Archive for November, 2010

Diary of my time in Melbourne- entry no. 7

When I asked on my Twitter account what I should do on my day off, I had quite a few people tell me to go on a chocolate tour of Melbourne (www.chocoholictours.com.au).

We were taken to four different chocolate shops, given a little spiel about how the chocolate was made, and of course got to eat plenty of chocolate! It was a rather enjoyable afternoon. I love all chocolate, but I am particularly fond of dark chocolate. Previously I had eaten chocolate which contained 85% cocoa solids (the higher the percentage, the more bitter and less sweet the chocolate is). I found some chocolate though which was 100% cocoa solids, and I had to try it, knowing that it probably wouldn’t taste great because it has no sugar in it!

Tasting the chocolate it was more savoury than sweet; but it was good to try and it gave me quite a few ideas about dishes I could make with it. Maybe soon I’ll pick up some venison and finish off a sauce with the chocolate, or perhaps make the Mexican sauce Mole. Some people say you shouldn’t put chocolate in Mole, some say you should. I’m no Mexican expert so I’ll just sit on the fence for this one!

One of the places that we went to to try the chocolate was Cacao, who not only have some delicious chocolate but recently won the Melbourne Macaron competition, with their tomato, basil and strawberry flavoured macarons. I’m sure some of you may know that I love a good macaron, and I couldn’t resist trying some of their flavours. The cassis was a personal favourite, although I was a little disappointed not to be able to try a tomato, basil and strawberry!

On Friday at The Press Club we did an exclusive function, which means the restaurant was booked out by a large group, all of which were eating degustation. This means that we had to get 800 plates of food plated in the night (100 people x 8 courses), it’s not hard to imagine the difficulty of co-ordinating the courses to go out at the same time! The service essentially ran like a production line, with each person being responsible for adding one element to the plate. It was quite interesting to see how it ran and it’s easy to see how without proper organisation the whole night could have gone pear-shaped very quickly!

We have a rather delicious zucchini flower and gnocchi dish on the menu at the moment. The photo below is the dish in its original guise, but has since changed and no longer has a stuffed zucchini flower. The flower is now separated, battered and deep fried. The flower stem is then chopped and added to the regular zucchini. It is also served with a black olive puree.

This is my version of the dish to cook at home (I don’t include golden beetroots as they are very difficult to find if you’re not ordering them straight from a supplier).

I have put my gnocchi recipe on the blog before (search gnocchi or potatoes at the top of the blog in the search bar).

Ingredients: (serves 4)

1 quantity gnocchi, blanched

4 zucchini flowers

1 zucchini, diced

1/4 bunch chervil, shredded

handful broad beans, blanched

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

olive oil

1/4 cup vegetable stock

2 Tablespooons butter

goats curd and freshly grated peccorino, to serve

Method:

Separate zucchini flower from stem. Slice stem and tear each flower into three pieces.

Heat a non stick frying pan with a little olive oil. Add the gnocchi and fry on a high heat, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. The gnocchi is blanched, so you aren’t trying to cook the gnocchi too much, just warm it and give it nice colour. Remove gnocchi from pan and reserve. Wipe out pan, and add some olive oil. Add diced zucchini and stem to the pan, and cook until golden, turning on a high heat. Add the broad beans, then add the vinegar and stock. The pan should be quite hot so the stock reduces really quickly, to help steam the vegetables rather than stew them. Once stock has reduced to almost nothing, add flowers, chervil, gnocchi, and butter. Toss to coat everything with butter. Season with salt, then distribute between bowls. Serve with some goats curd spooned over and peccorino.

As cancer is something that has affected me personally, I’m supporting Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea (cancer council), which is held on thursday 26th of May next year. If you are interested in registering to host your own morning tea you can check out the website http://www.biggestmorningtea.com.au, where I’ll have my favourite morning tea recipe going up on the site soon.

Lessons learned this week:

  • When you cook pasta, you want the water salted and on a rolling boil, however, when cooking gnocchi the water should be on a more gentle boil. Gnocchi rises to the surface of the water when cooked but if the water is boiling to rapidly it is hard to tell when to remove it from the pot.
  • Organisation is the key to big functions. Be organised, everything will run smoothly. It would be very easy to completely lose the plot without adequete preparation!
  • Practise doesn’t make perfect, it makes par. Having said that, the best way to get good at something is to do it regularly. I have noticed how much faster I have been getting at jobs that I was quite slow at initially.
  • If you ever go on a chocolate tour, you are offered a hot chocolate and a chocolate mousse at the end. After eating chocolate for hours, I would advise on getting the mousse take-away. I wish someone had given me this advice!

I am rather happy to say that unless there is a last minute change of plans I am spending a day next week at Rosamond, the dessert degustation restaurant I spoke highly of in my last blog entry. I’ll try to take lots of photos for my next post!

Diary of my time in Melbourne- entry no. 6

After a hard weeks work at The Press Club I thought I would take a break from talking about work. Instead I want to share some of my favourite dining experiences since I have moved to Melbourne. I have come to learn about food, and this means not only hands on experience but also seeing what other restaurants are doing. I have been using my days off to try and visit as many places as I can. Here are some of my favourites:

Movida:

After filming an episode of Masterchef on the cobbled alley next to Movida, I couldn’t wait to get back and try the popular Spanish tapas style cuisine. I would recommend booking as it is a very busy restaurant. The food was beautiful with honest big Spanish flavours. You can either order individual bites or larger plates to share. Shown below is a stunning duck liver parfait with a Pedro Ximenez sherry foam. I loved everything savoury I ate, and the desserts were solid, without being mind-blowing.


Huxtable:

On a particularly chilly night walking down Smith street in Fitzroy, I discovered this place as much to get out of the cold as to enjoy an amazing meal. We were encouraged to sit at the bar which was effectively a chef’s table as I sat in a perfect position to watch the chefs work. I would recommend sitting at the bar as not only was the food interesting but the chefs were more than happy to have a chat. In my case I actually got the chef to choose everything I would eat for the night; I figure if it’s the chefs favourite it’s probably good! I often take the approach of asking waitstaff or the chefs to order for me. I feel that most people like having trust placed in them and take a little bit of pleasure in doing so. Of course some people will just give you the most expensive thing on the menu, so it’s not a flawless system! The chef has travelled a lot, and this is reflected in the menu with influences from all over the world. Similarly to Movida this isn’t a restaurant where you order entree and main as there are ‘bites’ as well as shared style food. Desserts were rich but tasty, such as the chocolate mousse with raspberry I ordered.

Il Forniao:

The menu has been designed by none other than Philippa Sibley, who some of you may remember as the chef I cooked against in my celebrity chef challenge on Masterchef. In fact, the ‘snickers’ dish is requested so frequently they have been unable to take it off the menu. I ordered it for a bit of nostalgia, and it was as delicious as I remembered! You can order both classic savoury French dishes (the chicken pithiver with puff pastry made in house was particularly good) but the menu is heavily geared towards ordering dessert. Classic French, classic pastry, beautiful desserts. Unfortunately, Phillipa is no longer at Il Forniao as of 20/11/2010 and so I’m not sure what this means exactly.

Ezard:

I have been wanting to visit Teage Ezard’s restaurant ever since I got the book a year ago. I was not disappointed. The food could be described as Modern Asian with Thai, Japanese, and Chinese influences appearing heavily on the menu. I wanted to get the degustation but also wanted to try the signature dish of caremlized pork hock. The waiter was more than helpful and included it as a course on the degustation menu. It is easy to see why this dish has not left the menu since the restaurant opened, with a perfect balance of flavours and textures. I love dishes in restaurants that use secondary cuts of meat and turn them into something special. This is a perfect example. The steamed crab dumpling with the quintessential Thai soup Tom Kha poured around the bowl at the table is shown. Subtle flavours, one of my favourite dishes of the day.

Cumulus:

Cumulus is Cutler & Co’s more casual brother, and has a no booking policy. Which can be annoying to wait around for a table, but is perfect if you are a last minute person like I am. Sharing style food is the way to go here. The place has a buzzing atmosphere, with a packed restaurant, people waiting to get tables, and an open kitchen. The food is often simple, but done very well and using some fantastic ingredients. The pork and snails dish was tasty, as was the chocolate dessert served with a barley ice cream.

Rosamond:

I’m almost hesitant to include this in my list of awesome food experiences, as Rosamond was truly one of the best eating experiences of my life, and I want to keep it all to myself! Only open one night a week, Pierre Roelofs is a talented pastry chef who does a dessert only degustation. The menu changes every week, so no two visits are alike. The way Pierre combines flavours and textures, without making any of the desserts too rich or sweet is to be admired. I am going to be doing some work experience there in the future which needless to say, I am very excited about! Pictured is “rhubarb and banana”

Of course The Press Club is in my list, but I talk about the food there often I don’t feel it is necessary to include it again this week! I might just take this opportunity though to thank all the chefs who are patient in teaching me their trade. In particular, Andy, Carl, Eliza, and Smokey (I don’t know why they call him Smokey) have spent a lot of time helping me “push on” in the larder section, Nada who has shown me the pastry section, and of course head chef Joe, who is not only teaching me to cook better but is organising all the work I am doing outside The Press Club. I could go on all day naming names but there is too many, so thank you to everyone!

Lessons learned this week:

  • Hands on experience is a great way to learn, but inspiration for me comes from seeing what other people are creating with food. Checking out a diverse range of places really helps you to decide what you really love. Even with something like desserts, trying to compare classic desserts (eg snickers bar pictured above) with Rosamond style, is like apples and oranges. Both are sweet, both are technically difficult, but worlds apart.
  • Eating five desserts in one night is totally ok, and desserts don’t always have to be sickly sweet! In all the desserts I had at Rosamond, none were chocolate or too sweet!
  • Eating at the chefs table/bar/watching an open kitchen is an awesome way to dine, but be prepared to want to try one of everything on the menu!
  • It is not only important to season food with an appropriate amount of salt, but also to season at all stages of cooking (and it sounds obvious, but TASTE throughout all stages of cooking!). Don’t just whack some in at the end. When blanching vegetables in salt, use more salt than you think necessary. You’re not eating all that salt, but the salt helps to cook the vegetables faster, and hence retain colour, texture, and taste.
  • Complimenting guys on their moustaches during Movember will get you a long way. Everyone seems to be quietly (or not so quietly in some cases) proud of their ‘tache’ but a little unsure if they are pulling it off. To anyone reading this who is self conscious about their moustache this month, I assure you mine is wispier and more pathetic!

Thanks for all the positive comments, stay tuned for more stories next week!

Diary of time in Melbourne- entry no. 5

Goodbye Callum. Well, at least the physically fit, non obese Callum. Starting on the pastry section this week has led me to believe that I am actually addicted to desserts. In fact, on Thursday (after a one day stint at Clamms seafood), I had spent three days working on making, and eating, desserts. I imagine a fair amount of people would want a break from sweets. I instead had a dessert tasting plate at Ezards, ate macarons from two different patisseries, and then for dinner went to an all-dessert restaurant and had four desserts for dinner. I need help.

The Press Club’s most popular dessert, unsurprisingly, is Aphrodite. Not only is it delicious, but thanks to its appearance in an episode of Masterchef we get requests for it more than anything else. It’s quite a fun dish to plate up, as there are lots of elements and it is a little against what pastry usually stands for. Instead of rigid edges and every plate looking identical, there is a bit of an organic feel to the dish and no two are ever exactly the same. The mis en place (prep) can be a bit of a hassle though with eleven different components that need to be made!

It is always great to watch the customer put their spoon into the mousse and the raspberry centre oozes out. The dessert was actually created by Ian Burch and Darren Purchese, a couple of British pastry chefs who live in Australia now. From what I’ve heard along the grapevine they will hopefully be opening a dessert place of their own. I will be one of the first customers.

One of the really fun things about the pastry section at The Press Club is getting to play with liquid nitrogen. Combining my nerdy science nature and food makes me a happy fellow! We use it to make nitro-poached tzatziki merengues as an amuse bouche, smashing citrus segments into individual cells and a garnish on the chocolate dessert. In fact, my nerdy nature got the better of me on one occaion, where I got into a bit of an argument with a customer. He was trying to tell me that liquid nitrogen was -40 degrees Kelvin. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many things are wrong with that statement, but I’ll leave that for another day (for the record, it is -196 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Kelvin).

I also spent a day at Clamms seafood, where I was to go to the fish markets and see the process of how fish gets from the boat to your plate in a restaurant. The midnight till midday shift was a bit of a shock to the system. The market was fun though, watching as various buyers would lose their temper at each other when vying to purchase the same seafood. It was one of the guy’s birthdays, so there I was, at 3:30am, singing happy birthday to a guy I’d never met in the Melbourne fish market. If you described the scenario to me a year ago, good chance I wouldn’t have believed you.

Adam and I hosted tables on Saturday night at Starry Starry Night, an event to raise money for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. It was a great night, with a truckload of money raised (which is used for child abuse prevention, awareness, assistance to affected children etc).

Lessons learned this week:

  • The pastry section is obviously most busy at the end of the night, which means you can keep prepping during service, but it also means it is the last section to clean down and finish.
  • Fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy, it should smell like the sea. Being in the fish markets, it was surprising how unoffensive the smell was. You would expect a place with that much fish to be overpowering, but it wasn’t bad at all. Buy your fish from a fishmonger that smells fresh. Look for fish with bright, full eyes. Filleted fish can be a bit trickier to work out if it’s fresh, but the flesh shouldn’t be breaking apart. I think you can also tell a bit by how it is displayed- is it neatly laid out or kinda just chucked in there? Do they care about their product? I knew all this before working at the fish markets but I think it’s worth mentioning.
  • I apparently have a never ending desire to eat. I don’t seem to get full like a normal person. I can’t help but feel this will probably catch up with me one day, but at the present time I seem to have metabolism like a fox.

Diary of time in Melbourne- entry no. 4

I was at The Press Club again this week and also spent two days shadowing Glenn Tobias, the general manager of The Press Club Group.

This week  would be my last week on larder for a little while, with stints in pastry and Maha coming soon. As a tribute to the larder lads, I thought I might show a couple of my favourite dishes to eat and plate up.

This dish has 3 slices of chicken ballotine at the bottom (which you can’t really see in the photo), which houses a sous-vide egg, cooked at 63 degrees. This may sound a bit wanky, but it is cooked at this temperature in a water bath because it is the point where the albumen cooks and turns white. So it is only just cooked, and when you put your fork into it the yolk (which cooks around 82 degrees), it oozes all over the plate, and is like a dressing for the dish. The plate is garnished with blanched asparagus, toasted brioche crumbs, and confit chicken skin. It is finished with a little cress and some black salt, which is regular salt rubbed with volcanic ash. People seem to go bonkers over it. It’s usually pretty straightforward during service, though it is worth being careful with the egg  because if you break one and yolk comes out you have to start the plate again. Which is tough when the restaurant is packed, and it nearly always is!

This tasty little number is a vanilla and tea cured Kingfish, served with a smear of watercress oil, smoked oyster mayonnaise, a little salad of calamari and confit potatoes, and some fresh watercress tips. I love the Kingfish cure, but I must admit I was thinking of icecream ideas when I first smelt it. Note to self- make vanilla and tea ice cream! The calamari is gently poached in a vegetable nage and is a great contrast in texture to the confit potatoes, which are a must try if you have never had them. This dish is brilliant during service, as it is really quick to plate. I did explode a batch of smoked oyster mayonnaise in the vacuum pack machine though which was fun to clean up.

Spending two days seeing how to run a group of restaurants gave me an enormous amount of respect for Glenn Tobias, or ‘Sherminator’ as he is often called. I’m not quite sure how this name came about, as it neither sounds like his name, nor does he resemble in any way the character from the ‘American Pie’ films. My role was largely sitting in with him at meetings. The meetings regarding the soon-to-open PM24 restaurant were fascinating. It’s amazing how many little details you don’t think about but are necessary in getting a restaurant off the ground. Useful information for when I hopefully have a place of my own one day!

I also spent a couple hours in with the reservations team. Answering the phones was quite stressful, as I was unfamiliar with the computer package used to allocate tables and so forth. The phone was pretty relentless, with people not only calling about reservations, but wanting George’s details, in search of lost property etc. I became quite familiar with the ‘hold’ button (conveniently coloured red like a ‘panic’ button) so I could just ask about anything I didn’t know the answer to. I apologise to anyone who called and I put on hold.

The icecream machine I ordered finally got here this week. I arrived home from work a little after 1am, but like a little kid on Christmas, I had to play with my new toy straight away. I made icecream until 3am, which I feel is a solid commitment. I have made quite a lot of icecream in my time, and my favourite one to eat is still this peanut butter caramel ice cream below. I would love for anyone who has made icecream before to contribute their favourite recipe!

Peanut Ice-Cream

90g caster sugar

50g water

250g milk

250g cream

6 egg yolks

80g smooth peanut butter

1/3 up salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Salt

To make the ice cream:

Have a large bowl of ice water next to your stove. Combine 50g of the caster sugar with the water in a medium saucepan. Heat, stirring until it turns a caramel colour, all the while brushing down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush. Take off the heat and put the bottom of the saucepan into the ice water to stop any further cooking. Pour milk and cream into the pan and return to the stove. In a bowl whisk egg yolks and remaining 40g of caster sugar together. Once the milk mixture is boiling, remove from heat and let the bubbles die down slightly. Whisk the milk mix into the egg yolks until well combined. Transfer the mix back into the saucepan and cook gently, stirring until it reaches 81°C or coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour into a clean bowl over the ice water. Continue to stir while the mixture cools to avoid cooking the eggs any further. Once the mix has cooled a little, but is still warm, strain through a fine sieve then whisk in peanut butter. Cool completely and then churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished, add peanuts and a pinch of salt. Transfer the ice cream to a container and put in the freezer until ready to serve. Note: ice cream can be made in advance. Makes about 800ml.

I was invited to be part of Josh Thomas’ “Lets Learn Some Shit” comedy show about food. It was a heap of fun, and we had a few laughs. He was on the ‘Celebrity Masterchef’, and judging by our conversation seems to be a bit bitter about the whole experience. In fact, as I’m neither an expert nor funny, I presume the only reason I was a guest was a reason to bitch about Masterchef! As a Josh Thomas fan, I’m happy to take what I can get.

Some lessons learned this week:

  • Being the general manager of a group of restaurants is a big responsibility, and I imagine stressful. There is so much more than meets the eye when trying to open up a new restaurant. No wonder so many restaurants (many with good food) go broke within the first two years of operation.
  • Don’t wander into a kitchen full of guys wearing a purple sweater and expect to escape without a good deal of mockery.
  • Josh Thomas really hates meringue (his downfall on celebrity Masterchef).

I’m starting in the pastry section of The Press Club next week so check out my next entry next  to see how I fared!