Within the first minute of chatting, James Hird mentions the time his sister got caught up in a Chilean coup in Uruguay at age 11 – so you know it’s going to be a good interview.
And while overseas escapades in India and France played a role in shaping James’ ideas about eating and drinking, there’s no doubt that the local landscape strongly influences his outlook about what should end up on our dinner plates or in our glasses.
After starting a law degree, James became an accidental sommelier – not that his commitment to wine was ever in doubt. He recalls sucking empty bottles of 1895 Madeira after service one night, at an early stage in his career.
Over time, James would become involved in opening Buzo, Wine Library and Vincent – and after years of uncorking wine and pouring well-picked bottles, he was named 2015 Sommelier of the Year in the Good Food Guide.
James admits that, “I think about wine pretty differently”. For him, you can narrow wine down to place and people – like music, you just have to find the genre you’re into. “A place over a 10-year period is going to produce a style or a riff you might like. And then within that, you might find a person that you really like their interpretation of that place.”
Being able to zoom into a region and really get a sense of its character and culture is a key part of the Rootstock Sydney festival that he co-founded. This year’s installment of the artisanal food and wine event has gone truly next-level, with added pavilions on coffee, cheese and indigenous ingredients, and around 80 producers on call to talk about what they do. Oh, and James also has to work out how to rotate a cow with a forklift and create earth ovens from scratch for Rootstock Sydney. And Magnus Nilsson’s going to be around for breakfast, too.
As well as chatting about the festival, James also talks about his amazing travels this year – including his pilgrimage to Pizzeria Beddia, a place so great that it sells out its pies by around 6pm (Bon Appetit name-checked it as “the Best Pizza in America“, after all). And he also covers the time he spent at the Noma pop-up in Tokyo with Rootstock co-conspirator Mike Bennie – and the surprising record that their table guests managed to set.
Rootstock Sydney takes place from November 28-29 at Carriageworks. Tickets and info available from rootstocksydney.com.
You can listen to this episode on iTunes or download it via RSS or directly. (An earlier version of the podcast had the wrong edit, so the correct one’s around 48 minutes long. Make sure you have that one and not the I-released-the-incorrect-file-at-4am remix!)
By the way, as a companion piece, you can also hear the Mike Bennie podcast I did for the last Rootstock Sydney.
Lastly, thank you to all the people who kindly go out of their way to tell me they enjoy the podcast, endorse it to their friends or spread the word in the iTunes store and elsewhere. It does make the 4am sleep-deprivation worth it! And it was a nice surprise this week to learn that The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry podcast has been selected to be archived by the National Library of Australia. So if I’m ever idiotic enough to accidentally press the self-destruct button on all the episodes, they’ll still be preserved by this great institution!
Rootstock Sydney photographs courtesy of James Broadway and Rootstock Sydney. Top: the festival entrance at Carriageworks last year. Centre: James Hird, Mike Bennie and 2014 festival guest Alice Feiring. Bottom: DJs James Hird and Mike Bennie, derailing the careers of Skrillex and Calvin Harris and ruining their future earnings potential.