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Lexus Design Pavilion

Date with Kate, Lifestyle

Date with Kate: Neale Whitaker

13th November, 2016
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The Block Judge, Neale Whitaker and I catch up at the Lexus Design Pavilion

 

Neale Whitaker is a judge on television’s The Block – which airs its season finale on November 13 – and editor of Vogue Living. Whitaker, 54, talks to me about the most frustrating part of being a Block judge, what makes him cringe, and his top tip to quickly rejuvenate any home.

Who do you think will win tonight’s finale? 

Ah, that’s a tough one. The judges don’t have the best form in picking the winner! Auction day is unpredictable and there are so many variables  – the auction order, the reserve prices and basically the depth of the potential buyers’ pockets. All of the apartments offer the luxury of space and an opportunity to live in a heritage building that’s been restored with integrity.

What has been your favourite room from this season and why?

Kim and Chris [Elliot] delivered the ultimate master bedroom with the proportions of a luxury hotel suite. I loved Julia [Treuel] and Sasha [Wright-Neville’s] kitchen, and Will and Karlie’s master bedroom with the wooden panelling was pretty special.

What have you learnt from being a judge?

From the contestants I’ve learned the importance of budget, careful planning and understanding your potential market. From my fellow judges, I’ve learned to see things through an interior designer’s eye – it’s far more detailed than a magazine editor’s eye.

What is the most frustrating element of being a judge on The Block?

When the contestants don’t take our advice and believe they’re being victimised. They’re not! We always try to be constructive and our advice is based on experience and knowledge. We want them to win, not lose.

Why do you think renovating shows have become so popular? 

We’re a nation obsessed with real estate, so the renovation frenzy feels like a logical progression. Renovating is achievable – it’s something we can do to improve our lives and increase the value of our property. There’s definitely a competitive edge there, too, regardless of whether you’re on The Block!

After so many seasons, do room reveals still excite you?

Yes they do! I guess the day they don’t will be the day to hang up my judge’s hat. There is always that sense of the unexpected and of anticipation based on what was delivered the previous week and the advice we offered.

When there is backlash on social media against you, how do you deal with this? 

You have to take it on the chin. That’s all you can do. Or maybe not look. What did Taylor Swift say? “Haters gonna hate.”

How would you describe your own interior style preferences?

It’s a terribly overused word, but eclectic. [My partner] David [Novak-Piper] and I like such a mix of styles and periods but we get a lot of pleasure out of making them all work together to create a home.

What trends make you cringe?

Trends generally make me cringe. That might sound like a strange thing for a magazine editor to say but I believe a home is a really personal thing. I would never buy – or encourage someone to buy – anything simply because it’s on trend.

What is your best advice for first-time renovators?

Plan, budget, plan, budget and then plan again. Just be really sure about what you want to achieve from the renovations. Is it for you or for resale? Be prepared for the renovations to take longer than anticipated and budget for 25 to 30 per cent more than you think you will need.

What are the most popular interior trends at the moment?

Don’t talk to me about trends [laughs]! But, realistically, we’re seeing a lot more colour at the moment and a real emphasis on anything hand-made and hand-crafted. I think we’re also seeing more confidence to mix things up. We’re starting to realise that it’s OK to be individual.

What is a quick fix to rejuvenate your home? 

A new rug is always the best fix for me. When you walk into a room, what’s on the floor is the first thing you register. And think about changing your art and adding a wall mirror. It can double the size of a room. New bed linen is [also] an amazing pick-me-up.

What is a day in the life of you?

Juggling! My main priority is editing Vogue Living, so most days will find me in the office with the editorial team, but I somehow manage to squeeze in quite a few other activities like emceeing and public speaking. Most evenings will find me at industry events, and when we’re filming The Block, I’m in Melbourne every Sunday. Life’s busy.

What led you down this career path? 

Life! I started in the fashion industry, moved into publishing, moved from the UK to Australia [in 1999] and then moved from food magazines to interior design magazines. That’s when I knew I’d found the place where I wanted to be. And then I stumbled into TV! I’ve been very lucky and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.

You were an editor of Belle Magazine and now editor at Vogue Living. How has your role evolved? 

A magazine editor’s role is always evolving. Learning to harness the power of digital and social media is challenging and exciting. That’s not something I really had to worry about in my previous role.

What has been your greatest career achievement so far? 

I’m proud of many of the things I’ve achieved in my career. Perhaps I’m proudest of my longevity and managing to stay relevant. I hope I can keep doing that.

D’Marge named you as one of the most stylish men in Australia. What is your style secret?

I’m sorry to say I don’t really have one! I think my personal style is very understated, quite classic, and intuitive. At 54, I feel I know what suits me and I tend to stick with it.

What is your favourite room in your Surry Hills home?

The kitchen – it’s totally where we live our life! And it will be again in the new apartment we’re just about to move to in Alexandria.

Where is your favourite travel destination when you want to escape from Sydney? 

That’s easy. The south coast of NSW. It’s where I recharge and where I feel the most relaxed. I call it my “happy place”.

What are your plans for the holiday season? 

Our favourite thing is a road trip. We love to put our dogs in the car [weimaraners Otis and Ollie] and head off. This year we’re heading to country Victoria for Christmas, then back home via Melbourne and the NSW South Coast.

What is next for you? 

Whatever comes next! I’m enjoying the opportunities that are coming my way but I would love to do more TV. It’s such a powerful way of communicating. Watch this space – that’s all I’m saying!

The Block season finale airs on Sunday, November 13, at 7pm on Channel 9.  

BITE SIZE

WE WENT TO The Lexus Design Pavilion, Flemington.
WE ATE Raw striped trumpeter with salted turnip, mustard & horseradish
WE DRANK Matua Valley Lands & Legends Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ
NEALE WORE  MJ Bale jacket, shirt and white jeans; P. Johnson Tailors tie and RM Williams boots. 
Fashion, Lifestyle, Social

My 2016 Melbourne Cup Diary

3rd November, 2016

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Another year, another Melbourne Cup done!

This year, my day started early at our apartment in Melbourne. That is where we stay with my family so it was great to be able to spend Cup Day with them. With three kids and a baby present it was certainly busy but it was nice that my girls and my niece and nephew were all with us. I spent the morning getting ready with Mum and my sister-in-law Hoda and as always it was fun for us to all get our hair and makeup done together. My outfit was already sorted (it’s always something I like to lock in well in advance) so it was just a matter of putting the final finishing touches to it and I was ready to walk out the door.

We were lucky enough to be picked up by a Lexus car to take us to the Birdcage and when we got there headed straight for the Lexus Design Pavilion, which as per usual was on another level. It was definitely the place to be in the Birdcage and stood out as the most stylish and sophisticated marquee. The interiors were amazing and the architecture of the entire building was striking. Guests in the Pavilion included Jessica Gomes, Emma Freedman and Margaret Zhang so it was a great opportunity to catch up with a lot of people. We had an amazing lunch experience in there too which involved a three course tasting plate hosted by Ben Shewry, the head chef and owner of Attica restaurant in Melbourne. Needless to say, the food was delicious.

I was also on Lexus ambassador duties on the day so I had to juggle multiple media interviews including TV and radio spots which is always fun! However the most enjoyable part of the day is definitely being able to watch the race with my family, Mum especially. She had a runner in the race called Excess Knowledge so we watched the it with her in the owners’ stand. It’s always really nice being able to take in the race with her as I know all the hard work that goes into making it to the Melbourne Cup.

Cup Day is always a crazy busy day and it often passes by in a whirlwind of admiring all the beautiful outfits and headwear, toasting the day with champagne and race day duties for me but it’s something I look forward to every year. Counting down to 2017!

Getting dolled up with the help of my go-to makeup artist Blanka Dudas

Test driving my Gucci heels

Selfie for Instagram

Sophia hanging out in the apartment

Outfit details close up

All smiles with Mum and Hoda

Heading to the Birdcage with a little help from Lexus

Walking in with Luke

Catching up with Nadia Fairfax

Doing a radio interview

… and more interviews!

The media at the Lexus Design Pavilion

A peek at the interiors inside the Lexus Design Pavilion

So many beautiful finishes

Gorgeous blooms

Impressive set of wheels on display!

The outdoor area

We were truly spoilt in the food and drinks department

Guests at the bar

Cheers!

Jessica Gomes and Louise van de Vorst

Emma Freedman

Margaret Zhang

Enjoying the day with Luke

Photography: Adam Nalapraya and Karon Photography

Date with Kate

Date with Kate: Emma Freedman

8th November, 2015
Breakfast with Emma Freedman. Photo: Janie Barrett

Breakfast with Emma Freedman. Photo: Janie Barrett

Emma Freedman is an Australian television personality and radio presenter. She is also the daughter of five-time Melbourne Cup-winning horse trainer Lee Freedman. Emma, 26, talks to me about winning Dancing with the Stars this year, her new radio venture and, as an ambassador for David Jones, her love of fashion on the field during racing season.

What’s a day in the life of you?

At the moment, a day in the life would be getting up pretty early to exercise. So, yoga, run, Pilates, something like that, wanting to try and keep my dancer’s figure. And at the moment I’m going through the second edit of my young-adults novel called Turning Pointes. It’s about a ballet school and for nine- to 13-year-old girls.

What was it like to win Dancing with the Stars?

It was a big win and we weren’t expecting it. I had worked really hard. But I think the biggest thing that I got out of it was the incredible friends you make on the show, because you’re all going through this really weird ride together and having to kind of muster up the courage to get out there and … perform a dance you’ve learnt three days before.

You say you had to muster the courage … were you able to let go?

Totally. Everyone is used to seeing you in gumboots in the morning weather and there you are [dancing] … and it’s like, “Here’s my body, Australia” [laughs].

Are you enjoying your new radio role as host of The Scoopla Show and national drive news presenter on 2DayFM? 

Radio is awesome because I can go in dressed mostly in whatever I want. It’s delivering news or entertainment news and you’ve got to make it a bit engaging. People want to be able to listen to you and have an image in their mind as to what you’re talking about. So I like that creative element.

Everyone was shocked when you left Channel 9.

Yes, everyone was very shocked, including myself! When everyone asks me still what happened, I can only kind of tell them what I know, which is that it was budget cuts and possibly a different direction for the couple of shows that I was working on.

Do you miss live TV?

I do, but I don’t at the same time. I get my live fix each night with radio because it’s an adrenalin rush.

You and your family are heavily involved with racing. What were your commitments during the Spring Carnival?

My big two projects were with David Jones on Caulfield Cup Day and then Lexus Design Pavilion on Derby and Cup.

Do you prefer the fashion or the racing side when it comes to races?

Oh, that’s like the hardest question in the world. It’s like choosing between children. I do love the racing side, to be honest. I love that kind of old-world feel, that kind of tradition that racing has around it as a sport – and particularly this time of year, I think. I’m so full of admiration for all the trainers and jockeys and owners and everyone who works at the stables across the country … I do love the fashion side of it as well though, obviously, and I think that’s only natural for a young woman to have a kind of fondness for that part of racing. But it would be by the shortest of like half-noses; racing as a sport would win over fashion.

You have done many interesting stories in your journalistic career. What’s the most memorable moment for you?

One of my most amazing was hosting a show last year with Usain Bolt. And then, one of the stories that I’m most proud of that I put to air was a profile piece on Tommy Berry, who I absolutely adore. If he has a winner on a big day, I still text him and he always replies back. He’s such a sweetheart. And then, in the last kind of eight or nine months, I guess, I’m just really proud that I was able to get back on the horse quickly with Jules [Lund, her co-host on The Scoopla Show]. I don’t often say I’m proud of myself because I’m so self-critical and I’m quite a big perfectionist. But I, honestly, can look back on that process and say, “I gave it everything”.

If you could have any job in media, what would be your dream role?

Honestly, I kind of think about things differently nowadays; I don’t think of like a one role that I would love. But I think of areas that I’d love to work in more. For me, whether it’s radio or television, like the live format is just, I want to keep doing it. Racing and sport, they’re both areas that I love and then I’ve developed knowledge and a keen interest in.

Who do you look up to and admire?

I think Edwina Bartholomew – her work, right at the moment, is through the roof. I’ve seen it first-hand and I think she’s just an amazing woman to do what she does. Bruce McAvaney – obviously he’s just the Dwayne of sport – I love how he stuck to his guns over the years. What he does works for him. He has become this figure of like eternal knowledge. He works so hard at it. In radio, I do look up to Jules. He’ll love me saying that. But he’ll also be embarrassed by that at the same time. Jules is like a hard worker. But he is a really kind soul.

What do you do in your spare time?

I’m so boring – I don’t have any weird hobbies. But, mostly, I exercise. I eat great food and cook great food – not always great in terms of quality, but in terms of nutritional value. I have a good glass of red, watch the footy, hang out with friends.

 

WE WENT TO The Boathouse, Balmoral Beach.

WE ATE Market fruit plate with yoghurt and honey; avocado and tomato on charred toast with goat’s curd and fresh basil; buttermilk scones.

WE DRANK Mixed fruit juices.

EMMA WORE A Camilla and Marc dress and Scanlan Theodore boots.

I WORE a Zara shirt and Skin and Threads jeans.

 

 

Lifestyle

Decorating inspiration from the Lexus Design Pavilion

6th November, 2015

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During Derby Day and Melbourne Cup I spend most of my time at the Lexus Design Pavilion and each year it’s so beautifully styled and the interiors are so incredible that I always walk away with lots of design inspiration. This year’s Lexus Design Pavilion is based on a ‘Journey of the Senses.’ The theme was inspired by the theme of Lexus’ presentation at Milan Design Week 2015. Lexus collaborated with a stable of world-class creatives including Joost Bakker, Mim Design Studio, Ben Shewry, Dan Hong and Georgie Seccull. Guests of Lexus enjoyed the luxury experience through custom created sound scapes, scents, striking visual aspects and of course, taste. These pics give you a bit of an idea of how stunning the space was and these are some of the tips I took away from this year’s space.

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1. Don’t be afraid of colour

The gorgeous mint and forest green tones used on the dining chairs and banquette seating in the pavilion provided a great contrast to the white tones throughout. Sometimes it pays to be a little bit adventurous in your colour selections to give a room some personality.

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2. Use flowers unexpectedly

The tulip flower installation throughout the space was amazing. Suspending tulips from the ceiling all throughout was definitely striking and a great way to decorate a room in an unconventional way.

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3. Mix textures

The different textures throughout the room, including the stunning marble gave the room a luxe feel. Using multiple bowls was also a great way to decorate and is easily achieved at home.
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4. White on white

Much like white on white is a fail-safe option when it comes to fashion, white is is also a great way to keep a room fresh and inviting and gives the illusion of space. The touches of colour with the flooring and flowers gave it just the right amount of personality.

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5. Find a statement piece

The amazing butterfly wall art was a talking point for many guests. While you might not be able to recreate something quite so intricate at home, it’s a good lesson in the fact that you can dress up a wall by simply finding one stand out piece and letting it do the talking.

Photography: Earl Carter

Date with Kate

Date with Kate: Dan Hong

18th October, 2015
Yum Cha with Lexus ambassador Dan Hong. Photo: Wolter Peeters.

Yum Cha with Lexus ambassador Dan Hong. Photo: Wolter Peeters.

 

Top chef Dan Hong’s big break came with winning the Josephine Pignolet Award for best young chef in 2008. He went on to join Merivale and is now the executive chef across four of its establishments – Mr. Wong, Ms G’s, Papi Chulo​ and El Loco. The 32-year-old talked to me about how his mother got him his first big gig, the dish he is most proud of, and the lengths he will go to for his ultimate pair of sneakers.

Did you always want to be a chef?

Not really. I didn’t really do well in high school. So when I finished, my mum said, “What are you going to do?” I was like, “Oh, I don’t know.” She said, “Why don’t you become a chef?” I went, “Oh, OK.” So she actually got my first job. This was 14 years ago, back at Longrain​, and my passion sort of just developed from there.

Why did your mother suggest you become a chef?

I don’t know. I always grew up around restaurants. My mother owned three Vietnamese restaurants, back in the early ’90s. I cooked at home a lot because my mum wasn’t at home. She was always at the restaurant. So she just thought, “You’re good at cooking at home for the family, so why don’t you just give it a go?”

You are now one of the biggest names in the business. How did it evolve for you?

It all just fell into place. I’m really fortunate to have someone like Justin Hemmes, who has all these visions. I just execute the food. With something like Mr. Wong, he was just like, “I’m closing down Tank. I’m opening a Chinese restaurant and I want you.” I’m like, “Well, I don’t know anything about Chinese food.” He knew that I could do something like this without me even realising myself.

How did your association with Justin and Merivale come about?

Back in 2007, when I won the Josephine Pignolet Award for Best Young Chef, as part of the project, you get to travel overseas. So I worked in New York for two months and I got back and literally, the second day, I got back, I got a call from Frank Roberts, who is the general manager of food and beverage at Merivale, going, “Look, I’ve got this spot open.” He was with Lotus at that time. He went, “Look, I want you to come, do a tasting for Justin and then we’ll see how we go.” And then, luckily, I got the job at Lotus back in 2008. That was my first head chef job at 23. From there, it was Ms. G’s and El Loco and Mr. Wong.

You say you didn’t know anything about Chinese food, how did you transition and become one of the top chefs in Chinese cuisine?

I always loved eating Chinese food. So that’s what our chefs did at the end of our shifts late night: we’d always go to Chinatown like Golden Century and eat Chinese food. When we were opening Mr. Wong, we went to Hong Kong. We went from the smallest wonton noodle shop to the three Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurants in the hotels. We went and ate at all the places, just to make ourselves just engulf ourselves in Chinese food. We read lots of books. I watched YouTube videos of people cooking Chinese food and I just combined everything. It was all trial and error. We had six months to work on the menu and that’s what we did.

Mr. Wong is a Two Hat restaurant, you must be so proud.

I am. I didn’t intend to get two hats. I just wanted a hat – [one] would be fine. It was so overwhelming. Now we’ve got to maintain the two hats now. So every September, when that time of the year comes when the Good Food Guide Awards come out, I’m stressing out!

How do you maintain the standard? 

It’s all about being consistent and maintaining that high standard, no matter whether we do 1000 covers a day or 400 covers today. That’s our main priority.

What’s next in the pipeline?

It’s so busy here at Mr. Wong and Ms. G’s. I’m just constantly here, just trying to work on new dishes. Also I’m getting ready for the Melbourne Cup carnival – I am doing the downstairs food at the Lexus Design Pavilion in the Birdcage at Flemington. I’ve been working on the menu; people should expect really fun, delicious food. I’ve never been to the Melbourne Cup so it should be a lot of fun. Also I’m possibly doing something on TV later on. I can’t really say.

What is your favourite cuisine? 

It’s a three-way tie between Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. I can’t choose.

If you could work in any cuisine, what would it be?

I’d like to get into more Japanese cuisines. I think that’s still a little niche in the market there. I think you could take it to the next level with Japanese cuisine too.

What dish of yours are you most proud of?

At Ms. G’s, I’ve got this dish called Stoner’s Delight. It’s up to its third rendition now. People just love it. It’s the most unbalanced junk-food-style dish dessert ever. It’s got donut ice-cream, peanut butter, deep-fried nutella, mars bar brownie, peanut and pretzel brittle, potato chips, candied bacon. Every single table orders it. It’s the most Instagrammed dessert on Ms. G’s Geotag. It’s just crazy.

What’s your favourite restaurant in the world?

I would have to say it’s probably Flower Drum in Melbourne. I just love it.

Do you cook at home?

Not really. Because I work so much … I might just get a really nice steak from Victor Churchill and just cook it over charcoal and serve with salad on the side. My wife does the cooking at home. She is a great cook.

Will your children follow in your footsteps? 

No, they better not. The industry is tough, especially being a chef.

What’s the toughest part of the industry?

It’s just the hours are really tough, the fact that you’re working while everyone is going out. Most of the time I leave when my children are asleep, and they’re asleep when I get home at night.

How do you create that work-life balance?

Well, first of all, your partner has to understand, in the first place, that you’re in the industry. Other than that, I try and spend the mornings with my kids when I can. I take my daughter to day-care three days a week. So I spend a bit of time with her there. I’ve still got two days off. I’ve got Sunday and Monday off. So that’s my family day.

You have a love of sneakers. How many pairs of sneakers do you own?

I’ve got about 140. They’re all in boxes in this custom wardrobe in my house.

Where did your love of sneakers come about?

I don’t know. I just really love rocking the latest kicks or the rarest shoes. That’s sort of just my vice, besides cooking.

Do you have a favourite pair? 

I do. I’m a Nike Flyknit freak. I love anything Flyknit. I’ve got a pair of these rare Nike Flyknits. There are 50 pairs in the world.

How did you get them?

Well, they’re only released in Milan at the Nike lab there. I got them through just checking Instagram, looking at sneaker groups in Facebooks and forums, just to see who had a pair, not necessarily for sale. I just saw people wearing them and I just went, “Are they for sale? I’ll buy them.” I’m not going to say how much I spent because it was a lot for a pair of sneakers. That’s what you have to do for something that’s only 50 pairs in the world.

What’s something that people wouldn’t know about you?

I’m really into really crappy reality TV shows. At the moment WAGs is probably my favourite.

 

BITE SIZE
WE WENT TO Mr. Wong, Sydney CBD.

WE ATE Lexus Design Pavilion menu of Jade seafood and ku chive dumplings, chive and roast-duck dumplings, wild mushroom dumplings, and scallop and lobster dumplings.

WE DRANK Chinese tea and sparkling mineral water.

I WORE Dion Lee 

 

Fashion, Social

The Lexus Design Pavilion at Flemington

12th November, 2013

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The Lexus Design Pavilion was the place to be over the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

VIP guests who attended included Naomi Campbell, Lara Bingle, Christine Centenera, Neil Perry, Jamie Durie, Kelly Landry, Eddie McGuire, Tim Robard (The Bachelor), Camilla Freeman-Topper and The Veronicas.

All guests enjoyed the unique and luxurious hospitality elements throughout the Lexus Design Pavilion, which showcased creative excellence in collaboration with distinguished interior practice, Hecker Guthrie.

Lexus Ambassador, Neil Perry and Simon Denton collaborated with the brand on food, while Jamie Durie helped with the look and design of the ‘Sky Deck’, where guests could enjoy a cocktail while getting a 360 degree view of the racetrack.

Photography: Jim Lee