Over summer, Trading Plates went and checked out Stagger Lees, a super cool café in Fitzroy.
Stagger Lees head chef, Chris Hamburger, was kind enough to let us in on some of his tricks of the trade and what goes on behind the scenes at Stagger Lees.
“Myself and my two brothers would spend countless hours in the kitchen and in the kitchen garden with them, tending, collecting, washing and then cooking the family meals.
“My grandparents had a big chicken coup with lots of chickens and one big, mean rooster that use to chase us around when we went to collect the eggs.
“As well as chickens they had artichokes, passionfruit, beans and a constant revolving door of vegetables.
“From these childhood years, it was only natural that I would start cooking once I reached my teens.”
Hamburger started working at a local café as a teenager and soon after that he started his apprenticeship with Newcastle hospitality legends Greg and Jan Hopper.
After four years and graduating with distinctions, he became a senior chef with Darren Ho. This was followed by stints in Sydney with the Allouche family at ‘Sea Level’ in Cronulla, before Hamburger made the trip over to Canada, where he says he “fell in love with cooking all over again”.
Hamburger says that the next defining moment in his cooking journey was meeting and cooking with Anthony Rose at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, Canada.
“Anthony introduced me to working with David Lee at Splendido and Jeremy Charles at Atlantica in Newfoundland, where I became impassioned with a sense of what it means to be a cook and make it your life’s work.
“It’s a passion that lives in us, it is a tangible energy that you can taste and experience in every meal we make.”
So what about the food at Stagger Lees? How do Hamburger and his team come up different dishes and meals?
“I create my menus based on the season, my experiences, my travels and my inspirations.
“I change it as often as every six weeks, but these will not be a full change. Sometimes we tweak dishes, constantly trying to make them better, cheaper, faster, tastier. The big changers come with the change of season.
“The biggest impact is availability of produce, the quality of produce, and to be honest what is currently trendy.”
Stagger Lees have always stood out from other cafes as they make a lot of their foods in-house.
Soft cheeses and fermented cashew cheese, catsup, cured and smoked fish and bacon and hand-rolled sausages are just some examples of what is created in the Stagger Lees kitchen.
They also do a whole range of pickles, including Hamburger’s favourite- the bread and butter pickles.
They also practise “urban foraging”, with the head barista foraging wild pine mushrooms from the foothills of central Victoria, and the sous chef collecting eatable flowers and herbs from a local garden.
Hamburger says aside from bringing in wild ingredients like that, they also have a great relationship with their many suppliers, including Zeally Bay Organic Sour Dough, La Latteria, Tip Top Butchers, Ocean Made Seafood, Casa Iberica Small Goods, Calendar Cheese and Bivianos Fruit and Vegetables.
“All our coffee is roasted and supplied by Proud Mary Coffee. They source beans directly and ethically from around the globe. Their focus is on finding quality coffee and building strong relationships with the people and farmers who produce the beans, as well as encouraging focus on quality over quantity.
“We use a variety of coffee across the board, usually dictated by seasonality.
“We offer our house blend “Honeysuckle” for our milk coffees, which consists of up to five different coffees at any one time.
“We also offer two different single origin coffees each day and an ever-changing filter menu consisting of four different cold drip coffees is also on offer for those hotter days.
“A good coffee to me is something that balances body with sweetness and one that can be replicated every time. Consistency is king!”
Hamburger’s must-try dish at Stagger Lees:
“They are all good and I love every dish, but if I had to chose I love the Shrooms n’ Truffles. The mushrooms are a mix of cultivated mushrooms and the first of the new seasons pins. Then it is buttery soft polenta that we cook for four hours, aged pecorino for a salty finish and a lux confit yolk and crispy crumbs for texture. And of course, don’t forget the truffle!”
276 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 5564