The element of supplies … there’s not much Christopher Hazell doesn’t stock in his Chefs’ Warehouse.’I love selling stuff and I’m so lucky there are enough people who like the same stuff as I do,” Christopher Hazell says.
The tall, slightly rumpled-looking Hazell is being modest. He does more than sell stuff. He has been equipping Sydney’s best kitchens for more than 30 years, supplying Neil Perry, David Thompson, Tetsuya Wakuda, Serge Dansereau and Christine Manfield, among others.
He has advised apprentices and home cooks about everything from pasta-making paraphernalia to ceramic-coated induction-ready frying pans. He has even found a blood-sausage funnel for Romeo Baudouin who works at Victor Churchill.
Hazell’s Chefs’ Warehouse is stuffed with this kind of stuff and more. Looking around just makes you want to cook. There are books for recipe nerds and nozzles for piping pastry, French earthenware and flavoured essences, sieves and stemless wine glasses, bins of wooden spoons and shelves of baking moulds. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
The fun starts even before you go in, as you walk under the giant whisk hanging outside the 1930s building, once used as a technical college. The ”Trade Only” sign above the door is to let customers know this place is for serious cooks. ”We’ll take money from anyone,” Hazell says.
At the top of the stairwell, decorated with handsome copper bowls, you hit the heavy-duty utensil action straight away. High-powered Hamilton Beach blenders, paella pans large enough to feed a small village, retro-style KitchenAid mixers and a $795 machine with a wicked looking bread-dough hook are intended for commercial kitchen work.
For the home cook, Chefs’ Warehouse is the place to learn about handy tools such as knife sharpeners, bread-proofing baskets, ribbed beechwood gnocchi boards, kiln-fired and salt-glazed confit pots, and 10 different types of skimmers – mesh, wire, perforated, brass, square – you could have in your kitchen.
Hazell presides over this orderly, fascinating array – check out the antique sea-urchin cutter for sale or the lovely 1950s Tournus nickel saucepan – while his business partner, David Furley, is the buyer out the back.
Furley, who joined Chefs’ Warehouse in 1988, became indispensable after Hazell’s wife died in 1989 and fire destroyed the Chefs’ Warehouse Surry Hills premises the following year. A blackened Savoy tin set hanging on the wall is a souvenir and poignant reminder of how the business nearly burnt out.
Hazell honed his kitchen equipment selling skills at The Bay Tree, the Woollahra shop his mother, June Hazell, opened in 1969 which became a Sydney institution (and still is). He grew up in a food-loving household with his businessman dad who adored restaurants and his housewife mum who fell in love with London’s Soho kitchen shops in the 1960s and Elizabeth David’s ”perfect taste” in her Pimlico store.
Young Christopher – his mother hated people calling him Chris – remembers eating at Prince’s Restaurant in Martin Place and Natalino’s in Kings Cross when he was about nine. He didn’t go into the food ”trade” as an adult but studied arts and commerce, then worked for an insurance company.
He took off to London and lived there for three years. He began cooking in corporate dining rooms and, when he returned to Sydney in 1972, did a very short stint cooking in a wine bar.
”It cured me,” he says. ”I was exhausted. I never wanted to work in a restaurant after that.”
Instead, he joined his mother and sister at The Bay Tree. In 1980, he took over a long, narrow shop in Liverpool Street, crammed it with commercial cooking equipment and targeted restaurants. In 1986, he moved to the first Surry Hills site.
In the years since, Chefs’ Warehouse has serviced soup kitchens and pastry shops, celebrity chefs and the Salvation Army. Hazell still trades with suppliers whom he first met more than 30 years ago.
”I recall meeting Monsieur Renault in the mid-’70s, wearing the traditional plus-four like breeches of his region, striding though his paddocks, checking the kilns, the ‘green’ pottery within,” Hazell says.
You can buy gratin and terrine dishes made by Poterie Renault near Orleans in France from Chefs’ Warehouse and have a slice of history yourself.Chefs’ Warehouse
111-115 Albion Street, Surry Hills, 9211 4555, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm
Best buysPaderno ceramic-coated induction-ready frying pan, 28 centimetres, $78.75 European bread-proofing basket, one kilogram, $16.88 Smith’s Jiffy-Pro hand-held knife sharpener, $14.63
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