Diary of my time in Melbourne- entry no. 2

I had a bit of an unusual start to this week, with Sunday being the staff party for the Press Club group. It was a great chance to meet the people I would be working with in the future from Hellenic and Maha. As well as the party at night, there was also a soccer tournament to raise money for the Starlight Foundation between a whole bunch of restaurants including: The Press Club group, Vue de Monde, Fenix, European, Atlantic Group, Cecconi’s, Coda, La Chien, Le Petit Gateu, Sarti, Sette Bello, Maze, and The Point.

The Press Club managed to not only make it to the grand final but win 1-0 which was great to watch! The day also had a “Chef vs Celebrity” match, where George played for the chef team and I played for the celebrity team. I think it should have been the other way around, George is the celebrity! The score was locked at 1-1 after the final whistle and we ended up in a penalty shoot-out. The chefs team ended up winning, but for the record I will mention that George hit the cross bar with his penalty, and I managed to sneak mine in the back of the net.

Over all it was a great day for a great charity, so it was a win-win.

I arrived at Hellenic Republic Monday morning, where I met Shaun, the chef who I would be working on the larder with.

Callum: “Hey Shaun, I hear this place gets pretty busy?”

Shaun: “How many covers [customers] did you do at the Press Club Saturday night?”

Callum: “I think about 140.”

Shaun: “We did 260.”

Callum: (Stomach sinks a little) “I see…”

The Press Club and Hellenic Republic are very different restaurants. The Press Club is modern Greek really pushing the boundaries, where foodies venture for a culinary adventure, while Hellenic is more the sort of place  you would take your family for more traditional Greek cuisine. I would best describe Hellenic as like going to your mum’s place. It’s as though the staff look at the customers and think “You’re nothing but skin and bone! Eat! Eat!”

My first job was to confit potatoes for the octopus salad. As I was carrying the tray brimming with potatoes, oil, garlic, some hard herbs and seasoning, I managed to spill some oil on the floor.

Shaun: “Throw some salt onto it until you get a chance to get the mop.”

Callum: “What?”

Shaun: “It will stop people slipping when they walk over it.”

So there I was, seasoning the floor with a salt-raining action that George would have been proud of. Sure, I felt like a goose, but safe to say no-one slipped over (having said that, I don’t think anyone actually walked over it either).

The restaurant only does a dinner service Monday to Thursday so we prepped all day for the nightly onslaught. Service wasn’t as crazy as I had imagined, but then again it was a Monday night. I must admit though not being able to speak Greek makes it somewhat difficult to understand what the heck is going on during service. “Marooli Salata, 7 covers!” What?

My favourite dish on my section would have to be the pickled octopus, fennel and confit potato salad. Delicious. Speaking of which, at the end of every night whatever greek donuts (Loukamathes) are left over are offered to the staff as they have to be eaten on the night. I am so addicted to these little donuts served with crushed walnuts and honey. After this week I must never be allowed back to Hellenic. Not while those donuts are on the menu!

The rest of the week did get continually busier, but I became more comfortable with my role and the dishes I was cooking so I managed to keep up. I spent the first four days on the larder, and spent my fifth day on the pastry section. This was great fun, making a panna cotta special among the other regular desserts. Having a massive sweet tooth, I was like a kid in a candy shop. But after spending a day trying everything I was making I was feeling a little worse for wear! I might have to refrain myself a little bit in future pastry shifts!

Loukamathes (Greek Donuts):

300g plain flour

20g dried yeast

1/2 tsp salt

375g warm water (42 degrees)

Method:

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and make a well. Gradually add the water to the middle of the well, incorporating with a whisk to avoid a lumpy batter. Cover with cling film and set aside to prove in a warm place.

Preheat a deep fryer to 170C. Once the dough has doubled, grab a handful of the mixture and using your hand like a piping bag, drop a small handful of batter into the hot oil. Repeat until fryer is fairly full. Cook for 3-4 minutes, turning. Drain on paper towel and serve immediately drizzled with honey, crushed walnuts and a little ground cinnamon. Alternatively, you can get squares of chocolate and have them in your hand when you are squeezing out the batter to make chocolate-filled donuts.

Some of the lessons learned this week:

  • Large amounts of people is all about logistics. You have to work smart, and something that might not make much of a difference at home can make a big difference in a restaraunt. For example dicing a couple kilos of shallots. The worst way you can do it is to peel a shallot, then dice it. You should peel all the shallots, then do all the preliminary cuts to the shallots, then finally do the last cut to end up with the dice. It might sound obvious, but it makes a big difference!
  • Working clean and tidy is the key to being organised and staying on top of things. Keeping a damp cloth on your bench and wiping it over frequently makes cleaning up at the end ten times easier.
  • The home made baked beans at Hellenic are one of the best breakfasts I have had in a long time. Get there. Eat them.

Next week I’m back at The Press Club, and I’m spending two days at La Latteria Cheese learning how to make fresh cheeses. I’m a bit nuts when it comes to cheese, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll let you all know how it goes!

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds like you are having a great time! And it’s good to know that restaurants down in Melb do fun things for charity, definitely a way to give back to the community. I LOVE loukamades! I used to work in a greek restaurant and the old greek lady who was the head chef would always make it for us as a treat so thank you so much for sharing the recipe with us as I’ve always wanted to know how to make them. They are droolworthy!

    Reply

  2. I always find your use of the word ‘goose’ hilarious. It’s part of your old-e world-e charm.

    Reply

  3. Posted by sonia on October 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Wouldn’t worry too much about the callum-ity with the spilled oil. I’m sure every goose-like manoeuvre will be cancelled out hundred fold by the areas in which you will continue to shine.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Florence on October 27, 2010 at 4:51 am

    I Love loukoumades, so thanks for the recipe! I ate them for the first time when I was in Greece (Kalymnos), about twenty years ago, and asked the lady for the recipe. I lost it over the years, but I do remember she used just a bit of orange juice in it. Might sounds strange, but it was delicious!

    Reply

  5. Posted by Asmeth on October 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    hi, its great to hear that you are having fun! lukoumades sounds really yum! and thanks for the Recipe!

    Reply

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