July 7, 2009
I've gushed about Food Safari before, but is it okay if I gush a little more? Food Safari is a show about international cuisines that somehow manages to perfectly capture what it is to eat and cook in Australia. We don't have any unifying culinary tradition, but what we do have is a diverse range of high quality produce, and people of every background who are proud of their culture. There are the douchebags among us that would demand we all assimilate into one big ball of bland, but there's something pretty cool about the old Italian woman who is able to live and work here for 45 years but still has to speak to me in very broken English with her son translating. The fact that you can get away with it and still be part of a large, supported, mainstream community and not be marginalised is an achievement, and we're better for it.
The Greek community is huge in Australia. Melbourne is in fact noteworthy for having the largest Greek population of any city outside of Athens. It's not surprising that Melbourne is where you will find George Calombaris and his three restaurants. His flagship Press Club is famous for its modern Greek food, but he's not averse to slumming it.
This dish is more homestyle: neck of lamb braised with yoghurt & onion until, sliced and chargrilled, and served on white bean skordalia with a parsley and fennel salad. If it sounds finicky don't be put off, it's actually very simple. It's a great dish (I would however make the braise both sweeter and saltier next time) and an excellent way of serving front and center an otherwise tough cut of lamb. The standout though is the white bean skordalia which is pleasantly tart and full of flavour. I used a couple of spoonfuls with dinner, and scooped the rest up with crusty bread for lunch the next day.
Get the recipes and videos at the Food Safari website:
* The keen-eyed will notice that my fennel & parsley salad has fennel seeds in place of fresh fennel. This last-second substitution was necessitated by a dodgy fennel bulb
September 1, 2008
Have I mentioned how good Food Safari is? Every week Food Safari profiles a different national cuisine by going right to the source: the home cooks and local chefs who have been cooking it all of their lives. There's no manufactured slickness, it's just honest food by Australians from different backgrounds and it completely rocks. What makes it even better is the fact that 80% of the videos are available online. You could easily lose an evening on that website, and I recommend you do.
When I saw them make this red duck curry on the show, it didn't jump out at me as something I have to try. I love both duck and pineapple but rarely buy them, and lychees are hardly a kitchen staple. Then I went to the Star of Siam on Gouger St (it's a hell of a street) and ordered a serving of this curry that blew me away. It was the perfect Thai balance: the gravy was hot and salty, the fruits sweet and sour, and the duck juicy and tender. Once the restaurant's serving bowl was licked clean, I immediately ran out of the restaurant and dashed home to make this for myself.
The curry recipe is a great one but I wasn't completely satisfied with the curry paste, it seemed to be missing something. I'm not sure what, but I'll find out and get back to you.
Kaeng ped pett yang (red duck curry)
- 300g roast duck meat
- 1 tbsp peanut oil
- 3 tbsp red curry paste
- 300ml coconut cream
- 2 tbsp lychee juice1
- 1.5 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 4 canned lychees
- 8 small pieces of fresh pineapple2
- 100g apple eggplants
- 100g pea eggplants3
- 1 long red chili, sliced finely
- 6 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 large handful of thai basil leaves
1. Cook the curry paste in peanut oil over a high heat for about 1 minute. Stir through about half of the coconut cream and cook, stirring, until oil begins to bead on the surface.
2. Add the lychee juice, fish sauce, lime juice, duck, lychees, pineapple, remaining coconut cream, and 1/4 a cup of water and bring to a simmer. Add the eggplants and chili and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the eggplants still have a little bite.
3. Remove from the heat, and stir in the kaffir lime and basil leaves. Serve with steamed rice.
(1) Don't pull your hair out trying to find a bottle of lychee juice — it simply refers to the syrup that canned lychees come in.
(2) Fresh pineapple is important as it brings some necessary sourness that canned just doesn't have.
(3) If you can't find these (or apple eggplants, either), by all means substitute with some regular eggplant or zucchini.
June 10, 2008
There's a great interview with Michael Ruhlman over at Carol's French Laundry at Home. In case you don't know who I'm talking about, Ruhlman is a chef/writer who has written extensively about cooking and has had the opportunity to work and write with some of the best chefs in the world. One of his greatest achievements has been writing Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook, a book that changed the way I think about cooking. I used to be a simple man, happy with me beans on toast — now I can't serve a soup without thinking, "I could probably strain this one more time". They were of course Keller's techniques and recipes that I was reading, but Ruhlman was able to communicate Keller's passion for perfection so clearly that it became my passion. No doubt because it became his passion, too. I can't wait to read Soul of a Chef next.
Meanwhile, I got a pamphlet advertising 'Celebrity Chefs 2008'. A bunch of restaurants around Adelaide are each offering small fixed-price tasting menus throughout July and August. The idea is to visit all of them, get your pamphlet stamped, and be rewarded with a $100 gift voucher to spend at any of the participating restaurants. In other words, a yuppie version of the Subway Sub Club. The idea's fine and there are some good bargains to be had, but wasn't this called the 'Festival of Food' the previous two years? And weren't there pictures of food selling the event rather than the smiling mugs of the restaurants' head chefs? Speaking of that, since when were any of these people celebrities? It's embarrassing, really.
Who's putting this crap into their heads? Dear Adelaide "celebrity" chefs: Wake up. If you want to be famous, build a reputation based on years of hard work and excellent food. Even then people may only know your restaurant, not your name. That's okay. It's not about you.
June 9, 2008
Something for those of you who are fans of Gordon Ramsay or Heston Blumenthal. A generous Dane who goes by the name Postmester is gradually uploading hours of video to YouTube featuring the two three-star chefs. Currently you can watch Ramsay's Boiling Point, Beyond Boiling Point, The F Word and some extras, and Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection, and Kitchen Chemistry. It's perfect for those who live in, say, Australia, where none of these shows (as far as I know) have been broadcast. Get them here.
They're all worth watching, but I particularly recommend Boiling Point. Filmed back when Ramsay was starting out at Royal Hospital Road and just becoming known to people outside the restaurant scene, it's a great look at where it all began. There's some delicious irony peppered throughout, such as in the first episode where he says to an interviewer who accuses him of being a 'celebrity chef', "I'm not interested in signing a multi-million pound deal that I can conduct a kitchen from an office". I can't help looking back at his early days and marvelling at how well Ramsay played it — the Bramley apple incident and his row with Australian food writer Cherry Ripe are just two examples of how skillfully he used television and the media to build the Gordon Ramsay image into the brand it is today.
Update: The videos have since been removed.