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

SPICE magazine: Winter 2009

Restaurant Reviews: Sashimi

Sashimi is such a polarizing food. People either harbor a life-long addiction to its clean, subtle flavours or gag at the mere idea of sitting down to a plateful of uncooked ocean fare. Sashimi typically consists of really fresh raw fish, sliced thick or thin, served with soy sauce, a smidge of wasabi and the occasional pile of white radish. In Australia, the most popular varieties include salmon, tuna, kingfish and octopus. The key to good quality sashimi-grade fish is that it has little to no ‘fishy’ smell or taste, which indicates the beginning of spoilage. That was what was to be my litmus test in the search for ‘best quality’ sashimi…

Hayashi is an old favorite of mine. It was the first Japanese restaurant I visited in Perth in fact, and we have been fans ever since. It has a sweetheart of an owner who always ensures the sashimi is good and fresh. Every second morning he trundles off to the fish market in search of fish with the clearest eyes, firmest backs and reddest gills for his sushi chef. Bless. On this latest visit, we ordered the sashimi set ($26.50). Sashimi included tuna, salmon, kingfish, scallop and octopus, which were accompanied by rice, miso soup and a Japanese salad. The salmon was creamy and firm, as you would expect in this country. Aussies are so lucky –Tasmanian salmon is arguably among the best sashimi-grade varieties in the world. It must have been good anyway: my two-year-old was gobbling it down. The tuna was brilliant - succulent and melt-in-the-mouth, while the kingfish was tender, glossy and translucent, a good indication of freshness. Great,as always.

Hayashi, 2/15 Ogilivie Road, Applecross. (08) 9316 3384

Matsuri is a big, glass restaurant wedged into a corner of the city’s QV1 building. Although it is undoubtedly the best-known Japanese restaurant in the CBD, I had never been there. We sat at the sushi bar hoping for a little repartee with the sushi chef but sadly there was none. Instead we gazed at the rows of pre-sliced salmon, tuna, octopus, prawn and egg roll stashed at eye-level in front of us. The medium-sized sashimi platter ($19) consisted of firm, pink tuna, octopus and a decent amount of salmon, with red cabbage and seaweed thrown in as well. Sashimi-grade tuna is generally a headache for sushi chefs – it is hard to source because it’s seasonal, and being such a large fish is almost impossible to serve fresh, which is why most restaurants need to fillet and freeze it. Practically all tuna fillets are cut from the shoulder and are varying shades of red, but the best (and rarest) comes from the fatty belly and is pale and creamy. All was good with the fish, and the earthenware crockery added a home-spun touch. Also on offer was a tantalising soft shell crab sushi roll which, disappointingly, did not come in anything smaller than eight pieces. We tried the salmon roe sushi instead, which was fresh and generous, albeit its seaweed wrapper was dry and crunchy. A fair night out, but clearly set up for the business crowd as vibe and personal service were minimal.

Matsuri, Lower level, QV1 building, 250 St Georges Terrace, Perth. (08) 9322 7737.

Ha-Lu has been open for a couple of years now, and for me it continues to hold the mantle of best Japanese in Perth. Spurning the traditional menu, Ha-Lu instead offers its customers a more social, Izakaya-style dining experience: small tapas-style servings that are shared with your buddies and have your taste buds screaming for more. Cruel, really. Their sashimi is some of the best in town, and the cuts are super-thick. A bit daunting for those new to the joys of raw fish, but a glory for those who aren’t. We had the standard salmon, tuna and kingfish (is there anything else served in Australia?) and it was top notch – firm, bright and fresh. Some of the other dishes were so delectable and out-there that they also deserve a mention. The Patagonian toothfish netsuke, aubergine with soy dashi broth and pork belly ‘Kaku-ni’ were all completely lush. By the end of the night, I think we’d ordered the whole menu.

Ha-Lu, Shop 4/401 Oxford Street, Mt Hawthorn. (08) 9444 0577

Sushi Station Fuji Japanese Restaurant
It’s been a good while since I’ve visited this little restaurant in Victoria Park, famed for its authenticity and large contingent of Japanese patrons. It closed down for a long while, and everybody thought they were renovating. But they opened again earlier in the year and the d├ęcor looks exactly the same, so who knows? Perhaps it is now under new management, because it doesn’t seem quite the same. We were a tableful of cackling women, which appeared to go against our favour as the service was entirely absent. The large sashimi platter we ordered ($25) consisted of 2-3 slices of salmon, tuna and scallop, with a disproportionate amount of kingfish. The salmon, in all its orange vivacity, was top-notch, as was the creamy scallop. The tuna was thick and rather chewy. This was definitely just-thawed shoulder tuna. The kingfish was overly fishy: I kept it to one slice. Other dishes that passed muster (just) included vegetable and seafood tempura, gyoza dumplings and beef teriyaki.

Sushi Station Fuji Japanese Restaurant, 233 Albany Highway, Victoria Park. (08) 9362 3796

Practical Parenting magazine - Toddler Diarist #4

Image: Jenny Susanto-Lee
And so we are ensconced in our big new place. The packing boxes have all been flattened, the windows scrubbed and the cat can now venture outside without freaking out. Jordy’s new catch-cry is “Mummy, where are youuuuu?” and I get a real buzz calling back “By the lemon tree, darling heart” or “Just dead-heading the rose bushes, sweetness”. We’re very happy now. But the nights are not so hot..

When Darkness Falls

I guess an active fear of the dark had to happen some time. And as Jordy’s new bedroom is about three times the width and height of his old one, it’s fair enough too. There was a tickle of foreboding on the first day when he flatly refused to go down for a nap, but I put it down to the excitement of wanting to watch a really big truck unloading all our worldly possessions and let it pass. That night, though, it began as soon as his bedside lamp went off. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in that 0.1 second before the light hurriedly went back on again and, two weeks later, it’s still on. I tried a night-light, but the batteries went flat at 2:30am, resulting in the greatest hullabaloo. I tried a really cool stuffed toy that glowed, with light crystals that shined strategically around his room but, come bedtime, they were all booted out and as a result we have a running store credit with Toys R Us. Not that I blame him. How a two year old is supposed to be able to locate and squeeze a toy’s right paw, in the direction of some crystals, in the pitch black, in the middle of the night, I really don’t know. Anyway, now we are onto a touch lamp, which I tap down and he taps back up. My heart also stops on a regular basis as I’m startled awake by a small figure standing by my side of the bed in the gloom, trying to convince me that 1:20am is the new 7am and that the sun’s got it all wrong. So yes, all in all, nights are pretty hit and miss at the moment, but like everything else, we’ll get there.

Bedtime Buddies
When Jordy was six weeks old, his first smile wasn’t reserved for his doting parents but for a small, stuffed bunny from Marks & Spencer that lived in his cradle. He still loves that bunny but, somewhere along the way, he decided bunny was a bit lonely and needed some mates. So a teddy bear and various Night Garden characters came to live in his bed too. Now he’s decided they need an array of reading material, a warm blanket, a drink of water and a ticking clock that periodically crashes to the floor during the night. I’ve also tried to tell him that the three pillows he absolutely insists on sleeping with each night are a little over-the-top in a converted Ikea cot, but he will not be moved. I saw the cat sleeping in there the other day, and suspect she will soon be the next must-have night-time accessory. When will it end?!

A Public Nuisance
Our latest bug-bear is Jordy acting up when we’re out and about. What makes it all the more troubling is that we don’t know whether it’s us or him. Is he still settling into the new house? Is it tiredness from the broken sleeps? Are we too lax with him? Too tough? Or is he just well on his way to becoming a typical ‘threenager’ (he turns three in May). We can barely shop with him anymore because as soon as his feet hit the floor, he bolts. Our local Freedom store was the latest casualty. The little chat we had before entering about staying with Mummy and not touching anything went by the wall as he leapt for the nearest micro-fibre lounge suite and began bouncing energetically all over it before grabbing a handful of ornamental knick-knacks on a teak coffee table and yelling gleefully “No touch! No touch!”. The bemused look on the staff faces told me he’d been branded with that label all respectable parents dread: a little monster. I wanted to tell them how sweet he was normally, how much he adored snuggles before bed, how wonderful he was with babies and small animals. But I could see their point – he looked like a brat to me, too, and I was his mother. So I grabbed this new, strange monster-child and ran for the nearest exit.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cravings Magazine, June 2009 - Blokes + Sausages = Bliss

Throw forty wheat farmers into an old stone barn with a few metres of sausage, some Shiraz and various animals flung onto a fired-up barbie, and you’re onto a sure winner.

This isn’t your typical Sunday session. Rather, it’s a cooking class for men who are interested in the finer points of culinary proficiency. The class, now into its second year, was dreamed up by Wyening Mission Farm owners, Ruth and John Young, and was such a massive success last year that they were begged to repeat it.
“We’ve been running smaller cooking classes for around five years now,” says Ruth. “But we noticed there were never any local men attending. So one of the farmers from up here suggested we run a cooking class for blokes, and the idea just took off from there.”
Meanwhile, back in the barn, it’s just turned 11am and the boys are cracking open their first stubbies for the day. Chef extraordinaire, Ann Meyer, is to be the class maestro, and her remonstrations soon see the boys edging out of their seats and up to the two long stainless steel demonstration trestles set up at the front. 

As they jostle around the tables, butcher Joe Princi begins to show the boys how to de-bone and roll an enormous slab of brisket. He makes it look so easy, yet there are clearly some formidable knife skills at work. One of the boys is offered a turn, and quickly becomes unstuck before being guided under Joe’s quiet tutelage. 

The wind howls outside and the flames flicker under a giant pot of beef stock simmering on the barbecue. Inside though, the atmosphere is warm and genial. As the boys become more comfortable with the set-up, the beer starts to unearth the larrikins and they are promptly put to work. 

When Ann asks if anyone owns a sieve, one jibes that he uses his to de-grease his engine parts. But there’s more than mirth. It’s refreshing to see how many Blundstone-clad farmers actually know how to make couscous, or when to add saffron to a dish. On Ann’s request, one particularly large chap makes his way to the front and begins to shyly explain to the group how to make gremolata.

As the day rolls on, the barn becomes redolent with aromas of goat, rabbit, smoked quail and the now-cooked brisket, all of which are dispatched post-haste by the lads for lunch. But now, what will become the highlight for many has arrived: the sausage making. Joe heaves an enormous crate of beef up onto one of the trestles and sets up a heavy-duty mincer.

The boys roll up their sleeves and jockey into position. As the diced beef is pressed through the mincer and guided home into its membrane-like intestinal casing, there is much jocularity as the boys taunt each other over proficiency and technique. Meanwhile, Joe coaches from the sidelines: keep your casings wet and soft, don’t pack them too hard, and for God’s sake don’t break them or it’ll reduce the flavour of the meat.

The boys work on a rotating basis, and before long there are metres of sausage snaking all over the table. Joe then proceeds to twist them into bunches with dexterity that so impresses the lads, they beg him to slow down so they can replicate it.

Before too long, all the meat has been minced, piped, twisted and cut into sausages. As the sun moves westward and the new sausages are thrown onto the barbecue’s hot plate (with a final plea from Joe not to prick them), the merriment in the barn reaches a crescendo and Matt the winemaker finally gets a look-in. At this point, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that they’ll all be back here to do it again, next year.