Saturday, September 18, 2010

Leave the food alone!

I was recently drawn to an article that appeared on the website of Perez Hilton about coloured bacon. I swear to you there are people who are making bacon in all colours of the rainbow. This is actually a porcine pride flag. I kid you not – and if you want to look, pop to and check it out. The guy that created it is a graphic designer and has come up with an idea that makes the bacon taste the same and retain its colour event after it has been cooked. This has got me to thinking about the changes in the way we cook and eat.

Rene Redzepi, recently named the best chef in the world, is from Noma in Copenhagen. Items on his menu include some interesting combinations of food. And anyone who has watched a moment of anything Heston Blumenthal would know that he has done some amazing things with food that most might find a little out of their realm of understanding.

But where is all this experimentation taking us? How long will food look like it does now and for how long will we recognise it as the stuff we know now? The father of Molecular Gastronomy, Herve This, suggests that these are the current objectives of the movement:

Looking for the mechanisms of culinary transformations and processes (from a chemical and physical point of view) in three areas:
1. the social phenomena linked to culinary activity
2. the artistic component of culinary activity
3. the technical component of culinary activity

Now I don’t know about your thoughts on all of this but I have some and it behoves me to share them with you here. So here are my Ten Commandments for leaving food alone.
1. If it aint broke – don’t fix it. Carrots should taste like carrots, not cocoa butter. Vegetables are great sources of important nutrients. Leave them alone.

2. Sausages are supposed to be cooked on a barbeque, or a grill. They are not to be cooked in a vacuum so they look like the raw intestines of a bovine and retain their raw texture. That’s why we cook them.

3. Food does not require ‘foam’ unless of course it is a cappuccino or a hot chocolate. I understand the technique, but just leave it as a sauce.

4. Sand is something that lives on the beach. There is a reason. Sand anywhere else is uncomfortable. Like in your budgie smugglers or your bed. So keep sand off my plate. Whether it is made of liquorice root or the scrapings from the inside of a goats ear – it is still sand.

5. Feet, snouts and ears are body parts that have a purpose – and those purposes are not for human consumption. They are, and should remain, something that Fido or some other canine creature should chew on to leave your slippers alone.

6. Offal is something that Nana used to eat because, well it was a freaking depression and they had no money. Offal is not a main course. Tripe, brains and other glands should be used to make pet food.

7. Food should be able to be thrown together in an hour or two. Anything that takes a day and a half to prepare is unnecessary and a waste of everyone’s time.

8. Food should retain it natural colour and texture – not be deconstructed, pulled apart, and remade to resemble itself. Why waste all that time pulling something apart only to remake it as itself? This is nonsense.

9. Most food should be cooked. People who live only on raw food are not right in the head. I don’t mind a plate of sashimi or a carpaccio of Wagyu beef, but on the whole, surviving only on raw food means you are slightly odd.

10. Meat and fish in tins is pet food. Whether the producers add some sundried tomatoes and basil, or it is in olive oil, brine or milk from cows that have been hand fed by nubile virgins. The end result is it remains fish and meat in tins and should only be fed to your pets.

That’s my take on it all and you may not agree. It is my opinion and that’s why they pay me the big bucks to write this column!!

Food Porn again

Several months ago I wrote about my addiction to food porn, and I am pleased to say it has reached new heights of depravity. Reason, with its sensible shoes and homely cardigans, encourages common sense in a time of the horrid darkness of election campaigns and ice road truckers dominating the viewing time. It is this reason that has departed from my life and I confess I am all agog of what to do.

I scour the papers daily, searching to determine how many of my food fantasies might come true, and to date, so many have. Meeting Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria – done. Being in a lift with Jamie Oliver – done. Sitting in awe of David Chang in a Master Class – done and doner! Having dinner with Manu, Pete, Adrian, Miguel, Michel Roux - all done. What in Nigella’s name remains? Nigella herself and can I say, as sick as it sounds, I am somewhat beside myself that Ms Lawson will grace our shores in 2011 as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

This news is bliss. I don’t know what it is about Nigella or any of these other celebrity culinary boffins that makes me so unreasonable. It can’t be because they are women, as in most cases, this encourages a sense of awe and confusion on my behalf. I think it is mostly that these personages, when hovering above a Miele hob and sweating food platitudes, that my inner core of desire and any of those other deadly sins, is indeed satiated in a way nothing else suffices.

I tried to have casual relationships with food programs and sadly, my attempt at casual satisfaction has failed miserably. Popping in and out of food shows has left me unsatisfied and feeling like a cheat...

It is not like these women and men of the culinary trade are overly special. Perhaps it starts something in my inner core – a spark of wanton desire or lust, greed or avarice. Or perhaps it is just nice clean viewing in a world dominated by smut and bad behaviour – in a world of television that promises much but delivers tits and ass!

There have been ,any viewing moments that have revved my inner core – and so many of those have come from meeting the peoples discussed above, in their finest personage. People who spend their lives creating. Mixing flavour, colour, texture and scent makes them special. Whisking, slicing, chopping and dicing with a sense of flourish and theatre that encourages such delight inside so many of us...

One wonders how we become obsessed with anything – food, sex, cars, chickens, meccano. Each of these obsessions in its own right is a valid and normal thing. The dictionary tells me about obsession:
1. the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.
2. the idea, image, desire, feeling, etc., itself.
3. the state of being obsessed.
4. the act of obsessing.

How do you become dominated by these thoughts, feelings, or images and desires? Why does the television inform so many of our ideas about food? I think it is because it is doable, because we know how to source and create the food that we are shown, and that we lust after. It is because we reach a realisation that these folk are accessible and that they are just like us. That they weep with sharp onions, that they cut themselves and bleed. It provides us with an opportunity to realise that we can be like them in some small way.

We can make our way to the fridge at midnight to eat a spoon or two of chocolate ganache that we prepared earlier in the day, that we didn’t eat. Nigella can do it, which gives us permission to do it. Jamie has his mates around and knocks up some pucker tucker... and we can do that.

Granted we all cant be like Heston or Ferran or any of the alchemists who meld and divine new flavour from bog standard ingredients... but we can try.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is on again in 2011 and if you want to rub shoulders with some of these food gods and goddesses – get along to an intimate master class and meet them. Your life might never be the same.

Openings and things

There are restaurants opening across Melbourne at a rate of knots... and it seems every time I open the mail there is another launch to attend. Apart from an ever expanding girth and a somewhat damaged liver, I think we are blessed to have the finest of dining culture here in the southern city of class. This has been evidenced of late with several top notch awards coming Melbourne’s way.

Andrew McConnell’s Cutler and Co was awarded the gong for Australian Restaurant of the Year in the Gourmet Traveller awards held just last week. David Lawler in his role as Sommelier at Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar and Grill took the coveted wine list of the year at Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine’s recent wine list awards, as well as Lawler himself picking up the much prized Judy Hirst award for his passion and skill as a top notch Sommelier. And not ignoring the talents of those in regional Australia, Dan Hunter and the Royal Mail Hotel in Western Victoria’s Dunkeld has won Regional Restaurant of the Year.

Back to the openings though, I was recently at Pandora’s Box on Duke Street, Windsor. Pandora’s is a sister restaurant to Orange that sits merely doors away on Chapel Street. Pandora’s was always going to fare well, and no expense has been spared. Consulting wine maker, Lok Thornton has put together an awesome list, and the food is under the guidance of the talented Matthew Germanchis, formerly of Mo Vida. Even the tiles have been hand made for the bar and floor, with PB initialled in every one of them.

Pandora’s is a shared plate experience, slightly sitting to the tapas edge of dining, but with options to suit all tastes. Don’t go past the wonderful take on a scotch egg – a quails egg has been hidden amongst Bacala or salt cod, then crumbed and fried. When you reach the middle, a gooey yolk from the egg runs down the chin, and is a sensational food experience. Also have a go at some St Helen’s oysters with Riesling jelly, watercress and horseradish. Order at least a half dozen. Then grab a selection of the other tasty tidbits before hoeing into mains. There are a number of options, some more solid than others, including an aged Angus Rump with bone marrow (my favourite indulgence), fine herbs with chips, or maybe a wild Barramundi alongside mussels with fennel & watercress, and ‘Macleay Valley’ rabbit, stifado style served with garlic & lemon kale. The rabbit was a tad dry for my liking, and the barramundi could have dealt with the mussels a little better, but overall, a wonderful dining experience.

There are some dessert options at Pandora’s but after pigging into the salt cod scotch eggs, Mr handsome and I were unable to stomach any more food.

Duck Duck Goose is an entirely different affair. Situated in Artemis lane, just off Lonsdale street, this eatery had a gestation longer than that of an elephant. 3 years in the making, the patient were rewarded with a very stylish melange of traditional chinese food and some high end French haute cuisine. Start at the bar, as they serve 23 different champagne offerings by the glass, including a reasonably priced Krug Grand Cuvee. We cant all afford a bottle but a glass did very nicely thank you. Butter up to the gorgeous Sommelier, Rohan Anderson and be well looked after with your plonk.

Food, as mentioned, is a mish mash. A formal dining area and private dining rooms, in the area known as the dark side, offer up all manner of new and modern, maybe even posh techniques. Foams, splodges, sands, gels and other such scientific explorations accompany high end traditional French cuisine, with smatterings of the Asian influences the Kam Fook group are known for.

You will find foie gras, abalone, shellfish and other such classy desirables popping up on the menu, and one might need a slight advance from the bank manager to splash out on the trusty visa! Kick off with the oxtail and foie gras mille fieulle, something you don’t try every day and certainly something that will get the mouth watering. Keep with the upper crust experience by trying the almost sticky rare venison fillets with a couple of sauce options, calvados (apple brandy), paired with espresso. Yep, espresso... coffee!

The wine list is impressive but this is totally a special occasion event. Its not cheap but there is something there for every one’s taste, everyone’s budget (quite a list by the glass), and you will find some of the much maligned New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in there, otherwise known to some as slut juice ( I so wish that expression was mine!).

Desserts are as equally spectacular as the remainder of the menu and certainly if you are splashing out, have yourself a cheeky little sweetie, paired with a glass of sticky.

For diners on the light side, expect a very well priced dim sum style of food. Dishes down there start at just $8 and will please any palate that you can muster up. It’s easy to have a dark side, light side experience at Duck Duck Goose – pop into the bar and be seduced by some exquisite champagne, then pop downstairs for a good old fashioned Hong Kong style dim sum meal. The fountain in the middle of the dark side will calm your nerves while you jump on the phone to the finance department, making sure the funds are in the jar to spoil yourself and your date.

Good Food Guide Gongs and goings on,

It’s been a big month, and the Age Good Food Guide 2011 was released to great fan fare. Some awesome results and some honourable mentions to some names that have appeared here in the past five years! Congratulations to Ben Shewry at Attica in Ripponlea. I have trumpeted this man’s astonishing talent for some time and his restaurant, and he was awarded the sash and tiara for Chef of the Year.

Dan Hunter at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld richly deserves the Restaurant of the Year gong. Both of these guys are exceptionally talented, exciting chefs and will shape the way we eat for years to come.

We don’t dine like we used to and this is apparent with some of the winners of this year’s awards. We are sharing plates rather than ordering a structured entree, main and dessert style of meal and this is a great thing. There is nothing more convivial than to sit around a table with great food, good wine and lovely company. Try Izakaya Den or Mamasita for this style of food. We have also seen some posh pizza, the continued growth of great pub food and the appreciation of the provenance of food- where it comes from, how it is treated and allowing the ingredients to stand up for themselves without too much fiddling or fussing with it.

This is no better exampled than by the dish of the year for 2011, Loam’s suckling pig. Loam is on a dirt road, about 10 minutes from Drysdale near Geelong, overlooking olive groves with a view of the ocean. Run by Chef Aaron Turner and his wife Astrid, these two are also most worthy of this award, as well as the 2 hats they received and the title of Best New Country Restaurant. They have come a long way in just 14 months and these will be names that will stick with you for some time. These folks are all future captains of our dining industry and if these are the hands we are in, then the future looks bright.

Speaking of bright futures, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Masterclass tickets will be on sale as this goes to print. With an extraordinary array of wonderful chefs coming from all corners of the globe, this festival will rival those previous events that have seen the likes of Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in Bray, Phillip Howard, the late Rose Gray, Andoni Adruiz, Jamie Oliver and a huge array of wonderful foodies from across the world.

Nigella makes her way down under which regular readers will know has me stiff in the undies. Just as exciting, a slightly lesser known but incredibly more talented Spain’s three Michelin-star chefs Elena Arzak will join her. Arzak is among the inspirational Women of the Kitchen program that will form part of the 2011 Master Class series. Get in for your tickets cos these things sell like hot cakes. A subtle reminder.. its my birthday and all tickets that you wish to purchase on my behalf can be sent care of this magazine. Elena is co-chef with father Juan Mari Arzak and the fourth generation at their eponymous San Sebastian restaurant, in Spain’s gastronomic capital.

The rise and rise of women in the kitchen, and on the world stage continues. One only has to look to the 37 year old Anne-Sophie Pic of France’s La Maison Pic in Valence, only the fourth woman in the world to receive 3 Michelin stars. (Everything that I have is crossed that she will make the journey to Australia for Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in my lifetime.)

Then there is Alice Waters from the US – a modern day, but far more feisty Julia Childs. She is not only a chef, restaurateur, activist, and humanitarian but is also the owner of Chez Panisse, the world-renowned restaurant in Berkeley, California famous for its organic, locally-grown ingredients and for pioneering California cuisine. That’s another woman to add to my bucket list.

A look in our own back yard reveals some women of supreme talent – Karen Martini, Kylie Kwong, Christine Manfield to name just a few – all of whom are blazing great trails. But here we also turn our heads to the grand dames that shaped our industry for decades – Stephanie, Mietta, Maggie and the wonderful Margaret Fulton. Perhaps the rest of the world is catching up to us rather than the other way round.

I am sure as there are many well known women in our industry, there are also many not known who inspire you to enjoy food – from your Mum or your sister, or the young ones that inhabit the kitchens in your local dining haunts. Support them and appreciate them, as well as celebrating their talent.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Evolution of the Former Fat Bastards

It’s started - Penny (my housemate) and I have decided "enough fat bastards". We moan that we cant fit into our clothes, that our belts are too tight and that we simply are sick of being overweight.

The challenge has started and I am going to subject you to it. You can read about the journey, might help you to sleep at night or could simply bore you to tears ... but while that is happening, we will be shedding pounds quicker than Posh Beckham at a cocktail party.

We started on the weekend but beer and football stood in my way and visitors from interstate really screwed up Penny's start as well, so Monday we started in earnest.
We have taken bread, processed white food, rice, pasta, pastry, nuts, coffee, soft drinks, and most importantly and the hardest thing to give up, is my beloved gift of Bacchus, wine. For someone who works with wine and is ever so fond of a drink, to give this up has been a challenge - it is not forever of course but until the pounds start disappearing, we will be diligent.

We are grumpy, we are cranky and we are waiting for ketosis to kick in so our bodies are using some stored business instead of us stuffing them like silos with food that our bodies don’t need as much of.

Why now? Who knows, apart that from looking at photos and bemoaning the tightness of some of my clothing, its time to start looking after the temple.

Giving up food that one loves is a challenge of enormous proportions. As soul diva Aretha Franklin has said “I think the hardest thing is losing weight. That's the hardest thing more than anything else.” Another quote I found, and I don’t know from who it comes, is “The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight because by then, your body and your fat are really good friends”. This makes much more sense to me, but I am determined and Penny is as well.

The hard thing is motivation, and we are good for one another. As I sneak to the pantry looking for a sweet biscuit, Penny reminds me that I shouldn’t be. As she craves diet cola or something sweet, I play the voice in her head and remind her that there is an outcome here that will be good for us. The strange thing is that I normally don’t eat sweet biscuits.

I want to be healthier rather than being thin. I couldn’t really give a fig for being thin as I will obsess. But I want to be healthier. I am at an age where this needs to be considered now. Not in 5 years, but now. And as my search for a mate... a penguin... continues, I need to be in my best emotional, mental and physical state to be ready.

I also want to wear clothes as they should be worn, rather than buying things with X in the size. I don’t need to be a small or a medium – I am too ‘big boned’ for that.

So the journey will continue, and to quote Winston Churchill – ‘It will be long, and hard, and there will be no withdrawals’ . Wish us luck.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I am a food porn addict

I have to stop my obsession with cooking shows on television. I recently subscribed to that nonsense of paying for television just so I could have my food porn. I blame Matt Preston, as I do for a number of things, and Pete Evans, who I can never be cross at. (Must remind him he is taking me fishing).

Food porn is an interesting thing – people find me a little odd, given that I can happily watch Nigella massage a headless dead featherless chicken near to orgasm, that Jamie can lift my skirt just from the fact that he will cook something a bit offally, and every time Heston Blumenthal comes on to the box, I am stiff in the undies.

My obsession for food porn needs to be dealt with and I am off to my FP group. Hello, my name is Pete and I am a food porn addict.

It is funny using food and porn in the same sentence, given the orgy of indulgence that was Easter. People munching chocolate until their faces and leggings expanded beyond belief, and others pretending that they don’t care for Easter but are secreting away bilbys and Lindt rabbits to eat when the other half is at work or on the loo.

There is a point... Masterchef 2 is about to begin on the box. 50 hopeful Julie Goodwins, or Poh Ling Yeows are lining up to see if they, as ever the bridesmaids must in reality TV, win the second series. (2 lindt bunnies to anyone who remembers the winners of Big Brother 2 or the Biggest Loser 2). Not enough guts to enter the first one, but seeing the success of those contestants from series 1 has allowed them to gather the gumption to have a go now. Good for them and C list celebrity invites I say.

There will be 14 Vics and 14 NSW’s among the many and no doubt, the rivalry will continue through this series. My money is on a young male Victorian (the antithesis of last years winner.)

Entries have been called for Junior Masterchef, and of course we saw super sexy swimmer Eamon Sullivan take home the gong for the celebrity show last year. All I need now is Masterchef up late, Masterchef uncut and Masterchef Survivor. That should cure my aforementioned addiction to food porn.

I was a recent viewer of My Kitchen Rules. I was blogging for a while, annoyed at the sniping queen from Adelaide, loving eventual winners, Veronica and Shadi, and mourning that the title wasn’t taken by Victorians - are they/are they not Clint and Noah. The title should have gone to a Vic couple as we simply have the best food in the world – parochial much?

What did annoy me is that Pete Evans became a sanitised version of himself, and Manu, whilst shedding pounds by the dozen, was allowed to shine. Stand by for the book, the inevitable advertising of paper towels and perhaps a mixed tape not unlike Mr Prestons offering following Masterchef 1.

Matt is up for a Logie award in a few weeks and so is the show. I think this says something about a need for good food on the television to keep us from all becoming fat bastards. The Biggest Loser is there to help we over indulgent once we have cooked and eaten everything in sight. Masterchef is there to inspire us to cook well, and with fresh seasonal produce and it has done that. It broke all sorts of ratings records and has boys and girls cooking croquembouche and ceviche when they could never as much as spelled them.

I love that there is food porn on the tele – I love that Heston and Nigella and Jamie and all of those cooking types are inspiring people to cook and eat, and I love that the bar is being set higher and higher every time I go to some one else’s house to dine.

My name is Pete and I am a food porn addict ...... and I am more than happy to remain so.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sisters at Cutler and Co

Every now and then, I get to take part in something special. This happens more frequently than my liver would like but Monday 29th March, it was damn the liver.

Andrew McConnell is one talented human being, and when you line up his exceptional food, with the talents of 4 of the most exciting female wine makers in the nation, add in some Jane Faulkner magic as an MC and have it all overseen by the talented Sally Humble, you have a recipe for one hell of a great night. And it was.

Sisters are doing it for themselves featured the wines of Kerri Thompson of KT and the Falcon, the fabulous Kim Chalmers of Chalmers Wines, Rebecca Wilson of Bremerton and very new mum, Sue Bell from Bellweather Wines. The four women sat in a room full of admiration for their exciting talents, and shared the secrets of where they came from and how they managed to develop careers in a industry that is no longer dominated by traditional varietals and men.

Kicking of with some terrific Melva Riesling from KT, the crowd gathered to renew old friendships and make some news ones. Half of the crowd I think are former or current Sunraysians, so it felt a little like old home week!!

Heirloom tomato salad, with marinated vegetables, fromage blanc, tarragon and almond aillade was the first course offered up by Mr McConnell at Cutler and Co. Teamed with KT's Peglidis Riesling and Chalmers 09 Vermentino, we knew a great meal was ahead of us.

Salad Lyonnaise, Frisee Salad with crisp pancetta, garlic sausage, smoked tongue, confit gizzards and poached yolk was the next course, and regardless of the use of the word gizzards, this was another triumph. Bellweather Chardonnay from Tamar Valley in Tassie, and the 08 Bremerton Reserve Chardonnay from SA were teamed here. Bec Wilson's first attempt at Chardonnay was great as was the cooler climate Tamar offering.

My favourite dish of the night was a confit ocean trout, with smoked onion, seaweed vinegar, beetroot and rye. Deftly executed, the marriage of flavour, colour texture and scent was awesome. Teamed with a Chalmers Negroamaro Rosato and a Nero d'Avola, the combination was exquisite.

As if we needed more food, braised goat with white polenta baby carrots and wilted greens followed, all of which were awesome. This was my second meal of goat in a couple of weeks and was awesome. An '06 Bellweather Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawara, and an 05 Bremerton Reserve Cabernet from Langhorne Creek both worked so very well with the goat and the accoutrement.

Finally, after what should have been a run around the block (but was really a walk outside for some air), we were served a delightful combination of macerated prunes with some chocolate ganache and an earl grey ice cream. A terrific dish and was team with 2 wonderful wines chosen by Sally Humble from Maury, a tiny appellation in southern France. An '05 Maury Mas Amiel Vintage Reserve, and a Mas Amiel Cuvee Speciale 10 ans d'age were excellent.

I am rolling around this morning, contemplating the damage to my body and wondering if I will need to eat before the Easter Bunny finds me.

There are plans for more of the events to happen around Australia, including one in Mildura and one in Adelaide.

Thanks to the amazing team of women who made this happen, especially Kim Chalmers. It was en evening incredibly well spent and I am sure I will have to follow the ladies around the country to ensure I get to do it again.