16 May 2024

Five minutes with Russell Pearson, Yody

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Russell Pearson

Russell Pearson’s Yody cafe is a haven for afternoon coffee lovers and evening cocktail enthusiasts. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Who is Russell Pearson: I was born in Albury and grew up in a small suburb called Thurgoona. I went to school in Walla Walla – St Paul’s. I did not board. I went on the bus every day. I reluctantly went through Years 11 and 12, but I excelled in hospitality and worked at McDonalds. When I turned 18, I finished school and moved out of home within two weeks. I moved to an entirely new town in Canberra, away from home and started my first year as an apprentice chef. From there, I’ve been jumping around and trying to gain as many skills in hospitality as possible, working in nearly every conceivable role in hospitality.

I gravitated towards the front of the house because it offered a bit more social outlet than working in the kitchen. I bounced between Canberra and Albury, then down to Melbourne, where I cut my teeth as far as working in cocktail bars – high energy, high-end cocktail experience. I moved back to Canberra and took a job still as an apprentice at Waters Edge for a Spanish chef. I lived and breathed that life. It was hard, but we were all there for a similar goal of producing fine dining food.

I did franchisee training with my friend from school in Canberra 10 years ago, helped him open Zambrero in Wagga, and worked as a manager before I bounced out of Wagga.

I returned to Wagga during COVID, crashed on my friend’s couch for a while, and took a job at Meccanico. During that time, I met my partner, and since her kids were going to school here, my stay in Wagga was cemented. I opened Yody last November.

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Best recent dining experience: I went on a date night to the Astor. We went there for a weeknight steak special night. We ended up getting the scotch fillet, which was a pleasant surprise. We enjoyed it. It was an awesome steak with a really nice smoky flavour.

Favourite cuisine: That’s a tough one. I can’t say which type – Thai, Chinese, or Italian. In fine dining, I’ve been heavily influenced by French-style cuisine; I have a natural affinity for Italian simplicity and I love the flavours of the Asian world. It will be tough for me to define one particular cuisine. But yeah, if I had to pick, I would probably pick Italian because of its simplicity and the display of the raw ingredients.

What ingredient can I not live without? Tough question. There are so many different ways to skin a cat. Salt, and second to that is cheese. For my jaffles, I use a three-cheese mix I make in-house.

Ham salad sandwich

Ham and salad sandwich with shaved ham, avocado, iceberg lettuce, carrot, tomato, and cucumber on a panino. Photo: Supplied.

Most embarrassing pantry/fridge item: Mie goreng but it’s probably not that embarrassing.

How many Weet-Bix do I do: I do six with honey, but I love porridge more. I love Uncle Toby’s rolled oats. I do a massive bowl with blueberries.

Best coffee spot in Wagga: Yody, of course!

Spaghetti bolognese jaffle

Spaghetti bolognese jaffle. Photo: Supplied.

What’s your coffee blend: Art of Espresso custom blend for the cafe – Yody blend. It’s Colombian and Ethiopian.

What’s the weirdest coffee order you’ve received: There has been nothing too crazy. Once upon a time in Canberra – someone brought their own oat milk. And now, it’s common, and it’s the second most popular alternative milk in the fridge. Also in Canberra, someone wearing a ripped Beastie Boys shirt, satin pyjama pants, and two hats came into the cafe and asked me what my most relaxing tea was.

Favourite coffee: A short long black – it’s a bit of an oxymoron. It’s still over the water, but it’s slightly less water.

A must-try from the dessert section is the choc-chip cookie.

A must-try from the dessert section is the choc-chip cookie. Photo: Supplied.

Next big thing in the Wagga food scene: More restaurants that aren’t pub related. There are enough quality products around, and hopefully, people will start to appreciate the finer dining experience. There’s more than enough demand for places with interesting menus in contrast to the pub, schnitzel, parmi or steak, which is great; I’m on board with that. But as far as dining experiences and creativity, it would be great to see more deliberate restaurants – something in the modern Australian realm.

Prior to opening Yody, you would frequently hear around the town that there was no good place to get a nice coffee past 2 pm. For me, opening from 3 to 5 pm is a no-brainer.

I got my liquor licence and am looking to do after-work drinks, serving delicious wines and a small range of cocktails and spritzes. Wagga doesn’t have much of the wine bar culture where people go for a small bite to eat.

 cold-pressed juices

Yody offers fresh cold-pressed juices. Photo: Supplied.

Favourite place to lunch in Wagga: Larry’s. I stayed a few doors down from the cafe – after Sebastian took it over. It’s done really well there. I appreciate everything he does. Another favourite place is Zambrero.

A must-try on our menu: Spag bol jaffles. I make the bolognese sauce in-house from scratch. I use red wine, put it in a slow cooker, and cook it for hours. It has three cheeses, and it’s pretty red hot.

Most used ingredient at Yody: Milk and flour.

Call in and make a booking for a cocktail night with your friends at Yody.

Call in and make a booking for a cocktail night with your friends at Yody. Photo: Supplied.

Our top pick from our desserts: Chock-chip cookie. A recipe was given to me on my 40th birthday by a friend from school, also a Danish pastry chef.

My biggest culinary influence: Gus Armstrong, owner of Eightysix in Canberra. He’s a nice boss and has an awesome approach to the food and dining experience.

Favourite cookbook: I have more cocktail books than cookbooks. I was given chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s book from his restaurant.

Chicken Pear Walnut Salad

Chicken, pear and walnut salad with Riverina Berkshire Gold bacon, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and Kewpie mayo on an Artisan Bakery panini. Photo: Supplied.

Who I admire in the Wagga food and wine scene: Jake from Riverina Gin. He created a local spirit and brand. Also, Richard and Carl who put together a high-end establishment for people to appreciate beautiful wine and food.

What are this week’s specials at Yody? I don’t have a special yet, but I’m testing pork jaffles. It’s a gochujang (Korean red chilli paste) marinated scotch pork fillet, slow-cooked, pulled, with rocket, crunchy Granny Smith apples, and a three-cheese mix. I eat fairly vegetarian, and I would love to create more vegetarian and vegan options. There’s space to grow.

Get your late afternoon coffee fix at Yody.

Get your late afternoon coffee fix at Yody. Photo: Supplied.

Death row meal: A nine-course degustation at a beautiful French restaurant. They do all things indulgent.

Where am I travelling to next: Spain. I’ve been learning Spanish in the background. I would love to get into La Rioja.

Dream destination: Somewhere near a beach. Whitsundays.

My biggest fear: Living with regret.

My least favourite food: Calf’s liver.

My top three cooking tips: Understand why you’re doing something. Use all of your senses when you’re cooking. Sound is underrated … listen to how something is cooking. Taste as you’re cooking and understand how things taste individually.

When making jaffles, use butter on the outside, which makes them golden brown, and use quality ingredients and nice cheese.

Yody is located at 47 Baylis Street, Wagga Wagga. It’s open from 7 am to 5 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 7 am until 8 pm on Friday and Saturday. Keep up with Yody via its website, Facebook page or Instagram page.

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