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!

Diary of time in Melbourne- entry no. 3

After a week at Hellenic Republic, this week I was back at The Press Club. I also got to spend two days learning how cheese was made and distributed, which really is fascinating!

I was back on the larder section of Press Club, and the honeymoon period was definitely over. I have done a few shifts now, and need to start standing on my own two feet. I also need to be  a valuable member of a team rather than asking questions every five seconds! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still here to learn, but I now need to start being responsible for the section I’m on.

I spent Wednesday at a cheese retailer and small scale producer, La Latteria. They make their own fresh cheese and yoghurt on site, and are able to do so every day to ensure the products customers are buying are fresh. I was rather excited at the prospect of making my own mozzarella, and I wasn’t disappointed. For those who are interested in how it is made, read on. If not, feel free to skip ahead!

The milk is pasteurised by heating it to 72C for 15 seconds. Then at 38C a starter culture is added (which can be as simple as citric acid) to start fermenting the milk. Traditionally, rennet (cow stomach lining) is added to coagulate the milk, but now in Australia up to 80% of cheesemakers use non-animal rennet (a misnomer really as non-animal rennet isn’t rennet) which are enzymes derrived in a lab. The coagulated milk which is set almost like a jelly, is then cut with a series of parallel wires, separating the curds (solids) and whey (liquids). The smaller the curds, the more whey is released. Therefore, for a moist cheese the curds may be cut the size of golf balls, and for hard cheese the whey is cut more to the size of a pea.

The curd is drained from the whey, and is used to make cheese. The whey is used to make ricotta by firstly adding around 1% salt and 10% milk and then bringing to a high heat. Flakes of ricotta form in the water, and are removed with a spider/slotted spoon as it rises to the surface. As the fat is mostly in the curds, ricotta is naturally low fat and protein-rich. Alternatively the whey is fed back to animals or disposed of.

To make mozzarella, the curds are mixed in a bowl with salt. At this stage the curds resemble a bowl of crumbled feta. Hot water is then poured over the curds where they melt into a smooth, slightly stretchy mass.  The curds are then stretched and worked to make the cheese more elastic.

The water is then replaced with more hot water (hand-burning hot) and the cheese is shaped into balls by hand. Once the desired shape has been achieved, the mozzarella is dropped into cold water to set the shape. I was to eager to see how my first few turned out and touched them before they set, leaving finger marks in my otherwise smooth ball!

La Latteria make small batches of mozzarella fresh every day, so it’s nice to know that what you’re buying is fresh. I had a whale of a time playing around with the stretchy cheese, forming it into somewhat egg shaped balls (it’s not as easy as it looks to get spheres) as well as making ricotta and yoghurt.

On Thursday I was at Calender Cheese, a cheese distribution company started by Will Studd. I had a really interesting day, learning all about different varieties, how they get it from a producer to a restaurant/retailer, and of course I ate a fair bit of cheese! I was given the opportunity to cut big wheels of parmesan and gruyere cheese, among others. I was a little nervous as the wheels are very expensive and after a brief demonstration I was handed the ropes (well, the wires really) and portioned the 36kg wheels into 2kg wedges.

In my first diary entry I mentioned that I was freezing at the fishmonger, I made sure not to make that mistake again so I wore an outfit suitable for a skiing holiday to battle through the constant 2 degree temperature.

Both days I managed to bring home quite a bit of cheese which I was very grateful for. I decided to make myself a really simple salad with one of the buffalo mozzarella I acquired

Pickled beetroot and mozzarella salad:                                                                    (serves 2)

2 medium beetroot

2 oranges, segmented

large handful rocket

1 buffalo mozzarella

6-10 slices black pig prosciutto

hazelnuts, roasted and skinned

pickling liquid:

150ml olive oil

1 star anise

1 T coriander seeds

1 T fennel seeds

100ml white wine vinegar

Method:

Preheat oven to 165C. Wrap beetroot in foil and put on a tray on top of a little pile of rock salt (to absorb any moisture from the beetroot during cooking). Roast for 1 hour, allow to cool slightly, then rub the beetroot to remove skin (it’s a good idea to wear gloves). Cut into wedges.

Combine oil and spices in a small saucepan and infuse over a low heat. Add vinegar, then beetroot wedges. Sit beetroot in liquid until cool. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Lay prosciutto on a tray and stick it under a grill until crisp.

To serve, tear the mozzarella in half. Chuck everything else on the plate and drizzle with a good olive oil and salt. I don’t think it needs a vinaigrette as the beetroot and orange both have acidity.

Some lessons learned this week:

  • Take your time to be organised and do every job right the first time. Do the little things right: prep everything before you start cooking, keep your knives sharp so it doesn’t take twice as long to get a worse result. Sharp knives are also safer.
  • It is believed that cheese was accidentally invented by nomads transporting milk in a cows stomach (they didn’t have milk cartons hundreds of years ago apparently) and the rennet in the stomach set the cheese. Like charcuterie for meat, cheese was once used as a way of preserving milk. Not really a lesson learned, more a short anecdote.
  • The wait staff at restaurants are your friends. Help them out by making them a dish they love, and you’ll notice a difference in the amount of coffees made for you. (and the odd dessert order may come your way!)
  • There’s no better way of finding all the little cuts and nicks on your hands than juicing lemons.

More from me next week guys! If there are any suggestions about how I could improve what I am blogging about at the moment I would love to hear them!

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!

My time in Melbourne- entry no. 1

Day 1-2 Press Club

My first day was to be at the pinnacle of George’s empire, The Press Club. I arrived in the morning and was greeted by head chef Joe Grybac. He presented me my new Press Club apron, along with the warning “these are as rare as hens teeth”. Don’t let apron out of sight. Check. I introduced myself to everyone and promptly forgot everyone’s names. New jobs:so much to learn, so many new faces.

I was to start in the larder part of the kitchen, which is responsible for the first couple of degustation courses/entrees and side dishes. This was a welcome place to start. The larder lads and myself got stuck into our Mise en place, and soon enough it was service time. Service was fun, I saw how all the different dishes are assembled and then it was my turn to plate some up. I was happy with how the dishes looked, but I think I cook at a fairly casual pace at home, so I will need to work on my speed.  The dish that caught my eye the most was a beetroot terrine with pickled golden beetroots, and carrot candy among other tidbits.

I accidentally started a small fire when I put a container of (still slightly wet) Jerusalem artichokes into a pan of smoking oil. Other than that, the day was fairly snag-free. It was a bit of a culture shock, going from barely any physical exercise in the last year to standing on my feet for a 16 hour day, but I can’t wait to do it all again.

Day 3-4: Ocean fresh seafood

I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed (well, as bright eyed and bushy tailed as anyone can be at 4am) at Ocean Made Seafood.  After the obligatory hello’s and tour the first job I was given was to help clean 14kg of calamari. I must admit I was a little disappointed no-one came up with a clever Callum-ari nickname for me. Perhaps the others are not as lame as I am! I observed as the gentlemen around me sliced fish with the precision of a well planned military assault. I also listened in horror to the seemingly endless list of stories about getting fish spikes through hands or the various ways one can give themselves stitches with a filleting knife.

I haven’t monged many fish in my time (where does fishmonger come from anyway?), so it was good to get a bit of hands on experience. Scaling, gutting and filleting were all on the agenda.  Scaling proved to be a messy job; my body was covered in so many scales I resembled some sort of mer-man creature.

I loved watching as six 45kg+ Tuna were delivered. A wedge is cut out of the tail section, and I’m told that the quality of the entire fish can be determined by observing the flesh here.  I am also interested to note the spike mark through the head, as I had only read about it before seeing this (those who have the Pier cookbook will know what I’m rabbiting on about). The Tuna is spiked in the head as soon as it comes onto the boat, not only to humanely kill it, but to stop endorphins being released into the flesh by a stressed fish.

After this experience, I think my next venture would have to be in making fish stock. The amount of fish bones thrown out is a little sad but even if given away to restaurants there its still wastage.

It was also interesting to note how similar the business ran compared to a restaurant kitchen. Orders would come in from restaurants, be called out to the fishmongers who would quickly prepare and package the fish, and bring it up onto the pass.  The fish would then be loaded into a van and transported to the appropriate destination.I must say I was impressed with the overall level of professionalism of the place, and I don’t think its any coincidence they are supplying some of the best restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney.

I was given some scallops to take home with me, and I had quite a delicious little dinner of scallops with chorizo and white bean puree. So simple  I don’t really think I need to put up a proper recipe. For the puree just drain a can of white bean, bring up to a simmer with a little milk and butter, then puree. If it is too thick add a little more milk. Just pan fry the chorizo until golden and the scallops for about 1 minute on the first side and 20 seconds on the next. Serve with some apple julienne, good olive oil and a wedge of lemon.

Some of the lessons I learned this week:

  • Tea towels aren’t tea towels. They are torchons.
  • Make sure anything about to enter a smoking pan of oil is not water-ridden.
  • It’s not a good idea to bring only a chef jacket and pants to wear when you are going to be working in a fridge with your hands on ice cold fish all day (assuming that you like being warm).
  • Chefs are an amazing breed- working 70 hours a week, on their feet all day, and still managing to satisfy every customer. One week in and I’m exhausted. Or perhaps just soft.

Stay tuned because next week I’m at Hellenic Republic, so there will be more stories to tell I’m sure!