A Quay restaurant spinoff? Chef Peter Gilmore says – yes! (video)

It was in the middle of Saturday night’s gala dinner at the Great Barrier Feast that the drawcard celebrity chef, Quay’s Peter Gilmore, dropped a bomb – his plans to open a more casual, funkier spin-off of Australia’s top-rated restaurant in Sydney. Sometimes it pays to be a social media geek: thanks to some frenetic iPhone typing from the five-star Qualia resort in Hamilton Island, Gosstronomy was the first to break the news on Twitter.

The next day, I had the extra-special privilege of having some face-to-face time with Gilmore (along with a couple of other select media folks), whose Sydney fine diner now ranks as No 26 on the S. Pellegrino World’s Top 50 list. The conversation kicked off with his firm stance against genetically engineered (GE or GM) food, and then, with video camera in hand, I grabbed the opportunity to ask him about his plans for Quay’s sister restaurant.

It turns out, there’s no site selected yet, but it’s obvious from what Gilmore had to say that he’s given it quite a lot of thought and the wheels are in motion. Check out the above video of our talk to hear about his plans for next year.

Peter Gilmore interview timeline:

    1:34 – Diversity of produce, and what he’d like to see in supermarkets
    2:20 – *Quay’s new sister restaurant*: a casual, funky, young environment
    4:40 – The crucial need to hang onto our Sydney growers, especially in the Hawkesbury
    5:37 – On the Slow Food movement in Sydney
    6:31 – How we have Quay to thank for the fact that we now get purple (and other non-orange) carrots in Australia
    7:19 – What produce we should be expecting or demanding to see in our aisles

There’s more to come about Gilmore’s cooking on the Great Barrier Feast, so make sure to check in later in the week.

Social Dinner Club – From Boca to Efendy

I first met Cenk Baban at a private dinner at Efendy last year, and while I’m pretty hazy on the details of the night – aside from my first taste of sheep’s testicles and a reading by a Turkish fortune teller who told me (correctly) that my then-relationship wouldn’t work – I’m pretty sure we bonded over our mutual loves of food, technology and social media.

Two months ago, Cenk gave me a ring out of the blue, asking me if I would help be the first food blogger to kick off his new series of special food events, the Social Dinner Club. His goal: to bring together people to experience foods from different cultures and regions, and learn much more about what was on their plates, rather than merely scoffing it all down.

For starters, he was holding an authentic South American dinner at Darlinghurst’s Boca Argentinian Grill, a lovely, corner-terrace of a restaurant that I’d had my eye on for quite a while, but had never visited. He wanted me to join with the restaurant’s Argentine co-owner, Marcelo Berezowski, and talk about the food, the wine and the region. Eager to be involved, I said yes.

While I’d never been to Argentina, and readily admitted as such, during my years working in New York City I’d been to quite a few of the Argentinean restaurants that have thrived there over the past couple of decades. Then, on a trip back home two years ago, a PR associate also introduced me to Nicolas Catena of Catena Zapata, the family that established wine-growing in Argentina’s Mendoza region and today is one of the country’s greatest producers. On my way out, Catena’s daughter Laura handed me a copy of chef Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires cookbook, which has forever changed the way many chefs around the world think about barbecuing. One look at Sydney’s Porteno, and it has Seven Fires written all over it.

So I’d had some Argentinean food 101 experiences – the over-researching journalist in me would fill in the blanks. Besides, Argentine food experts are hard to find in Sydney. Lucky me.

The night was a memorable one. Just the space alone was a revelation: a bold, red room with golden-yellow trim and adorned with pictures of an Argentinean porn star, music and film legends and a grinning fur-coat-wearing Diego Maradona in his soccer-playing prime (pre fat-Elvis Maradona, that is). The event’s guests piled in and we kicked off standing and socialising and enjoying tasty jugs of sangria.

Then everyone was seated. Marcello came out and talked about the cuts of meat, many of which aren’t typically found at Australian butchers. Matambre, for example, is a thin but large sheet of beef found between the ribs and skin of the cow, a type of flank steak, and at Boca it would be rolled as it often is back in Argentina – the name also happens to mean “hunger killer”. Nice.

The three-course Fiesta Patria (‘patriotic festival’) spanned everything from various empanadas, to meat-filled criolla and corn-based humita. It gave me chance to mention that the shapes of the folds of the empanadas signify what kind of contents are contained within – something I first discovered in a trip to Costa Rica, and Google confirmed was the same down south. For mains, we tucked, into the parrillada (barbecue) platters: ribs, chorizo, lamb, chicken, morcilla (blood sausage) and sweetbreads, all coming from the real-deal Argentine grill positioned in full sight of diners on the ground floor. Chimichurri was also ever-present – prepared as a less-common red sauce, as opposed to the more typical salsa verde (green sauce).

We moved off the sangria and onto the Argentinean wines: torrontés for the white wine drinkers and malbec for those going red. For dessert, a sweet zapallo showed pumpkin as a remarkably textured dessert – a limbo between waxy and supple – all while others tucked into the more straightforward dulce de leche flan, and bread pudding.

Yes, it was terrific night. So why am I writing about it two months later after the fact? Well, Cenk is holding another Social Dinner Club tomorrow night (Thurs, the 9th) at Efendy, tapping into his own Turkish heritage. It’s a brilliant deal – a feast for $57 – and I’ve always been a fan of Efendy’s cooking. Making the night even more appealing is that he’s enlisted respected food writer and cookbook author Leanne Kitchen to help spearhead the festivities – a perfect match as Leanne recently launched her newest cookbook, Turkey, in March.

It should be a pretty sweet night and for not much dosh, so I’d encourage anyone to check it out if you’re looking for something exciting to do and haven’t been roped into the Sydney Film Festival, feeding the kids or watching the next MasterChef elimination. As you do.

Social Dinner Club
www.socialdinnerclub.com.au
www.meetup.com/socialdinnerclub

Merhaba Istanbul! Dinner @ Efendy Restaurant
7-10pm, Thu 9 June
79 Elliott St, Balmain, NSW

Boca Argentinian Grill
308 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst NSW
(02) 9332 3373

Marco Pierre White’s First Australian Landing


Thursday night was the kind of dilemma that a food writer dreams about. Do I go see one of my favourite food writers, Anthony Bourdain, duke it out with AA Gill and Tony Bilson at Sydney’s Town Hall, or do I meet a full-blown culinary legend, Marco Pierre White, in an intimate gathering?

It was a gruelling choice, really, but intimacy won out, so I agreed to be whisked away in a luxury car and taken to a private waterside villa to meet up with the great British chef. Later, I’d discover that it was the first time the great man had ever set food in Australia.

For those who don’t know who Marco is – and I’ve been amazed at how many people I’ve talked to in Sydney who don’t – he became the world’s youngest three-Michelin-star chef at age 33, and his kitchens have been proving grounds for such high-profilers as Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali and Heston Blumental. He’s also famous for being a kitchen terror, way before Gordon Ramsay popularised the formula.

I would’ve liked to have said that I enjoyed a 12-course degustation by God himself, but the night was far more humble. Marco was in town as the guest of Continental, demonstrating the best ways to use their new jelly stocks. For a guy like me who makes and freezes all of his own stocks from scratch, it wasn’t exactly how I would have wanted to see Mr White in action. But I get it – people are time-poor, so stock jellies and cubes make those big family meals happen with far less hassle. And, well, KFC or Bonanza could have brought Marco to Sydney, and I’d still show up.

Said ‘villa’ looked more like small mansion, and as I entered the grounds and into its chandelier-dangled hallway, I was handed a cold flute of Piper-Heidsieck bubbly. Yes, it’s days like this that I love my job.

Soon there was a gathering of some nine other food writers and bloggers – including Grab Your Fork’s Helen Yee, the Sydney Int’l Food Festival’s Barbara Sweeney, The Internet Chef’s Bridgette Davis and Inside Cuisine’s Rebecca Varidel. As we waited for the main event, we talked shop in the white-on-white living room, which looked so posh, I couldn’t help myself from calling it “the salon”.

As we progressed to the kitchen, we took our seats, perched less than a metre from the benchtop. Then Marco appeared, his trademark long hair wrapped inside a well-loved headscarf. He warmly greeted us. MPW informed us that he was going to cook us something that he had never made before but that he understood was popular in Australia – pumpkin soup. An asparagus risotto would follow.

That, understandably, may not sound incredibly exciting. In fact, it didn’t sound exciting, but the master found ways. First came the unique use of carrot juice to make the soup look more orange. “If I was making it for my daughter, she’d want it be bright orange,” Marco explained. “That’s what she thinks pumpkin looks like.” Then there was the zorro-like way MPW sliced into the lids of the stock packets, a circular cut and lift as effortlessly instant as a magician’s card trick. Next came the largest Japanese pumpkin any of us had ever seen: freshly picked from a private garden, and as voluptuous as a large watermelon.

But the main entertainment was Marco himself. He grumbled about the awfulness of having to use an induction stovetop, not seeming to be fussed that its maker, Electrolux, was a co-sponsor of the night. “You get excited when it finally beeps,” he grimaced as an assistant stepped in after he struggled to get a response from his finger pressings. Meanwhile, Marco made the case for gas cookers, “A kitchen should be hot; that’s what keeps the food warm.” The honesty was refreshing, although I was momentarily embarrassed for Electrolux – then I remembered that they also make gas cooktops. Travesty averted.

Marco acknowledged that it was hard to beat a homemade stock, but for the time-constrained, he was intent on making a stock with from the manufactured jelly that didn’t taste like one. So he changed the recommended water-to-packet ratio of 500ml to a less salty 700ml, and used the risotto’s asparagus and chervil trimmings (and some spring onion, too, I think) to lift it. “It’s certainly the shortest recipe in Sydney,” Marco said, as he served the soup in the whole carved-out pumpkin. He noted that there was no need to add salt, and asked us if we could taste if the soup was made from a stock packet. None of us could, although I admittedly wondered how much this good soup would approach great, livelier heights with a fresh stock.

Someone in the audience asked whether serving the soup in the pumpkin was a bit daggy, a tad old-school. Marco didn’t think so. “There’s something about putting something in the middle of the table,” he said before diverting into a talk about the lost art of entertaining. “There’s no theatre in restaurants these days.” He compared today’s modern restaurants and the penchant for small plates as to “going to a canapé party where you get small bites that are lukewarm.” A dig at molecular restaurants, perhaps?

Marco served up the pumpkin soup with a good sprinkle of parmesan, and we gleaned other tips as he moved on to the risotto. He demonstrated what he said was the only way to finely chop an onion, which was to quarter it, remove a single petal and then finely julienne it and finely chop it crosswise. He told us that stock is more forgiving than salt, so he sometimes takes a stock cube, turns it into a paste with olive oil and finely chopped rosemary, then coats the paste onto lamb chops or steaks. He also shared his love of ketchup vinaigrette, making an emulsion with tomato sauce, olive oil, chervil and white wine vinegar. When I ogled his Japanese knife, he shared that it was a Mac knife: “It’s the best knife on the market.” I’m not sure if Marco is sponsored by Mac, but a quick Google searched showed Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay as additional proponents, so it’s either a killer knife, or there’s an all-star sponsorship program going on.

Marco became most animated when talking about Sydney, pointing to the harbour view behind him and gushing about how beautiful the city is. He also spoke highly of Australia’s statesman food writer, Leo Schofield, who impressed him with his insights into the restaurants of Marco’s era. “He was a very lovely man. Very knowledgeable,” he said, and then commended Schofield for being “a critic, but someone who look at things for what they are, not simply to criticise.”

In the end, MPW thanked me for my patience, and encouraged me to try using the store-bought stocks to lift my homemade versions. “Used correctly, they really enhance.” I’d normally be skeptical, but he said it with so much sincerity and conviction that I think I’ll have to give it a go, just to verify that I’m not being a food snob. On one hand, using a manufactured stock give me pangs of guilt – a sell-out of all things handmade and fresh. On the other hand, I need to stay open-minded. There’s certainly the justification that it’s better for people to make home meals with stock cubes and jellies than turn to pre-packaged or fast foods. Or maybe I’m just star-struck and bending over backwards. But there’s only so far you can bend a cynical expat New Yorker.

I don’t know who first called MPW an ‘enfant terrible’, but the guy I met was gracious and humble. It could have been the jet lag, or politeness in front of food media, but somehow I don’t think so. Maybe Marco has gone soft in his older age, but whatever it is, it was a pleasure to meet the English legend, and while shaking his hand, he made it seem as if the feeling was mutual. That’s something I would have never experienced at Town Hall.

MasterChefs & Gosstronomy – The Movie

It’s been a few months, but just wanted to share this excellent short film about the Louis Prima 100th Birthday dinner by video producer Darryl Thoms at Xorigin, who has been generous to lend his pro skills. We have a solid chat with MasterChef’s Aaron Harvie behind the scenes to talk about the dinner, and we also catch up with fellow MasterChef contestants Matt Caldicott and Jonathan Daddia. And, yes, there’s plenty of me blabbering away. And while we couldn’t fully capture the energy of the night, enjoy a listen of the music of our fantastic ensemble that night, including Sarah J Hyland, Simon Bartlett and his Cocktail Cabinet swing bang, Frank Bennett and Pia Andersen. Despite what looks like a lot of folks sitting around, ask anyone who was there, and they’ll tell you that the music on the night was absolutely electric.

Enjoy!

The Fern – another notch in Refern’s rebirth of cool


OK, so anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Redfern is the new Surry Hills. Really. Don’t believe me? Just go to the Eat House diner on the end of Chalmers Street, drink with the hipsters in The Norfolk’s groovy courtyard, shop at those amazing vintage furniture stores like Great Dane on Elizabeth Street.

And now it gets further cemented with The Fern, as in shorthand for Redfern, a stunning terrace on a leafy stretch of lower Pitt Street, just off of booming Cleveland Street and the nearly refurbished Prince Alfred Park. First impressions come via a groovy street-facing stone courtyard, set under mature palm trees, with white-painted iron chairs, cushions converting a rendered cement stretch into a long bench seat, and mix-and-match tables. It’s all breezy and tranquil, with the bordering gardens peppered with objects like an old push mover and what looks like a metal chook.

This is sophisticated café, for now, although there are plans to soon get a liquor license and extend trading to dinner. Well, make that food to go with aperitivo, those Italian pre-dinner drinks – chef Massimo Bianchi, who was one the heir apparent at Buon Ricordo and started up Uccello at The Ivy, is on board as consultant chef, and as such, so little wonder the menu has a slight Italian accent. For now that shows up in a breakfast bruschetta with scrambled eggs and smoke provolone, and in lunch fare like nduja (a kind of spicy pork pate) with sourdough and ricotta, and specials like a lamb ragu with housemade fettuccini.

The space is what truly sets The Fern apart, and it’s very much a bespoke effort by operators Julian Serna and Mark Wiley, two barmen who met at Merivale working high-profile venues like The Ivy Pool Bar, Establishment and Uccello – which explains the one degree of separation to chef Bianchi. The two still serve as drinks consultants, and recently worked with Porteno to set up its popular Argentinean-style bar.

The emphasis is on recycling, so menus are set upon vinyl records or their album sleeves, water is served in old glass jugs that used to hold McWilliams port or sherry, the sides of liquor boxes are used to decorate a stairwell, the back section is covered with Julian’s collection of old Mad magazines and “Spy Vs Spy” illustrations, and there are vintage chairs, tables and storage chests about. There’s also a nice collection of antique cocktail shakers on top of the fridge.
The most impressive feature is a colourful wallpaper of street art and graffiti from Melbourne laneways, and it looks so funky, it’s hard to believe the images were happy-snapped on Julian’s Blackberry camera. Mark also has his own wall, featuring his intrepid photographs taken from India, Southeast Asia and beyond.

There’s also an equal focus on comfort foods, such as the tasty and nicely plated huevos rancheros of eggs (they ask how you want them, but it’s all wrong unless you get them fried), refried beans, lemon/limey avocado chunks, and slices of cooked chorizo. It’s quite a satisfying plate, so I decide to forgive them for omitting the tortilla and chilli-tinged salsa that makes huevos rancheros what they are. I’m also intrigues by a ‘Morning Sunrise’ menu offering: a blend of fresh-squeezed OJ, banana yoghurt and honey. “Just a drop of goodness in the morning,” Julian says with a wink.

I later try the lamb ragu, which is appreciable hearty, even if the mince-like texture seems more ‘lamb bol’ than the fall-apart meats I associate with a slow-cooked ragu. If someone told me it was a tweak on a Bolognese I would’ve been very content, what with such nicely al dente fettuccine.

I already love The Fern, and my prediction is that this is Sydney’s next ‘it’ café. And once this place gets its nighttime trade going, it’s really going to be humming, although expect it to be a civil place for a bevvie – it’s surrounded by residential buildings after all. The tip is that the evening food is going to be affordable, maybe even free at times, a great pair to expected drinks like an Aperol cocktail or glass of Peroni. It’s all intended to be in the vein of Italy’s aperitivo, but without the half-price drinks, which would violate NSW licensing laws No matter, it’s close enough, and I’m already looking forward to spending long sessions hiding out here with a coffee from NZ’s Gravity, and maybe sticking around for nice digestivo as the sun goes down.

The Fern, 4 Pitt Street, Redfern
Tel: 0410 705 093
www.thefern.com.au

Hot Tub (Time Machine?) at Hunky Dory

I reckon there hasn’t been enough “goss” on Gosstronomy of late, so let’s change that here and now. The flattie and I decided – after being late for yoga class and getting locked out – that we’d go have some pizza at the still-new Bruno’s on Oxford Street. It was a nice night for a walk from Surry Hills, but lo and behold, we got locked out again; Bruno’s isn’t open on Mondays.

So we turned around on Oxford Street to commence another trek to Pizza e Birra, when we were instantly faced with a hulking plastic contraption on the back of what is a funky Hunky Dory truck. Yes, two lads from the rooftop bar of the same name, and above Bruno’s, were working out the logistics for how they were going to get their newest acquisition – what I’ll deem a six-person hot tub – onto the roof without too much undue strain. In the meantime, I was working out the logistics of their hillbilly hipster look, all wide-brimmed hats, Portlandia-worthy piercings, pants confused as tights, and well-manicured scruffiness.

Whatever, I’m actually looking forward to seeing what this new bar jacuzzi (so far christened the ‘yakuzi’, but that name would be a crime…) has for the rooftop parties at the Hunky Dory Social Club. Will it have bubbles? Will there be a rubbery ducky with handlebar moustache? We’ll just have to wait and see what magic the Hunky plumber pipes in.

Hunky Dory Social Club, 215 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, Sydney, +61 2 9311 0442, www.hdsc.com.au

At Cuisine Now Gala, France Stars, Oz Shines

Brent Savage's stunning slow-roasted duck with cuttlefish & mushroom

It’s gotta be incredibly hard to find a good time to hold another food festival in Sydney. October’s a no-go, naturally, due to the Sydney International Food Fest, November and December are too hard because of Silly Season, March belongs to the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, and, well, I’m guessing Northern Hemisphere spring and summer (aka Aussie autumn and winter) are busy times to attempt to jet-set chefs from France’s pre-eminent restaurants – what with all of those English and American tourists ticking off boxes in their Michelin Guides.

That might explain why Tony Bilson’s admirable Cuisine Now festival – championing the contemporary face of French cooking – was slotted during January’s insanely busy schedule of Sydney Festival, music and outdoor events, a time when getting noticed is nothing short of formidable. It’s such an admirable effort – pairing top toque-wearers from France alongside Australia’s most exciting interpreters of French techniques – but I wonder whether those two weeks of excellent masterclasses and dinners are getting as wide attention as that they deserve.

Tony Bilson addresses the Cuisine Now Gala Dinner crowd, flanked by
(from left) chefs Serge Vieira, Brent Savage, Shannon Bennett and Tetsuya Wakuda

That’s mostly from a media coverage and word-of-mouth perspective, since there was no worries about attendance numbers at the jam-packed Cuisine Now Gala Dinner at Pyrmont’s Doltone House a couple of weeks ago. The night featured a couple of rising French stars, starting with Serge Vieira of Restaurant Serge Vieira in Cantal, whose burgeoning restaurant in the central Auvergne region last year received a Red Star from the Michelin Guide, a mark that signifies expectations to eventually reach a penultimate three-star rating. Joining him was Jean-Luc Rocha from Pauillac’s Chateaux Cordeillan-Bages, whose Relais & Châteaux dining room the young chef assumed from avant-garde chef Thierry Marx. The duo were accompanied by a who’s who of Aussie chefs – Tetsuya’s Tetsuya Wakuda, Vue de Monde’s Shannon Bennett, Guillaume at Bennelong’s Guillaume Brahimi, Bentley Restaurant & Bar’s Brent Savage; and Bilson’s eponymous chef and Cuisine Now catalyst, Tony Bilson.

It was certainly one of the year’s better line-ups for a dining extravaganza, and I was lucky to have been invited, joining such illustrious company as Lord Mayor Clover Moore, NSW premier heir apparent Barry O’Farrell, Good Living editor Sue Bennett, and master of ceremonies Simon Thomsen, the Daily Telegraph restaurant critic and sometimes Iron Chef Australia judge.

I’m a global citizen, so I don’t need to be patriotic about my chefs, but I did find that the highest highs on my plate that night came from our homegrown talent, and maybe illustrated again how truly blessed we are by some of the folks in our top kitchens. By a solid margin, my favourite dish – and pretty much a consensus at our table – was Brent Savage’s slow-roasted duck breast, ridiculously flavourful and tender, and paired with a mushroom ‘soil’ so blazing with flavour that it made me forget (or maybe just not care) that I’m pretty much over food as soils, or dirt. When food tastes this good, you could give me foams, soils, truffle oil, towering stacks, unethical foie gras, crab stick and any other un-PC ingredient, and I wouldn’t blink. Probably.

9 Feb: I asked Brent via email about how he prepared the duck, and here’s the lowdown: “Glad you enjoyed the dish. The duck breast is slow-cooked, then the skin is rendered till it is crisp. The cuttlefish is poached in verjuice, then the juice is used to sauce the duck. The mushroom is cooked and then dehydrated. Once dried, we blend the mushroom with confit garlic and onion. The acid from the verjuice really brings out the flavour of the mushroom, and the salt content from the mushroom balances the verjuice sauce.”

Shannon Bennett's oh-so-tender beef cheek

The one dish giving Savage a run for his money was Shannon Bennett’s beef cheek with stinging nettles and smoked marrow, amazingly tender yet with a beautiful, lightly crisped exterior. I wondered aloud whether it was cooked sous-vide, slow-roasted or a combination of the two. It might have even matched Savage’s contribution except for a need for a bit more moisture. It was begging for a jus or sauce.

The line-up of matching plonk, seemingly compiled with love by Bilson, was one to relish. The most unforgettable wine was a late menu addition, scratching the Penfolds RWT Shiraz and replacing it a burgeoning Australian icon wine, the 2006 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa Valley Cabernet. It’s made with a wild yeast ferment and new French oak barrels, and is such a fantastic expression of the varietal that even Bilson couldn’t help waxing on about how incredible it is. “I think it’s the best cabernet that the country has ever made,” he boasted, adding that it was Australia’s first wine that could stand alongside the best of Burgundy. For someone like me who already prefers Penfolds 707 cabernet to shiraz-driven Grange, this was a to-die-for wine moment. Being greedy buggers, the Daily Telegraph’s Grant Jones and I scoured the floor for a spare bottle for a top-up, but turned up empty-handed. Maybe it was better that way – it made savouring that one beautiful glass even more intense.

My hat off to Tony Bilson for championing his love for innovative French cuisine. Sydney has been and continues to be lucky to have him as it’s Francophile torchbearer, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Cuisine Now grows and evolves over time. Now if we can just coordinate our promotional schedules for next year – the 2012 calendar is looking pretty free in May/June. I’m just saying…

Guillaume Brahimi's king salmon sashimi

Jean-Luc Rochas's pruneaux et tuiles de pain


Tetsuya Wakuda's marinated lobster with avocado cream and caviar

MENU

  • Tetsuya Wakuda, Tetsuya’s, Sydney
    Marinated Tasmanian lobster with bread salad, avocado cream, junsai, Oscietra caviar
    (wine pairing: Moet et Chandon Imperial Champagne en Magnum)
  • Guillaume Brahimi, Guilluame at Bennelong, Sydney
    King salmon sashimi with a brunoise of cucumber, apple and finger limes on a bed of white peach puree
    (wine: 2005 Tyrell’s HVD semillon, Hunter Valley)
  • Serge Vieira, Restaurant Serge Vieira, Chaudes-Aigues, France
    Homage to the Great Barrier Reef: vongole, pippies, mussels, razor clams and Sydney rock oysters with prawn bisque, fennel purée, lemon jelly, shellfish & peppermint jus, and saffron mayo
    (wine: 2008 Chateau D’Esclans rosé, Provence, France)
  • Brent Savage, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney
    Slow-roasted duck breast with cuttlefish and mushroom
    (wine: 2010 Harkham Winery Aziza’s shiraz, Hunter Valley)
  • Shannon Bennett, Vue de Monde, Melbourne
    Beef cheek with stinging netteles and smoked bone marrow
    (wine: 2006 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Barossa cabernet sauvignon)
  • Jean-Luc Rocha, Chateax Condeillan-Bages, Pauillac, France
    Roquefort Glacé, pruneaux et Tuiles de Pain
    (wine: 2005 Chateau Guiraud, sauternes, France)
  • Tony Bilson, Bilson’s Restaurant, Sydney
    Tarte Tatin of figs with truffles and summer fruits
    (wine: 2009 King River Estate merlot dolce, Vic)

MasterChefs in the kitchen – Louis Prima Redux

For those who missed the big Louis Prima bash at The Basement on January 20th, it was an incredibly memorable night. We had our three MasterChefs slaving away in the kitchen – Aaron Harvie, Jonathan Daddia and Matt Caldicott – and a truly impressive music night, with Sarah J Hyland, Simon Bartlett, Pia Andersen and Frank Bennett rocking the joint with The Cocktail Cabinet swing band. The horns were wailing and the band’s drummer bashed away on “Sing, Sing, Sing” like nobody’s business.

Special thanks for the night go to Rob, The Basement’s head chef, and his second-in-command Marvin, who came in to help out solely for the night. It was a big responsibility to work with three TV cooks who hadn’t been in a commercial kitchen since the show ended several months ago, and it took three days of prep and a lot of sweat (especially for our main man, Aaron) and nerves to pull it off. We thought we’d share some of the kitchen bustle, so have a look at the time-lapse video we captured from the night, courtesy of Xorigin’s Darryl Thoms and his crew.

Adding to all that pressure was a crowd scattered with heaps of notable faces, including – yikes! – real-deal Italian chef Danny Russo from The Italian Kitchen & Bar (ex-Beresford and Lo Studio), Australian Association of Food Professionals president Stewart White, Vogue Living’s Madeleine Hinchy, delicious. magazine’s Alison Pickel and Jessica Brook, food bloggers Tony Hollingsworth, Rebecca Varidel, and Lorri Loca, and a cameo by GourmetRabbit’s Denea Buckingham. That’s not to mention Harvie’s wife and former Young Talent Time star Natalie Miller, burlesque diva Kitty Van Horn, new school go-go dancer Annette Twemlow and a whole crew of swing and rockabilly personalities.

For a look at some of the crowd highlights, check out this photo gallery, courtesy of photographer Kelsey Aland.

Three MasterChefs = one bloody great night!


It’s amazing how you start one thing, and more things grow out of. What started out as a simple idea of pairing good food with good music, then grew into a 100th Birthday gala for my favourite swing legend, Louis Prima, and soon evolved to include a fantastic Italian-American created by one of my favourite MasterChefs, Aaron Harvie. And the music – the music! – has surpassed all expectations, where we now have a three-time Aria Awards nominee like Frank Bennett taking the stage, along with the lovely jazz singer Sarah J Hyland, torch singer Pia Andersen (who’s other gig doing 1950s stylings makes Mad Men look slack) and the talented Simon Bartlett leading the Cocktail Cabinet swing band.

Really, I had much more basic ideas in mind.

So I can’t tell you how hard it is to not be overcome with excitement that we now have – count ’em – THREE MasterChef stars in our kitchen for the night: Thursday, 20 January if you’ve missed my persistent Twitter and Facebook plugs. As of today, Aaron confirm that he’s recruited fellow contestant Jonathan Daddia to work in the kitchen, joining the recent, equally exciting addition of Matt Caldicott to the fold.

MasterChef's Jonathan Daddia

“When the opportunity for this Italian-American dinner came up, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to not only cook the food I love, but also with people that I love cooking with,” Aaron told me today when I asked him to explain the significance of the move for a media alert. “I’m treating this like a MasterChef reunion. Through the show, we all became good friends, and I couldn’t imagine two better people to share the kitchen with.”

The brains behind the Italian-American menu, Aaron Harvie

Great food, great music, a great venue and – increasingly – a great audience. I really hope you’ll be there to enjoy the night, because it is really shaping up to be a special one. It’s only $28 for the music, and $90 (when you break it down, a reasonable $62 extra for three courses) for the dinner and show. Either way, it’s going to fab.

And just to get you in the mood, check out the video we put together on the event, at the top of this post, which builds upon the radio spots that Eastside Radio (89.7) will start airing later this week. It really captures the spirit of the night, as well as Prima’s cheeky personality. Hope to see you next week. For bookings, more details and a breakdown of the menu, click here to go to the Moshtix site.

Happy Birthday to Moi – Banoffee Pie at Fratelli Fresh Cooking School

Banoffee pie halves

I never grew up with banoffee pie, but during a food grazing around San Francisco last year I did the obligatory stop at Alice Waters’ baking orgy – better known as Tartine – and couldn’t stop myself from completely immersing myself in the immensely pleasurable dessert. It was technically called banana cream pie but made in a very banoffee kind of way, caramel and all. And that was after I’d already tried their amazing sourdough bread, a vanilla-cream-filled chocolate éclair and a coffee bowl, and not long after lunch. It was so good, I just couldn’t resist eating it until I made myself ill… in a pleasurable kind of way.

Fast-forward to this past Monday, my birthday, and I was feeling quite unenthusiastic about celebrating. It was pissing down rain, there was a clammy chill in the air, and it was a Monday. I mean, really, who the hell wants to celebrate their birthday on a Monday?

Luckily, I received a last-minute invitation to check out the extended cooking classes at Danks Street’s Fratelli Fresh, along with other food pros, including Vogue Living’s Madeleine Hinchy, the Internet Chef’s Bridget Davis, Daily Addict‘s Carrie Choo and Reem from Tummy Rumble. Chef Andy Bunn from Fratelli’s Café Sopra was demonstrating one of the new classes he’s recently added in partnership with Electrolux, giving a bit of a tutorial on induction-heat cooking along the way. I love Andy’s simple, fresh approach to food, and it’s even better when he gets to use the high-quality produce from Fratelli’s grocery. It was an easy sell.

Vogue Living's Madeleine Hinchy, ready for banoffee action

To date, Fratelli Fresh has been doing an amazing thing and offering free one-hour cooking classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. It’s hard to think of another quality cooking program not charging for their classes, so it’s understandable that those 10 cooking stations book up early and often. Don’t worry, the free ride continues, but now Fratelli and Electrolux have unveiled three-hour, hands-on sessions that pair instruction with an après-cooking lunch by Café Sopra. The bad news? These aren’t free. The good news? The extra time, dishes and noshing more than give good value for the $90 spend. Plus, for once, you might be able to book a session without hiring a Bangladeshi call centre to score a spot.

Cafe Sopra head chef Andy Bunn (centre) and his co-instructor

The first two dishes are excellent: a rustic, white anchovy, asparagus tips, heirloom tomato and vincotto salad, followed by pan-fried barramundi fillets with witlof salad. But, like everyone else at the cooking school, I’m most excited by the forthcoming banoffee pie. And here’s the beauty of it – it quickly became apparent that a good banoffee pie can be dead easy to make.

From first-hand experience, I can vouch that its combination of condensed-milk toffee (essentially dulce de leche), chantilly cream, sliced bananas, digestive biscuit base and chocolate is guaranteed to delight. I know because after making my own banoffee pie, I formally pronounced it as my self-made birthday cake and later that night I brought it to Darlinghurst’s Eau de Vie to split with a good friend. The bartender happily handed us knives to slice it, and eagerly accepted a wedge of his own. And after the two women sitting across from us stared at the pie for 20 minutes straight, I offered them the remaining slices to their utter glee.

Banoffee pie was originally called banoffi and has an interesting history behind it. I first thought it to be an American invention, but it’s actually an English creation, hailing from an East Sussex restaurant called the Hungry Monk. Ironically, the dish was created as a riff on another kind of American pie, and apparently there were claims that the dish was indeed American, whereupon the owner of the Hungry Monk put out a public challenge for anyone to provide a recipe pre-dating his 1972 menu. But it doesn’t stop there, with the restaurant’s then-chef Ian Dowding claiming his own share of the credit. You can read about it here, and there’s also a link to the original banoffi recipe.

Before I share Andy Bunn’s recipe, it is worth noting that there’s a more complex variation in the Tartine Cookbook. There’s an excellent adaptation of it on food blog MyTartlette.com, which features a chocolate ganache layer, a shortcrust base, salted butter caramel sauce and a pastry cream curiously made with full-fat milk and cornstarch, plus vanilla and eggs. It looks downright decadent, but also like a whole lot more work than Fratelli’s version. And the latter, I have to say, is phenomenal, so for all but the culinary masochistic, why complicate things when success is already guaranteed?

Banoffee Pie

  • 2 x 395g cans of sweetened condensed milk
  • 180g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 375 digestive biscuits [*for my American friends, see note below]
  • 60ml thickened cream
  • 2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped out
  • 75g icing sugar, sifted
  • 4 bananas [well ripened – if they’ve got brown spots on the skin, all the better]
  • 30g dark chocolate, finely grated

Place cans of condensed milk in a large saucepan of water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, adding water if necessary to ensure cans remain covered [if the pan dries out, they’ll explode]. Remove cans and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan, and then cool slightly. Using a food processor, crush biscuits to fine crumbs, add the butter and process briefly to combine. Press crumb mixture over the base of a greased 28cm loose-based tin, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm the base.

Open cooled cans of condensed milk and spoon caramel evenly over the biscuit base and refrigerate overnight to firm.

To assemble pie: Using an electric mixer, whisk cream, vanilla bean seeds and sugar to stiff peaks [you can also do this by hand if you want to develop great biceps and shoulders]. Cut bananas into thin slices. Remove pie from tin and loosen base and place on a plate. Spoon or pipe half the whipped cream over the caramel filling, then place bananas in an overlapping circle, working from the outside in. Top with the remaining cream and sprinkle with grated chocolate.

Cut into slices with a hot, dry knife and serve immediately.

Tip: To stop the noise of the cans rattling in the saucepan, place a folded tea towel in the base of the pan before adding the water.

* Note: For those living in the US, you can easily substitute graham crackers for the crust instead of digestive biscuits. They’re similar in taste and texture, although digestives are said to be more crumbly and less sweet, and they’re typically round, compared to the standard square graham cracker. There’s even more difference if you encounter a traditional graham cracker, which, if Wikipedia stands correct, should be made with fine-ground white flour and coarse-ground wheat bran and germ. Digestive biscuits in comparison use a coarse-ground wheat flour and ground wholemeal. So think same, but different.

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