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I'm constantly reminded of how small the world really is! I recently found out that I have a common friend with MKR's Bella! While I don't religiously watch any reality TV shows (except for Hells Kitchen and The Apprentice), I was definitely surprised that one of my non-foodie friends (as in she doesn't work in the food industry, not that she doesn't enjoy good food!) was our link!

Anyway, I know many of you have wondered what it's really like to be on reality TV and are curious about their journeys outside of our TV screens, so I thought what better person to ask, than the lovely Bella!

I hope you enjoy this guest post while I get my shit together and write up those reviews I've been teasing you about on Twitter and Instagram!


My Kitchen Rules 2011 winners Sammy and Bella

Sieving out the rhetoric and stirring in some real reality.

For those of you who don't know me - I'm Bella, the other half of Sammy & Bella. Winners of My Kitchen Rules. Food Obsessives. Caterers. And of course, Burger Queens.

When the divine Jenius asked me to write a guest blog, all I could think about was how to avoid those dull clichés. You know, those overused words that plague reality TV and seem to be drummed into every producer's narrow repertoire of "words to get unsuspecting contestants to regurgitate".

The worst offender has got to be "journey". Ctrl + click --> synonyms = Trip. Ride. Expedition. Passage. Tour. It is too simple. It's been worn out, wrapped in cotton candy and force fed to millions of Australians glued to their TV screens while watching Masterchef, My Kitchen Rules, Australian Idol and of course Big Brother.

What happens when you strip back the fluff? What's it really like?

During filming, it can only be described as an unreal reality. There is an almost total disconnection from the outside world; for 3.5 months you don't see your family or your friends. You don't go out for dinner or a drink. You don't cook your own meals. You don't go to work.

All you do is film and sleep, the latter often being traded in for practice time, testing out a technique or ingredient just in case it comes up in a challenge sometime soon. Puffy dark circles under your eyes are swiftly dealt with by the make up team (Thanks Bonnie and Terry for making us look like humans rather than zombies at 4am!). Turns out, we were completely unable to guess any of the challenges!

We're often asked: Are the clocks real? Did you have recipes? Did you really just make up that dish on the spot? The short answer is that everything you see on My Kitchen Rules is actually true. Yes, we were held to the microsecond with the countdown clock. No recipes were allowed, ever. Every dish was made up, on the spot and came from our heads (and hearts!).

We're almost always asked: What are Manu and Pete like in real life? To be honest, during filming we didn't get to spend time with Pete or Manu. It wasn't about a fuzzy wuzzy mentor-student relationship... they were judges. And to ensure impartiality, dealings between judge and contestant were very professional and very restrained.

That being said, we are lucky enough to have developed a post-show friendship with both Pete and Manu who are both kind, friendly and even more charming in real life! Pete is a little more quiet, and a real water baby - he loves to surf! Manu is a total clown (literally, he trained in the circus) and loves to have fun, no matter what he's doing.

Reality TV can be a great training ground. After 3.5 months we were able to pump out 125 beautifully plated dishes in our grand final - made completely from scratch in 6.5 hours. That's a lot of food! As it turns out, that training was just the beginning of a lifelong food adventure (which is nowhere near ending).

We stepped off the TV train and went back to the real world 5 months before it actually aired on TV. Being contestants on the show, let alone the fact that we were the winners, was top secret and protected by a hard core confidentiality clause in our contracts. I won't lie, it was a massive come down. Real life, bills to pay, relationships with friends and family to rekindle, all the while keeping such a fabulous secret close to my heart.

The hardest part was coming home to no job. Yes, I was unemployed. Argh!!! I applied for about 30 positions in hospitality, ranging from cook, to dish pig, to waitress. But with no experience in hospitality whatsoever, I never got 1 single call back. If only they knew...

After a while I nabbed a job as a waitress in Surry Hills eatery Twig. Then, one day the kitchen was short on staff so I jumped in on the salad station. The feeling was sensational. Finally I felt like I belonged somewhere. I was good at what I did and I loved it. Even when cooking in 50C heat in a tiny crowded kitchen with ovens blaring and orders flying left right and centre, I felt at home. It was organised chaos, and I loved the thrill of the machine, well oiled and pumping out plate after plate of delicious food.

All the while I never forgot the words of wisdom from the MKR judges. Pete's favourite was "fast hands!" pushing us to work harder and faster constantly, making sure we beat the clock. Manu is always yelling out "taste your food!", and true to his advice I never sent out a single plate of food without tasting it.

I became a valued member of the kitchen team, working full time. I'll be honest... it was very hard. I was physically drained every day. I said goodbye to manicures and a social life. My legs and lower back did it tough. My arms were covered in cuts, burns and bruises, and I wore every one of them like a badge of honour. The only problem was... I had an itch. A foodie itch I had to scratch.

There wasn't much support out there in the real world. What do we do next? The TV marketing machine had done its job, got the advertising dollars, and sent us on our merry ways. Nothing came to us on silver platters. No instant book deals. No instant TV show. No potential to write for Masterchef Magazine, that's for sure! Our 15 minutes are over and now we have to make something of ourselves.

Priority #1 was to work hard, for real, in the food industry and gain experience and respect from our peers. Although some people may enter programs like MKR because they want to be famous, it's not what we're about. We just wanted to cook. Simple.

We're hoping that slow and steady wins the race. We're looking for brownie points, not front page headlines. We are willing to put in the hard yards, start from the ground up, and we're happy to battle our way to a successful business in the food industry.

layered filo with figs and pedro xinenez reduction
Layered filo with figs and pedro xinenez reduction

Next, it was time to start our own business. Design our own menus and concepts, and share our style of food. In early 2011, we started our blog where we share recipes and photos every single week. We also started our catering business part time, and 6 months later we quit our day jobs and were running the show 6 days per week. Dream come true? Tick!

ras el hanout spice poussin with smoked eggplant
Ras el hanout spice poussin with smoked eggplant

Initially we were very successful with cocktail parties, weddings, corporate events and private degustation dinners.... But now we've decided to add something a little more low-brow... a pop up burger bar!

Our first burger bar popped up in Bondi Beach and with its 70's Z-boys Californian vibe it became an instant hit. It's so satisfying to see our customers coming back week after week for their favourite burgers, and we have so much fun having a chat and chilling out with all the lovely Bondi locals (even the Bondi Hipsters, we make a brekky special for them by replacing bacon with porcini mushrooms, and the bun with avocado...!)

Sammy and Bella burger bar

The most popular burger is our Home Ground Beef Burger with cheddar, Israeli pickles and beer bbq sauce. Want to know our burger secret? The 1st is the blend of meat - coarse ground beef rump, shin and brisket with a good amount of natural fat make it super juicy and super beefy. The 2nd secret is our beer BBQ sauce... it's home made to a closely guarded secret recipe and we like to think it's the way to any mans heart!

Burgers by MKR's Sammy and Bella

We flip burgers every week, and we could not be more thankful for all the blessings and opportunities we've had, and count our lucky stars every day. We cook every day, and we're living the dream.

Live to cook. Live to eat. Live to share.

X Bella
twitter and instagram: @sammysfeast @bellasfeast

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I was initially saddened when I read that Cafe Ish was closing down. Mainly because it was a cafe/restaurant that I'd always wanted to go to more often, but never did. A week or so later, Josh announced on Twitter that Cafe Ish hadn't quite closed forever - it was moving from Surry Hills to Redfern! The excitement on the interweb spread like wildfire. 

Whether inspired by the ever-so-popular Momofuku Milk Bar, or the nostalgic concept of the humble suburban milk bar, cafe owners Josh and Ai have truly outdone themselves because in the past few weeks, I've been coming back, and back, and back.

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - cafe at Redfern

It does help that The Milk Bar By Cafe Ish is conveniently located just a 12 minute walk from my office - it is almost a no-brainer where I'd like to spend my Fat Fridays!

It is also nice to know that not only do they bake their own cakes and treats, but they even bake every burger bun and loaf of bread! Plus, the meats are all free range from Urban Food Market!

But aside from the funky touches of an old school jukebox and a classic arcade game machine, the fun starts with the food!

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - burger, chips, wings, steak sandwich

My first visit is with Mooksy where our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs! We had the wings, fries, a steak sandwich and a cheeseburger!

The highlight for me were Ai's freaking awesome chicken wings with crab sauce ($13). The crab sauce is the same sauce as that of their notorious soft shell crab omelette and is indulgently good. The wings are crunchy and succulent and no matter how neat you start off being, these wings are so finger licking good that you'll end up devouring them with both hands. I talk from experience.

Josh has the grill pumping out 80 - 120 burgers a day so we forgive the smokey haze that forms in the cafe. All the minor imperfections add to the casual nature of the milk bar concept.

So the standard cheeseburger is only $5 which includes all the essentials - a thick beef pattie, melted cheese, pickles, tomato sauce and grilled onion - and is a complete steal! It is also available as a double ($9) or even as a triple ($13) for those who like it a bit full on!

Toppings are $3 and I've been addicted to the Japanese topping which consists of pickled daikon, carrot, cabbage and wasabi mayo. I love that they've stuck to the Japanese & Modern Australian fusion! It's SO MUCH yum!

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - Fat Friday Feast

And here are all the cakes and lollies that are on sale... temptations, temptations!

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - nostalgic lolly jars and cakes

Of course, I return with Zen a week later...

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - vintage inspired

We decide to share the wings, but this time I order it with hot sauce ($13). It's a tangy Tabasco style sauce that surprisingly delivers on the heat radar. However, I much prefer the wings with the crab sauce as there's more substance and texture.

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - wings with hot sauce

Zen has the cheeseburger with Japanese topping ($5 burger + $3 topping + $4 side of fries) as per my recommendation as I had been talking about it all week, hehe.

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - cheeseburger with chips

And for me? The tofu burger ($6) with miso sauce, and Japanese topping ($3).

As much as people make fun of vegan and vegetarian burgers, this fried tofu burger with miso sauce packs a punch! I love the earthiness and umami of the miso sauce and the crunch of the cabbage.

The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish - tofu burger with miso and japanese topping

And yesterday, I returned with my FETE (Female Entrepreneurs That Eat) ladies! If you follow me on Instagram (add me: @_jenius), you will have already seen what a feast we had!

I'll leave you now, with a pic of their shakes, because they're just so insanely good!!

Cafe Ish shakes

The shakes are all $7 and despite not being big on shakes (they make me too full), I cave in and try the miso caramel (left in the photo above). With miso, caramel and vanilla ice cream, this shake is thick and creamy with a lingering saltiness that leaves you beckoning for more!

We're first to try the new pina colada shake (centre in the photo above) which will soon be renamed to the Chuck Norris (ask Ai or Josh about the story behind this!) and are so glad we did. This one is a blitz of milk with vanilla ice cream, coconut macaroon ice cream, vanilla roast pineapple, yuzu and lemon & lime curd and has a luxurious Summery vibe to it!

Lastly, we have the PBJ shake (right in the photo above) which is salted peanut butter ice cream, crunchy peanut butter, and raspberry & blueberry jelly! It's so rich but so divine!

If you playback 15 - 20 years ago, I can very much remember the after school trips to the corner milk bar (hello sour power belt strips!)... But now, this grown-up milk bar is my new guilty pleasure! I cannot wait til my next visit! 

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The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish
105 Regent Street, Redfern, NSW

Milk Bar By Cafe Ish on Urbanspoon

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It is packed full of delicious awesomeness! You can expect to find a behind-the-scenes look at JENIUS, plus a re-cap of recent eats and fresh stories, and sometimes we throw in exclusive giveaways!

Here is the latest issue:
Issue#28 December 2012

JENIUS is Jennifer Lam's gourmet logbook covering restaurant reviews, thoughts on trialled kitchen appliances & gadgets, tested and tasted recipes & cookbooks, travel stories and her quest to discover and preserve her family heritage and its cuisine.

Jennifer is a twenty-something Sydneysider living the dream - having switched her successful career in advertising for the life of a Gen-Y entrepreneur. Her current business interests include I Ate My Way Through food tours and The Bamboo Garden boutique digital agency.

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