Tansy’s, wrote Leo Schofield, is a quintessentially Melbourne restaurant. “We have nothing with its class, style and sensitivity in Sydney.” Schofield was writing this for Good Weekend, back in 1985 when the restaurant had been in business barely a couple of years, but there’s no mistaking the tang of envy in his words, even 35 years later. But then Tansy Good’s work has always had that effect on people, leaving her customers and her protégés with an impression so distinctive that it stays with them – in some cases for decades.
From Tansy’s in Carlton to Spring Street to her new home in Kyneton, as a chef and restaurateur Tansy Good has paved the way for so much that is admirable in the restaurants we enjoy in Victoria today. In her confidence and precision and her championing of small growers and fine local ingredients, she has been an inspiration to an entire generation of cooks and diners. It’s telling that a great many of them – Karen Martini, Andrew McConnell, Philippa Sibley, Matt McConnell, Rita Macali and Gerald Diffey among their number – have gone on to do so much for Melbourne in their own right
“Tansy was the first chef I worked with who championed the local grower,” says Andrew McConnell. “She’s a creative and original thinker, a chef of great precision, and had the confidence to forge a direction of her own. Her original BYO fine diner injected a level of excitement that was not often found in dining back then, and was one of the first of a small group of restaurants that paved the way for many of today’s restaurateurs. Tansy contributed not just to establishing Melbourne as a great dining city by opening a great restaurant, but by inspiring many young chefs.”
Philippa Sibley cites a peach bavarois with peach jelly and poached yellow peaches at Good’s Carlton restaurant 20 years ago as a formative inspiration. “It was amazing,” she told The Age. “It tasted exactly what it was supposed to taste like.”
Restaurant critic Terry Durack points to Good’s gift for pushing Victoria’s culinary boundaries. In Carlton, he says, “Tansy Good and Marc Bouten were the brave new face of modern French cooking, and every meal there was filled with first-time experiences – for eating cocks’ combs, for example.” And while she may no longer stuffs pigs’ ears with sweetbreads today at Tansy’s in Kyneton, “she is uncompromising in the kitchen, cooking with beautiful technique and sensitivity”.
If a meal at Tansy’s is all about the power of understatement, it’s nothing on how laconic Good herself is when she’s speaking about her work. “I just want to do what I do,” she says. The fact that people remember meals she cooked decades ago, meanwhile, “is pretty awesome”.
“I think it’s incredible that people have had such special moments at our restaurants. They come here and remember what they had back then, but still enjoy what I’m doing now, which is a lot simpler.”
Good makes no bones about the standards she set in her kitchens. “Tansy’s was a very hard kitchen back then. We were serious.” And it’s those standards and that seriousness about quality that have shaped the food that’s cooked in restaurants in Victoria today. “A lot of people have cooked with me,” she says. “I hope I taught them a lot.”
Photography and video: Kate Shanasy.
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