As a cyclist you appreciate a good feed, especially after a hard day on the saddle. Luckily we Australians are blessed with easy access to the best foods. Alongside our love to socially mingle, riders are known to hit restaurants hard when it comes to enjoying the atmosphere, company and food. But local restaurants are facing massive issues due to lockdowns and its clear they need all the support we can give. And so we asked our local rider and chef James Roberts a few questions about his profession, including how it all began and where its all going.
We hope you enjoy the insights. But we also hope to inspire you to actively support a local cafe or restaurant. There are plenty, like Alpha, who've worked hard to pivot in the current conditions - to maintain staff like James and keep the boat running.
Alison McGregor : Firstly, as a professional Head Chef at illustrious restaurant, Alpha, how did you figure your two passions - food and cycling?
James Roberts : At the tender age of fifteen It was apparent I wasn’t meant for the public schooling system and managed to find my way out of it (respectfully asked to leave by the principle).
I was already working as a kitchen hand and it seemed the next logical step to progress in the kitchen. 21 years later I haven’t looked back.
Having an amazing cook for a mother also had a lot to do with getting my hands on food. Every night we had fantastic meals, amazing bolognese, braised rabbit, seafood vol au vents.
Let’s also not forget my father aka BBQ master, sausage king,” just throw some turps on the fire son, that’ll get it going!”
Cycling became a very necessary addiction to replace other addictions in my life. The end of 2014 saw me with all the gear and no idea. With thanks to the Sydney cycling community and greatly to Chainsmith for the weekly shop rides and support, cycling became a new way of life, a new way of transport and a new way to keep fit. I have had countless adventures and amazing experiences on the bike with friends and without.
"Cycling became a very necessary addiction to replace other addictions in my life."
Alison McGregor : I think we can all appreciate how amazing it is to be supported with anything new we take up. This is especially true of cycling. I found particular cycling groups at previous jobs in the industry "clicky" and off putting. But I never felt this when I worked in kitchens as a student. Speaking of which ... in your line of work, hospitality has some rough hours when it comes to late shifts. What's your motivation and where do you get the energy to ride in the early hours?
James Roberts : Regarding the hours I work, at this stage in my 21 years of cooking I am lucky enough to be able to write my own roster around my cycling needs so that definitely helps! I also have a voracious appetite, food is life and in order to eat the way I do, I must cycle!
Alison McGregor : If you check out your strava stats, you and the guys you ride with do some epic routes taking you well beyond the City outskirts ... (Though not beyond the 10km lockdown limits at this point!) That calls for some serious nutrient deficits if not eating correctly. Do you have a favoured go-to preparation meal?
James Roberts : I don’t have preparation meal of choice, although I do find that eating as healthy as possible and not too much pre ride helps, also not too many beers, save those for after!
I am guilty of getting on the bike every morning with nothing but coffee in my system for a 1-2hr ride anything more than that will need some on-bike nutrition.
Alison McGregor : For riders looking for food options as opposed to sucking on gels, can you recommend something?
James Roberts : Anything home made is usually going to keep you going for longer and can also be healthier, whether it be a rice cake or date and nut bar. There are a multitude of healthy bars available from your LBS or super market. Bananas are also great ride fuel, and you can easily fit two in your jersey pockets.
Alison Mcgregor : Alpha restaurant completed a radical make over a month ago. While the lockdown substantially affected the menu to allow pick ups, what changes are you looking forward to when your clients return?
James Roberts : With the restructure and heavy renovation of the existing dining room we now have a theatrical aspect to offer our customers. We have brand new open kitchen with a Josper (wood fired oven) and a wood fire rotisserie for our whole beast and general grilling. The open kitchen can be an absolute hoot but can also raise the stress levels if things aren't exactly going to plan.
The food has evolved with the kitchen and is by far the best iteration we have achieved.
Alison McGregor : We are definitely looking forward to that! What's your favourite dish at Alpha and why?
James Roberts : Two current favourites:
Sea Urchin Taramosalata with seaweed pita
Deep fried feta ice cream with an olive caramel and candied cherry tomatoes (think trad Chinese fried ice cream but very greek)
Alison McGregor : How important is good food or service when you stop for your post ride cafe?
James Roberts : Food quality and service are paramount! I ride to eat so it has to be good! There is no shortage of Sydney cafes that have missed out on bunch business by not being accomodating to cyclists or just serving terrible coffee.
Alison McGregor : What's the one place you'd choose to travel based on both cycling and food? Why?
James Roberts : I would definitely have to go back to Italy with the bike. Last visit was on foot and the mountains and amazing roads were calling. The food is amazing and so are the people, its on my list.
Look and Book meals for pick up at Apha here
More on Chainsmith shop rides can be seen by joining our Strava Chainsmith Club here
Thanks to James and Alpha Restaurant for images.