Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Awesome eats: Melbourne take 2

L-R George Calombaris, moi, Stefano De Pieri, Andre Chiang
Is it just me or did we all get so used to seeing George Calombaris on our TV screens thanks to Masterchef that we momentarily forgot that first and foremost he is a chef with serious, considered skill in the kitchen? As part of my recent Melbourne trip I got to eat at Press Club Projects - George's experimental test kitchen of sorts with an intimate table of about 10 guests. One of the most relaxed, fun dinners I've been too - helped along by the phenomenal company of chef Andre Chiang (Restaurant Andre) and our Aussie Italian godfather Stefano De Pieri. Good times. Here are some pics of the dishes on the night. Obviously some could be better but I was so overexcited I think I "downed it first, photo later". But it gives you some idea of the food and I hope is teaser enough for you to go and try it for yourself.

think what really got me, despite the technical skill George and his seriously slick kitchen team offered, was the truly beguiling set of dishes based on only one or two striking flavours. Because lets be honest, that is essentially what Greek food is; a distillation of thousands of years of culture and lifestyle in food that is essentially rustic. Was it Greek taverna food gussied up to be some highbrow, new wave 'other'. Hell no this was Greek food that was present - it was modern but it simultaneously embraced tradition and virtue and humour and delight in every mouthful. And goddam there was some cooking skills. I just loved that George could "take the piss" out of Australian and Greek cultures while still being true to them - that probably sounds crazy but I suggest you eat there and you'll understand exactly what I mean.
Liver lolly
Ok I'll be honest, I judge, quickly. To me the appetizer sets the tone of the night - start with a bang and its all culinary oohs and ahhs all night long.  And this creamy, rusty gelatinous livery lolly pop was just the ticket. So delicious. And yes that is raspberry. Ahhh friends, what a dinner.

Hills Hoist Chips and Dips
Next was the hills hoist chips and dips. Now I don't know what sort of hills hoist George had growing up but it was certainly better than mine if it inspired food like this. Mine was more rusty, with grandma's undies swinging like a national flag in the breeze. This hills hoist version made me wish a little bit that I lived near George's place. Superb. Delicate tastes of sweet, savoury and plenty of umami.

The Walnut

Then we had "the walnut".  George's take on a nut, pear and blue cheese salad. So beautiful and delicate - it was the sort of thing you wanted to dab behind your ears. It had subtlety and depth. Such a lovely transition into the other dishes - a perfect palate warm up.

Burnt Bread crumb
Oh my, this was in my top three dishes of the night. Rich, fatty, textural and gelatinous - all in one bite. If the insides of my mouth could write a love song about this dish they would. If I didnt know more was coming I would have been Oliver holding out my bowl "please sir may I have some more". I had to physically restrain myself from licking the damn plate clean. 

Watermelon/oyster/germinated lentils
This was one of those scenarios of eat first, photograph later. The watermelon had been compressed in the feta brine - taking on all the flavours without any of the creaminess. I just found it genius. It let the richness of the oysters shine through, the lentils gave a much needed textural crunch and the freshness of the watermelon and tang of brine just rounded it off beautifully. Eaters seemed a little divided on this dish but I absolutely adored it.

Green Greek Salad
Nuff said really. This was beautiful, bright, pungent and refreshing. A perfect play before the following heavier dishes.

L-R Whiting Dressed Up as Lamb Souvlaki; POrk/Cherry/Cauliflower

My dish of the night. Whiting dressed up as a lamb souvlaki. George had cooked the whiting in lamb fat - so the fish took on all the flavours of the lamb without any of the heaviness. It was genius - in a single dish he seemed to have distilled the thousands of years of culture and lifestyle - to me it epitomised that notion that the greek repertoire doesn't need a fancy dress and expensive uncomfortable shoes - it is perfect as it is - rustic, clever and full of tradition without any need or desire for unnecessary airs and graces. The pork with cherry and cauliflower - well pork lovers - it was unbelievable. The subtle tartness of the cherry cut through the richness while the radish provided the perfect textural crunch. 


So high on my list of 2015 new year resolutions will be to learn how to make haloumi. I had house made haloumi at Sydney's Nomad and this piqued my interest, and George's version. Holy shit batman - why would you ever have the packet junk ever again - creamy, tangy with just enough resistance in mouth feel. I could wax lyrical about this for hours and I haven't even told you about the lamb. Sweet, so so sweet with just a perfect even layer of fat, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the meat. I wondered if I was dreaming. Perfection on the plate.

Water to Ice

Ok so you know how I mentioned that I was in an eat now photograph later kind of mood. Well I'm sorry dessert paid the price. I was so overexcited I just ate it and it was over. In an instant. And this makes me truly sad because I wanted to share it with you. George started playing Zorba the Greek then the chefs proceeded to smash plates of meringue over a delightful light, slightly tart sorbet. It was such a great end to the night. I am jealous of Melbournians yet again for having an intimate dining experience such as this available to them. One of many of course thanks to the incredible and fun dining culture in Melbourne but if you can get a booking, do it - it will be one of the best meals you eat this year. 

Christmas Lamingtons

Introducing the Christmas Lamington
If ever there was an excuse for a Christmas/Aussie-baking-great mash up I feel the lamington is it. I thought you might feel the same way. So Merry Christmas from me to you, in the form of an unapologetic use of brandy and white chocolate sponge, a smothering of cherry jam, fresh cherries and of course chocolate. I know. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. This is good time overload in dessert form.
I do suggest though, in the Christmas spirit, that you make a double batch. From experience I’d like you to know, these don’t tend to last long.

White chocolate and brandy sponge
225g butter
300g caster sugar
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
100g good quality white chocolate, melted
60ml brandy
300g plain flour, sifted
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
120ml milk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp mixed spice

Filling and coating
Cherry jam (minimum 4 ½ tbsp.)
½ cup dried cherries, finely chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
2 tsp mixed spice
500g dark chocolate
Fresh cherries to serve

Preheat oven to 170C. Grease and line a high-sided square baking pan with baking paper and set aside. I prefer this to sheet pans so you can cut the cake horizontally through the centre and smother in jam but if you don’t have one a rectangular sheet pan will do just fine.
Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the remaining dry ingredients to a separate bowl and stir to combine. Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined. Add the milk and vanilla and brandy, continuing to beat, then add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Gently stir through the melted chocolate before pouring the batter into your prepared baking tin. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. If you are using a sheet pan, keep a close eye on the time, you may only need to bake for 25-30 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Split the cake in half. On the bottom half smear the cherry jam then gently place the other piece of cake on top. Pop in the fridge to firm up slightly – it makes the cake easier to work with.
For chocolate ganache coating, combine chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. When chocolate begins to melt, stir gently until combined and smooth and set aside in a warm place.
Scatter shredded coconut, chopped cherries and mixed spice over a tray, using your fingers to turn over and combine. Cut the sponge into sixteen 5cm squares. Using 2 forks or spoons, dip each square into the chocolate and shake to remove excess. (If chocolate starts to thicken, place bowl over gently simmering water to thin.) Roll each square in coconut mixture, shake off excess and place on a wire rack (sitting over a tray). Stand until the chocolate sets then store in an airtight container. When serving, top with flakes of shaved white chocolate (optional) and the fresh cherries. You’ll be the most popular person at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A few bits and bobs

Hello, hello
How are you my fine friends? December 2, what the???? Did that year just fly by or what?
I am looking forward to the Christmas break - some downtime with family and friends in sunny Queensland. It can't come soon enough, it has been one hell of a year. I hope you have a great feast planned  - I'll be sharing some Christmas inspired recipes with you over the coming weeks to help get you in the (hungry) festive spirit. But for now a little bit of an update on what I have been up to.

I'm finally on instagram
It's only taken  a few years but I am on, and is it bad to admit, totally addicted. I thought pinterest was a black hole for procrastination, but this is taking it to a whole new level. Pop on over and follow me so I can view your photos and posts, I'd love to see them. I'm on @kcoquette

#this is not sponsored!
I had the great pleasure of giving two Shun knives away with a book order last week. And I am a little bit in love with these knives - it was hard to see them go - there was a utility knife and a chef's knife. At first I was a little hesitant that such beautiful blades came with a plastic style handle but the polymer blend handle actually hold beautifully, the weight staying in the blade rather than your hand and it really helps with speed and precision in the kitchen. For repetitive tasks such as fine chopping, chiffonade herbs etc I actually found this quite helpful. This is a chef knife's chef knife. If you wanted to add a few knives to your Christmas wish list, these are it - the chef's knife retails (in Aus) for $130.90 and the utility knife is $115.50 - available from most specialty knife stores and department stores. The stainless steel blades have this beautiful sort of wave like pattern along the blade, evidently inspired by Japanese sword designs, there is something about it that makes you feel extra hard core in the kitchen because of it. 

Here are a couple of pics for you to print and leave out on the table, on the fridge or posted to your head until someone takes notice and buys them for you immediately come 25 December.

Bistronomy update
Proud to say that Bistronomy is being translated into both French and German, with the German cover looking a little different but just as sweet. Both slated for release early next year. I'll pop up the French cover when I receive it. The french are doing something really different I am told so I look forward to seeing it.

Bistronomy has just been covered over on Eat your Books where I did a little interview and they are giving a copy away today so get in quick! Here is a snapshot of it below.
Haute cuisine for the people

Katrina MeyninkKatrina Meynink is a freelance food writer who lives and breathes all things food. She is also a prolific lover of cookbooks. In addition to degrees in journalism and creative writing, she has a Masters in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu and the University of Adelaide, as well as an Advanced Diploma in Taste through the University of Reims, Paris and Hautes Etudes Du Gout. When she's not writing. Meynink blogs, eats and food styles through her business La Petite Miette, The Little Crumb.
Meynink has just published her second cookbook,Bistronomy: French Food Unbound. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy.) The title refers to the nascent bistronomy movement, led by young chefs who create sophisticated food free from the pomp and circumstance of high-end restaurants. Meynink embraces bistronomy's concept of sharing by offering more than 100 recipes contributed by thirty Australian and international chefs. We asked Meynink to discuss the bistronomy movement.
How did the bistronomy movement start?
There was a slow belly grumble; an ever-growing discontentment among both chefs and diners who wanted more from the experience of cooking and eating. Yves Camdeborde was the chef to articulate it with the opening of La Regalade in the early '90s; a restaurant that embodied all the elements of bistronomy - a focus on the food on the plate, ideas of thrift in tight economies and that sense of community and being in touch with the dining experience. People craved it, it was something they wanted and needed and a style of dining they could relate to. I think from there it was a natural progression as more diners sought that kind of experience and chefs relished the opportunity to give it to them.
How is bistronomy different from traditional French bistro cooking?
Bistronomy goes far beyond the traditional bistro fare, incorporating the technical skills of Michelin level with economic sensibility. Where French bistro is often a replication of the classics, bistronomy chefs always say the rules are, there are no rules. They play with different ingredients and styles. It is far more progressive and relaxed with no definitive style or structure.
Which chefs do you consider to be the leading lights in the movement?
The chefs profiled in Bistronomy: French Food Unbound first and foremost. Other chefs I am really interested and am following closely are Alexandre Gauthier, one of France's most underrated chefs and also I'm really interested in James Syhabout in Oakland, US. I think one of the greatest things about Bistronomy is that it is constantly evolving as more chefs try their talented hand at the style.
How many different countries are represented by the chefs in your book?
Seven countries are represented by the chefs in the book.
How much does the bistronomy concept change when the restaurant is outside of France?
I think bistronomy is actually quite a fluid concept and it is only the tenements of the movement that are replicated globally - freedom, generosity, spirit and the idea of frugality. It is quite free thinking so its not something that is "purely French," rather it is something owned and embodied by each of the chefs who understand bistronomy and cook in this style.
How many of the restaurants covered in your book were you able to visit?
At least 80% of them. I am still trying to work my way to Panama. While I have eaten Jose's food I am yet to eat in his restaurant. Watch this space.
How did you decide which chefs and restaurants to profile?
This was the hardest component of this project - there are lots of great bistronomy chefs and restaurants to profile and who, where and how they work is constantly changing. In most cases "stars had to align" - I needed some experience with the chefs, they needed to be available and willing to participate in the book amidst their commitments, so in many ways we found each other.
Do you have a personal favorite restaurant and recipe from the book?
While I hold them all dear, there is something about Sixpenny in Sydney and L'Ami Jean in Paris. As far as recipes go, who could ever say no to James Knappett's crisp chicken skins with bacon jam?
Photo by Matthew Duchesne