Who is Michael Box: I’m the executive chef at QT Canberra hotel. I look after all the food and beverage at the hotel. That includes working hand in hand with Mel Hobby, the chef de cuisine of our restaurant, Capitol Bar & Grill.
Best recent dining experience: Dear Sainte Eloise in Potts Point, Sydney. I’ve wanted to go for so long and was blown away. They have these amazing shareable small dishes, complementary beverages, awesome staff and an incredible atmosphere. They’re a great example of keeping it simple while pushing boundaries.
Favourite cuisine: It’s got to be Korean food. Crunchy Korean-style fried chicken is phenomenal. I love all the fermented chilli and soy products, really love Gochujang or Ssamjang [sauces], the umami hit, the heat, the funk, the coming together over hot pots …
Most embarrassing pantry or fridge item: MSG. Everything tastes better with MSG. It’s the sparkly seasoning.
What ingredient can I not live without: Maldon Sea Salt. It’s British, I’m British, and it comes from the same county where I grew up, Essex.
Next big thing in the Canberra food scene: More shareable plates and family-style dining experiences. With what’s been happening the last few years, it’s more important than ever for people to come together, so why not over dinner?
Favourite place for lunch in the ACT: I’m going to have to go with Capital Brewery. You know you can always sit outside comfortably, in the sunshine or under cover when it rains, and enjoy some really good locally made beer. It has great hospitality, great food and a great little story.
My go-to coffee spot in Canberra: Redbrick, Fyshwick. They have some great flavour profiles, very different from many other Canberra roasters.
A must-try on our menu: We have an incredible slow-roasted pork cutlet at the moment. We dry age our pork in-house for two weeks and portion it into 300 g cutlets. Everything has been cooked low and slow over ironbark. We know pork, apple and cabbage are best friends. We’ve kept the classic combination but pushed the boundaries. We’ve gone for a pickle with a base of white balsamic, which compliments the Savoy cabbage, and while everyone always goes for braised apple purees, we’ve done a burnt apple puree, so you get that bitter, sweet, sour and salty hit.
Biggest culinary influence: David Chang at Momofuku – he’s where it all changed for me. Watching Chang on television, I knew I had to work for that man; when I did, it changed my whole career. It drove what I do now.
Favourite cookbook: The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland is my flavour of the month. He has changed how we view fish and shown us the ways in which we can treat it as if it’s beef, pork or lamb. We can dry age it now and so much more – it’s a huge source of inspiration. But my all-time favourite is Roberta’s Cookbook.
What’s the special of the week at Capitol Bar & Grill: We have an old faithful – barramundi pan roasted with a native Furikaki [Japanese seasoning] made in-house. We’ve taken native saltbush and kale and combined them with nori, dried anchovy, black sesame, white sesame and pumpkin seeds to create an umami-based native seasoning. With a bit of lemon, olive oil and roasted lettuce – roasting the lettuce gives it an almost hazelnut flavour profile. It’s just beautiful.
Dream destination: The Maldives, staying in one of those cabins on the ocean where you don’t have to go anywhere. Or Santorini in Greece. The blue, the white, the ocean. Done!
Death row meal: A simple cheeseburger with a really nice ‘coursey’ ground patty, really fresh bread and butter pickles, beautiful American-style cheese, ketchup and mustard on a soft burger bun – that’s the pinnacle.
My least favourite food: Mashed potatoes. I just can’t do it.
My favourite vegetable: Celeriac. You can eat it raw, roast it, salt bake it, it makes a lovely puree – it’s just really versatile.
COVID-19 response: I was working at the Rydges Hotel at Sydney Airport as they were revamping when it all hit. That turned into an isolation hotel, and we had to figure out how to navigate that. I did a few other things, like front-of-house operations for managing food and beverage outlets at Canberra Airport. That’s when lockdown number two hit, and it, unfortunately, involved letting staff go, and then rebuilding businesses as they came out of lockdown. Then the opportunity came up to come back to QT.
I know a lot of people struggled through COVID. I struggled mentally, but fortunately, I came out with more experience, more knowledge and a stronger mindset than before.
My top three recipe tips:
- When cooking meat, do not forget to rest it. Rest it for the same amount of time as you cook it. That’s almost a blanket rule.
- Always use the best produce you can possibly get your hands on.
- Talk to your local grocer; they always know what’s good, they’re a wealth of knowledge and can help and teach you.
Capitol Bar & Grill is located in QT Canberra hotel at 1 London Circuit, Canberra. It is open for breakfast Monday to Friday from 6.30 am to 10 am and Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to 11 am and for dinner Monday to Saturday from 6 pm to 10 pm. Capitol Bar is open seven days from 5 pm to 10 pm.