Walter Bourke has faced a surprising range of food challenges this year. From dishes to accompany sublime music to making mouthfuls to eat in the dark.
At the end of April, it was food for hundreds during the Musica Viva weekend at Domaine Chandon in a kitchen he had only recently taken over. Now he is focused on producing food in miniature for the Village Gold Class cinemas at Crown Casino due to open at the end of June.
The real challenge is thinking about all these, plus Walter's Wine Bar, Wine Bar II and deli - all at the same time.
No wonder he has just taken on a personal assistant, Martin Duffy, to share the load. Along with chefs, Kevin Wheeler at Southgate, Morag Miller at Wine Bar II and managers in all three (including Domaine Chandon) Walter has a strong team for the expanding Walter's empire.
The food wheel has come full circle for Walter Bourke. His first restaurant, Maria & Walter's in Carlton, sat less than 30 back in 1978 and the Village Gold Class Cinemas will each seat 28. The Carlton restaurant also had a small upstairs dining room where Walter used to cater to select groups of Melbourne's wine lovers with elaborate dinners of many small courses. For Village, Walter is back to thinking small again. The food must be able to be eaten in the hand and in the dark -- so that when the lights go up, you won't be wearing (the food) it, explains Walter.
The four Village Gold Class Cinemas are designed to provide the ultimate in comfort for cinema goers. They will have very expensive chairs, tons of leg room, little tables for a glass of wine and a plate. The chairs have been designed and re-designed many times over the past months. They will be adjustable, like airline seats and there will be tons of leg room.
The food in miniature which Walter has designed sounds tantalising -- shredded duck in pastry, like a miniature pastie; a Thai beef noodle salad which will be served in a cardboard cup and served with chopsticks, a nori roll of smoked salmon; a buckwheat pizza with mozzarella; oysters taken out of the shell and set on a bread crouton with a little horseradish mayonnaise and a cheese plate with all cheeses cut into wedges and served on specially designed triangle biscuits. There will be Domaine Chandon by the glass along with Walter's red and white wines. Food will be $6-7 and wines will be $5. But Walter will also be able to provide more elaborate food, fillet steak, cray salad and Dom Perignon for corporate dinners or birthday parties or whatever if a group wants to hire out the cinema space and put in a full length table in front of the seats.
Preparation for the cinema food will be done at the deli beside Wine Bar II under the supervision of Morag. She is just unbelievably dedicated to doing good food, says Walter . . she is a real thinking person. Initially we set things up there (at Wine Bar II) and I used to discuss the dishes with her but now I leave it totally to her, it's all hers.
Meantime Walter will continue working on his new menus at Domaine Chandon. Here he hopes to invite in surrounding Yarra Valley winemakers and to indulge in what he loves most of all, matching food with wonderful wines.
Walter's passion for food and wine dates back to his days as a dancer with the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and The Australian Ballet. He lays the blame for this to Bill Akers, a wonderful father figure of the ballet who gave him a selection of old Australian wines for his 21st birthday whilst on an Australian Ballet country tour. Bill Akers' love of food was certainly known by my grandparents at their restaurant, Mario's in Exhibition Street. Bill used to come and lunch daily with Edouard Borovansky when the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company worked from Her Majesty's Theatre just opposite.
It seems hard to believe that a dancer could relish food as much as Walter did. When he was on tour, he used to plan his restaurant visits as carefully as most tourists would their museum schedules.
I worked very hard as a dancer and I loved work. I was very physical, I just loved lots of work and at the end of the day you have to eat and, better still, a nice glass of wine goes very well with it .
Walter is working harder than ever but at least these days, he is very close to the cellars (of Domaine Chandon) to retrieve that glass.
Walter's at Chandon is open for lunch daily and dinner on Saturday.
An updated review of Walter's Wine Bar