Q&A: The Bridge Room’s Ross Lusted

Portrait by Jiwon Kim

The Bridge Room chef chats exclusively to Local East about his plans to bring a community garden to Paddington and the toughest restaurant year on record.

Ross we hear that you have some interesting plans for Paddington. Can you tell us about them?

Since my wife Sunny and I had our daughter Bronte, it really changes how you think about how people live in their community. We used to live in Pittwater and there was such a sense of community over there. Now we live in Paddington and it’s one of the few places where I have also felt that sense of community. We know all the kids in the street. We know people wherever we go. I had this idea of doing a community garden. I thought it would be a really nice idea for kids to dig in the dirt. We want to bring it to the dog park in Paddington, so we’re working on that.

How far have you gone with the plans?

It will take us a while because we have to get it through Woollahra Council. We want to build the garden in the space above where the dogs play. Everyone wants their piece of space and there will be people with dogs who say the dogs need the park more than the kids. But on the other hand, you have very like minded people in Paddington and I think a lot of people will support it.

Why do you think Paddington needs a community garden?

Kids today are very smart and you have to keep them active. It’s too easy to have the iPad as the babysitter. Bronte goes to the dog park twice a day. It’s nice for kids to get their hands dirty. It’s worth fighting for. There are going to be residents who will have a problem with it but it’s such a good opportunity. We can put in peach trees and almond trees and make it really beautiful. There are a few chefs that live in the area and we can do a few events a year to get people involved. People want to be involved in their community.

On that note, do you feel Paddington is recovering from some tough years when it seemed retail in the area might die?

I have to take my hat off to Justin Hemmes. He has really helped with the revitalisation of Paddington. You have people such as Bruce Solomon and Matt Moran who have been in Paddington for a long time at the Paddington Inn and also the guys from Fratelli Paradiso at 10 William St. But Justin has done an incredible job with Fred’s. Paddington has been crying out for revitalisation.

How has the restaurant business been treating you?

This is probably the hardest year that we have had and that’s across the restaurant industry. There’s so many thing affecting trade — unstable government, sabre ratting from the US, labour-law changes, 457 visa issues and everyone is holding their breath a bit. That affects our business. There’s also the drought and low produce. Produce prices have skyrocketed. The lamb and beef industry is suffering from the drought. They have commitments overseas and suddenly you’re seeing lambs that don’t have any body weight. You have asparagus crops failing. We are going through extremes of heat and frost. It’s harder and harder. That affects us all.

But are you still loving the restaurant business?

Of course, always. We have really loyal customers. We love our customers. They come from around the East. And we have lots of plans. I’ll tell you about them when I can.