Category: Australia

The Kitchen opens in Parramatta

The Kitchen's team (that's Rex in the middle, who is in charge of front-of-house).
The Kitchen’s team (that’s Rex in the middle, who is in charge of front-of-house).

I went to the opening of a new restaurant in Parramatta last week called The Kitchen, which is run by a Filipino-Indian duo called Rex Manaay and Sree Mohanan. The pair have worked together for many years and actually made two attempts to buy the premises, which was formerly Sangria. Needless to say it was a happy night, with cold beer and crisp wine flowing and creative canapes served up by smiling young staff, like this super cool toffee tomato:

It was my first launch party in Sydney and I was impressed by how organised it was. Admittedly I used to live in Myanmar and it’s kind of hard to get things to go as planned there, for reasons too complicated for me to go into in this little blog post. Anyway, I arrived a few minutes past five after scrambling there from my office on Church Street and things had already started. A priest was in the middle of reciting a few verses and then he walked around with what appeared to be a pump spray of holy water. We were given name badges to wear, everyone had a glass in hand and something to eat and the gentlemen at Mode Media who did the organising introduced themselves to me while the staff had some group staff shots taken by a photographer. It was all very smooth.

I’d actually also had lunch there that same day with the ‘Parramatta Foodie’ (she has ten thousand followers on Instagram!!). I won’t disclose Sarah’s surname as that’s kind of under wraps (I was eager for a selfie but she declined – modest or what!), but I can tell you that she’s charming (how many people are friendly enough to agree to have lunch with someone who stalked them on Insta?!) and I can show you what she ate:

The Kitchen Salad with added grilled chicken
The Kitchen Salad with added grilled chicken

I had a halloumi wrap, which was tasty and came with a decent serve of chips that I worked hard not to finish. The lunch menu has healthy options like quinoa salad and grilled salmon as well as what I call ‘man-food’ – burgers, wedges and so on. You can check out the menu here. Sree, who is head of the (actual) kitchen described the fare as “modern Australian.”

“It has a bit of everything. Which is modern Australian, really.”

The Kitchen's kitchen.
The Kitchen’s kitchen.

It has a hint of an industrial feel but keeps things cheerful with lots of light and an open plan, plus potted plants on the wall and whimsical font that says stuff like “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.”

The Kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Rex said that they are “smashing it” at breakfast and lunch, which is pretty impressive considering it had only opened its doors a week earlier. Rex did say that business slows down at dinner – he thinks because people assume it’s a café from its appearance and therefore not open late, but hopefully guests at the Park Royal opposite will make like a kangaroo and hop across the road (ha ha). Parramatta is known as Sydney’s “second CBD” and it has a huge office population and a great dining scene. But I daresay things are quieter in the evening when the offices empty out (I myself had only stuck around till dusk this one time). Time will tell. Sree and Rex must be optimistic though, because they’re already on the lookout for second and third venues to open more ‘Kitchens.’

The Kitchen has upstairs and downstairs dining and you'll be able to sit outside and eat when the council grants the permit...
The Kitchen has upstairs and downstairs dining and you’ll be able to sit outside and eat when the council grants the permit…

Rex used to work at a posh golf course in Manila and one day while he was working, someone came up to him out of the blue and asked if he wanted to be sponsored to come and work in Australia. Rex said no because he loved his life in The Philippines, but then gave it some thought and decided that his daughters would get a better education here. They started off on the Gold Coast but moved to Sydney so that his eldest daughter, who is contemplating being an engineer, has the chance to study at one of Sydney’s top-notch universities.

“I can’t believe I own a restaurant in one of the world’s greatest cities,” he said with a big grin as his family ate happily at a booth behind him.

It seems you never know your luck in a big city, and I wish The Kitchen the very best of luck.

The Kitchen is on 14/55 Phillip Street, Parramatta, 2150

Ph: 8628 7686

Women’s empowerment helps build a strong economy, says Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner during Dhaka visit

Published in The Independent on 3 December 2011

Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. Photo courtesy of the Australian High Commission, Dhaka

During a three day visit to Bangladesh, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick advocated her belief that, “Investing in women will have a greater impact on the global economy than almost anything else.”

“It will also build security and peace,” she said during her address as keynote speaker at the conference, “Recognising gender – at home, work and abroad,” held on 29 November at the BRAC Centre in Dhaka.

Broderick said that violence against women and sexual harassment is widespread in Australia, and indeed worldwide.  A study by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 22 percent of Australian women had been sexually harassed in the workplace, and 1.2 million women over the age of 15 had experienced domestic violence.  Tragically, Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal women experience domestic violence at 35 times the rate of non-indigenous women.

Broderick said the commission’s study concluded that sexual harassment and violence against women costs the national economy $13.6 billion a year, mostly in terms of associated medical costs and loss of productivity in the workplace.

Acknowledging the fact that sexual harassment is a major problem in both Australia and Bangladesh, Broderick noted that in Bangladesh, private companies lack policies aimed at preventing it.

“I think that’s an area Bangladesh could potentially look into – and we have some good learning to share,” she said.

When Broderick said that up until 1966, Australian women were forced to resign from their job after marriage, the audience’s collective shock was audible.

Broderick said poignantly, “As a federal commissioner with two young children, I’ll never forget that this opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without the women’s rights movement.”

She applauded Bangladesh’s generous maternity leave schemes, which were developed well ahead of those in Australia.  Up until 2010, Australia and USA were the only OECD countries without paid parental leave.

However Broderick cautioned, “Strong laws are not enough to create gender equality. Cultural change and change at the family level is also required.”

Supreme Court Barrister Sara Hossain concurred.

Describing the national women’s policy as “disappointing”, Hosasin said, “There needs to be a loud and clear demand from women.  Positive change may not occur in the courts, as our judiciary is conservative.  A movement must be built on a different public level.”

Hossain’s address outlined Bangladesh’s reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for reasons of personal law.

This means that Hindu women have no right to divorce whatsoever, she said.

And while a Christian male can obtain a divorce by proving infidelity, a Christian woman must prove both infidelity and cruelty or bestiality.

In Australia, Broderick confirmed that similar reservations to CEDAW exist for religious institutions.

However the State Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury said, “The fundamental rights in our constitution are a strong building block for gender equality.”

Between 26 and 30 November, Broderick met representatives from government and non-government organisations and visited Netrokona in northern Bangladesh to witness the positive changes being made at the community level.  Yesterday she launched Australia’s support for the Acid Survivor’s Foundation.

The visit was hosted by the Australian High Commission to promote an exchange of successful gender development initiatives in Australia and Bangladesh.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Broderick said, “I’ve been really impressed by the female activists I’ve met in Bangladesh. There’s a really strong group of activists here – it’s impressive.”

However Broderick knows only too well that achieving gender equality is difficult anywhere in the world.

She explained, “Often, the changes required to achieve gender equality go against deeply held cultural norms.  When you start challenging the local “sacred cows,” it’s difficult work.  But I felt really inspired here, because there are many women in Bangladesh who are fully prepared to lay out what those sacred cows are, and to start asking questions and prompt a national debate.”

Overall, Broderick believes Bangladesh is “doing a lot to promote gender equality.”

However she concluded, “Like every country in the world, more could be done.”

Bing the Comeback King: Australian cricketer Brett Lee talks exclusively to The Independent

Published in The Independent on 27 April 2011

Australian speedstar Brett Lee

“Eighteen months ago, the only person who thought there was a chance I would play in the World Cup was me,” says Australian cricketer Brett Lee with a satisfied grin.

The 34-year-old’s return to international cricket following a two year absence is remarkable, though less surprising considering his long history of resilience.  Since Lee’s debut in the Australian squad almost 15 years ago, “Bing” has conquered career-threatening injuries affecting his back, elbow, ankle, abdominal muscles and ribs.  In 2008, he bowled against South Africa with a broken foot.  Thankfully, he’s just played three ODI matches against Bangladesh without so much as a scratch.

“I think I’ve had 12 operations,” says the 1.82 metre blond, whose mere presence in the lobby of Dhaka’s Hotel Sonargaon creates enough excited whispering to drown out the piano.

Even when he’s in peak form, the comeback king concedes that pain is a constant companion.

“I’ve felt pain during every match for the last 17 years.  But if I was told to stop as soon as I felt pain, I would never have bowled.  You just have to block it out.”

In a former incarnation, Lee may have been a highly successful aerobics instructor.  At any rate, his updated status as the world’s fastest bowler (following the retirement of Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar during the World Cup), and a solid World Cup performance should be enough to silence the cynics, at least for the time being.  On the day before the interview, Lee played his 200th ODI match, the second milestone to be achieved in Bangladesh — in 2006 he made his 1,000th Test run.  He has scores of other accolades, some more unusual than others: a greyhound named after the speedster earned Tk 1,174,686,932 (AUD$15 million) in stud fees.

However despite retaining the top ranking for ODI matches, Lee’s national team has lost their gloss in recent times.  Australia lost the Ashes again, failed to win its fourth consecutive World Cup and has slipped to fifth place in Test match rankings.  How long does the Aussie stalwart believe it may take for his team to dominate international cricket once more?
“I don’t see it as being too long,” he says, “but I can’t put a figure on it.  I don’t have a crystal ball…”

Brett Lee in Dhaka, April 2011

Lee acknowledges that a “great era” in Australian cricket is over, with the retirement of many star players.  He and former captain Ricky Ponting are the only two lights still shining, and Lee has confirmed that he will not play in the next World Cup.  The current team, he insists with characteristic optimism, are going through a “transitional phase.”

“We have a new captain and a whole new, young side coming through.”  The team, he says, is made up of “a great bunch of guys who love playing cricket.”

Although Bangladesh was given a whipping by Australia during the ODIs, Lee had some kind words to say about his opponents.

“In general, Bangladesh has a very good squad and there were some very good performances during the World Cup.”

When asked who he considers to be Bangladesh’s strongest player, Lee says, “There are a few, obviously the captain Shakib Al Hasan and opener Tamim Iqbal.  There are some good bowlers too, but it would be unfair to single out any player, just as it would be for me to name an Australian player.”

Lee said the ODIs were “a lot of fun” and that the Australian team “always enjoys playing in front of crowds here.”  However he added, “It’s always tough for us guys to play in the subcontinent because we aren’t really used to the zapping heat and humidity.  The other day [in Dhaka] it was only 32 degrees, but as soon I walked outside I was perspiring a lot.  I lost five litres of fluids a day.”  The upside, possibly, is a suntan so golden it defies the hotel’s dimmed lighting.  He looks healthy and relaxed.

Whilst Lee has only visited Bangladesh a “handful” of times – as compared with 50 odd trips to India – he described its people as “friendly, lovely and caring, and very passionate about cricket.”

He added, “Bangladeshis are probably less fanatical about cricket than Indians, but that’s from a general point of view.  If you asked a kid here whether they love cricket as much [as in India] they will say ‘Definitely, yes.’”

Lee was once described by an Indian journalist as “the most famous Australian in India,” and when I cite Shah Rukh Khan as one of his fans, Brett laughs and quips, “Oh really?  I’m playing for his franchise, the Kolkata Knight Riders. I might ask for a few acting tips as well.”  Lee should be plucky enough to ask for a role, as he has already made a cameo appearance in a Bollywood film (funnily enough, it’s called ‘Victory’ and it’s about cricket) and recorded a duet with Asha Bhosle that topped the Indian and South African charts.  In November last year, his band “White Shoe Theory” performed six shows across India – “It’s always nice to break things up,” said Lee of the change in lifestyle.  Lee is currently writing new songs and, for the record (pardon the pun), he is “potentially interested” in other Bollywood opportunities.

Interviewing Brett Lee at Hotel Sonargaon, Dhaka

Although Lee is by no means the only foreigner playing in the Indian Premier League, I wondered whether he ever encounters language difficulties on the field.

“Most guys speak English, and do so very, very well.  And I try my Hindi occasionally,” he adds.

“You can speak Hindi?” I ask.

“Thora thora,” [“A little”] he shoots back with a grin.  “I can understand the gist of what’s going on.”

Lee said that the sporting culture in the Indian Premier League (IPL) differs from Australia, the latter of which has a strong association between beer and cricket (its national sponsor, Carlton and United Breweries, promised to give every Australian adult a free beer if its team won back the Ashes).  However Lee avoids making generalisations on the subject.

“Culture depends on the person,” he says.  “Some people don’t like drinking alcohol and some do.  It’s not frowned upon if one person wants to [have a drink] but another doesn’t, or vice versa. Everyone [in IPL] understands that every culture is different and that’s great.”

Lee’s first visit to India was back in 1994, when he toured with the Australian under-19s as a 17-year-old.  After turning 18, Lee spent two weeks at MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai – and it now appears that the coaching tables are beginning to turn.  Lee said he will be “heavily involved” in an upcoming programme combining education and cricket in India.  “It would be great if something could happen here in Dhaka also,” he said.

Indeed it would.