Thursday, March 31, 2011

Amuse Project, Restaurant Amuse - Eat Drink Perth 2011

When events for Eat Drink Perth 2011 started popping up on the Show Me Perth website, the one that excited me the most was The Amuse Project. Last year I attended the Masterclass that Restaurant Amuse gave as a part of Eat Drink Perth 2010 and if that was any indication I knew that Restaurant Amuse were planning something very special and I wanted to be a part of the experience.

What has been significant about Eat Drink Perth 2011 has been the engagement of food bloggers by the City of Perth to tweet and blog about happenings ( As such, there has been a flurry of activity in the Perth food twitterverse over the past few weeks and I have found myself interacting with many bloggers that I have never met before. So I decided to organize my first tweet up to get together some of Perth’s food blogging community for The Amuse Project as it would be nice to share this event with like minded people and it would also be good to put some faces to names. With Max’s help in organizing a private room with Restaurant Amuse and a few tweets and emails later the following tweeps came together for #AmuseProjectMayhem.


The Amuse Project provided an opportunity for the head chef Troy Hadleigh to step aside for the night and let his chefs produce their own dish that they have been perfecting for months for a special degustation event for Eat Drink Perth. In the menu booklet we were informed that “each member of the team takes on a regular project, this may be a technique, a component, a cocktail or an entire dish of their choice that over the weeks is submitted on a Saturday for discussion, critique, refinement of praise”. 

Amuse Project Mayhem which I coined with reference to Project Mayhem from the movie the Fight Club brought together a group of Perth food bloggers, food lovers, partners and friends united by a passion for food and the pursuit of gastronomic experiences.  But I can assure you that Amuse Project Mayhem was a much more civilized affair. It was pointed out by someone that with a degustation everyone gets their own plate of exactly the same dish, thus each food blogger could take their time photographing dishes while others could enjoy their dishes without the usual interruptions.

Chris Lisle-Williams
Cherry Ripe and Dirty Jelly Martini

The night started with some cocktails (cherry ripe and dirty jelly martinis) and canapés. The canapés included oat and pumpkin crisps, a 30 second olive sponge with goats cheese on top, lamb tartare and watermelon cups. 

After the canapés we were presented with some bread kept warm on hot rocks. Whilst the bread and butter can be overlooked amongst the six course degustation that was about to be rolled out to us, the simple pleasure of consuming some fresh hot bread with beautifully cultured butter cannot be underestimated. For some of the people sitting around me, they could happily spend the whole night eating the bread with butter.

My favourite dishes of the night were the first two courses - ‘Nordic Kingfish’ and ‘Pig, mushroom, onion’. 

Gianfranco Monti 

Nordic Kingfish
Scott, NV The Great Wave' Sparkling Pinot Grigio, Adelaide Hills SA

Paul Iskov 
Pig, mushroom, onion
Paul Jaboulet, 2006 'Les Jalets' Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley France

The Nordic Kingfish dish contained thin slices of fish that had been prepared in two ways – slightly pickled and slightly smoked. I appreciated the light and subtle flavours of the fish which was married well with some cream, dill oil and dill. The dish showcased the natural flavours of the ingredients used. I also thought that it was the most beautiful looking dish of the night, there was a gracefulness with the way that everything was put on the plate and the vibrant contrasts of green and purple against the pearly white and rosy flesh of the fish was pleasing to the eye.

I have to confess that I love eating pork belly so being presented with a pork dish was always going to be a winner with me. The two cubes of pork belly were lovely and tender with nice layers of fat and lightly crisp on the outside. The pork was coupled with a lovely mushroom, onion sauce with a small dollop of capsicum on the side and a small fried onion ball. A pork dish would not be complete without some crackling. A small piece of pork skin was placed on top of the pork, it was thin and had a crisp and crunchy texture. All the flavours on this dish worked together well making it rewarding to eat. It’s one of those dishes where you would have loved to of had more of each element - some more cubes of pork belly, more pieces of crackling and a few more onion balls. However, the small portions of each component of the dish allowed for a careful appreciation of the different elements as you are left savouring the memory of what was consumed with the knowledge that you will not get anymore and if more was provided its effect may be lost 

Matthew Starling 
Beef, squid and watermelon
Domaine Lucci, 2010 Petit Verdot, Adelaide Hills SA

The third course was centered on beef cooked sous vide style and then slightly seared on the outside. From my masterclass with Restaurant Amuse last year I knew that this was a method that the restaurant often used for cooking meats. Sous vide enables an ideal medium rare to be reached and results in meat that is succulent. However, one of my friends thought that the beef lacked flavour. This is one of the downsides of low temperature cooking, it doesn’t create the rich, meaty, savoury flavours that we typically associate with beef as most of us would usually have it cooked using high temperature methods such as frying, grilling or roasting. The lack of strong browned beef aromas may have reduced the flavour intensity of the beef but I think that in the scheme of things it works well as the beef was accompanied with a salsa verde which we later learned contained 20 mystery ingredients, slivers of pickled watermelon, small cylinder cubes of potato, and a single piece of perfectly seasoned and cooked squid. The use of sous vide allowed the natural flavour of the beef to present itself but it didn’t dominate the dish, and enabled the other flavours on the dish to shine through and provide different tastes and added levels of complexity. If the beef has been cooked in another way using a high temperature method it may have been too imposing upon the other flavours. 

The desserts ended the night with a bang taking a leaf from molecular gastronomy with the use of liquid nitrogen which enthralled the diners as we cracked into and shattered the coconut juice sphere that encapsulated pineapple sorbet for the Coconut on the beach. The first dessert course was cleansing, full of fizz and contrasting textures. The flavour combination of coconut and pineapple was complementary.

Jake Stone 
Coconut on the beach
Marcarini, 2009 Moscato d'Asti, Piemonte, Italy

The second dessert brought us back to earth with multiple textures and layers of chocolate, and hits of beetroot here and there. We watched in amazement as liquid nitrogen white chocolate ice cream was individually spooned onto our plates with plumes of vapour descending onto our plates. Beetroot and chocolate may seem like a weird combination but they have an established affinity with each other where the sweet earthiness of beetroots balances the bitterness of chocolate. You couldn’t really taste the beetroot on the dish, it was there to emphasize the presence of the chocolate flavours and I really enjoyed this dish.

Luke Butler 
Chocolate and Beetroot
Woodstock, 2003, Barbera Recioto, McLaren Vale SA

After desserts we were presented which a cheese platter. 

Kim Eaton
Pyengana Cheddar
Barrel Aged Muscat, Rutherglen Vic

Each course was matched with wine, I’m not much of a wine connoisseur but I enjoyed all the wines that were paired with the dishes. My favourites were the Domaine Lucci, 2010 Petit Verdot which was served with the Beef, squid and watermelon dish and the Marcarini, 2009 Moscato d’Asti which accompanied Coconut on a beach. The sommelier Samuel Davies did an excellent job of delivering the wine and explaining how it complemented the dishes we were served.  While introducing the Domaine Lucci, he told us that all the labels are designed by the wine makers daughter which gives the labels a distinctive character.

Thanks to Restaurant Amuse for providing an avenue for the staff to showcase their own creations, it was a great concept and I hope that they will do it again. 

Thanks also to all the tweeps that joined #AmuseProjectMayhem making it a night to remember not just for the food but for the company and conversations as well.

Check out other food bloggers accounts of the night.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hainanese Chicken Rice – Just Add Butter

When people talk about cooking authentic recipes, a lot of the time it is assumed that the most authentic recipes come from home cooking. But to think that home cooking is always the most authentic would be misleading. Home cooking knows no rules (it’s always hard to get a recipe off my mum as she can never give exact quantities for ingredients – it’s always a little bit of this and a little bit of that) and recipes are often altered to provide a bit of variety or changes are made to recipes depending on what’s available in the cupboard/fridge. But one thing is always certain about home cooking – nothing else tastes like it.

Hainanese chicken rice is a popular dish most associated with Singaporean cuisine or Malaysian cuisine, also commonly sold in Thailand. This dish comes with a serving of fragrant chicken flavoured rice, tender poached pieces of chicken, and is accompanied with sauces and a bowl of light chicken broth. It’s a popular hawker dish and also a great comfort food.

I’ve seen many recipes on how to make an authentic hainanese chicken rice and they are quite similar in technique and ingredients used. Traditionally, the chicken rice is made by frying some chicken fat/skin in a wok to give the rice an oily texture and the rice is also fried with some garlic, ginger, lemongrass and a little salt to make it fragrant and provide a rich flavour.
However, whenever I ate chicken rice at home it always tasted different from what I had out at restaurants. When I asked my mum how she cooked her chicken rice she told me that she added in butter…butter?! My mum, as most mums tend to get overtime, has become more health conscious in her cooking, varying recipes a little bit and substituting ingredients to obtain a healthier result…well slightly more healthy results. So my mum’s logic behind using butter instead of frying the rice in chicken fat/skin was that the butter would provide the fat/oil element needed to flavour the rice and would be a healthier alternative. I don’t know whether if substituting butter for chicken fat/skin provides a healthier outcome but it certainly results in delicious chicken rice. This rice is so tasty that I am quite happy to eat it on its own with nothing else. Also added is a little fish sauce and oyster sauce, seasonings that I haven’t really come across in the chicken rice recipes that I have seen – all adding to the flavour profile.

This recipe for chicken rice would probably not be considered authentic but it’s how my mum makes it and it’s damn tasty.

Chicken Rice
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 cups of rice
3 ½ cups of chicken stock
3 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons crushed lemongrass
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons butter

Wash the rice in several changes of water (3-4) until the water runs clear. Drain in a colander and let stand for ~ 30 minutes to dry.

Heat peanut oil in a wok and stir fry the garlic, ginger and lemongrass until golden and fragrant. Add rice and continue to fry for 2-3 minutes, then add in salt, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, light soy sauce and butter. Fry everything together well until the rice grains are coated and start turning opaque. 
Transfer the rice to a rice cooker and then add in the chicken stock and cook. Stir through before serving, you’ll find that the bottom of the rice cooker has a layer of rice that is crispy and browned from burnt butter (these are the best bits to eat!). 

Poached Chicken
1 whole chicken, use a really good chicken – organic or corn fed
3-4 pieces of ginger
few coriander stalks (2-3 bunches)
4 sprigs, spring onion, chopped 4-5cm lengths, use only the bottom third
10 black peppercorns

Wash chicken thoroughly and place into a pot that is just big enough for the chicken (it should be a snug fit). Add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Then add in the ginger, coriander, spring onion and peppercorns. Cover the pot and bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to steep in the chicken stock to finish cooking for around an hour. 

Remove the chicken from the pot and plunge into a large bowl of iced water for 15 minutes or until the chicken is thoroughly cooled.

Take the chicken out of the cold water and put in a colander to drain and drip dry before chopping into pieces.

To test if the chicken is done, prick the thigh with a fork – the juices should run clear. 

Soy sauce mixture for chicken
1 tablespoon garlic oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
5 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar (to taste)
4-5 tablespoons chicken stock

To make the garlic oil, fry a few cloves of garlic in oil for a few minutes, pour into a jar and let the garlic steep in the oil.

Combine all the ingredients together, adjust with soy sauce, sugar and chicken stock to your desired taste. Pour this sauce all over the cut up chicken.

Light chicken broth
Strain the stock that the chicken was cooked in. In a saucepan, add 1 litre of the stock and bring to boil. Season the chicken stock with some light soy sauce, fish sauce, salt and white pepper to taste. 

Spoon the soup into bowls and garnish with chopped spring onion and coriander.

I like to eat hainanese chicken rice with the chilli oil that my dad makes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fine Food Western Australia – Eat Drink Perth 2011

Fine Food is Western Australia’s largest food and hospitality exhibition held at the Perth Convention Centre. There are over 150 exhibitors showcasing products and services for the retail, food service and hospitality industries this year from 20-22 March.

When I first heard about this event I was quite interested in attending to check out kitchen gadgetry and the goods and services on offer for restaurants. However, you can only register if you work in the retail, foodservice or hospitality industry.

Fortunately, these days food blogging counts as industry.
Matt@abstractgourmet had been informed by Fine Food WA that they would register food bloggers, so I provided Matt with my details and upon entry I was presented with my own special pass.

The set up of Fine Food WA is quite similar to the Good Food and Wine show which is held every year in July at the Perth Convention Centre. The floor is decked out with many stalls grouped into different categories.

There are lots of industrial kitchen equipment on display
Huge dough mixers
Industrial ovens with demonstrations
Machines to help ease the workload of chefs by doing all the mundane tasks like chopping vegetables finely
The chopped vegetables were then put into little cups and cones for people to consume
You could find everything that you would ever need if you opened up your own restaurant/cafe
Cupcake patty pans in all sizes and colours 
POS systems

I think that this kind of event is targeted for people who run little cafes, lunchbars or have a place in a food court as there are a lot of pre-made, pre-packaged frozen products on offer.
Asian fingerfood
Pre-made pastry shells
Dips and condiments
Coffee beans
Popcorn and frozen drink machines
Pagers - often used in food courts to page you when the food that you have ordered is ready. It always feels like a ticking time bomb on your table as you never know when it will start beeping and it always takes you by surprise. I have never seen a pizza shaped one before.

What was also great to see were quite a few stalls promoting organic, free range produce and environmentally friendly packaging and waste management.
Machines that compact your waste disposal
Free Range Pork

At one end there was a huge space set up for the Oceanafest International Chef’s Competiton with teams from South Korean, Thailand, New Zealand, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia compete alongside each other in a series of structured cooking activities. You can watch all the action for free or purchase seats in the restaurant to try the results (for $50).
There were food displays of the dishes the competing chefs would be serving up. I thought that they were fake plastic foods but was told that it was all real and had been painted with a glaze for show.
Along one wall there appeared to be a wedding cake competition with some beautiful cakes on display with some really intricate details and trimmings.

And of course a food exhibition would not be complete without some free food tastings!

The first thing that I had was some hot chips
BBQ duck, smoked duck and duck sausage
Got Balls? - Garlic chicken ones...
Minced chicken meat, extruded into balls, injected with garlic butter and coated in batter and crumbs. I'm not a fan of processed fried foods, interesting idea though and there was a big hit of garlic flavour when you bite into the ball.

Not quite a cake and not a cookie they are a soft dense cakey-cookie with a fluffy creamy filling.
I was told that Whoopies are huge in the US and are trying to crack into the Australian market. I personally found them too dry and sweet for my liking but I think that people who are into sweet treats like donuts might like a Whoopie. 

I got to sample three different types of beed - grain fed, grass fed and wagyu 
Ice cream…so much icecream
Frozen yoghurt in a mini cone
Freshly squeezed orange juice from Juice Box

Overall, I enjoyed my time at Fine Food WA, wondering around and checking out all the products on display, it was interesting to see what was available to the food industry and it was also an educational experience. And who can pass over an opportunity for some free food tastings?

The event is free if you register online. Tickets at the door cost $20. Although admission is restricted to professional people working in the food or hospitality industry, I overhead some uni students talking to one of the exhibitors and they were there because they worked part-time in a café so it appears that they are happy to accept anyone who is linked to the food industry in some way…even food bloggers!

Fine Food WA continues today and tomorrow.