Food News, November 10, 2011

November 2011

Bali why?

You may have seen the article in The Sydney Morning Herald by Carolyn Webb that kicked off the discussion as to whether Bali has been “ruined” by tourism. This is a discussion that has been going on for a very long time.

In the last chapter of artist and amateur anthropologist Miguel Covarrubias’s brilliant book Bali, first published in 1937, he notes “’Isn’t Bali spoiled?’ is the first question that greets the returned visitor to Bali.” I first went there in 1969 and haven’t been back since 1972. And I’m sure it is very different today from the Bali I knew (I saw television come to the island) but I’m also certain that the deep and complex culture of Bali as so vividly described by Covarrubias is intact. It would take more than tourism and terrorism to undermine it. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Webb’s article is that she just doesn’t have a clue about the place. “I wanted warm weather and it was cheap” are the reasons she gives for going there. Well, gee, Carolyn, what’s wrong with Surfers?

Janet de Neefe knows a little more about Bali than most. She lives there, is married to a Balinese man and has opened two restaurants in Ubud. She has also just written a book, Bali: The Food of My Island Home (Pan Macmillan, rrp $59.99), which is far more than a recipe book, and explores the food and culture of her new home in recipes, words and photography.

And on Saturday November 12, 11am–12pm at the Surry Hills Library (405 Crown Street), you can attend a spice-mixing masterclass run by Janet, which will give you an insight into her relationship with this still remarkably beautiful and culturally fascinating island. Bookings essential, phone 8374 6230, free.


This and that — molecular gastronomy

I have to admit, I knew very little about Hervé This, the French physical chemist acclaimed as the father of molecular gastronomy who recently visited as part of the SIFF. But then I’m not that interested in molecular gastronomy, which Wikipedia defines as “the science of culinary phenomena (more precisely, looking for the mechanisms of phenomena occurring during culinary transformations).” I love to eat and I love to cook, but I will leave this no doubt fascinating subject to the professionals.

I understand why chefs are drawn to this type of cooking: after a while, it must get very boring making dish after dish in exactly the same way. But then, as food philosopher Michael Symons points out, “Culture gains its force through repetition, reiteration, recapitulation, rigmarole, ritual, rhythm, regulation, reproduction — recipes.” And I’m glad there are still a few chefs going through the tedious process of repetition et cetera.

Nonetheless, I trotted off to the very impressive William Angliss Institute cooking school (26–32 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills, Ph 9125 5100) in the wacky ex-Reader’s Digest building (go take a look if you’re in the ’hood) to sit in on a demonstration by M. This.

I stood with notebook in hand while he briefed a gaggle of eager young chefs on making recipes from the website of French MG chef and This collaborator, Pierre Gagnaire. I spied a little lump of a greyish, shiny sludge on a bench that some were tasting. I tasted it. It was unpleasant. Like a mayonnaise made from vegetable oil. What is it? I asked. “An emulsion trapped in a foam,” was the response. “Don’t worry,” I whispered to it. “I’ll let you out.”

It soon became clear that the group was being split into teams to cook things like shrimp custard from the Gagnaire recipes, and this was no place for a writer who was struggling to make a perfect paella.

The best thing about the visit was the catered food, cooked by the remarkable Raymond Kersh (Edna’s Table), a highlight being Ray’s possum pie (also enjoyed by M. This) and learning that Angliss is going to be opening a training restaurant very soon. Stay tuned. If you are interested in Hervé This, Google offers a feast of information.


Refreshed at Central

On the way home from seeing M. This, I came across a fascinating exhibition called Food to Go in the Rail Heritage Museum on the main concourse at Central Station; in many ways, the antithesis of This.

It’s a survey of the food served on trains and in railway stations from the very early days — 1870s — using artifacts and menus. It covers food served and food carried — there were trains called the Banana Express, the Sugar Wagon and the Wine Tank Wagon rushing supplies to Sydney from all over. For example, the Fruit Express left Murwillumbah laden late in the evening and arrived at Darling Harbour 32 hours later.

In 1973, a ham salad on board would set you back $3.90, a sirloin steak and veg $4.30, wash it down with 250ml of Wynn’s Springfield Claret for just $1.25. A much earlier menu, undated but still using the old currency, informed us that a quart of rum could be had for £10, bottles of wine were £3/6d and spirits 9d a glass.

The nostalgic can buy wine glasses etched with the handsome NSW Government Railway crest for $9.50 and big beer glasses — schooners I think — also crested for $10.

There is still a Railway Refreshment Room on the concourse, which, one day, I will review properly. But recently I had cause to visit when travelling to the Blue Mountains by train. Arriving early, I went there for a coffee, expecting not very much, but wanting to avoid Hungry Jacks and Krispy Kremes (indeed, most passengers seemed to be avoiding KK), which are on the way. I was casting my eyes over the little cakey things for something not too big and not too icky and my eye lit upon the scones (plain and fruit). The scone, lacking butter cream and strawberry jam, was still OK with a good texture. But the coffee — a double espresso — was really good, about 100 per cent better than I had expected.

The Food to Go exhibition runs until March 30, 2012, and the museum is open from 8.30am to 4.30pm. Well worth arriving for your train half an hour early and having a squiz.


Regional Vietnamese

You might have noticed that I recently reviewed Caysorn (Shop 106–108A, Level 1 Prince Centre, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket, Ph 9211 5749), Sydney’s first southern Thai restaurant, which I liked so much I went back recently. I mention this is in the light of an event at the Grace Hotel Brasserie (2nd Floor, corner of York and King Streets, Sydney, Ph 9272 6888): Flavours of Vietnam Food Festival, running November 11–27.

The hotel is flying in chefs from north, south and central Vietnam to prepare dishes from each of these regions. I hope the chef from central Vietnam does my favourite, bun bo hue, the spicy version of pho from Hue, the old capital. Lunch buffet Tuesday to Friday $38 a head; Sunday lunch and Friday dinner $48 a head. For bookings call 9272 6670 or email


Adventurous afternoon tea

Perhaps the looniest event I’ve ever posted in this column is the Adventurists Club Afternoon Tea. It will feature exotic teas flown in from all over the world as well as Hendrick’s cucumber and rose petal infused gin, and tall tales and true from the “Legend of Adventure” Jon Muir who, according to the information I have, made the first Sherpa-less ascent of Everest from the south (I do hope he was Sherpa-less from the outset) and was the first person ever to walk solo and unsupported across Australia. This man will be a load of fun at an afternoon tea.

But what boggled my mind was the Adventurists Club, whose head office is in Stokes Croft Bristol and whose “mission statement” (on their website offers: “The Adventurists is run by The League of Adventurists International Ltd, a UK-based company not just hell bent on fighting to make the world less boring but also raising massive buckets of cash for charities. We figure since we are rather fond of adventuring in the world we should do our bit to look after it.” Do go and have a look. A likeable bunch of loonies.

November 12 5pm–8pm at the Justice & Police Museum, cnr Albert and Phillip Streets, Circular Quay. It’s free. For more information go to


Urban Food Swap

Here’s an item for all you successful urban gardeners out there with kilograms of produce and seedlings going begging. Bring ’em along to the Urban Harvest Food Swap at the Newtown Festival (near the children’s playground) on November 13 or the Marrickville Festival (at the Marrickville Council Tent) on November 23 and exchange them for stuff you really want. I can just see everybody trying to swap their tomatoes — everyone will have tomatoes. The gardener with carrots will hold the trump vegies.


Mad at Mex

The quiet persistence of one’s children pays off. My oldest daughter chipped away at me over the years to get a dog; and one night, perhaps after a couple of glasses of red too many, I said yes. She was right. Our dog is an excellent addition to the family. And now it’s the turn of the youngest to persuade me that Mexican food isn’t all gluggy cheese and refried beans (erk). So when an invitation to a cooking demonstration at Mad Mex (Shop 1–20 LG Westfield Sydney Central Plaza, 450 George Street, Ph 9222 1700) arrives, I invite her: it’s the word “tequila” that seals the deal.

Then we arrive and I see this is one of a chain of Mexican restaurants on the other side of Westfield (beneath Myer). My heart sinks until someone hands me a Corona and Mad Mex founder and chief cook — the charming Clovis Young from Baja California starts to cook a roasted tomato salsa with five chillies — mulato, morito, ancho, chipotle and jalapeño. Then I sit up and take notice. The salsa is sensational, as are the corn chips we slurp it up on, made here to his own recipe. Then we down a couple of tequilas and get to tell the difference between the cheap (oily, slimy) and the sippin’ (really expensive and really smooth). And then I’m feeling really good and even better when I eat a pork taco.

Clovis Young might be a franchiser but the ingredients he insists on for Mad Mex are excellent quality (he brings in one-and-a-half containers of chipotles a month I think, but don’t quote me — that was after a few tequila shots). And you know what? I’m sold. I realise it’s not Mex I don’t like, but Tex Mex.

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