaste policy. He grew up on a farm in Queensland where everything on the plate (from chicken to vegetables) came from the garden. That background fuelled some of his most ingenious creations. Case in point: leftover potato skins which, instead of being tossed into the trash, are dehydrated, crushed to a powder, and turned into an ice cream that’s so popular, it’s sold out by the time we arrive for dinner. “We could have used it to make a stock,” he says. “But that would have been boring.” No one could accuse Bistro November of being boring. The menu changes every day, depending on what Chef JP finds at the market in Chinatown, or on his occasional foraging expeditions. “You go to the market and use what’s freshest, and try to make it as interesting as possible.

It’s important to make people think about what they’re eating,” he adds.

If he had his way, the menu would stretch every limitation there is. But he admits that what he dreams up in his head doesn’t always translate well to a plate.

When Bistro November first opened in April this year, its unusual fare drew mixed reviews.

Conceding that a couple of dishes were too “out there” (such as mutton tartare), he’s scaled back a little. But his success also lies in his ability to enhance the integrity of the local ingredients he loves. An example: Inspired by black garlic (raw garlic fermented until it turns sweet), he wondered how lychee would react to a similar process.

The result is dry, black curls of lychee that suff use your mouth with an intense, candy like sweetness. The taste is still assuredly lychee, but on steroids.

“Cooking, like art, can be polarising,” he says. “People interpret art in their own way, and you can’t expect them to love everything you do. I accept that.”
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