Monday, November 1, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilema

If your interested in food then you have to read this book, I have not been able to put it down! It is everything you may already know, but choose to ignore. It's your worst fears confirmed  a timely reminder that we all have a part to play in the future of what we put on the family table.

"The Omnivore's Dilemna" by MichIeal Pollan will turn your world upside down. Most of us want to know where our food comes from and are concerned about our environment. We are familiar with foodie buzz words like, provenance, organic and free range and maybe they are bandied around a little too freely these days. Are we becoming immune to it all?

Well wait until you read this and get back to me. Essentially its about the industrialization of food and agriculture, the discovery of chemical fertilizers and the domination of certain crops in our food chain.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

San Sebastian & Mugaritz Restaurant

I had to post these photos. I am back in Oz now have been busy as anything having flown into Sydney Thursday morning from London and then back out to Adelaide for the Good Food & Wine Show. I got back on Monday and straight into the book tour with George for "Your Place Or Mine" We were in Brisbane yesterday for the day and now I am getting ready to go to Perth for series 3 MasterChef auditions! Boom Boom shake the room.

Anyway back to the pictures. Lunch at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain has to be my all time favourite meals, absolutely amazing. Five hours and 15 courses later I don't think I could be any happier with my life.

We left San Sebastian at 12 noon planning on a 45 minute drive out to the restaurant. The website recommends leaving plenty of time to drive as the restaurant maybe hard to find. A local source said 20 minutes or there abouts should be fine. 1 1/2 hours later and we rock up in the car park slightly frazzled but determined to have a fantastic lunch.

The restaurant manager seemed to be used to tourists getting lost!

Our first course was a a little waxy potato baked in a fine layer of edible clay, it looks just like a little rock or pebble. Break it open dip it into a roasted garlic aioli and ---- hello! Welcome to Mugaritz! 

We settled on a 12 course menu, no allergies or dislikes so we were in the capable hands of the kitchen.

The first thing that strikes you about Mugaritz is the staff, cool, calm, unflappable, warm and hospitable. The second is the distance between tables, you can only just hear the murmur from the nearest table. You are an Island in the nicest kind of way - special - your every whim taken care of.

OK - this wasn't the first course, but I ate that and forgot completely to take a picture of it. This was however one of the best dishes I have tasted this year. Pigs tail, langoustine and crisp Iberico ham. The skin was like glass and pork melted in your mouth. The langoustine was opaque and full of flavour and the broth slightly sticky.

Salad of baby vegetables and herbs - served warm and cold

A confit of tomato baked in a second skin so that the inside intensifies and collapses. Roasty, jammy and full of flavour.

This fish dish was cooked to perfection and for me so typical of the cooking at Mugaritz. So clean, natural, a celebration of the ingredients. The trickery if there is any is disguised by the clever almost irreverent use of the best ingredients. The fish was just opaque cooked slowly at low temperature and stuffed with amaranth. The carrots were so tiny it would be wrong to describe them as juvenile.

Sweet potato cooked in a second skin with rocket and a dressing of goats cheese. Deceptively simple, intense and delicious.

Crab and bread broth. Sticky broth and silken strands of delicate crab. I can only guess at the work that went into this beautiful dish. It was gone all to quickly.

I loved this dish - skate wing with flavours of Iberico Ham. The clever bit was that it had been rolled so the filaments of the skate wing ran length ways. It sat in a bowl of sticky juices and dusted with what I imagine to be dehydrated and powdered jamon. It meant you could tease the delicate strands of barely cooked skate out with your fork like spaghetti. Nice!

A frozen cleansing sherbet covered and bitter chocolate surprise but most surprising was the crunchy texture used in the chocolate - tiny florets of cauliflower. It worked on so many levels.

Textures of malt

Mandy's favourite, an espumas of frozen milk ice cream with candied and chocolate walnuts. The ice cream was so simple the natural sweetness from the pure milk was delightful. The chocolate walnuts once broken contained a gorgeous liqueur jelly - give me more!

A very happy Gary post lunch - using the Mugaritz sign to hold himself up! At this point a couple of chefs came wondering out of the woods carrying a basket of chestnuts - a little shopping for dinner service I resume.

We had what can only be described as one of the best meals of our lives. It was at odds with the lunch I had at the Fat Duck because the experience was so different. The respect that the chefs have for the ingredients, the principles and techniques admirable. This food doesn't show off, it doesn't pretend to be something its not, what I found so refreshing was it was a celebration of beautiful ingredients.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Foodie Paris with Ute Biefang

Paris has to be a highlight on the European map, one of the worlds most visited cities and there is good reason for that. My first impressions returning as a family on holiday rather than on business is that the streets are busy and when I say busy, I mean busy! The grandeur is striking the extravagance of the streetscape and buildings give you cause to think that the wealth of French empire at its peak must have been almost obscene. Looking at Paris you can completely understand why there was a revolution!  

Paris is a city to be walked, there are myriad of little streets and fascinating little discoveries to be had, you just need a little endurance and the rewards are great. Our tourist highlights were the usual: The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Cathedrale Notre-Dame, Place de Concorde, Musee de l’Orangerie, Musee du Louvre you know the sort of stuff I am talking about! It’s all worth the effort and spectacular. Make sure you walk the bridges, the little streets of Ile St Louis and then get yourself out on the metro to discover the neighborhoods or arrondissement of Paris outside of the tourist precincts. This is where we found some real surprises and had the most fun.

We stayed in a quaint little apartment in the 5th or Latin quarter on the rue de la Harpe. This was good choice because it put us within a stones throw of everything we wanted to see and the metro which we used a lot in the five days we were there. If you after the real Parisian food experience however you won’t find it here. We did not eat once in the 5th because it’s really touristy. Lots of restaurants essentially serving the same unspectacular stuff which I am afraid just do not do it for me! In fact for those of you that haven’t been to Paris it’s a real trap. You romanticize the idea that all food in France I going to be amazing and in truth it’s far from it. There is a lot of rubbish much like every city in the world – so do you a favour and do some research before you venture onto the streets. It struck me on more than a few occasions that it feels like a grand and historic theme park set up purely for Americans. The classic cliché bistros serving dodgy renditions of “steak tartare and croque monsieur all cooked very badly – buyers beware!

So to one of the best decisions of the trip. Booking Ute Biefang for a food tour of the Marais or 4th. Ute was an integral part of the food and wine festival in Melbourne for many years and now lives comfortably in Paris guiding foodies through some the best food on the planet. Her charm knowledge and enthusiasm is incredible and set us up beautifully for our visit. What Ute will do for you is give you the confidence to explore the right areas if you love your food, assist in making bookings at all the best places and show you the kind of food and culture that you expect to see but will completely miss if you don’t know an insider. I cannot recommend Ute more highly – do it!

So here are a few places we explored. In terms of food streets the stand outs were Rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement and Rue Vieille du Temple in the 4th, both are different snap shots of life in Paris. The Rue Vieille du Temple has lots of fantastic little bars and restaurants including two of Ute’s recommendations “Glou Restaurant” a funky little joint with a simple Mediterranean inspired menu where we enjoyed a brilliant cesina, tarama, jamon and sea bass w chanterelles.

Breizh Cafe which celebrates Normandy with the best paper thin buckwheat pancakes, filled with delicious and super fresh ingredients and artisan ciders. The cider was an utter revelation for me poured into earth & ware bowls from flip top bottles, ranging from golden to deep brown and amber hues the cider is often cloudy and preservative free. Which means alas it will not travel well outside of France. My buckwheat pancake was filled with a salt brandade of cod, with thin slithers of audouille sausage and a little rocket to assuage the guilt. Bloody delicious!

The best patisseries and chocolatiers included Pain de Sucre, 14 rue Rambuteau, Jacques Genin, fondeur en chocolat, 133 rue de Terenne both in the 3rd and La Patisserie des Reves, 93 rue du Bac in the 7th. The later was incredible, pretty pink & white pastel walls with large glass domes suspended from the ceiling and placed precisely over gorgeous pastry creations like diamonds in a jewelers shop. A trip to the Le Mache des Enfants Rouges was a surprise, a compact under cover market with shared tables dropped around frantic cafes and bars serving up fantastic food including this one which was dynamite serving brilliant Moroccan food, just simply watching them prepare the cous cous and serve up steaming tagines would make even the steeliest of mortals hungry.

A trip to the 10th saw us wander up and down a lovely street, a local neighborhood which gave us a completely different perspective on how good Parisian food can be. Beautiful cheese shops containing hundreds of gorgeous cheeses, butchers selling aged beef on the bone, a myriad of game birds and poultry still with head and feather on or trussed beautifully with spec or lard. In fact whether it is the fish monger, fruiterer, or providore it is a completely different approach to almost all of our food shops here in Oz. They are artisans, it is a celebration of a craft and the quality of produce is a pure reflection of this. I love that.

Roast chickens, turning gently outside the butchers shop. Couldn't do that in Melbourne me thinks!

On the last night we wanted so much to eat at Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, but we could not get in, I had left it too late as usual and was unable to pull any strings! We settled on La Gazetta, 29 Rue De Cotte in the 12th. It looks on the face of it like a classic Parisian Brasserie, dark colours, richly coloured wooden surfaces and a tiled floor. Simple unclothed and uncluttered tables, swift service and two choices of set menu, a five or seven course. We plumped for the five course, it was beautiful food, simple flavours and technically perfect. To be honest the food felt at odds with the classic surrounds and not all the components hit the spot for me, the savoury “oeuf a la neige” in a white onion soup didn’t do it, nor did the dessert of pain perdu and poached fruits, which were served oddly in two different bowls and served together as if it was an after thought. But I am being picky, I would still go back and it was a good choice.  

  La Patisserie des Reves - OMG!

This is no doubt the best "Gateau St Honore" I have ever seen.

Now this is what you call a concept store - pastry under glass. Loved it.

Nice touch with the eclair - wrapped in a thin seem of milk or dark chocolate - je voudrais trois, s'il vous plait!