Making waves in the kitchen and riding them off the beach – Sydneysiders Hayden Quinn and Dan Churchill are living out their delicious dreams as the new hosts of a soon-to-premiere TV series.
Quinn and Churchill are the titular heirs in Surfing the Menu: Next Generation.
The original Surfing the Menu series first aired in 2003 on ABC, with popular chefs Curtis Stone and Ben O’Donoghue headlining the first three seasons, and Mark Gardner taking over from Stone in the fourth season. The two-prong focus showcased not only their own culinary takes but also the larger (gorgeous) landscapes and fresh produce of Australia and New Zealand.
The casting of Quinn, 29, and Churchill, 24, sees a shift from a professional chef’s perspective to more of a home cook’s approach – but the focus on sun, sea and surf (plus hills, fields, and all the wonderful things that grow and are raised in them) remains strong.
“It’s a privilege to carry on that torch,” said Quinn, whose love of the ocean also led him to acquire a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology.
“Combining two things we truly love – surfing and cooking – that’s an amazing opportunity and it’s where things got really easy for us. Neither of us is professionally-trained, so we take a more everyday approach to food.”
That’s not all they have in common – both are alumni of the uber-popular MasterChef Australia, with Quinn competing in Series 3 in 2011, and Churchill cooking on the show two years later.
Churchill has a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Management as well as a Masters in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning), and self-published his first cookbook, DudeFood, when he was just 19. Currently, he is based in New York.
Both are buff, easy-going and gregarious, with an easy camaraderie. Their energies seem to feed and bounce off each other, and they have a peculiarly infectious synergy – even finishing each other’s sentences at the recent media preview in Kuala Lumpur – which should draw viewers in with ease. One of their latest passions: the salted egg yolk sotong from KL’s famous eat street, Jalan Alor.
“Who invented that? Give that man a Nobel Prize!” enthused Churchill.
The duo also shares a seemingly boundless enthusiasm, seeming like lifelong learners – filming for Surfing the Menu: Next Generation provided these true-blue, born-and-bred Aussies a chance to discover parts of their own country which were completely new to them.
Hopping into a slightly rusty 50-year-old VW Bug (her name is Gigi!), they discovered the people, places and produce that make Australia so singularly and multi-culturally unique.
These include Duc, a Vietnamese refugee who arrived via boat with his father – and now has a tomato farm with 200,000 plants in Carnarvon, Western Australia. “Getting to know him and hearing his story was amazing,” said Quinn. “We used his tomatoes in a green mango salad.”
In Kununurra, they learn to cook over coals, guided by indigenous cook Brendon Macale, who stuffs succulent barramundi with gum leaves. Bundaberg in Queensland sees them visiting a rum distillery, with Quinn creating his very own blend to be used later in a dish. And in WA’s Exmouth, they surfed alongside the Alex Ramirez, who was born in South America and works in the outback, treating glaucoma in indigenous communities.
And in between, there is not only surfing, but snorkelling and learning to sail, horse-riding and sweating at the forge.
The guys agree that cooking outside, at the mercy of the elements – and insects – was the most challenging aspect of filming.
“We filmed in some pretty remote places as well, making the sourcing of fresh ingredients quite difficult,” said Quinn.
But ultimately, pros and cons all combine to build a series which reflects Australia’s deeply-held philosophy of giving everyone a go.
“I think that in figuring out who we are, who Australia is, we need to look back at history, at the first Australians who are the indigenous people, and find out what the land means to them. And we need to look at the newest Australians, the migrants – and then we will start to figure it out,” said Quinn.
In a sea of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Quinn and Churchill are hard pressed to choose just one highlight that shines brightest.
“Getting to spend a whole day with the indigenous Aussies in the Northern Territory, being shown some of the sacred places and going to collect bush honey with the women elders, seeing their connection to the land – that was an amazing experience,” said Churchill.
“But one of my most special moments wasn’t on film – it was when my Nonna [‘grandmother’ in Italian] cooked for us when we were in Queensland. She lives in the north, and we don’t see each other as much as I’d like. And it was great to be able to introduce Hayden; she cooked her amazing pork and chicken ravioli in a slow-cooked tomato sauce for us.”
Food, family, adventure, produce and travel – Surfing the Menu: Next Generation is poised to have wide appeal. “The adventure element will appeal to the younger crowd, and the food element draws the young adults too,” said Quinn. “There’s something for everyone to relate to.”
Surfing The Menu: Next Generation premieres on Oct 10, on TLC (Astro Channel 707) at 9pm.