Who is Fabien Wagnon: I am the executive chef at Hotel Realm in Barton and oversee the food for four hotels across the DOMA Group.
Best recent dining experience: I haven’t been in a while, but I would probably say Onzieme in Kingston. The food was good, the wine list was good (which is very important) and the service was great so I give it three ticks. That’s all you need to be happy!
Favourite cuisine: I don’t particularly have a favourite cuisine. I eat anything as long as it’s good and there’s not too much chilli. I just love good food. It doesn’t matter where it’s from. It could be Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Indian, whatever it is, as long as it’s good and I can have a glass of wine with it. Ethiopian food is something I do quite like, though, as it’s very simple, yet tasty.
Most embarrassing pantry item: Everything in my pantry gets used; however, if I had to pick one thing, it would be Vegemite. I don’t eat it, and I can’t eat it unless I process it first. Once it’s processed in savoury or sweet food it’s not that bad, but being a Frenchman, it’s against our taste buds.
What ingredient can I not live without: I would probably say duck fat because I just love the flavour, and also very good extra virgin olive oil – it adds flavour to everything and freshness to the product. Putting olive oil on something changes the whole dish and improves it.
Next big thing in the Canberra food scene: The re-opening of businesses at the moment, that’s the best thing for everyone in hospitality in Canberra. After two years of nothing, most businesses, maybe 90 per cent of businesses, are doing pretty well and have started going back to normal.
Best coffee spot in Canberra: I would say it depends on your taste buds. I usually stop at Fox and Bow in Farrer because they have good coffee, good service, friendly staff and it’s very efficient. The food is also really good for breakfast. As long as the coffee is good, I’m happy!
Who I admire in the Canberra food and wine scene: As a restaurant, I would say Aubergine. If you want very good food, very good service and a good selection of wines, go there! In terms of a business perspective, I would say The Flute Bakery in Fyshwick – the owner has grown so much since opening over 10 to 15 years ago and he’s a very smart person and just knows how to run a business.
Where am I travelling to next: Most likely Europe. I’m waiting to see if I can go, as even though it’s easy to go with COVID, it’s a little bit hard to take time off work. I’m hoping if I can, I’ll go at the end of next month to visit my parents in the south-west countryside of France. I wish my wife and daughter could come too, but my daughter is in year 12 and has exams, so I will either go by myself this year as I haven’t been in two years due to COVID or with the family next year.
Biggest culinary influence: I’d definitely say my parents by far. The love for cooking just runs in my family. When I was little, we always ate fresh products and never ate anything frozen, and everything they cooked came straight from our farm. Things like rabbit, duck, chicken, turkey and fresh vegetables all came from there. They taught me the importance of the quality of the ingredients you use and how good ingredients make the dish. Once you learn to understand the ingredients in food, it makes a big difference.
Are there any upcoming specials at the Hotel Realm? DOMA Hotels is naming rights partner for this year’s Truffle Festival Canberra Region and we’re excited to be hosting a gala truffle dinner at Hotel Realm on Friday, 1 July. I’m looking forward to cooking with some of the amazing black winter truffles and meeting some of our incredible local truffle farmers and winemakers. Tickets are on sale now but get in quick … they’re selling fast. (Book via The Truffle Festival.)
Death row meal: That’s definitely a hard one because I eat everything that tastes good. You can’t go wrong with duck, a good pastry and wine. In particular, I love a good croissant with good quality ham and cheese in the oven, it’s something very simple but tastes very good. If you add in a good glass of chardonnay too, you’ll be even happier.
My least favourite food: Probably anything with too much chilli. I’m pretty open to eat anything, but foods with too much chilli burn my tongue, so it’s just not good for me.
COVID-19 response: I’ve learnt that you have to think outside the box and adapt to the situation. COVID isn’t gone, and even though we are pretty safe right now, you never know what’s going to happen. You’ve just got to adapt and look forward no matter what, and see what you can do to handle the situation and survive.
My top three cooking tips:
1. Use fresh ingredients.
2. Always think outside the box.
3. Eat more vegetables.
Hotel Realm is located at 18 National Circuit, Canberra. The restaurants and bars under their banner are:
- Leyla Bar: open Tuesday to Friday from 11 am to late, and Saturday and Sunday from 3 pm to late.
- Ostani Bar: open Monday to Friday from 8 am to late, and Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to late.
- Buvette Bistro and Wine Bar: open for lunch Tuesday to Friday from 12 pm to 3 pm, and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6 pm to late.
- Lilo Tang: open for lunch Tuesday to Friday from 12 pm to 3 pm and for dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6 pm to late. Lilo Bar is open Tuesday to Saturday from 5 pm to late and Thursday and Friday from 4 pm to late.
- Maple and Clove: open Monday to Friday from 7:30 am to 3 pm, and Saturday to Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm.
- Chairman and Yip: open for lunch on Friday from 12 pm to 2:30 pm, and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday from 6 pm to 9:30 pm.
Love truffles and everything truffle-related? Check out The Truffle Festival.