Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pasta, Risotto and Gnocchi Masterclass with Joel Valvasori of Lallarookh in Balingup

A Pasta, Risotto and Gnocchi Masterclass with Joel Valvasori, head chef of Lallarookh and one of Perth’s best chefs sounds pretty cool, right? But the class was not going to be held in Perth. Instead, it was going to be far away from the city, down south in the serene small country town of Balingup. It was also going to be an intimate class of just 20 in the quaint Balingup Town Hall which has been around since the late 19th century. Now that sounds pretty special! It almost sounds too good to be true, but Katrina Lane of Taste of Balingup organised such a class a few weeks ago on the 27th of September. 

I’m a big fan of Lallarookh, it’s the place I recommend to people if they want to eat some real Italian food in Perth. So the opportunity to learn the secrets to the dishes and try cooking them at home didn’t require too much further convincing and I booked myself in.

 Katrina Lane checking off cooking class participants


A great way to start a Masterclass, right? The startled look on some people’s faces when Joel told us this, I even heard a few jokingly but maybe semi-seriously demand a refund… 

You expect to take away recipes from a cooking class so you can try cooking the dishes you learnt at home. I've never come away from a class without recipes.

But do we really learn “how” to cook from recipes? 

Instead of recipes, Joel provided us with ideas and processes throughout the class so that we understood “how” a dish was done, and then we could experiment at home with trial and error. This is what cooking is about, right?

 “I can teach you how to cook. The rest you learn yourself. That’s how I learnt from my Nonna.”

And I realised that’s how I learnt to cook too.

I’ve learnt to cook from my parents and I know that any attempt to squeeze a recipe out of them is futile. All I’m ever really told is, a little bit of this and a little bit of that goes into a dish, never any quantities as I should just keep adding and tasting until it’s right. I would learn the steps by watching over my mum or dad’s shoulder in the kitchen and scribbling down what they do in my notebook, and then try to replicate it. 

 “Cooking is a manual act.”

Watching someone cook is going to give you a better feel for making a dish than just reading a recipe, and it's not a matter of if you have the quantity of ingredients down to the exact gram and every step timed to the second, but using all your senses – sight, touch, smell, taste to guide you along the way to bring a dish to fruition. Cooking is something that should be intuitive.

Joel told us all his dishes stem from the same ideas and processes, there is a common theme throughout, so everything in the meal goes together. This became evident throughout the class as he showed us how to cook sugo di carne, risotto, pasta and gnocchi, where all the dishes had the same basis and understanding how one dish came together meant that you could easily cook another dish.

Joel’s food is based on his family’s Friuli heritage in Italy’s northeast. He’s big on regional cooking because Italy is too big of a country to just have one style of food and if you eat regional, it’s more likely to have an authentic touch to it. 

The class began with the cooking of sugo di carne so it could slowly simmer away for the rest of the class. The sugo di carne was the dish I wanted to learn how to cook the most, as the pappadelle with sugo di carne at Lallarookh is one of my favourite dishes to order.  One thing I have noticed about the pasta dishes at Lallarookh is that there is a small amount of sauce provided, just enough to cover and wrap around the pasta. My usual experience at an Italian restaurant is to have pasta that is drowning in sauce, but more sauce does not mean better, although this is probably the general expectation. I’ve come to appreciate the delicate balance of sauce on Lallarookh’s pasta dishes which allows the pasta itself to shine but flavour is never compromised, and I've always wondered how they get so much flavour in their sauce when sometimes it feels like it’s barely there.

So what’s the secret? I think the answer is fat. About half a litre of oil (blend of canola with dash of olive oil) was used in cooking the sugo and a chunk of butter was also added in towards the end! The maximum amount of oil/butter I have ever used in my home cooked pasta sauces is about 4 tablespoons. Joel likes to cook with a decent amount of oil and his rule is that you should always add more and then take it off at the end if it’s too much, but I don’t think there is such a thing as too much… fat is favour after all. So the ingredients in the sauce are basically confitting and when it’s added to pasta, it kind of forms an emulsion that lubricates the pasta which is really nice on the palate. 

All the ingredients are gradually added in the pot. Starting with a mirepoix of garlic, onion and herbs (sage/rosemary), then celery and carrot was added in.  Some red wine was cooked off before a mixture of pork and beef mince went in. I’ve always browned and sealed the mince in my pasta sauces as I though it would taste better because of the Maillard reaction. But Joel told us that you shouldn’t brown and seal the meat as you want to encourage the juice in the meat to come out and flavour the sauce as it cooks. The sugo was cooked for a long time so all the ingredients become a unified rich flavour and you can’t really discern the individual elements.

The sugo contained the defining flavours of Joel’s Friulian-style of cooking – cinnamon and rosemary. Plus a little bit of chilli powder for a touch of flavour and heat. Another characteristic of Northern Italian cooking is that not much pepper is used. But salt is important and was added throughout, at different stages of the cooking process. Joel advised us to use the best salt you can get and his own pursuit led to Olsson’s sea salt.

I asked about the use of tomato paste in cooking sauces as it’s a feature of practically every pasta sauce recipe I have come across. Joel told us he never uses tomato paste, a good passata is all you need and he recommended the Passata Di Pomodoro imported by Roberto Imports in South Perth which you can find on the shelves of Scutti in South Perth or the North Perth Growers Market. The use of tomato paste means some liquid (water/stock) needs to be added to lengthen the sauce.

The class also changed my understanding of how to cook certain dishes, especially risotto, which we learnt to cook in a way that was the opposite to how I have cooked it in the past. Cooking risotto is a timed process where Joel cooks his risotto for exactly 17 minutes, plus 2 minutes of toasting the rice. It’s his go to dish when he wants to cook something quick and easy for dinner.  A two pot process was used with one ‘flavour’ pot for the aromatics and vegetables, and the ‘risotto’ pot for the rice. In the flavour pot, Joel cooked some garlic, onions, bay leaves and asparagus, leaving it to stew for a bit. In the risotto pot he toasted the rice and then added in the stock and flavour base of vegetables. The stock was added in all at the beginning and left alone to simmer, there are no ladles of stock gradually added and constant stirring. The rice was occasionally checked and moved around with a spoon but not stirred. Reason being that when you toast the rice it develops a protective layer and if you are constantly stirring the rice it looses this protective shell, and a characteristic of perfect risotto is the rice grains are still separate and it hasn’t turned into mush. Another key element was keeping the temperature constant so only hot liquid was used and there was no wine involved. My risottos are generally a labour of love, where I can spend up to 45 minutes cooking it and standing in front of the stove the whole time to keep adding in stock and stirring. This was a risotto that I didn’t need to attend to much, so I could be cooking many things at once. The result was a beautiful creamy consistency with the rice grains still intact and it tasted damn good! 

We were also shown how to make the pasta Joel uses at Lallarookh. A pasta that should not be attempted at home because it’s so tough it would break your pasta machine. A lot of elbow grease was required to knead the dough and multiple participants took on the challenge as it was tiring work! At the final stages of rolling out it was amazing to see how leathery the pasta sheets were and I understood why the pasta at Lallarookh has such a nice bite to it. 

Kneading pasta = hard work....(well for some people) 

Joel didn’t give away too much information about his pasta, after all it’s his bread and butter, but he showed us the process and told us that to make pasta at home - start with some egg yolks (yolks are mainly used as the white produces a softer dough) and then gradually add in flour until it can't take it anymore and a smooth dough is formed.

Joel stressed the importance of taking the time to make the pasta dough using your hands so that you develop an appreciation for it and will look after it leading to a better end result. The more work you put into the dough at the beginning, the less work you will have to put into it later. This care and attention to cooking is an ideal that Joel instils in his chefs because (paraphrased quote) “chefs come from low stock, falling into the job out of necessity”. It’s something that I hear a lot about chefs. Considering the long work hours and unsociable nature of being a chef, it wouldn’t exactly be the first choice of career for most!

Lastly, we all got hands on and made our own batch of ricotta gnocchi which was much easier and quicker than making potato gnocchi. With 400g of ricotta, a little parmesan, salt and a pile of flour, we each mixed and kneaded flour into a dough until we got the right texture, and then rolled it out into thick sausages and sliced to form little pillows of gnocchi.

The photos above of me rolling my gnocchi dough are taken

 My ricotta gnocchi - not bad for a first timer?

During the class we were treated to some Barton Jones Red Rhapsody. It's a light red shiraz style wine that is perfect for summer drinking when you want to drink red but don’t want something too heavy. It was a lovely drink and easy to drink a lot of. I definitely had a few glasses of it throughout the night….and while I drunk as the class came to an end, many people went up to Joel with questions, probably asking for recipes (!)…. nah probably just trying to understand how to be a better cook. 

I can’t remember what prompted the response but I remember Joel saying while he was answering a question - “Difference is I’ve committed my life to it.”  

Cooking is a commitment!

It’s not something that you learn right off the bat. 

And I’m committing myself to using the notes that I took in the class to try to recreate some of the dishes Joel showed us how to cook. This might take some time, trial and error, as I try to work things out without a recipe. But after taking the class, I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Japan Food Experiences - Bagel Breakfast of Champions and Yakiton

The walk back to my Inn at night....

When I travelled to Japan in 2010, I found that very little of the population spoke English which surprised me as I thought it would be more commonly spoken. Friends in Japan have told me the school system is ineffective at English education, where it is geared towards passing the written university entrance exam rather than communication. Taking this into account, many Japanese probably do understand English to some degree but are not confident enough to speak and engage in a conversation. So I would be careful about talking in public, assuming the Japanese don’t understand any English, as some of them may be listening...

Last year when I booked flights to Japan for May/June, I made a promise to myself at the beginning of this year that I would spend the months in the lead up to my trip learning the language – I bought the Lonely Planet Japanese phrasebook and CD, I downloaded various Japanese dictionaries and learning apps on my phone. I did all the things to commit myself to learning Japanese, but it was a promise that I broke. My excuse was I became too busy with organising a food truck festival!

As I travelled around Japan, communications at times were difficult but my ignorance of the language also led to some memorable dining experiences. 

Bagel Breakfast of Champions (Tokyo)

I was after more traditional style Japanese accommodation during my travels so in Tokyo I stayed in Ikebukuro at Family Inn Saiko, which I found through searching on booking.com. It was a ryokan that had lots of great reviews and I could not fault my experience of staying at Family Inn Saiko. It was my favourite accommodation throughout my trip where I travelled all over Japan and stayed at six other places. What made Family Inn Saiko particularly good was its location in a more residential area which was a 10-15 minute walk to the nearest train station and it gave me a real feel for how the Japanese lived while I walked through the neighbourhood. 

The people who run Family Inn Saiko are also really friendly and thoughtful, providing an abundance of information, maps and guides for travellers. They even told you the weather for the day and would remind you to carry a jumper if it was going to be cold. Aptly named Family Inn, they made you feel like family.

In the mornings I usually grabbed an onigiri from the 7-11 convenience store on my way to the train station, but one day I stopped at a little café which was along the way. It caught my attention as I saw a newspaper article stuck on the front window with a photo of the owner and bagels. I couldn’t read it as it was in Japanese, but I assumed the article was about how amazing the bagels were at this place so I knew I had to try one. The café was small, seating only 8-10 people and was run by a sweet middle aged woman who looked like she probably lived upstairs. I pointed to a bagel in the glass cabinet and said “one please”, then I tried to communicate in broken English “filling? what can I have in the bagel?”. She rattled off in Japanese with various hand gestures and I couldn't understand her at all, so I just said yes to everything – “yes, yes, yes, I’ll have it”. 

I sat down at a table while she prepared my bagel and about 15 minutes later she presented me with this dish!

Holy *?#%&@! I thought I just ordered a bagel but what I actually got was – toasted plain bagel sliced in half and buttered, a dollop of egg mixed with mayonnaise with a sprinkling of curry powder, some cream cheese, some tuna, two small pieces of bacon, salad with dressing, small slice of frittata and a small bowl of pasta topped with Japanese curry sauce and cheese (!!!). So I got the Bagel Breakfast of Champions. It beats any breakfast with the lot that I’ve ever had!

BUT that wasn’t it, after I finished my plate, it was taken away and I was presented with this!

Dessert! What?! I did not expect this. Did I say “yes” to this too? An almond flavoured crème brulee which cracked as my spoon hit it. Yes! What a way to finish the Bagel Breakfast of Champions!

It cost me 1080 yen for the Bagel Breakfast of Champions, dessert and a glass of grapefruit juice which is about $12-13 in Australian dollars. As I paid, I said “good” and gave the lady the thumbs up as it was the only sign language I knew to show her how great her food was and she understood that I loved her food. She looked really happy that someone (a foreigner) enjoyed her food but I hoped she realised she made me even happier that day. 

What a find and what an experience not speaking/understanding any Japanese got me for breakfast! 

This is the Bagel Cafe! 

The cafe is somewhere along the route to the Kanamecho Station from Family Inn Saiko as I have indicated with a star on the map below.
 Yatais on the streets of Fukuoka

Yakiton Place (Fukuoka)

Fukuoka is known for yakitori (grilled chicken) and my first experience of it was at a yatai, a mobile ‘shop stand’ that is set up on the roadside in the early evening and then removed late at night or in the early morning hours. I loved the experience of eating in this unique open air intimate environment as yatai’s seat about 8-10 people and watching the chef work in his tiny kitchen.
My first yatai
On my second last night in Fukuoka, I went looking for Yakitori Hachibei in Shoninbashi. Yakitori Hachibei is famous for its yakitori, so much so, that it has opened up branches in Tokyo and you’ll find it topping lists for best yakitori. But I had no luck finding Hachibei, even after asking for directions from two convenience stores where I was given directions in Japanese and drawn a map which I tried to decipher. So I gave up and settled on a joint that was busy, it had all the right smells and I liked the vibe of the place, sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. As I sat down I realised it was actually a yakiton place (aka grilled pork) rather than yakitori.

Japanese only menu, there were about 15 different parts of the pork you could order to grill, so I randomly pointed to some numbers on the menu for the waiter to take down. There were pictures of raw sliced pork on the menu - a helpful guide I suppose if you could also read the menu, but it was just all different shades of red and pink to me. I ordered 4 different kinds of pork (fingers crossed I had ordered right and got normal cuts?!), plus some fatty well marbled beef and soup.

The chef came out of the kitchen with my order and tried to communicate something to me….the waiter takes out his phone and using a Japanese-English translator, the words “very large” appear on his screen. So I assumed they were telling me I had ordered too much food, but I told them it was “ok”. Maybe they weren’t too convinced but the customer is always right, right? It was also quite late, about 9ish as I had spent a significant proportion of the evening earlier trying to find the other place (Hachibei) so I was quite ravenous!

My plates of marinated pork came out, and for each plate the chef pointed to a part of his body to indicate what part of the pig it was. I’m not sure if this was normal practice but maybe they wanted to be sure I knew what I had ordered? I sensed a bit of hesitation…uncertainty… and I understood why when I found out I ordered, cheek, neck, heart and liver …. wtf did I order…hmm they weren’t exactly my choice cuts of pork but I had my game face on and acted like I was totally down with it. 

The meat did not come out skewered but as individual bite sized pieces marinated in a shallow plate and you had your own charcoal grill at your table to cook the meat. I had another wtf moment as I wasn’t sure how I would cook my meat. I didn’t want to ruin it by overcooking or undercooking, especially the heart and liver, I had no idea what to do with those (!). As if they sensed this, a waiter would stop by my table every now and then, and watch over my charcoal grill, checking how the meat was cooking, turning it over and indicating to me when it was ready to eat. It was a very thoughtful gesture and I was grateful for it. So I ate my pork cheek, neck, heart and liver. The cheek and neck were great, well they were the most normal cuts of pork chosen. The heart was surprisingly better than what I’d imagined it would be and I had no problems consuming it, but after a few pieces of liver it was a bit of a struggle. Liver, it just can’t hide the fact that it’s liver! The only way I like eating liver in as velvety smooth pate where the flavour is masked by a lot of fat and flavoured by herbs and booze. Yakiton style, the liver was not dressed up and had that metallic gamey taste and soft, spongy texture I could not shake off. So to deal with this liver, I asked for more pickles. The Japanese have pickles with every meal and not only are they delicious, but they help to cleanse the palate and enliven it, especially when one is chowing down on liver. I also downed a lot of beer to help the liver journey down to my belly.

Trying all these parts of the pig, made me really appreciate the simplicity and beauty of yakiton. To the credit of the chef, everything was wonderfully marinated and seasoned. It was an open kitchen so I could see that the meat was freshly marinated as each order came through, each part of the pig was marinated differently to bring out its best. So I enjoyed the heart and liver (well the liver to a certain degree) because it had been marinated and cooked so well.  

At other tables I saw people getting served a large plate in the shape of a pig, divided into the different parts of the pig with each section containing a few pieces of pork. These appeared to be the special order that the restaurant was probably best known for. You could grill and eat every single part of the pig!

This photo is of my last two pieces of meat. I’m pretty sure they didn’t think I would make it through and eat all the meat I had ordered, and to be honest I was struggling a bit towards the end. I probably ordered enough food for two or more people which is why they questioned me about the amount I had ordered at the beginning. I could sense that they were impressed that I finished everything, and I was impressed with myself!

If I wasn’t so ignorant (ie: knew how to speak Japanese), I would have probably just ordered the pork belly (I’m a sucker for it) and less meat, but then my experience would not be as enriching, and I wouldn’t have learnt about what makes yakiton good and gain an appreciation for parts of the pig I wouldn’t generally eat. Yakiton is grilled meat but it’s the porcine unmentionables where it shines and shows what a simple marinade and grill can do to some awful (offal!) meat. 

At the end of my meal I think the chef was trying to ask me how I was, I got out my phone and using an English-Japanese translator I type “full”. He laughs and tries to type something back on his phone to me but before he finished, I had shared another message on my phone to him. I typed “very good”. It was as if I had read his mind, as he turned his phone to me and was going to ask “how did it taste?”. He said “me happy”. I made him happy as I enjoyed his food. And I really did enjoy it  - pork parts roulette is fun!  

I walked past the yakiton place the day after and here's a photo of the front. I don't know what it's called or where it is but somewhere near this intersection - Yakuin Mutsukado Street.

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

  • 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

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

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

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!