Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Let's get this straight...

When I'm excited I find it difficult to approach a topic without lathering my sentences in Eau de Cliche.  I've left this one a good 18 hours in the hope of avoiding a teenage over-douse situation with little faith in the outcome.

I never thought I'd start a sentence with the statement....oh, god, see I'm off already.  Now it appears is in fact time to call upon an Encyclopedia Britannica cornerstone and institute the emergency historical and linear format of vertical timeline to chart for you my existence over the past two days. 

My visual mathematical failings are fiercely evident in this 'marshmallow' graph, intended to recognise the passing of time and events, not merely by minutes or hours alone, but by considering variants: Units of Gourmet Consumption; Number of Culinary Masters and Time Elapsed. This looks more reminiscent of a L'Oreal anti-aging campaign than anything else, so my 3-dimensional ambitions shall be restrained to the temporal basics. 

Monday 10am - Meeting, Enotria.  There's no water.  Plenty of wine, no water.  It's 10am. 

Monday 1pm - Koffman's, The Berkley, Knightsbridge. Pierre is back heading the kitchen.  I take it classic from the banquette: Spiced and roasted duck breast followed by a mousse-like tarte citron. Audrey Hepburn.  Not really my style, but immediately recognisable as stylish and restrained.

Monday 4pm - Maze, London. Just a perfectly spritzy mineral water.  Necessary. Well poured I guess you would say? Claws out, looks a little Spring '09.

Monday 6pm - Chez Moi, London.  White Blazer defeats Logic in the canape function preliminary dressing rounds.
Photographed in case of loss

Monday 7pm - The Guildhall, London.  S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Oysters, Reggiano, Cliquot, Rene to the power of 50. Neon, horned helmets, horn rims...Look of the night, Varvary plus one.

Entering The Guildhall
Monday 11pm - The Sanderson, London.  No comment.  No way my 9am meeting will be pain free. What is it with chefs and neon lit venues tonight?

[A rockstar awards ceremony does not a rockstar make.  All staff of Chateaubraind, Noma, Momofuku and Quay were safely in bed studying their Man Bags of sponsored what-nots and biologically cataloging their latest foraged finds by midnight(*)]

Tuesday 8am - Chez Moi, London. Cocktails (1), White Blazer (0). 

Chef's Lunch - Lasagne of Dorset crab and beurre Nantise, salad of pea shoots

Tuesday 12pm - La Chapelle, London. World's 50 Best Chef's Lunch. Patrick Nourse, Australian Gourmet Traveller.  Roasted pigs. Roasted pigeon. Food snob. Hob knob. Fergus. Chang. Arzak. Eleven Maddison Park. Mad Men. Many glasses. Coffee, well...I guess it can only help.

Chef's Lunch - Whole roasted squab pigeon, broad beans and smoked Rioja jus

Tuesday 4pm - Brawn, Columbia Road.  How have I not been here before? Natural wine with some natural talent. Brett Graham. Peter Gilmore. Thomas Blythe. Sun beams. Revealed Beams. Beaming.

Chef's Lunch - Chilled dark chocolate fondant, banana yoghurt ice cream ad honeycomb

Tuesday 7pm - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge.  C.1500, C.1720, C.1940, C.1810. Seriously thank you to Eric Ripert. Seriously looking forward to Le Bernardin.

Wednesday 12am - Food coma.

Wednesday 7am - Treadmill, Level 12, Fitness First. 

Friday 2pm - New York City. Be kind, rewind, replay.  Can't wait!
(*) Censorship and reinterpretation is an official communication technique exercisable by the author at will.   

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yusuf Islam, I do remember the days of the old school yard...

I had one of those strange Back to the Future moments this afternoon when I visited Le Cordon Bleu here in London.  This time I wasn't donning the checks and clogs, but taking care of business.  Yes, Bachman Turner Overdrive was my official sound track.

I felt a little like I imagine an ex-Big Brother 'star' might feel watching a subsequent season of the show. The characters were the same, their chat was very familiar, but I wasn't quite a part of it.  I don't have an Essex nightclub appearance to attend this evening either so I guess the Big Brother analogy ends there. 

Two university degrees and I had to wait until now for my big graduation moment!
While two Superior Cuisine students were lamenting over The Chef's criticism of their sauce consistency I had to stop from jumping in with support and suggestion - "I totally know, my Chef used to do it that way in demo too, then chide us for replicating that glaze in practical! I thought my sauce was perfect!" Huff, huff, hair flick.

It dawned on me, I was just that weird lady loitering in reception with a very clear case of kitchen envy. The party's over Miss Devour. "Go home!" as Ferris once said.  There may or may not have been a bit of a lump in my throat at this point...I can't confirm or deny (yep, a little lawyer in me still) but sitting there and watching the students compare chocolate sculptures, photos, lacerations, serious burns...I missed Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and my friends there a lot more than I cared to admit!

Me in Le Cordon Bleu reception earlier today.
So here I go, setting adrift on memory bliss...a photo montage of some of the dishes I created in workshops over my Superior Cuisine programme.  I figure this is slightly more functional than hanging outside the London school in my old uniform, eating croissants and looking angsty over my non-existent exam?

The design showing (1) the limitations of my 3D artistic capacities and, (2) the plating concept for my final exam dish.
In real life: A plate of fallen Autumn leaves, wild mushroom ravioli, seared scallop, poached monk fish and chestnut beurre blanc...OK yes, the description is full of it, but work with me here people!
Crispy salmon with zucchini fettucine and a roasted capsicum beurre blanc, poached prawn with chili and lime vinaigrette and salmon croquettes with dill mayonnaise.

Port-glazed roasted squab breast, herb and spinach salad, potato galette and honey jus 

Seared sea bass, carrot and ginger puree, roasted asparagus with a broken pistachio and chili praline.
I have to get into the kitchen immediately.  Enough foreplay!

Can't wait to see you girls next week!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards 2011!

So here's hoping Chateaubriand holds it's place at 11 in the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards here in London next Monday night.

My invite to Bieber
More importantly here's hoping I can maintain some form of composure at the least, mock multi-lingual chat at the mythical best, with my cuisine idols when I join them at the awards ceremony!!! 

My boss is validly concerned I may morph into a culinary take on a Bieber fan. I'm validly concerned as to what I would be capable of expressing when I "bump" into Rene Redzepi or David Chang (my little speculation here, he was absent from last year's list) on my way to the bar. 

The Awards have fast risen to prominence as the annual voice box of restaurant industry experts and international gourmands.  The process remains check-list free and what constitutes the 'best' is left for those who would know to determine.   This is a long way from the red tape, rules and secrecy surrounding the evaluation process of the once monopolistic Michelin Guide. Industry commentators have not been shy to query how this lack of regulation impacts the integrity of the accolade.

Integrity of the accolade?  The awards are voted by international gluttons, food lovers and restaurant obsessives in accordance with their their own views about what matters, what works and what's exciting in the dining market.  I'd value that opinion more than any assessment swayed by the fold of a napkin or the availability of parking. There is process to the Award procedure, just not the familiar box ticking one. Arguably this affords panelists the greatest capacity to evaluate freely a restaurant experience in accordance with modern and ever-evolving criteria.  I see this only as a good thing to encourage and champion innovation and ingenuity outside the confines of the traditional understanding.  If a Scandinavian tourist authority cares to foot the bill for a bunch of foodies to 'discover' the next big thing on a nordic plate, then so be it. I'll concur with Mr Petrini on this one...while a 100 euro lunch at Chateaubriand is worth getting excited about, would the fact it were comped really sway my way? 

OK, this lunch would probably make me think twice...
All 'Big' issues for sure, and I'm well versed in The Official Party Line to be articulated (in Danish and Korean) on my way to the bar on Monday night. But I think we're really over looking a more pressing matter...what will the chef's be wearing on the red carpet?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chinese Whispers – Part 2

After the gin. After the duck. After gingerly ducking into a taxi and putting myself 'to sleep’ the night before the day after, there came The Morning.

Those Mornings are unforgiving.  Uncomfortable and you always swear unrepeatable. Under pressure to advance further than pillow by midday I found my way to the couch.  The prospect of sharing the morning with Senior Smug on Saturday Kitchen did not raise my hopes for the day, but did provide me the requisite distance from my bed to satisfy my Vitamin D-deficient conscience.

James, Jeremy Clarkson has called the police.
It's time to move off his front lawn. No autographs today!
When I’m ‘under the weather’ it’s not a favoured past time of mine to fraternise with those who could convincingly quip: “Top o the morning to you!” This is mostly due to the lack of leprechauns in my immediate friendship circle, but also due to the self-criticism such perksters tend to promote.  So when I flicked across to find ex-model turned chef and sexy kitchen celeb, Lorraine Pascale, her legs, her smile, her interior design and not to mention her general existence prompted me to recoil with slovenly demi-judgement as to her apparent kitchen credentials. "Huuuummppfff...Sure she can cook" (grumbled in a grump-laden tone reserved for teenage years and adult episodes inspired by those teenage years).

Life's famous formula of cupcakes + long legs really do equal happiness.
After tossing know-it-all rebukes around the living room on a one for you, one for me basis for the first 10 minutes, the oddest thing started to happened. When Lorainne removed her sticky glazed Asian ham from the oven whilst replacing it with trays of plaited French bread I didn't hate her.  By the time those little cheesecake cups went in the fridge I thought maybe she and I could get along. And once the chorizo and thyme fougasse crisped up I decided I must get my butt out of these track pants and up to the book store to buy her book, Baking Made Easy. Immediately!

She’s right, her recipes are easy. They work. They taste good. Boundaries pushed. No. Solid staples. Yes. Over the next week I glazed a sticky Asian ham…

And after reaching my ham consumption threshold I perfected a pizza base…

Then I took her recipe for banana bread and gave it a little Canadian makeover adding maple syrup, some additional vanilla paste, bi-carb soda for consistency and finally walnuts in place of pecans.

And then I started thinking again how good that sticky glazed Asian ham was …and how much I like sticky Asian ribs…and of course how you can find sticky ribs in China Town…and next about the prawn crackers served before sticky ribs…and before I knew it I was back in China Town where this inebriated cycle had begun the week earlier.

Ready to be wrapped...
This time I’d come prepared not for cocktails, but for dim sum.  And, for a change, the construction of rather than just the consumption of.  It seemed, Ms Pascale had left me wanting in the miniature dumpling recipe department (yah hahh! I knew she couldn’t be the simple master of everything) so after scouring the pages of my culinary library (a more aspirational than actual title for my unruly pile of cookbooks), I oddly found a great recipe for Sui Mai at I love all his ice cream and sorbet recipes and now I can add his dim sum expertise to the respect list too:

I used the same dumpling mix four ways and each prep
method resulted in very different tasting parcels.
Averting my gaze from the front door of ECC Chinatown in fear of the accidental consumption of cocktails in the morning, I got every ingredient I needed at Loon Fung (42-44 Gerrard St, W1D 5QG, 020 7437 7332), meat and prawns included. It's crowded and busy and smelly and most of the shelves contain unidentifiable ingredients...collectively, this is for me the perfect Asian grocery store experience.

Sticking roughly to David’s recipe (adding chili and upping the coriander) I shaped a variety of dumplings using both won ton wrappers (egg based) and dumpling wrappers (rice based). Steamed were great, fried absolutely the best and steamed then pan-fried some unnecessary gyoza like compromise I should probably have just committed to the fryer. Best tip, place your wrapper on a saucer and cup your hands around the dumpling while spinning simultaneously.  Like Ghost in a Chinese kitchen.

Something I’ve picked up from my professional kitchen time: Use every part you can of your produce…don’t waste it!
Ready to be covered with water and simmered.
Make a master stock from the prawn heads by pan-frying them with ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chili before covering the red-coloured heads with water, adding coriander stems and simmering for 20-30 minutes.  You can flavour the stock at any stage with soy sauce, fish sauce, chili oil…basically what ever you want the highlight flavours of your stock to be. Strain it and reduced the liquid by about a 1/3 to really maximise the flavour.

I used this reduced prawn stock and some left over glaze from my sticky Asian ham to make a mixed noodle dish with chicken, left over prawns and odds and ends from the vege drawer.

I’m not even sure at this stage what the moral of this post is.  Is it that Experimental cocktails lead to experimental dim sum? That I shouldn’t assume the length of a model’s legs are in any way mathematically related to her culinary talents? I’m sticking with this one: The more cocktails and dim sum a girl consumes, the more likely it is that a modelling contract and budding television career will eventuate. Flawless logic.