Food News, February 23, 2012

February 2012

Real Oz Food

What is Australian food? Good question. If you were staying with a friend in, say, France, and asked to cook an Australian meal, what would you cook? Roast leg of lamb? “You mean un gigot?” — French for roast leg of lamb. Well, then how about a peach melba, named after our very own Dame Nellie? “Ah, but that was invented by French chef Auguste Escoffier.” And so we could go on until we got to Vegemite, an industrial product made by an American company.

But there are some recipes which, even though they didn’t originate in this country, have achieved citizenship just through repetition. I’m talking about the cakes, the scones, the pikelets and the slices that have been cooked every year for the Royal Easter Show food competition since 1910.

And this year the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) has put them all together in a big fat book, Blue Ribbon Recipes: Prize Winning Recipes from the Sydney Royal Easter Show, which will be reviewed as soon as we can get our hands on a copy. But we wanted to give you a heads-up for a special offer: the first 200 people to buy a copy at the show will also get a goodies bag stuffed with good Aussie food.

A few years ago, I wrote a story about the RAS Perishable Cooking Show and I spoke to one of the most successful competitors, Glad Schute. Glad is from a large family and, she told me, learnt to cook from her mother.

“I started to make cakes on a fuel stove. I’ve made every wedding cake in the family for years — that’s four sons and now five grandchildren married.” Food played a big part in the Schute family. As she put it, “With my kids, if I stood in the same place too long, they’d eat me.”

Yes, there is Australian food, but most of it a long way from Surry Hills.

 

Even in New York

Even further from Surry Hills, a couple of Aussie battlers are making their mark. Pieface and Toby’s Estate coffee have both opened in New York. And not just opened, but to use showbiz speak, have opened boffo. Take Pieface.

Their outlet on Broadway sold 7000 pies in the first week and is now handing out 1000 a day, with Chunky Steak the most popular, and selling around 500 sweet pies a day. They’re also selling Australian coffee (which is really Italian coffee Australian style) and one of the employees of Pieface New York reports, “We now have regulars who come 2–3 times a day and only have flat whites. New Yorkers love to discover new things and we often have our customers tell new customers all about flat whites. It’s very funny to watch. We also have Australians from around the area practically living in the shop. It’s pretty amazing.”

As has been the experience of Toby Smith of Toby’s Estate. Although Toby’s Estate in Australia is now part of the Cerebos group, Toby splashed out on his own to open his café and roastery in Brooklyn.

Toby’s job, when he visits, is to take over the five-litre container of Vegemite for the sandwiches on offer in the café — we suspect they sell mainly to expats. But one thing that is taking off is the Tim Tam slam dunk (sorry for mentioning this biscuit again — see last month’s Food News — which, if you don’t know (and I hope you don’t) consists of snapping the biscuit in half and dipping it in the coffee to suck it up. New Yorkers love it. “Latte is the biggest seller,” Toby tells us, “and then there’s what we call a wet cappuccino, like a flat white, and the Gibraltar, a standard piccolo glass with a solid base.” Hence the name.

If you’re in New York you’ll find Pieface at 1691 Broadway and Toby’s at 125 North 6th Street.

 

A hot dog in Paris

Strike me lucky and sacre bleu, just as we take the meat poi and the flat white to New York, the hot dog has gone to Paris.

Yannick Alléno’s restaurant in the Meurice Hotel in Paris has three Michelin stars. Now it has a hot dog — chien chaud or, more precisely, a veau chaud. A little more refined than the street food he professes to love, it’s a slender sausage made from edible bits of veal head (no eyes, no brains, promise) cooked in stock of carrots, leeks, onions and cloves, placed in a crusty baguette and served with a gribiche sauce (cornichons, capers, hard-boiled eggs, mustard and herbs) squeezed out of one of those plastic ketchup bottles. You might say it lost or gained something in the translation. I’d have to say gained — the New York hot dog is one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth.

 

A handsome Greek

“Amorous Zeus laid with numerous nymphs,” Robert Graves tells us in his Greek Myths and “no less than four Olympian deities were born to him out of wedlock”. Included among them is Apollo, whom he “begat on Leto”. While they coupled, Graves tell us, he turned himself and her into quails.

Apollo grew up to be handsome, gifted, the leader of the muses and the patron god of music and poetry. And now there is a restaurant named after him (44 Macleay Street, Potts Point, Ph 8354 0888), the creation of chef Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie, for whom this is the first excursion outside Longrain (Sydney and Melbourne). The fit is by George Livissianis, a childhood friend of Jonathan’s. And it looks to be a winner if the menu (which, incidentally, contains no quail) is anything to go by. See our review here

 

Salume e Stuzzichini

Or, if you prefer, “salami and tasting plates”. First up: the salami.

To call the Tomini-Foresti family’s new venture next to the butcher shop (Pino’s Dolce Vita, 45 President Avenue, Kogarah) a Salume Bar is a serious piece of Italian understatement. First, it’s a huge, high-ceilinged space with seating for at least 60, and a glassed-in cool room holding over 100 legs of prosciutto plus various salamis and sausages. Second, it’s a cooking school with a large kitchen, which will regularly feature lessons from Australia’s — and Italy’s — top chefs; and third, it’ll be a site for Pino to teach us about his craft: the making of preserved, fermented and cured meat products.

The first chef booked for lessons is Simone Galli from Trattoria La Posta on the Lago di Como, not much known outside Italy but hugely respected there.

This handsome space, surrounded by mementos of Pino’s craft — his first sausage maker, a beautiful old slicer — with its heavy wooden fittings and furniture is reminiscent of a mountain tavern in Calabria, the family home province.

This family venture (joining Pino, as always, is his wife Pia, sons Marco and Fabio and daughter Carla) is the next step we’ve been waiting for in the escalation of services offered by butcher shops in Sydney.

Now, you may remember back in December I told you that Pino Iacobbe was opening a wine bar in the Mosman branch of Quattro Formaggi (803 Military Road, Ph 9960 3555). It’s finally happening and I have a menu open — it’s almost enough to make me want to move to Mosman. As well as colazione (breakfast) all day and pranzo (lunch), you can sit down and order from an astonishing array — nine pages — of salamis, hams, cheeses and wines, all available for sale in the deli. Now open.

 

A Tunisian in Mosman

While I was in Mosman checking out Quattro Formaggi, I dropped in to Arena’s Deli Café e Cucina (908 Military Road, Ph 9969 9905) across the road. Last year, responding to the new wave of Italian openings, Joe renovated his deli and installed a café. And while Joe and I were enjoying a coffee, his chef stopped by to say gidday. Some of you may remember Jamil ben Hassine, either from Café Tunis or The Bower, both in Manly. Jamil is a very fine chef and I’ll be over very soon to see and taste what he’s doing at Arena. He did say that, while what he’s doing is basically Italian, there are a few North African flavours seeping in.

 

Cheesy TV

Alison Brien is an Australian cheeseophile who has worked her way around Sydney’s cheese rooms, scored the UK Cheese Guild’s Diploma of Cheese and represented Australia in the frenetic (check it out below) Cheesemonger Invitational in New York.

And now she’s kicking off her most ambitious project yet, Channel Cheese, which you will be able to find at www.youtube.com/user/ChannelCheeseTV (where you’ll find the below hysterical Cheesemonger Invitational clip).

This is a venture that I really hope does well — I was actually the first to print a column dedicated to cheese, written by Andrew Wood, editor of the now defunct Divine, in the Australian Financial Review’s The Fin supplement (also defunct). We thought that was a great leap forward for cheese (once described as milk’s leap towards immortality). But Channel Cheese is a whole other thing. If the previews are anything to go by it should, like a good cheese plate, offer something bitey, something creamy and something to push your palate.

If you have any love for this wonderful and flavoursome foodstuff, check in and see what’s going on.

Genetic manipulation

What would you do if a neighbour broke into your house, left behind the hammer he’d used to do so, then charged you with stealing it?

That is roughly what happened to Canadian farmer Percy Schmeisser when his neighbour’s GM canola seeds invaded his non-GM canola fields in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1997. Monsanto, whose GM seeds they were, charged Percy with theft. In 2008, after a protracted legal battle, Monsanto settled out of court. The fight would have cost the Schmeissers their farm and everything else were it not for outsiders contributing.

Today, Monsanto is much smarter. So when Western Australian organic farmer Steve Marsh’s crops were invaded by his neighbour’s GM canola, they stayed out of it. Steve Marsh lost his organic certification and to get compensation he had to sue his neighbour and friend whose seed it was.

The biotech companies now want to introduce GM wheat, alfalfa and other crops into Australia. And many say that will be the end of organic farming — there is no way to stop GM seed invading a neighbouring farmer’s crop.

Are GM foods safe? The Australian authorities (FSANZ, the Gene Technology Regulator) tell us so, but they don’t do any testing, relying on tests supplied to them by them by the biotech companies who produce the seeds.

How do you know if you’re eating GM food? Labelling laws require manufacturers to state the GM ingredients with some exceptions: food where GM ingredients are highly refined (cooking oils, margarine, sugars, starches, chocolate and baked goods). In other words, most processed foods: foods made at bakeries, restaurants and takeaways, so a chain burger could have GM ingredients and the chain would not have to tell you; foods from animals that are fed GM feed — chickens, for example, are often fed GM feed. Research shows that GM feed has a negative impact on the animals that eat it.

And if the regulatory bodies aren’t testing the safety of GM foods, how often do you reckon they’re checking for the presence of GM in the food we eat?

If you feel what’s happened to Steve Marsh is unfair and you want to help him out you can go to stevemarshbenefitfund.com.au

 

Nibble on Sydney

And we can’t sign off without mentioning — although it’ll be everywhere — the Taste of Sydney, March 8–11 in Centennial Park. All your favourite chefs do all their favourite dishes — you know the drill, waddle from tent to tent, munching. And if you book at tasteofsydney.com.au/buytickets you’ll get two general entry tickets for just $50, saving $10. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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