Thursday, August 28, 2014

Truffle Kerfuffle 2014. Food, Land, Culture. Farmers' Long Table Lunch - Sunday 29 June 2014

 Location of Truffle Kerfuffle - Fonty's Pool

When I worked for Urban Locavore, we curated a monthly tasting box featuring 7-8 West Australian products. Katrina Lane’s name would often pop up in conversation, she was Paul’s go-to person for the produce of the South West. When Paul wanted to know what new local products were available, he would make a phone call to Katrina because “Katrina would know”.

Katrina Lane is the cook/owner of Taste of Balingup, her café supports local farmers and gives the community an opportunity to connect with those who produce their food. When I try to explain to someone who Katrina is, I like to say that she is Perth’s version of Maggie Beer – a champion and steward of local produce, and in her company you feel nothing but warmth and passion. If you follow Katrina’s Taste of Balingup Facebook page, you’ll see that her commitment to local produce is unrelentless and she is always questioning where our produce comes from and exposing misleading claims. 


I invited Katrina to speak at Eat Drink Blog last year on the discussion panel looking at the importance of eating local and she agreed. But unfortunately had to cancel before the conference due to a staffing shortage at Taste of Balingup, and she couldn’t take the time off to make it up to Perth. She was very apologetic about it, but I respected that she put her work first, as such is life in hospitality...

*****

Lamb over fire

While I was travelling around Japan in June, I received a message from my friend Anthony who invited me to Katrina’s Winter Solstice dinner at her home in Balingup when I was back. I was excited to meet Katrina for the first time and we hit it off. I had an amazing weekend feasting on a whole lamb cooked over a campfire. Over this weekend, I also learnt more about the Sunday long table lunch Katrina was organising for the Truffle Kerfuffle under Food, Land, Culture, a new initiative she has set up with two other formidable women in the Perth food scene – Chef Sophie Budd and gastronomic stalwart Bella Bushell. 

Food, Land, Culture seeks to reconnect farmers and consumers, and build a culture where people think more about where their food comes from. For the Truffle Kerfuffle, it brought together a dozen Southern Forest growers and top Perth chefs for the “Farmers” Long Table.


I had never been to the Truffle Kerfuffle before but always wanted to check it out. When Katrina told me I was welcome to stay with her in Manjimup, I had no more excuses not to go! I bought tickets to the Truffle Beer Masterclass on Saturday with Hadleigh Troy of Restaurant Amuse and Paul Wyman from Colonial Brewery, and the Sunday Southern Forests Farmers’ Long Table Lunch.


Road to Manjimup

I’ve driven to Margaret River heaps of times before but never to Manjimup, and one thing that I noticed was how much more scenic the drive to Manjimup was. Manjimup is known for its thriving fruit and vegetable industry, there is so much lush greenery as you pass lots of beautiful forests, hills and rich farmlands on your drive down.

 Truffle Kerfuffle, over the weekend of 27-29 June 2014
Katrina Lane's baked treats at her Taste of Balingup stall at Truffle Kerfuffle

On arrival to the Truffle Kerfuffle at Footy’s Pool on the Saturday morning after a 3.5 hour drive from Perth, the first thing I did was head to Katrina’s Taste of Balingup stall to get some food. There was an amazing array of sweet and savoury treats, and truffle popcorn to go, but one thing in particular tempted me more than anything else. When I first laid eyes on the truffled croque-monsieur, I knew that I would have no other choice. Thick pieces of buttery toasted brioche filled with thin slices of ham and truffled béchamel. It was a winner for a tenner. 


At the end of Saturday, I helped Katrina pack down her stall and we headed home to our safe house on Fontanini's Fruit and Nut Farm which was right across from Footy’s Pool, over the creek. But I was almost homeless as we picked up our cars from separate areas to regroup, I got a bit lost and there is no (well very limited but none for me) reception in Manjimup. Over the weekend, it was funny to see the lack of capacity for anyone to be able to communicate with each other, especially when you are a part of and trying to organise things for a festival! But it was also good to be phone free for a whole weekend. Luckily I was picked up on my wonderings after hours by Bella who had gone back on site to pick up something. 

But work wasn’t over for the day yet as there were still many last minute things to do for the long table lunch the next day, and I assisted Katrina, Sophie and Bella with putting together the gift bags which involved putting some rice in a little plastic bag with an egg and a piece of truffle (x150). Tough job I know but someone had to do it! It was also great to learn more about their plans for the lunch and one thing which was good to know was that the producers and chefs involved would get compensated for their input. Often at events, a lot of stuff is sourced for free/sponsored, so it was refreshing to find out that the $125 I had paid for the lunch would go directly back to the people who made it possible because they deserve it.


After all our hard work, we feasted on sausages for dinner, topped with truffles and downed with wine and a keg of Colonial Brewery’s truffle beer. 


Saturday night dinner brought to you by 
 Joel Valvasori-Pereza's pork sausages and truffles.
NB: There is no such thing as too much truffle.
 Truffle Beer!

The next day everyone was up early, most at 6am to get back to Footy’s Pool to set up lunch, only I had the luxury of sleeping in. But before I left the house I did all the dishes and cleaned up the food and drink carnage left from the night before. It was the least I could do. 


I got into the Truffle Kerfuffle around 10:30am on Sunday, hoping to have a bit of a browse around before the lunch started and dropped in to see how the set up for the Long Table Lunch was going. There was a flurry of activity as everyone tried to get everything together in time and seeing this I could not help but pitch in – distributing the menus, folding the napkins for the tables and finishing off the produce display at the front. 


It was incredible to see an idea that I had heard so much about all come together and be a part of making it happen. The aim of creating a link between the local produce and diner was executed at a level that I had not experienced before. It was beautiful and well thought out.



Down the middle of the dining tables were clusters of stunning southern forest produce. There was also an abundance of potatoes which were those that you would consider ‘seconds’  to highlight the issue of food waste as they couldn’t be sold (oddly shaped, too small) but were perfectly good to eat. The idea was that after the lunch, diners would be asked to put together their own goodie bags and take whatever produce they wanted from the table. Produce that was farm fresh and tasted as fruit and vegetables should. At the end of the day, it was great to see no produce left on the tables, people had really embraced the concept and I imagine that when people cooked with the produce they had taken home, they would be thinking about where it came from. 



It’s crazy to think of all the food that gets wasted! The interesting thing is that in the developing world, waste mainly occurs due to the lack of resources and infrastructure problems during harvest and processing.  In developed countries like Australia, most of the waste occurs at the retail level and by consumers – the rejection of perfectly good food for superficial reasons (?!), as a result, we get things that look pretty on the outside but taste like nothing on the inside or throwing away food because we buy too much of it (!!). On the occasions when I do step into a supermarket, generally to buy non-food items (cleaning products, toiletries) or non-perishable food items (sugar, flour), I bypass the fresh produce section, but have noticed overtime how little variety there is and how strangely uniform everything seems. When did everything become so perfectly round or be the same size? This certainly doesn’t reflect human nature, we are of all different shapes and sizes. I don’t feel any love for these fruit and vegetables, not in the way that I would be if I was at a farmers market or grocers. I was recently introduced to Newy’s Vegie Patch in Kirrup which is along the way to Manjimup. It’s a fantastic little fruit and vegetable shop, with an amazing range of produce that is grown by the owners. When you walk in and see everything, you want a piece of all of it!

Newy's Veggie Patch in Kirrup - my new love!
In developing countries, waste can be solved by providing resources/infrastructure but in developed countries, it’s more about changing consumer behaviour – making the effort to shop at farmers markets rather than the supermarket, choosing to pay more for food even if there is a cheaper option. Not just basing purchasing decisions on the surface level but making people really think about where their food comes from and the broader costs.

The Southern Forests Farmers’ Long Table was a satisfying lunch filled with great food that also left you with a great feeling, well maybe this was just me, because I’ve never been to an event before where the idea of ‘eating local’ was so well done and it felt honest too. Talk is cheap, you need to be a bit more immersed in it and engaged, and with the Food Land Culture, Long Table Lunch, I think everyone went home a bit more connected to the message because not only did we consume it – we were surrounded by it, we interacted with it and got schooled, and then we took some of it home. 



In the lead up to the event I followed Food, Land, Culture on Facebook as they sourced produce for the lunch. Excepting staples such as flour, sugar and salt, the chefs made everything from scratch from their “Genuinely Southern Forests pantry”.

The chefs that cooked for the Sunday Long Table Lunch had come down from Perth – Kiren Mainwaring from Co-Op Dining, Joel Valvasori-Pereza from Lalla Rookh and Sophie Budd from Taste Budds Cooking Studio.


Kiren served up an entrée of slow cooked egg, savoury meringue, cauliflower puree, shaved cauliflower and fresh truffle. I have been served slow cooked egg by Kiren when I have dined at Co-Op Dining and Dear Friends, but this was different than the usual. Only the egg yolk had been slow cooked until it held together like jelly but nothing was wasted with the egg white turned into a savoury meringue. Matched with a flawless cauliflower puree, along with shaved fresh cauliflower, provided lots of contrasting textures and flavours. I liked how it reimagined simple elements that I have consumed numerous times before.



Then we got an interlude with local potato growers Carlo and Bob Pessotto telling us about what they do and the diverse range of potatoes available. One thing that I also learnt from them was that you shouldn’t wash potatoes! When you buy potatoes, they should be covered in dirt as this protects its flavour, wash them just before you are about to cook them. This also makes a lot of sense when you think about how you should store potatoes – somewhere cool and dark (don’t let there be light!). But the potatoes you generally get are pre-washed, clean and smooth (this isn’t right!). To further reinforce the message, we were served up two different kinds of potatoes (Laura and Kipfler), just simply roasted and generally doused with butter. The purpose was for diners to taste each potato and take a moment to appreciate their individual unique flavours. Not all potatoes are the same and there are many different potatoes, but how many varieties do we use in our day-to-day cooking? 


Joel provided the main of ricotta gnocchi, lamb and mushroom ragu with fresh truffle. What can I say?  If I was going to recommend a place for Italian food in Perth, it would be Lalla Rookh, I’ve never had a disappointing meal there, the food is always exceptional and this main was damn good. Everyone raved about it, people who had gone to the Truffle Kerfuffle Hunt and Harvest Dinners or Lunch said that out of everything they had eaten over the entire weekend, this was the dish of the weekend. So what made it so good? The lamb was cooked until fall apart tender as expected but the sauce was the star, it was delicious, with so much depth to the flavour. 


The lunch finished with dessert from Sophie Budd. Pink Lady and hazelnut frangipane tart on rough puff pastry with clotted cream with shavings of truffle. Sophie explained to us that she was going to make puff pastry but the butter that she had made from scratch with Bannister Downs cream ended up being too wet and so this was the end result, a bit more rough, than puff. I loved the pastry, it was so short, buttery and crumbly and provided an excellent base for the Pink Lady apple.  


Some people talk the talk and after spending some time getting to know the woman behind Food, Land, Culture over the weekend, I know that they walk the walk. I also unintentionally ended up helping out (as Katrina kindly housed me and my sleeping bag) and I was proud to be a part of such a great event, and I got to experience a bit of both world’s where I learnt about what happens behind the scenes and then as a paying diner, I also got to sit down and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Unlike everyone else who was busy working at the Truffle Kerfuffle and didn’t have a proper meal until Sunday night when everything was over!  

 Food, Land, Culture ladies - Katrina, Bella and Sophie!

Eating locally also means eating seasonally and after my weekend at the Truffle Kefuffle, I must say I was truffled out! It’s an expensive but special treat, and I’m glad that it’s something that I get experience just once a year. I think you value things more when you can't get it all the time. 

Shouts out to all the food producers for the lunch. You guys are the real deal! 


The Southern Forest growers and producers celebrated at the Food, Land, Culture long table lunch were – Bannister Downs Dairy, Pessotto family’s Kari Country Gourmet Potatoes, CharCool Spring eggs, the Stoiche family at Manjimup Meat Mart, Oak Valley Truffles, the Edwards family from Tree of Love and Bioveg, Fontanini Fruit and Nut Farm, The Truffle & Wine Co, and Newton Orchards and Valleyview Organics. Plus, local wines from Woodgate, Batista Estate and Truffle Hill.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Banh Mi - Mini Chicken Vietnamese Rolls


What aspect makes or breaks a banh mi?

Well I always thought that it was the fillings, I’d base it on how good it was or how much there was – the standard mayonnaise, red skinned roasted pork, pate, pickled carrots, cucumber, spring onion and coriander. This was the banh mi that I had grown up eating in Perth. But after my trip to Vietnam in 2011 and eating a lot of amazing banh mi, especially in Hoi An, I’ve came to the conclusion that it’s all about the bread. After all, banh mi just means bread. A particular kind of bread, like a baguette, but unlike the French baguette which is renowned for its chewy crust and dense interior. A Vietnamese baguette has a thinner crust that is crisp and crackly, and it’s cottony soft, light and airy on the inside due to a combination of wheat and rice flour. The baguettes in Vietnam are A+ and when the bread is good, you don’t need to put a lot into them. 

Earlier this year Robyn Eckhardt, food writer of Eating Asia tweeted this –


Exactly...who needs more?

The other thing that I found out about banh mi in Vietnam was that the fillings were different to the ones that I had in Perth – there was no standard, I’ll just have my usual pork roll thanks. 


In Vietnam, you are most likely to buy banh mi from a cart on the side of a road, they will have a basket of fresh baguettes and their own mixture of fillings on the shelves ready to go. When I had my first banh mi at a corner street stall Banh Mi Pho Co in Hoi An, this was when my understanding of banh mi completely changed. It was different from any banh mi that I have had in Perth. The banh mi contained slices of cucumber, water spinach leaves, chunks of melt in the mouth pork belly and not the thinly sliced pork that I was used to, and there was also some homemade chilli sauce and a lot of little bits of fat in a light crusty baguette. There were no herbs, pickles, liver pate or mayonnaise. It was delicious, the best banh mi that I had ever eaten. Why hadn’t I experienced this kind of banh mi before? 

Banh Mi in Hoi An

Whilst I used to think that banh mi had to adhere to certain criteria, I’ve come to realise that banh mi can contain virtually anything, but it should have a good balance of flavours and textures to give you that mouthful of synergy which makes it so rewarding to eat. It should also enlighten you with a bang of Vietnamese flavours because that combination of salty, sweet and sour really hits the spot. And the bread, the bread has to be right.

Growing up my family always bought banh mi to eat at home, we never made it as there were so cheap to buy – it was our version of fast food.

Everyone I know loves banh mi and I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t. Whenever I need to bring food to share, I like to make some mini chicken banh mi which are quick and easy to prepare.


For the bread I buy those mini dinner rolls from the supermarket that look like tiny baguettes and require 5 minutes of heating in the oven before consuming. I have a soft spot for these rolls because they look cute - this is why sliders are popular right? people like mini things. It also means you can eat more of them! I have to cook them in the oven so I feel like I’ve put some more effort in too. They are not the right kind of baguette as they are much denser and chewier than the Vietnamese kind but they do the trick, well at least they look the part.

For the filling I pan-fry chicken which has been marinated overnight in fish sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger – this is a common marinade for Vietnamese meat and can be adjusted to your desired taste.


To provide that Vietnamese touch of sweet and sour hit, tang and freshness – kewpie mayonnaise, pickled carrot, spring onion and coriander are also added.

When I plan on making mini chicken banh mi, I pickle the carrot days before and marinate the chicken overnight. Then it’s just a matter of pan-frying the chicken and slicing it, baking the mini rolls in the oven for 5 minutes, prepping some spring onion and coriander, and each roll can be stuffed in no time at all.

Mini Chicken Banh Mi

(An original recipe by the Blue Apocalypse)
 
Vietnamese Pan Fried Chicken

Ingredients
  • 500g chicken thigh
  • 3 ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 7 garlic cloves, crushed/minced
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • pinch of salt and white pepper
Method

Slice the chicken thighs into 4-5 cm pieces to allow more marinade to penetrate.

Mix the sugar, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, salt and white pepper together in a bowl. Add in chicken pieces and mix thoroughly so that the chicken is coated with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight for best result.

Pan fry or grill the pieces of chicken until cooked and browned. The sugar in the marinade will result in some caramelisation around the edges! Slice into pieces.

Pickled Carrots

Ingredients
  • 2 medium sized carrots, grated
  • ¾ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Method 

Heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt together in a saucepan, and stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Put the carrot in a jar and pour in the pickling liquid, leave to pickle overnight. 

Pickled carrots can be stored in a covered jar and refrigerated for 2-3 weeks. When using, take the carrots out of the pickling liquid.

Banh Mi Construction
 
Step 1: Bake mini bread rolls and slice in half in the middle (but not all the way through!)

Step 2: Squirt in kewpie mayonnaise and use knife to spread on the base.

Step 3: Add in sliced Vietnamese pan fried chicken

Step 4: Top chicken with pickled carrot, sliced spring onion and chopped coriander.

Step 5: Eat!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The God of Ramen - Taishoken



I had put together a list of places I wanted to eat at in Japan even though I knew that I wouldn’t get around to eating at most of them. 
 
I knew that I couldn’t have my heart set on places as they would be difficult to find (the Japanese address system makes no sense to me!) and I would be surrounded by so much amazing food that it would be silly to spend too much time looking for “a” place and bypass everything else as if it they were irrelevant. 

In Japan it’s so easy to eat well, even at convenience stores, and you can practically live off eating from Department store basement food halls. 

But there was one particular dish in Japan that I wanted to eat a lot of.

Ramen.

There are so many ramen places in Japan it’s ridiculous, so much so, that there are whole blogs dedicated to ramen with never ending entries. Imagine a dish so populous that you could spend every day of the year eating it and there would always be a new place to try. 

So I had a list of ramen places with the hope that I would get to a few of them. But if I could only choose one, it would be Taishoken. 

I watched the documentary The God of Ramen last year and even though everyone raves about Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I loved The God of Ramen so much more. The God of Ramen traces the life of Kazuo Yamagishi and his struggles. Yamagishi was the inventor of tsukemen aka dipping ramen, where the noodles and broth are served separately and you dip cold noodles into hot broth. It’s a style of ramen that has become increasingly popular in Japan. Thus, Yamagishi is considered the God of Ramen. It’s a raw and unpolished piece of film, cheaply shot and does not have any of the slick production of food porn that Jiro Dreams of Sushi has, but the story is so much more compelling and heartfelt. You gain much respect for Yamagishi’s work ethic and his treatment of apprentices, but you also see the hardship, sacrifices and loneliness which I guess is part and parcel of being a chef sometimes, but you rarely see that side displayed in such human terms. I shed a tear when I first watched it, perhaps many.

Eating at Kazuo Yamagishi's Taishoken would really complete the story for me. 

So how much did I want to Taishoken? Well I decided to tackle it on my first day, after a red-eye flight (14 hours flight time, plus 7 hours in transit in Melbourne), no sleep, arriving in Tokyo midday, I felt that the best way to start adventures in Japan would be to eat ramen immediately and specifically Taishoken. My accommodation was in Ikebukuro and Taishoken was located somewhere nearby at Higashi Ikebukuro, so I thought that I would have no trouble finding it with this map that I had printed from Google Maps prior to my trip. 


But after 2 hours of wondering around, I couldn’t find it and gave up. It was a good lesson to learn on my first day in Japan, I’m not someone that gives up on things easily but sometimes you just have to let go. There were so many other ramen places around, I knew that I could eat at any one of them and have a very good meal. Towards the end of my hunt I did walk into a bank with the intention of maybe asking for directions... but when I walked in everyone looked busy and I felt a bit stupid for taking up their time to ask for directions to “a” ramen place. Especially when I didn’t speak any Japanese and one thing that will always surprise me is how little of the Japanese population speak English. It was my first day in Japan and I guess I was still trying to acclimatise as an ignorant foreigner, I wasn’t ready for an awkward broken English exchange yet. So I left. I knew that I shouldn’t feel stupid and I knew that if I had asked, they would have been more than willing to help but then I was questioning myself - “why?”, why did it even matter anymore? Maybe I was feeling a little bit defeated, but there was also the thought going through my head of how I didn’t want to be someone who travels just to eat at “the” places, maybe instead of going to the ramen place that everyone talks about, I could eat at a cool ramen place that no one talks about because who needs the God of Ramen
 
I ended up having lunch at Namco Namja Town, located in the Sunshine City shopping complex. An indoor food amusement park with a gyoza (Japanese dumplings) food court and I ate all the dumplings! Take that!

******

On my first day in Japan I was blessed with lovely fine weather but then at night it started raining and I had to buy an umbrella. Walking around the streets at night, I was extremely tired from a long flight and no sleep yet but before I hit my futon and call it a night, I needed to eat something. At this stage I wasn’t fussed. I was happy to eat anything as I would have plenty of opportunities for great food on the rest of my trip and right now it was just about getting some dinner before bed...something nice, warm and filling.

I was wondering around through the rain, not really knowing where I was or what food was available in the area and across the street I spied a place that was lit up and looked kind of cosy so I decided to check it out.


As I crossed the road and got nearer I saw through the window that all the chefs were wearing towels around their head like Kazuo Yamagishi (the God of Ramen). When I stepped inside, I saw photos of Yamagishi on the walls and I realised that I had stumbled onto Taishoken when I had spent most of my afternoon trying to find it. The biggest smile cracked across my face, as my head shook in disbelief. Like WTF?!


Funny how things turn out huh? When you are trying to find something, you can never find it, but when you least expect to find it, it appears!

So the moral of the story is that there really is a God of Ramen and that night he saved me from a cold raining night, tired, hungry and a bit deflated with the best bowl of hot ramen. It was just want I needed. 


My first tsukemen ramen. The experience of dipping cold noodles into hot broth was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be, you want the burning heat of the broth but you don’t want to burn your tongue so the cold noodles temper this and it works well together. The broth is fatty, where you are licking an oil slick off your lips after every mouthful. The flavour of the broth was amazing – porky but with lots of depth to the flavour – you can taste some sweetness, some saltiness and savoury notes, it’s well-balanced so that it doesn’t feel like it’s just pork even though it is just pork you can taste. Remnants of many ingredients speckle the broth, so you can see that a lot has been put into the broth, slowing simmering for hours to make it taste so good.

...but this story could have been different. 

I decided to not have internet on my mobile while I was in Japan. Initially I just couldn’t be bothered and figured I could easily sort it out once I was in Japan. I always had free wifi back in my hostel/hotel/ryokan and global roaming for emergencies, and in the end it was all I really needed. I didn’t need to be connected 24/7 and I decided not too because I’m on holidays!

And because after a while I really enjoyed just wondering around and trying to find places using a map. Instead of looking down at my phone the whole time trying to follow a blue dot, I looked at the roads ahead and studied them, I looked up at the buildings and signs around me. I used my gut feelings and intuition - anything that would give me a sense of direction. I started to notice the shape of streets – thick or narrow and the way they curved. I would count the number of 7-11’s I passed as a way of getting to my next destination. Because I was holding a map in my hand most of the time, I had people come up to me and ask if I needed help and would direct me to places. I was taking in all my surrounds and trying to remember little bits and pieces of places to get me through. And there was always that big feeling of satisfaction when I did find the place that I was after because I really did find it! Even though my hit rate was less than 50%, I was in Japan so it didn’t matter where I ended up. There was never a loss.

I could have found Taishoken within 5 minutes when I first arrived in Tokyo by just following Google Maps on my mobile if I was connected, and then I would be telling you how amazing technology is and how much it makes travelling so much easier as you can find any place you want in an instant. How I couldn’t live without my phone etc. etc. 

....but no, I was just travelling...