He’s lost weight…
This is a thought that often crosses my mind; and friends and family will remark on it when they see my dad.
My dad’s a chef.
You would think that he would be tipping over the scales rather than under, right?
Surely my dad who spends most of his time surrounded by food and does nothing but cook all day would be completely stuffed.
But the reality could not be further from the truth.
The fact is my dad has no time to eat or eats at very irregular hours, and often eats crap.
My dad has breakfast in the morning which powers him through the lunch service. Then he cooks up a few dishes and all the staff at the restaurant sit down together for family lunner (aka the meal combining lunch and dinner, the opposite of brunch). After that it’s time to start prepping for dinner service and my dad won’t have a chance to eat properly again until after 10pm when the restaurant is done for the day.
If my dad has time he’ll whip up something quick at the end of the day to take home to eat or my mum may have messaged him earlier and told him that there are leftovers from the dinner that she cooked for the kids. Sometimes it wouldn’t be a surprise to find my dad tucking into a bowl of 2 minute noodles when he gets home late at night. Because (1) he’s hungry, (2) he forgot or can’t be bothered to cook anything and (3) he’s too tired to care.
I got an experience of this conundrum myself last year when I volunteered to help out with the Beaufort Street Festival cookbook “Recipes & Ramblings: A Food Journey from Beaufort Street and Beyond”. Recipe submissions were received from restaurants, businesses and community members who lived on and around Beaufort Street, and then tested and rated. The best recipes were compiled into the very first Beaufort Street community cookbook.
We were working towards a very tight deadline and at times I doubted if we could finish the cookbook in time for the festival in November, but we got everything done by the publishing deadline. About six weeks out from the launch of the cookbook we did the photo shoot over a weekend at Taste Budds cooking studio for over 50 recipes. The project manager gave me the responsibility for being in command of the kitchen and the cooking of the dishes while she oversaw the photography. I enjoyed overseeing the kitchen and would jokingly tell people that I was head chef and all the volunteer cooks were my sous chefs. Not that what we did would even remotely compare to what happens in a restaurant but it was a little taste. For the first time in my life, I was on my feet the whole day prepping and cooking food. I went in thinking that it would be fun and I would get to EAT ALL THE FOODS!
But I didn't eat much food at all.
There were two work spaces – kitchen/cooking and photography/styling.
|Taste Budds Kitchen|
The kitchen couldn’t keep up with the photography for a number of reasons.
Things were a bit disorganized, especially on the first day. It was everyone’s first time doing anything like this so we were all learning along the way and getting into the groove of things.
The cooking times for recipes are LIES! You think you need X amount of time to cook something and the reality is you need XYZ time.
It’s not easy buying all the ingredients needed to cook 50 recipes over a weekend. Trying to somehow calculate how many cartons of eggs, bags of flour, blocks of butter, kilos of rice, meat, seafood, grams of nuts, bulbs of garlic etc. is needed in the most economical fashion. We had a shopping list and thought that we had bought everything we needed in the morning but there would always be missing ingredients, so a few more shopping trips had to be made over the weekend. For one thing, there never seemed to be enough chocolate no matter how many blocks we bought!
|Food shopping for photo shoot|
Oh and I cut my finger on the first day while opening a can (!) but I found one of those blue waterproof bandaids in the first aid kit and I thought, this is what it’s like on TV, these blue bandaids exist in real life!
So the kitchen team was not pumping out dishes as fast as I thought we would.
One of the volunteers in the kitchen with me on Saturday told me that she thought I was hilarious because I was running around all the time, unnecessarily so. I seemed to run rather than walk as I moved between the kitchen to the big fridge in the second room and the washing sinks out the back. I was trying to be fast I guess. Tip: Running around does not make your food cook faster.
As dishes were finished, I would be proud and relieved to send it out to the stylists and photographers to work their magic. I couldn’t eat any of the food until it had been photographed and by then it was cold, the stylists and photographers had already had their dibs so I’m left picking at the remaining uncontaminated bits… you don’t want the bits that had been manhandled for the shoot….
Even then I was too busy getting the next dish ready to be scouting out the food.
At the end of the first day, overseeing a kitchen of 4 volunteers cooks, including myself for the past 10 hours (8 hours cooking, 2 hours washing/cleaning), putting out 25 recipes, I was famished. I went home that Saturday night too tired to cook anything but luckily I had a container of pho in my freezer, so I boiled some noodles, heated up the broth and ate my first proper meal for the day. I didn’t have breakfast in the morning as I thought that there would be lots of food to eat and I didn’t want to fill up (rookie error!). I went to bed early that night and got up early the next morning to do it all again. Sunday was a little better, just.
From the cookbook photo shoot, I gained a new found respect for my dad and chefs for the hard work they do in the kitchen, even more so when it became evident to me how little time you have to eat which seems a little ironic, don’t you think?
For chefs, I imagine that the most important meal of the day would be the time of the day when all the staff get together for family meal.
Every Monday night (the night my dad’s restaurant is closed) I go over to my parents for dinner and sometimes my dad will show me a new staff meal that he recently cooked. My dad told me that a lot of Chinese dishes involve stuffing things and deep frying, and this mushroom dish derives from that concept. It involves stuffing mushrooms with prawns and frying them in a pan until cooked. It’s very simple and requires few ingredients, and because it’s fried rather than deep fried it’s healthier ;)
I really enjoyed this dish the first time my dad cooked it for me. I was actually surprised at how good it tasted because I wasn’t expecting much due to the use of button mushrooms. I may be a little prejudiced towards button mushrooms as they are the least exciting mushrooms but their blandness suits this dish. Using only prawns in the stuffing means that it cooks fast and there is minimal seasoning so you get the pure taste of the prawn. Encasing the prawn inside the mushroom prevents it from overcooking. The oyster sauce compliments the stuffed mushrooms and it’s that classic oyster sauce based on a good chicken stock that often goes with Chinese dishes.
This is one of the things that I like to cook when I am tired as it’s quick and tastes great.
Stuffed Mushrooms with Prawn Filling and Oyster Sauce
(An original recipe Blue Apocalypse learnt from her dad)
• 11 buttons mushrooms
• 11 prawns, shelled and deveined, roughly chopped
• salt and pepper
• vegetable oil
(You can have as many mushrooms as you want, each mushroom requires about 1 prawn for filling)
• 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
• 1 ½ cup of chicken stock
• 1 ½ tablespoons of oyster sauce
• 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
• salt to taste
• ½ cup of chopped spring onion.
• 1-1½ teaspoons of cornflour
Clean the mushrooms (wipe with a wet paper towel) and remove the stems.
Put the prawns into a processor, add in a little salt and pepper, and process until it forms a paste.
Heat some oil in a frying pan and add the mushrooms into the pan, prawn side down and cook for 1-2 minutes until it’s changes colour and is slightly golden.
Turn the mushrooms over and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through.
Arrange the mushrooms on a plate.
In the same frying pan, add in the garlic and fry for 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add in the stock and bring to boil, then add in the oyster sauce, light soy sauce and salt to taste. Add in the spring onions and fry for a few seconds until it softens. Put some cornflour in a bowl and mix with a little water, then add into the pan a little at a time, stirring in to thicken sauce to desired consistency.
Spoon the sauce over the mushrooms.
Serve with steamed rice.