Thursday, December 17, 2009

The West Australian: Things of Stone & Wood

Chef Matt Stone from Greenhouse. Image: Jenny Susanto-Lee

The restaurant's outside walls are covered in 4,000 drip-fed strawberry plants. A working garden borders the rooftop level, which doubles as the bar area. It is hoped native sting-free bees will soon be hard at work pollinating the plants and making honey for the freshly baked bread. And the worm farm that will live in the ceiling should be kept happy thanks to the kitchen's food scraps.

Welcome to the wild world of Greenhouse, which prides itself on being a sustainable restaurant.

Dreamed up by designer wunderkind Joost Bakker, who first came to prominence with his temporary Greenhouse installation-cum-cafe in Melbourne's Federation Square earlier this year, Greenhouse has been built using only recycled materials. Hay bales, beer bottles, road signs and old tyres have a found a new lease of life in the eatery.

According to head chef Matt Stone, everything about the restaurant is recycled, aside from the painting by (Australian artist) David Bromley.

Even the crockery?

I've been making platters out of scrap corrugated iron," he says.

"There were also off-cuts from the kitchen benchtops and timber walls that we cut into random shapes and sizes to serve as platters as well. There's not a lot that's going to be the same. We do have some standard crockery that we will use but as we evolve I'd like to keep making our own bits and pieces.

"The cutlery is bought, as the resin handles from the set we had originally made melted in the dishwasher."

Recycling feats aside, Stone also plans to make Greenhouse as renowned for its fresh food as for its sustainability.

The rooftop garden is already well underway, with much of the crop harvested for the kitchen.

"Because of the style of the menu, we're relying on fresh local produce," he says.

"We can grow all sorts of different things in the rooftop garden that aren't readily available in fresh markets and supermarkets.

"At the moment we are growing most herbs, heirloom carrots, baby beetroot and capsicums.

"There's also nasturtiums, which we'll use for garnishing, and apple, lemon and kaffir lime trees. And strawberries, of course. I'd also like to get in some heirloom tomatoes. Our grow lights should be going up shortly. Once they're installed the garden will go nuts, so we'll be able to turn out vegetables really fast."

Several of the dishes the restaurant will produce will be sourced entirely from the rooftop.

"I'll probably base two or three dishes from the menu around things that I can source from my garden. For example, we might have purple, orange and white carrots that can be used in a salad or for a roast baby carrot dish."

The artisan bread will also be made in-house.

"We'll be doing all our own breads. It's a full-day process. Yesterday we did our first batch. We started at 8am and were eating it by 10pm last night. It was a pretty long process.

"And we're wood-firing the bread too, so that's a learning curve in itself. There's no yeast at all, it's 100 per cent sourdough. We're also milling our own flour, which is pretty cool. You don't buy ground coffee beans, do you? It's essentially the same process. It's easy and the flavour is so amazing."

So the big question is, where are the now-famous bees?

"That idea has been put on the backburner for now while we get set up," Stone laughs.

"But definitely in the new year we will get the beehives. I plan to use the honey in ice-cream, on our bread and in salad dressings."

Harvey beef skirt, green mango, cashew & fragrant herb salad,
Image: Jenny Susanto-Lee

Link to Fresh, the West Australian, December 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Buzz Now: Jus Burgers Subiaco Review

Lounging around under the palm trees having lunch at this new burger bar somehow had me feeling I was anywhere but in Subiaco: this place is begging to be beachside. It's casually hip, with Day-glo orange furniture and graffiti art adorning the walls. The staff are cool and laid-back, and there is a nifty outdoor window for takeaway orders, which adds to the relaxed vibe. I felt I was back in St Kilda, Melbourne.

As is fitting with funky eateries these days, practically all of the ingredients are locally sourced, seasonal and organic, and there are gluten-free options too. Most of the drinks and juices are made on-site, and much of the fit-out uses recycled products.

The cheeseburger I ordered was the most real burger I have eaten in a long, long time and had me wondering how so many other places can get it so wrong. The presentation was great and has become their signature: burger perched on a wooden chopping board with a steak knife plunged through the centre.

The first thing I noticed was that the burger had very little grease, just the chargrilled smokey goodness from the beef pattie and burger bun. Secondly, the ingredients were super fresh - whole Swiss mushrooms, lettuce that didn't wilt, cheese that wasn't plastic and a Harvey beef pattie that actually tasted of meat. Added to that condiments of fresh tomato relish and a creamy aioli that are made in-house and I was in burger nirvana.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buzz Now: Galileo review

Sequestered away in the leafy streets of Shenton Park is Galileo Buona Cucina, a rustic Italian trattoria that has been servicing its well-heeled locals for the past five years. The eatery does tradition with a capital T, with old-style washed yellow walls, uncomplicated table settings and flagged stone-look flooring.

Stepping into Galileo feels slightly voyeuristic at first because the space feels so personal. There are three small dining areas that are inter-connected: I felt like I was trespassing on an Italian family at mealtime. And so to the food. In true provincial style the serves were gargantuan and, from what I could see, taking home the leftovers was a common practice. The bruschetta was delicious and the kitchen was generous with the fresh Roma tomato topping. The special of roast duck in a reduced red wine jus was served without fanfare on a bed of mash. It had been slow-cooked in the wood-fired oven on a rotisserie for two hours, deboned, then returned to the oven to crisp up. It was sensational.

The main size serve of sagnette all' Aquilana (home-made pasta with pancetta, garlic, tomatoes and chilli in a napoletana sauce) was monstrous and, in retrospect, I should have respected the dish as a primi piatti and chosen a meat dish for my main instead.

The black and white-clad waitstaff were friendly, unobtrusive and more than accommodating. It was nice to see a good number of people on the floor.

The wine list is to be expanded shortly, with an additional fifty Italian wines being added from various regions of Italy.

Galileo magnifico.

Monday, December 7, 2009

SPICE magazine: Summer 2009

Restaurant Reviews: New Order

It's always tough to know how long a new restaurant might take to iron out the wrinkles. Some take a week, or two, some a couple of months. Some never do. Not one to enjoy throwing good money away at bad food, I prayed the new crop had hit its straps by the time I paid them a visit.

The Silver Spoon

Stepping into The Silver Spoon is like entering a giant glittering Christmas bauble - it's a very shiny space to be in. With the bi-fold doors wide open on a chilly Spring evening, we went for the warm and hearty sounding charcuterie sharing plate ($26) for a starter. It was generous and beautifully presented - dollops of olive tapenade and apple chutney balanced the assorted meat parfaits and rillettes out nicely, although the terrine needed more zing. Fortified by a protein overload, we soldiered on with mains. The crab with squid ink linguini ($26) was, according to my BFF, "mushy", but my Asian-influenced snapper in a tomato, chilli and lime broth ($35) hit the mark with its much-needed shot of warmth. To round it all off we went with a delicate white chocolate pannacotta and peach compote ($10), and a solid brick of date and pecan pudding with toffee sauce ($10) for dessert, which were both good. The prices are reasonable, the wine list is long and, judging by the crowd, the up-market presence is much appreciated in this neck of the woods.

The Cabin Winebar & Bistro

Much ado has been made about The Cabin since it opened its doors earlier this year, and fair enough too. It's a chic little fit-out that has the look and feel of a snowed-in hunting lodge, with modern touches added to prevent it from becoming too kitsch. The lunch menu is small and meaty, and beef cheeks aside, I couldn't go past a duck three-way ($18). The pate was excellent, and so fine it could practically have been re-listed as a duck dip if it had not held its form so well. I was ever-grateful for the carrot batons presented to me in lieu of baked goods thanks to my pesky new gluten intolerance. the slow-roasted duck was meltingly tender, although the pan-fried duck was a little on the dry side. The suggested side of Welsh rarebit and portobello mushrooms ($7) went swimmingly well with the whole ensemble. The wine list is a round-the-world experience, with a dazzling variety of wines by the glass. A return visit in the evening will be in order, if only to try the game-laden 'Hunter' tasting platter on the tapas menu.

Azure Restaurant

Azure has such a calm, cleansing feel about it that I felt I should be donning a robe in preparation for a massage. It is an oasis of tranquility. The menu has an Italian base and the enormous display of desserts is made entirely in-house. We had a small person in tow so could not meld into the experience entirely, but the kitchen took stock of our situation and plated up in short order. The porcini mushroom risotto ($34 for main) was a generous serve with good bite, although the baby chargrilled octopus in the salad ($19.50 tasted undercooked. Pork belly with alternating morsels of scallop and swooshes of pear dressing and jus ($32.50) was excellent - the pork was soft and tender, with layers of fat and crackling perfectly cooked. For dessert we shared a spectacular chocolate Black Forest dome ($12.50) that housed a rich mousse of white chocolate and cherries, all perched in a chocolate basket. Nyom.

Palais 85

Formerly The Oyster Bar, Palais 85 has been turned into a beautiful, opulent space with padded flocked chairs and sofas, chandeliers and vast swathes of silk suspended from the ceiling. Perfect for an intimate soiree. I was surprised that, on a Saturday night, it wasn't busier. Our group started with large, creamy oysters served with a piquant marsala aioli ($16 for half a dozen). Marron salad with tabouli $28) was neither here nor there, as was the goat's cheese salad ($28.50). The venison on potato cake ($38.50), served medium rare, was exquisitely tender, although the pile of accompanying chopped raw onion was completely bewildering. Desserts consisted of a delicious tasting plate of rich chocolate mousse, Indian pistachio kulfi ice cream and flourless orange cake ($18), while the pannacotta ($13) was a bit of a let-down with no evidence of the promised vanilla bean. Despite having to wait forever for somebody to notice our empty glasses, the service was professional and knowledgeable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The West Australian: Secret Ingredient

There are a number of new dishes to try at Japanese restaurant Ha-Lu, which has just released its new-season menu. Top billing goes to the 'Zukushi' tastings - a variety of dishes derived from the one key ingredient, all served on one plate. For anago eel lovers, for example, there is anago and mashed potato 'Dango' dumplings, anago and aubergine in a soy, mirin and sake 'Nikogori' gelatine, and anago tempura with teriyaki sauce.

"It's a unique menu and different to any we've done before," says owner Yutaka Yamauchi.

"We've very much enjoyed devising several different dishes out of the same ingredient,"

Other new dishes include finely chopped sashimi tuna with a poached 'onsen-'style egg, and sweet 'datemaki' egg roll with grated oyster.

Ha-Lu is open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday at 4.401 Oxford Street, Mt Hawthorn.

The West Australian: Thai Ties

Expat chef David Thompson lives in Thailand and has written a second book about its food.

Australian chef David Thompson first visited Thailand more than 20 years ago and, since that fateful journey, has never really returned to our fair shores.

Seduced by the people and their traditions, he decided to stay and now calls Bangkok - and, these days, London - home.

But, being a chef, what Thompson really fell in love with was the food.

"Its just so bloody delicious," he declared during a recent visit to Perth.

"Thai cuisine has a broad repertoire of recipes, with both ancient techniques and sophisticated techniques. This all contributes to a fantastic cuisine".

It is this ongoing love affair with Thai food that culminated in Thompson's first cookbook in 2002, 'Thai Food', which comprehensively documented the traditional recipes he learnt working alongside cooks who had perfected their culinary techniques in the royal palaces of Thailand. Thompson has now written a second book, 'Thai Street Food', which explores the curry shops, street vendors and markets of Thailand.

"This book is different from my previous book because it's so current, so now," he said.

"It's about what's available and out there on the street. It has that immediacy. It's a different aspect of Thai cooking and it reflects the different ways that people eat. The book is broken down into different meal categories, and there are several recipes in each category of what you are most likely to find around that time. It's by no means comprehensive. It's just a nice range of recipes.

"One of the things that is happening in Thailand these days is a change in the way people eat and their dietary habits, or culinary culture. Previously the used to eat at home, and used to be traditional Thai food, whereas now more and more people eat on the streets and in fact, when I'm living there, my partner and I rarely cook at home, if ever. We simply go down and eat from the streets as most Thais do."

The book is sure to be a success thanks to the myriad Thai food lovers in the West. But Thompson isn't happy to sit back and take all the credit. He gives heartfelt thanks to photographer Earl Carter, his collaborator on the first book, for the exquisite photo essays that make the book come to life.

"The pictures are great," Thompson said.

"Earl has done such a sterling, sterling effort in showcasing a remarkable cuisine. He has effectively captured a sweep through the day, from how Thais eat in the morning to how they finish their day in the evening. It's a feed throughout the day. The Thais are inveterate snackers, so they not only have breakfast, lunch and dinner but also morning and afternoon tea, pre-dinner, late supper and a few other dishes in between."

When asked what his own favourite Thai food might be, he is quick to endorse another project that brings him back to Australia, the newly launched Megachef fish sauce.

"It's a damn fine sauce. The factory that manufactures it in Thailand is located about two hours from where the best fish is landed," he said.

"Once it's landed, it goes into good sea salt for around two years.

"I begged the guy to change the name from Megachef because it's so embarrassing. But I can put up with that because it makes cooking such a pleasure. You'll become addicted to it. In fact, I can't wait to get back to Bangkok to get a transfusion."

Link to Fresh, The West Australian, Dec 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The West Austn: Taking the stress out of the big day

Top cooks and chefs offer advice for a fuss-free Christmas feast.

There's no point fighting it - Christmas is almost on us. But before you hit the panic button, here are some tips to help you survive it.

According to those in the know, being organised and planning ahead are sure-fire ways to guarantee a stress-free feast on the big day.

Start by pre-ordering the food you expect to eat over the festive period, said Tyrone Hinds, owner-chef of Attivo in North Beach.

"For example, I've just pre-ordered half a leg of ham from my local butcher and organised collection a day or two prior to Christmas," he said.

"Most people don't know this but a lot of the time suppliers will have food in their fridges well ahead of Christmas, such as smoked products and hams that are vacuum packed, and keep in the fridge for a long time.

"I will be doing exactly the same with my turkey - pre-ordering in advance and having it delivered the day before. That takes a lot of the stress and pressure out of it."

TV chef Anna Gare's best advice for a smooth Christmas in the kitchen was to 'delegate, delegate, delegate'.

"First of all, try to make as much as you can the day before so you can enjoy Christmas too," she said.

"Prepare cold food on Christmas Eve so that when you wake up in the morning, you can relax. I always do at least one moulded salad because they're fun and you don't need to put them together on the day.

"You can make a potato, chickpea or roast vegetable moulded salad by lining a bowl with plastic, placing all the vegetables in it nicely and putting a weight on it overnight to turn over the next day.

"Sometimes I do a beautiful fillet of beef with herbs and spices and that's just gorgeous cold. Cold meat is always good. Or cook something that can be done in two minutes on the day, such as scallops. Seafood is great because it's so quick. Having lots of yummy bits and pieces in the fridge is also handy so that when people come over, you can just pull them out.

"Share the responsibility. Pick a theme, such as traditional English or another cuisine. Or even a barbecue theme, where everybody brings something they've marinated.

"Then get everyone to bring a dish so you can all have a beautiful, relaxing day."

Once the big day is over, the next challenge begins - storing all those leftovers in the family fridge.

"A lot of people have hygiene problems storing their food during the Christmas period," Hinds said.

"A little tip I could offer, especially regarding storing seafood in their fridge, which is generally overloaded or getting full, would be to use ice cooler bricks. Once you've bought your fresh fish, you can cover it and put cooler bricks on top to keep it extra cold. This will help maintain the quality and the freshness as well as extending the life-span of the fish."

He said that the half ham he had ordered this year would be easy to store in the fridge.

"There is no reason why, a few days after Christmas, you can't go back to the place where you purchased the ham from and order another half ham if you haven't had enough.

"Don't get all your ingredients now and have the worry and stress of storing it. Buy what you need now for Christmas and then restock afterwards.

"It's only one meal and leftovers will last the next day. Then the shops will open again."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Buzz Now: Azure Review

After toiling along the busy main drag in Mount Hawthorn, the soothing ambience at Azure provided such a tranquil embrace we felt we had just wandered into an upmarket day spa by mistake. The wait-staff were beautifully attired and exuded an air of calmness and authority: we immediately felt we were in safe hands. Clearly, chef and owner Christian Fogliani takes great pride in his restaurant/patisserie, with love and attention lavished upon every detail.

The menu has its roots in Italy, with several additions provided for choice. The porcini mushroom risotto was large and hearty, and the rice had just the right amount of bite. My dish of pork belly and scallops served with swooshes of pear dressing and jus was just brilliant. The pork was meltingly tender and be-decked with thin ribbons of fat and golden crackling, while the sweet and savoury accompaniments matched well. Dessert was a tough one. All of the restaurant's sweets are cooked in-house in the adjoining patisserie and there is a vast array on display to tempt even the most savoury of palates. We went with a visually spectacular chocolate Black Forest dome filled with a white chocolate and cherry mousse, all housed in an elaborate chocolate basket. Truly blissful.

Link to BuzzNow

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The West Austn: Oceans awash with fine fare

Spring has sprung and the warmer weather is bringing with it a bumper harvest of seafood delights that are starting to peak now.

Australian oysters are sourced mainly from Ceduna and Coffin Bay in South Australia. They can be enjoyed either freshly shucked with a squirt of lemon or cooked, and there is a veritable panoply of ways to serve them: mornay, baked, deep-fried or grilled. And, as with all seafood, it is imperative to make sure oysters are as fresh as possible.

"When choosing your oysters, always look for a creamy flesh," says Josh Catalano of Seafood Secrets and MasterChef fame.

"There should be no discolouration or black spots."

TRY: Bloody Mary oyster shooters to give your dinner party that extra kick.

Rock Lobsters
If oysters were once the aphrodisiacs of the deep, then rock lobsters surely were the pharmacists. The Greeks and Romans treated snakebites, poor vision and high fevers with various parts of a rock lobster.

Nowadays, of course, they are renowned the world over for their sweet, succulent flesh. Our most popular, the western rock lobster, is caught along the coastline between Augusta and Shark Bay, and can be served half or whole, natural or in mornay. They are at their tastiest in late November and December - a perfect fit for the festive season.

"Look for a lovely red colour for best quality or, better still, buy them live." says Louis Lynch, from Seafresh Fish Markets.

TRY: Rock lobster medallions in a mango and dill salad.

Red Emperor
One of the jewels of the deep, a red emperor will give an angler looking for action a run for their money. It is a big fish, so buying one whole and grilling it on the barbecue should feed a family of four with ease.

"Red emperors are a particularly good eating fish at this time of year because they are gaining weight in preparation for the spawning season ahead," says Mr Lynch.

An extremely popular finfish, it can be served whole or, if you're limited for oven space, the firm white flesh can be filleted and steamed, baked or deep-fried.

"Always look for a red emperor with clear eyes, red gills and firm flesh that springs back when pressed," says Mr Catalano.

"And it shouldn't smell like fish, either".

TRY: Baked whole, smothered with fresh herbs and preserved lemon.

Mussel farming dates as far back as the 13th century, and many a happy childhood was spent fossicking for the delicious morsels in local rock pools.

Mussels are cholesterol-free, high in protein, inexpensive and have more Omega 3 than any other shellfish. At this time of year, they're also well on their way to becoming plump and juicy, so it is a perfect time to buy.

"When buying your blue mussels, they should generally be closed." says Bruno Bini, from South Perth Seafoods.

"The shell should have a nice blue shiny colour, and they should feel heavy. There should just be the scent of the salt from the ocean, nothing more."

TRY: Steamed mussels with thyme, leek and white wine.

Blue swimmer crabs are beginning to peak this month and, with their ocean home being just a stone's throw away, their freshness is almost certainly guaranteed.

Crabmeat has a sweet, delicate flavour and can be cooked in myriad ways, from resplendent in its own natural glory to delicious parcels of crab-filled tortellini or ravioli.

"A crab should feel heavy, just pick one up and see," says Damien Bell, a commercial fisherman from the Peel-Harvey Estuary Crab Fishery.

"Raw green crabs should always be bought within 24 hours of being caught."

TRY: Stir-fry chilli crab with coriander and jasmine rice.

Link to Fresh, The West Australian, Nov 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The West Austn: Cooking is all Greek to Basil

The commentator and presenter admits he is a good kitchen supervisor.

The mere mention of Greek food is enough to have Basil Zempilas tripping through memories of his recent wedding on Kastellorizo.

Best known for his work as a sports commentator both in front of the camera and behind the microphone, Zempilas is one of a number of Channel 7 personalities who share their favourite recipes in Telethon's new celebrity cookbook, TV Dinners.

"I chose spanakopita because it's a very traditional Greek dish," Zempilas says.

"It's something I grew up eating probably once a fortnight at home with Mum and Dad.

"It was part of Mum's traditional Greek cooking repertoire, so when it came time for me to choose a recipe that I quite enjoyed I thought, "Well, traditional and Greek, that's the way to go for me'".

For Zempilas, loving the classic Greek pie is one thing. Cooking it is quite another.

"Put it this way, I have supervised cooking it," he says with a laugh.

"I have performed the role of a cooking assistant. I'm not sure that you would actually call me the main cook, but I have certainly been in the area when it's being cooked?

"I must admit my wife spoils me. Amy is a very good cook. Because I finish work quite late most nights, she generally has cooking well and truly under way by the time I get home. So I'm off the hook in that regard. And before Amy it was my Mum, so I've been spoilt all round".

For Zempilas, getting on board for the Telethon project was an easy decision.

"Telethon has been a big part of what we have done for a long time," he says.

"So it's very important to all the people here at Channel 7 in Perth. If there is any opportunity to help support Telethon, we jump at it."

For the uninitiated, spanakopita is a delicious savoury pie comprising layers of filo pastry wrapped around a spinach and feta cheese centre. Cooking skills aside, the dish brings back fond memories for Zempilas.

"I remember going to school and telling the kids we had spinach pie and they'd say, 'That sounds nice'. But they were imagining it would be a meat pie, except with spinach. It was almost impossible for me to explain it to them," he says.

"It also reminds me of countless trips back to Greece, most recently for our wedding in September.

"It reminds me of all the good things about being a little boy growing up here in Perth."

Link to Fresh, Oct 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cravings Magazine: Spring 2009. Pata Negra

Coming Full Circle

Star Anise owner/chef David Coomer with Pata Negra chefs Matt Stone and Kurt Samson were amid the embryonic shambles of their new Nedlands venture when I chatted with them. Upon meeting up with David, he quickly launched into an introduction to his new baby, Pata Negra, while the builders provided a convincing backdrop of clamor behind us. Pata Negra (which opened its doors in July) is Spanish but, it is emphasised, does not only offer tapas. Spain is a country close to the hearts of these chefs, with David relishing the simple, rustic cooking traditions and Matt having recently spent several weeks touring the country.

"I went to Spain and got to taste a lot of different types of food," says Matt.

"It was great. You go into a pintxo (Basque for tapas) and have an anchovy on a bit of bread, then walk up the road and have a totally different tapas experience - it might be croquettes or freshly sliced ham with tomato bread. It was definitely very inspirational and got me totally excited about this cuisine".

"There are very few restaurants around Perth that do a realistic style of Spanish food," adds David.

"So we are looking to introduce something very new. There'll be a real Moorish theme to it. Historically, Spain was heavily influenced by the Arabs, and they introduced cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and all sorts of spices that are found in Middle Eastern and North African food. These have become entrenched in Spanish cuisine. In Spain, a lot of the tapas bars are moving to all sorts of global foods. You might find sashimi-style tapas in Barcelona. But I['d rather start here with real Spanish food".

It's quite a seismic shift from the fine dining and gastronomic wizardry that has made Star Anise what it is today. But things weren't always so rosy for the much-lauded establishment. Opening its doors in 1998, Sydney-born David and his wife Kareen's plan was to create a nice suburban bistro that locals could flock to that served simple, modern food.

"But people, for some ungodly reason, didn't get it". says David.

"They complained about the chairs, or the noise, or the lack of atmosphere. Plus we had no money at all. No equipment and all our ovens were lousy. It was a really difficult time. So it took us a little while to get where we're at - around six years for things to start coming around and for people to say 'this is great'. And whether Perth has caught up to me or something, I don't know. I used to serve a curry with lamb shanks or a wagyu beef pie, pretty straightforward stuff. We'd always had a duck dish on the menu too and a lot of Asian-influenced food as well. I loved the food. It was so much simpler back then".

Nowadays, of course, Star Anise is best known for being uber-creative in the kitchen, with adventurous dishes such as oyster and hiramasa kingfish tartare with horseradish foam and pavlova with fairy floss peppering the menu. Techniques used in molecular gastronomy, such as freezing with liquid nitrogen and poaching in vacuum bags, are among David's bag of tricks. But, he believes, it's all just a part of progress.

"There are a lot of misnomers about the whole molecular thing," he says.

"We had the stove, then convection ovens, and this is just the next progression. I can see everyone will be doing it on ten years' time. The liquid nitrogen thing is just freezing the heck out of something. But it's probably no more of a crazy concept than deep-frying, or microwaving.

"I think if people knew how easy it was to cook in a bain-marie, for example, then everybody would be doing it. Your food is consistent every single time. It retains all the juices and succulence and doesn't tighten the muscles like high heat does. In other words, a steak will be medium rare on the outside as well as the inside and not seared on the outside as people are used to. It doesn't have that graduation".

"Instead of whacking it into a hot oven, we just whack it into the freezing cold," adds Matt.

"Visually it's amazing, steaming and smoking, but it's just another way of cooking something. It's a concrete way to get a food consistently cooked every single time".

But while David is pleased with Star Anise's runaway success, it is his craving for simplicity that has brought him full circle in the restaurant game. The fundamentals of home cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients hold a lingering place in his heart, and it is clearly a methodology to which he is keen to return.

"I think the more I keep cooking, the more I like cooking simply," he says.

"It's the way I cook at home. In a little tapas restaurant you can chuck six prawns on the grill and a blob of garlic and parsley and it's so pure and simple. Whereas I can't do that at Star Anise. People would complain it was just prawns and garlic. While here, I can and it's food I really like to eat".

SPICE magazine: Spring 2009. Grainaissance Bakers

Slow Dough

Local masters of the slow art of artisan baking kicked buns and cleaned the floor at Melbourne's Australian Artisan Baking Cup.

Way before it sped up and became industrialised, way before any strains of wheat and gluten intolerance raised their unwelcome heads, bread used to be made slowly. Artisan bread is made with a gentle hand, employing traditional methods and natural ingredients, and allowing for lots and lots of time for the culture to do its own thing. The ingredients are basic, and simply by tweaking fundamental techniques such as fermentation, time and baking, a whole raft of different types of breads can be produced.

Rob Howard is the owner of 'Grainaissance Artisan Bakers' in Osborne Park. Unlike many bakers, they're a wholesale outlet whose bread can be found on menus at eateries around Perth, including Bistro Felix, Beaufort Street Merchant and Caffe Peckish.

Rob is a staunch advocate of artisan baking. After spending half of his childhood in the kitchen, he began work as an apprentice chef at the age of fifteen before moving on to pastry cooking. But after discovering the many living permutations of sourdough ten years ago, he eventually turned his hand to artisan baking.

"Sourdough is fascinating because you are dealing with something that is alive, that you can control," says Rob.

"It uses no commercial yeasts, just natural culture. You need to look after it, feed it and care for it on a daily basis. It's really not like any other food. There are no additives put into it to save time and money. When I first discovered it I did a lot of experimenting until I had created my own sourdough formula using a combination of malt flour, honey, wheat flour and slow fermentation. It grew and grew, and we started making bread from it after the third week".

But there were a few hiccups in the embryonic stages, and that is when fellow artisan baker Leon Bailey entered his life.

"I had some trouble with the first few batches and there weren't many people in Perth making sourdough to talk to about it. I had read a few of Leon's articles in 'Leading Edge' baking magazine, so I contacted him. He was very helpful, and we stayed in touch".

The Melbourne-based Australian Artisan Baking Cup, which has been running for three years now, was the brainchild of Leon Bailey, who modeled the Australian version on international baking competitions such as Italy's SIGEP, in which Australia came second in the bread baking section this year. It's an enormous coup. Leon's dream is to end a team to the creme de la creme of baking championships, Paris' La Coupe du Monde Boulangerie, which is held every three years.

This year, along with his colleague Trevor Sims, Rob was the 2009 winner of the Australian Artisan Baking Cup competition, thanks to his winning interpretation of the Ettamogah Pub as an artistic (and entirely edible) centrepiece. Rob also took home wining trophies for his ciabatta and two of his baguettes, while Trevor won trophies for his croissant, Danish and stollen.

"It was pretty embarrassing actually," recalls Rob over the multiple wins.

"There we were, two blokes from Western Australia, and a table loaded with trophies. I think we had about nine between us in the end".

The Cup's competitiveness is becoming increasingly fierce as each year passes. This year there were 25 competitors from all States, including Sydney-based pastry wizard, Adriano Zumbo of MasterChef fame. The judging is stringent, and time restrictions must be adhered to.

"We had one hour the day before to prepare our ferments, which we had to fly over to Melbourne in a bottle," says Rob.

"And then when we competed we started at 6am, with tools down at 2pm, which included cleaning up and preparing the tables for judging. We were meant to have three people in our team and we were one person short, so Trevor and I had to work extra hard".

As if that wasn't taxing enough, the duo will be heading over to Italy in January for the SIGEP competitions, and this time they'll be taking a teammate, Dean Gibson.

"It's going to be fantastic, although we're going to be so busy. It's already late in the year and the team needs to practice together a certain amount of times before we go. So it will be pretty crazy between now and January".

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spice magazine: Spring 2009. Tapas reviews

Restaurant Reviews: Tapas the Test

Roll up to any self-respecting wine bar in Perth these days and you're guaranteed to find tapas of some description on the menu. For the uninitiated, tapas are small tasting plates that have their origins in Spain and are now all the go. Better still, tapas are suited to all types of pockets because of their varied prices. So considerate in this bleak economic era. It was time to dig a little deeper.

Andaluz Bar

Andaluz is a beautiful space with beautiful food, yet I sat there feeling a tad perplexed. There were rich, inviting Chesterfield lounges cosying up to an open fireplace. There was nouvelle cuisine-style tapas fare, and there was Aretha Franklin singing her lungs out on the sound system. Los Gentlemen's Soul Club? Heterogenous styling out of the way, the only sore point remaining was that we didn't get to score one of the opulent booths tucked away in their own little niches.

The tapas dishes we chose were sublime. They were sophisticated and complex with long, mouthwatering descriptions, which always bode well with me. We chose four dishes, starting with a tortilla Espanola ($8) - thick cubes of potato topped with fried egg, which was good and hearty. Chargrilled asparagus, quail's egg and tarragon aioli ($9) followed, with the asparagus spears blanched and quickly grilled and the itty-bitty quail's egg gently salted and semi-hard boiled. The tarragon aioli was subtle and tangy, making it a beautifully light dish. Next up were twin towers of seared scallop atop a Berkshire pork cheek confit, with an exquisite sauce of Alvear PX wine and muscatels ($9.50). Our last dish was eight hour braised venison and creamed portobello mushroom empanadillas ($9.50). All excellent value, considering the amount of time and love that clearly goes into each dish. Yum.

Lamont's Wine Store

Kate's latest offering is Lamont's in Cottesloe, and it has already become a Mecca for the local well-heeled pashima set. Naturally the emphasis is going to be on the wines, with a staggering 250 varieties offered on a rotating basis, but the tapas menu, although more Australian than Spanish, does well to keep its end up. The marron dusted with pepper and garlic dust $15.50) was a big hit at our table, as was the cod croquette ($10.50), but I couldn't quite get past the price of a solitary scallop - $7.50 - no matter how succulent it was. Despite not getting much bank for our buck, the dishes were exquisite and, as with all of Kate's food, well-balanced in the flavour and artistic departments. Although I have to admit, the jewel-like macaroons flown in from Paris (see above pic) were my personal faves.

The Imp Cafe & Bar

Being a stone's throw from my house, I quite badly wanted to like this place. It throbbed to a Melbourne beat and was always pumping when I passed by. Alas things are not always as they seem.

The proffered olive is like the proffered water: you tend to assume it's gratis. When said olives were offered while I waited for my friend, I made the same sad presumption and got nailed $7 at the end of the night. A bit, dare I say, impish. Mind you, on arrival it was the size of a small tureen. Anyway. When my friend arrived ("What's with all the olives?!") we ordered crocodile cakes with yoghurt (4 for $12), beef and pork gyoza with an Asian dressing (4 for $12) and a warm lentil salad with coppa ($11).

The croc cakes sounded more exciting than they actually were and, other than the occasional Thai kick of lemongrass, were simply too bland while the accompanying minted yoghurt seemed to be sans mint. The warm lentil salad was a major hit - generous and perfect for a chilly winter's eve, with the coppa mixed through it giving it a real lift. A perfect combo. The gyoza were too strong - the tiny parcel of meat was far too spiced, which my heartburn thanked it for.

But all is not lost, there are several big ticks for The Imp too. Everything on the menu is made in-house and there are lots of gluten-free and vegan dishes on offer. The atmosphere is lovely and inviting. Brekkies are big 'n hearty. So are desserts.

Pata Negra

Star Anise's David Coomer has finally been able to fling open the doors to his new venture. David's former sous chef, Matt Stone, spent time in Spain last year checking out the local tapas fare and the menu is as about as authentic as it gets.

Along with the rest of Perth's foodaphiles, we had nabbed ourselves a table barely before the black wall paint had dried. We were given complimentary olives (ahem) and sampled the beautiful hand-packaged smoked almonds. The house-smoked octopus 'escabeche' (pickled marinade) ($14.50) was next, a slow-cooked delight that had been pickled in a Forum cabernet vinegar and dished up in a cute preserving jar. The jamon iberico, variously imported from Spain and local sourced, was sublime. And at $300 a kilo - hello - so it should be. The mussels, Manzanilla and jamon ($16.50) were also a winner, with surf and turf fighting for supremacy in a preserved lemon-laced broth. For mains we went with the Pata Negra fabada (stew) - ham hock, duck confit, chorizo and lentils ($36 for two). Pata Negra's food has a distinct Moorish theme running through it, and this dish was a great example of those strong, Arabic flavours.

The flavours at Pata Negra are big and gutsy, just what you'd expect from a Spanish pintxo. Add a glass of Marques de Riscal and you could be in Barcelona.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Zinc Travel Magazine

Go Green

Imagine getting to stay at an exotic location most people would donate their left kidney to visit. For free. Think lush World Heritage-listed rainforests, remote girths of outback, sun-sodden islands and other cool places. Plus you get to help save the world. You'll be helping everything from endangered cassowaries to spotted quolls, as well as wildlife corridors and native plant-life. And in most cases, you need zip zero nix experience. These days, there are stacks and stacks of volunteer conservation projects to choose from that can have you living virtually for free on some far-flung piece of paradise in exchange for a bit of work. So if you feel like going hippy or have already gone feral and are sick to death of package tours, then here are just a few places that will have you salivating faster than you can say mung bean.

Lush Rainforests

Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station
In Far North Queensland (about 80km north of Cairns) is Cape Tribulation, home to one of the largest tracts of virgin rainforest on the plant - the World Heritage-listed wet tropical rainforests. These rainforests have been around for 100 million years, with some of the trees being over 3000 years old. Cape Trib is also home to the famous Daintree Rainforest, crocodiles, Coconut Beach, jungle creeks, coral reefs and heaps more.

Up at the research station, one of the team's prime reasons for being there is to protect and rehabilitate their large flying fox colony, as well as to educate the public. They're also involved in the research of rainforest regeneration, energy conservation and a whole host of other eco-friendly activities. The station has up to 50 volunteers per year visiting the station, and that's where you come in. You'll be helping to look after the flying fox colony and assist with rainforest regeneration. You'll also be building and maintaining station buildings and equipment. Be prepared to be worked pretty hard, but you get Mondays off. "Happy Mondays", as it's been named by the team, allows you to head off by yourself and explore the local terrain. Visitors are also asked to be prepared to get over any fears of fungi, spiders and dirt...

Now, here are the rules. A stay of at least two weeks is requested, and they'd prefer you to stay for longer. You need to be over 25, unless you have skills they need, such as you're a tradie or a biologist. The rate is US$15 per day, which includes food and accommodation, although they are pretty negotiable. To arrange a visit, contact that station well in advance and tell them where your interests lie.

Tropical Islands

Lizard Island Research Station

Lizard Island, also based in Queensland, is 240km north of Cairns. Situated on the Great Barrier Reef and boasting 24 sandy white private beaches, it's one of the most northern and secluded islands on the Reef, as well as one of the world's most exclusive (read: expensive). Known as a hideaway for the world's rich & famous, guests have included members of the royal family and a night will set you back around $9000 a night. Boasting such stringent activities as swimming, snorkelling and general napping, it's also a diving and fishing mecca.

But as a guest of the Lizard Island Research Station, you pay next to nothing as a station volunteer. In return, you are expected to give up four hours a day to outdoor manual labour, which can include building, painting, digging and filling up scuba tanks. The minimum stay at the research station is one week, with the maximum being two but they are pretty negotiable. You've got to be over 18. You also get free accommodation but must provide your own food. Research on the island includes monitoring the troublesome Crown of Thorn starfish, which is truing to eat the Reef, and providing on-reef facilities to coral reef researchers around the world. You're more likely to be accepted if you visit in the Winter months and, again, lots of advance notice is required.

If you are a little more in the know, you can arrange to get on the island as a research volunteer by finding yourself a researcher who needs an extra pair of hands. Work includes lots of diving and lab work - perfect for the biology student with a dive certificate.

Orpheus Island Research Station
Orpheus Island is a tiny speck about 100km away from Townsville in Queensland and has a permanent population of about 45 people. It's also on the Great Barrier Reef and if you like your animals au naturale, then Orpehus is the place for you. The island has 1100 species of fish, 340 varieties of coral, 50 types of birds, giant turtles, dolphins and humpback whales. The research station on the island is run by James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville and conducts a wide range of marine work. It runs a volunteer internship that lasts from two weeks to three months. You will be expected to work 20-28 hours per week in exchange for free accommodation, but you're responsible for your own food. Those of you who have boat licenses or are qualified divers will have a much better time as you'll be able to get out and about with the research team rather than being stuck back at shore doing paperwork or looking after their gear.

Heron Island Research Station
One of the tiniest islands on the Great Barrier Reef (you can walk around it in 45 minutes), Heron Island has the largest abundance of marine life on the Reef. Located 70km off the central Queensland coast, it's a long way from the mainland but well worth the trip - it's absolutely pristine. Clear waters teeming with fish, no ugly buildings and the reef literally right at your feet. It's one of the most untouched islands you'll find.

The research station itself is well established and is seen as the most prestigious marine station in Australian, running out of the University of Queensland. The team spends most of its time obtaining information about the local ocean life and as it is literally right on the Reef, an enormous amount of work gets down there. The station takes volunteers for two weeks at a time and provides accommodation for some basic work around the station.

Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA)
Conservation Volunteers Australia is a fantastic outfit that provides excellent project opportunities for travellers looking for a little more meaning in their journey. Past activities have included:

  • Four days on Queensland's Mission Beach regenerating World Heritage rainforest to provide habitat for the endangered cassowary..
  • A four-day tree planting jaunt in Port Stephens (New South Wales) to establish wildlife corridors for native animals and birds. A must for dolphin and koala lovers...
  • Four days on Tasmania's East Coast removing the blackberry and thistle taking over the native vegetation..
  • Five days at Pelican Lagoon in South Australia locating echidnas and measuring the deep core temperature of Rosenberg's goannas..
  • Ten days off the beaten track in Mt Winter (350km west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory) based around the local Aboriginal community identifying the existence of the spotted quoll.

Interested? Who wouldn't be. Go on, get out there..

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cravings Magazine: Winter 2009


Molecular Gastronomy
Cooking has come a long way over recent years. No longer satisfied with using the conventional oven, many chefs are raiding the laboratory for new and interesting ways to serve up their gastronomic delights. So is it cuisine, or science, or art? We’ll leave that for you to decide!

So What Does It All Mean?

Essentially, molecular gastronomy explores the science & technology surrounding traditional cooking methods. Coined in the late 80s by two European chemists, the phrase was adopted during the nineties and early noughties to describe the experimental style of cooking favoured by some of the world's most innovative and creative chefs. In more recent years however, many of these chefs have distanced themselves from the movement, even releasing a joint tatement repudiating the term that had begun to define them. So is it allnow just glory from a bygone era? The term 'molecular gastronomy' may be passe, but if some of the braver restaurants are anything to go by, many of its techniques are still as hot as ever.

Culinary Jargon

Bubble bubble, toil & trouble. Sometimes the non-traditional cooking techniques used by modern-day chefs can look more like a science class experiment than haute cuisine. For those who don’t know their sous vide from their spherification, here is a list of must-haves for the modern-day kitchen:

Anti-griddle: a device that quickly freezes sauces and purees, producing interesting solid and semi-solid creations.

Foam: a culinary technique invented by Spanish chef extraordinaire Ferran Adria. It involves mixing natural flavours (such as juice) with a gelling agent and then forcing them out through a whipping cream canister using nitrous oxide, which produces a light, airy substance similar to fairy floss.

Pacojet: a fast, automatated ice cream and sorbet maker from Switzerland that requires far less sugar than its predecessors, if any at all.

Sous vide: a cooking technique where food is sealed in a vacuum bag and then submerged into a water bath, to be slow-cooked at a low temperature. This ensures the food is cooked evenly throughout, as well as retaining its shape and texture. It is especially popular for cooking meat and fish, and puts paid to the old ‘seared on the outside, raw in the middle’ method of cooking a steak.

Spherification: a gelling reaction also coined by Ferran Adria when he first created the olive sphere. It involves dropping a ball of liquid into a chemical bath, creating a jelly-like shell with a liquid centre.

Thermomixer: Now the top ‘must-have’ appliance in domestic and commercial kitchens around the world, the thermomixer is ten kitchen gadgets all rolled into one. Its many talents include mincing, chopping, weighing, heating, kneading, juicing and steaming, and anyone who owns one generally has a lot of good things to say.

Yes Chef!
George Calombaris
In the relatively short time that George Calombaris has been a chef, he has risen through the ranks at a scorching pace to become one of Australia’s most high-profile chefs. Initially working at ‘Fenix’, George branched out with his own experimental restaurant ‘Reserve’ before opening his award-winning Greek restaurant at ‘The Press Club’, which he has written a cookbook about. He has since gone on to open two more restaurants in Melbourne and one in Mykonos, Greece, and is one of the judges on Channel Ten’s soon-to-air MasterChef Australia. As with everything, George comes straight to the point when asked about molecular gastronomy.

For me personally, molecular gastronomy was so eight years ago. It was an amazing movement that is now unfortunately being bastardized by many chefs. For many, it’s about putting things in a gas bottle or adding chocolate to their chops. It’s not. It’s about modernized modern cuisine. It’s about new techniques. It’s about understanding produce and where it comes from and when it’s at its best. We cook pork loins at 61.5 degrees in a water bath for 14.5 minutes and it’s like eating butter rather than roasting it in a pan then throwing it in a hot oven where it’s going to lose 60% of its goodness. People have been cooking things in bags for centuries. It ain’t new.

“Yes okay, we do spherification and airs, but at the end of the day it is food. I’d prefer people to say ‘Wow that tasted great’ rather than ‘Wow, that was freaky’. I think that’s where you’ve got to balance it. It took some time to understand that”.

George can’t live without…

  • Paco-jet
  • Thermomixer
  • Water bath
  • Convotherm oven

Shannon Bennett

Shannon Bennett is the chef and maestro behind multi-award winning Melbourne restaurant 'Vue de monde'. He is as renowned for his cutting-edge cuisine as he is for his dedication to classical French cooking, and his latest books is called 'My French Vue'. His new offering is 'Vue by Shannon Bennett', which opened last year in Oman on the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East.

Shannon's preferred molecular-related cooking techniques are distillation (to concentrate the flavours), slow cooking in oil baths and bain maries, and spherification. But the term does not sit well with him.

"I believe 'molecular' is really the wrong word for this type of cooking," says Shannon.

"It's a term that should be seen, not heard. Working with molecules is the basis of all cooking, so molecular gastronomy will always be around. Some very clever chefs, particularly in Europe, have made great advances in working with molecules to enhance their cuisine, and we will continue to build on that".

Shannon can't live without...

  • Good coffee
  • Chocolate
  • French butter
  • Goose fat
  • Olive oil
  • A copy of Le Repertoire

Ray Capaldi
Scottish-born chef Ray Capaldi was the mastermind behind one of Melbourne’s most adventurous restaurants, ‘Fenix’, serving such whimsy as green tea gas and scallops with licorice before it sadly hit the ashes last year. But rest assured, Ray’s latest venture Locarno 150, which opens mid-2009, promises to continue with the showmanship he became so renowned for.

“There will always be people who mock this style of new and creative cooking,” says Ray.

“But chefs are suffering from a shortage of staff and experience at the moment, so why not look to science to cook a perfect steak and understand what part of the animal did it come from, what it ate, and so on? We all want to cook to perfection.

“It has taken many years to understand why we cook the way we do to realise much of it is all wrong. The creation of some of these new dishes sounds a bit like Alice in Wonderland. But to learn new ways you have to have a limit and it takes time for a good chef to set his limit. Like all new techniques, it is the chefs that doubt that will be left behind.

“The phrase ‘molecular gastronomy’ is the science behind why we do what we do, and is nothing to do with a trend. Personally, I prefer to call my style of cooking ‘traderne’: traditional cooking in a modern way”.

Ray can’t live without..

  • Tin opener
  • Thermomixer
  • Pressure cooker
  • Homogenizer
  • Water bath/ sous vide. All kitchens should have one
  • The best man in the kitchen, the dishwasher