Tag Archives: food

Melbourne, Day 2: East, West, and fusion

Day 2 in Melbourne started with breakfast in the newly renovated hotel restaurant here at the Grand Hyatt. They have gone with a beautiful, open design conveying the feel of a working kitchen, with the chefs working and doing their prep on the stations and service areas around them. Everything was really fresh and well prepared, and because the prep areas are right there, always fully stocked.

After an initial morning meeting, we started to plan our week here, and most importantly where and when we would eat. I had my list of places that I had scouted, and our hosts had a number of additional suggestions in the city and surrounding areas. After a quick visit to one of the culinary schools here, we picked up a business associate at the airport and headed back downtown for a late lunch.

The European, aptly named, is a narrow restaurant nestled beside the historic Princess Theatre, directly across from the Parliament buildings. As you walk through the tall doors, you would swear you were in an old French bistro, small wooden tables and a long bar gracing the dark wood panelling, and chalkboards with the daily specials, and wine selections.

Features included two kinds of local shellfish, a couple of pastas, two daily fish dishes, and a veal scallopine. After perusing the menu and wine list, We ordered some of the featured Coffin Bay oysters to start, which I hear were exceptional, briny, and plump. (due to a reaction years ago, I haven’t eaten oysters in years, but I enjoy hearing about the nuances of them from those who do.) I ordered some of the crispy School Prawns, a small shrimp quickly deep fried and served with a romesco aioli and fresh lemon. They were very fresh and tasty, with a briny sweet finish.

For main courses, a few at the table ordered mushroom risotto, while I had the farfalle alla siciliana, bowtie pasta with ripe tomato, basil, and anchovy with garlic and olive oil. Simple but delicious, with a glass or two of pinot grigio to wash it all down. For dessert, we elected to share two offerings, a parfait with a fig and pecan crust and roasted fruit, and a tiramisu.

Following an afternoon of work, we retired to the hotel, and then regrouped for a beverage before heading out for the evening. I had scoped out the local music scene, and we headed to a small club in West Melbourne called Spenser’s Live to see a quartet of some of Australia’s finest fusion musicians: Brett Garsed, Phil Turcio, Craig Newman, and Gerry Pantzis. They played a fantastic 90 minute set of inspiringly tight, textured, and smooth instrumentals, after which we were famished.

It was creeping onto midnight, so we decided to follow a recommendation I had read about online. Anytime a restaurant is touted as the place the local chefs go after work, you know two things: the food will be good, and reasonably priced. We headed over to Supper Inn in a deluge, the first rain in awhile here, and after scaling a narrow staircase, came into just what I would expect, a busy room full of bodies young and old, and the smells of great Chinese cooking.

We ordered 5 things:

Hot and sour soup, which was packed full of meat, shrimp, and vegetable, crispy skin chicken with special sauce, which was crisp on the outside, moist and tender inside, with a light but very tasty glaze, fried rice with pork and shrimp (enough said), pork spareribs with mandarin sauce, which were crispy with a sweet sticky sauce clinging to them, and shiitake mushrooms and shanghai bok choy, caramelized and so packed with flavour one of my dining companions described them as the best shiitake mushrooms she had ever tasted. I would have to agree, and after a night of several beers, great music, and finally another great meal, we settled in for the night.




Melbourne Day 1 – Gingerboy

I will be in Melbourne for the next 10 days on business and seeing as it’s got a great reputation for good food, thought I’d share my dining experiences.

The Central Business District is compact and an interesting mix of old and new architecture. Across the street from my 30+ story hotel are two beautiful old churches, the spires of which I look out onto. I set upon some research before leaving Vancouver and had a list of a few restaurants to check out. The inflight magazine on our flight from Sydney provided a few others and to my great delight, once I searched all the addresses and websites, I had 8 places within a few blocks of the hotel. My first order of business was an evening walk to get my bearings and check out the CBD quickly, and then pop into one of my choices for a solo dinner.

The downtown core is divided into large streets with all of the big buildings you would expect in an urban metropolis, but in addition, there are small streets and lanes between the buildings that provide a very different atmosphere. Tucked into the various “little” streets and “lanes” are all of the small cafés and restaurants you could imagine. There is a great deal of south Asian influence here, and keeping with Australia’s reputation for excellent cooks, the incorporation of classic technique for a vibrant fusion food culture. A stroll to the east took me over to the large park beside the parliament buildings and once I finished weaving in and out of the side streets to scope out the next week’s dinners, I ended up at my first destination, Gingerboy.

Tucked inside an older building and on a side lane, the place was bustling! No room in the dining room, I was told, but could saddle one of the barstools and have my dinner there, or pop upstairs to the brand new cocktail lounge. I decided on the former, as the small open kitchen was right there and my barstool provided a great view of all of the action (probably the only thing I really miss about not being in a small restaurant kitchen every night). I counted 8 cooks working furiously and food flying out at a phenomenal pace. I perused the well chosen wine list and the menu and decided that beer would be suitable for a menu inspired by Singapore’s famous hawker stands. I asked the young lady tending bar for a recommendation for beer to suit the food, and was introduced to “333” from Vietnam.

Looking though the menu, I settled on picking a few small plates, and decided that once I had some reinforcements would have to come back to try some of the larger plates meant to share. First to catch my attention was the signature dish I had read about, “son in law eggs”. I was informed that the kitchen could make a smaller order if I liked, as there were normally 3 on a plate, (an offer I gratefully accepted to allow for more choices), and also decided on the cuttlefish, corn cakes, and wagyu dumplings.

First to arrive were the eggs, crispy from the deep fryer, soft in the centre, perched on a banana leaf with chilli jam and fresh mint, basil, and cilantro. I cracked them open with my chopsticks and the combination of crisp outside, soft poached egg centre and the spicy jam mixed with the sweet fresh herbs was exceptional. Shortly thereafter, my crispy chilli salt cuttlefish arrived, with a fresh lemon wedge and warm sesame oil to accompany. I love fried squid in all of its forms, especially the larger varieties like cuttlefish and the “flying neon squid” we get back home. Simple yet delicious!

The corn cakes were next to appear, a bowl overflowing with crisp fritters made of cornmeal, fresh corn, herbs, and finely diced hot peppers. I nearly burned my tongue in my excitement, but thank goodness for a nearby bottle of the crisp “333” to prevent any damage. The corn cakes were nicely spiced, tender and soft inside, crispy outside, and were particularly useful in sopping up the remaining soft egg and chilli jam from the first dish.

Last, but certainly not least, the Wagyu beef and bamboo shoot dumplings with their cashew soy dipping sauce graced the narrow bar. There were different types of dumplings on the menu, but these had grabbed my eye, along with a supporting endorsement from the bartender. Well seasoned Wagyu beef (the same breed used for the famous Kobe beef) and bamboo shoots were folded into thin gyoza wrappers and steamed and fried in the traditional manner. The texture was very interesting, akin to a great beef tartare, and provided just enough zip to make it interesting without losing the subtleties of such well marbled beef.

I was nicely full from my four plates, but after finishing up and cleansing my palate with the last of the beer, determined I had enough room for dessert. I ordered a latte and the apple and vanilla dumplings with rhubarb soup and coconut sorbet, and was then offered to move upstairs to the lounge to have dessert. Brand new, the upstairs had only opened on the previous Monday and was turning into an extra dining area on busy nights. A few tall tables, a bar with a half dozen stools, and a few cozy low ottomans provided a few seating choices. I sat at the bar and when dessert arrived a few minutes later, was equally as impressed. Thin dumpling wrappers stuffed with an apple and vanilla filling, served warm in a delicious thin rhubarb soup. The soup was actually quite like one my former pastry chef Dawne used to make with panna cotta, and was a nice complement to the warm apples. The coconut sorbet was extremely smooth and flavourful, and the texture leads me to believe they use a pacojet, an innovative machine which basically churns the sorbet fresh each time you serve it.

I’ll have to ask next time, which will certainly come soon, this time with a few others to help work through the very well executed menu. Gingerboy can be found at 27-29 Crossley Street, a few blocks from the Parliament buildings in Melbourne’s CBD.


Meeting the Kings-from inquisitive cook to “green” chef, part 2

(continued from part 1, September 8, 2007)

It was the spring of 1990, and as we prepared for a move to the country, a new direction in cooking and thinking about food for myself, and having just been married the summer previous had led me to a certain place and time. As I discussed with Herb the need to find farmers to supply me with “regular” produce, he gave me a number and said, “Call Gary King” I immediately picked up the phone, and made an introduction, told Gary of my direction and what I was looking for, and we had a conversation, one that would define how I would conduct business for the remainder of my career, as it would turn out.

Everything I had been taught about designing a menu for a restaurant and finding suppliers relied on a few main principles: Decide what you want to put on your menu, find the ingredients, and get the best price you can on everything. Pick the best products from each of your suppliers, and always shop around for a better deal.

As it would turn out, my conversation with Gary placed the relationship between supplier (farmer) and chef in a whole different context. It went something like this:

DG: I’m looking for a supplier of organic vegetables for my small restaurant and was given your name by Herb Barbolet as someone who might be able to supply me. What do you have?

GK: Let me tell you about our farm. My wife Naty and I have been farming here in the Hazelmere Valley since 1984. We have 10 acres which grow a large variety of crops: root vegetables, potatoes, herbs, shallots, tomatoes, greens, beans, corn, and the best strawberries in the Fraser Valley. We supply a number of restaurants, of which our biggest clients are the William Tell and the Raintree. Being our biggest supporters, they always have first dibs on things we have in limited supply, and when we supply someone new we have two rules: Our relationship and farming philosophy relies on you purchasing a variety of products, not picking and choosing a few select items here and there, and I won’t consider selling to you unless you come and visit the farm. Phone Lars Jorgensen and Rebecca Dawson if you like (chefs at William Tell and Raintree, respectively) and they will be happy to share information with you about us and other organic farms.

DG: I’ll be there this afternoon

Once I finished my brunch service, I hopped in my little Honda and drove the 45 minutes out to the farm to see what it was all about. Gary met me at the barn and for an hour we walked the fields, looking at plants, tasting, talking about farming and organics and companion planting. Seeing the strawberry patch, I expressed interest, and Gary continued on the morning’s train of thought: “If you buy my potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, herbs, beans, corn and squash all year, I’ll consider selling you some of our strawberries. They are unbelievable, and therefore are reserved for those customers who support us fully year round. I’m not interested in dealing with chefs who only buy based on price, and aren’t willing to come to the farm and see what we do here first. Organic farming is about diversity, and in order for the farm to remain healthy, a large variety of crops must be grown and rotated in order to keep the nutrients in the soil in balance naturally.”

I took a few vegetables, picked fresh from the ground and the next day called the two chefs Gary had suggested and followed up on the conversations we had. Both of them said the same thing and really helped me understand the alternative train of thought. In order for small farmers to survive, chefs had to be open to buying everything they grew, and finding creative ways to incorporate those into the menu allowed both the farmer to maintain diversity and the chef to think about food from an ingredient first point of view. Yes, you could find products cheaper, but the freshness of “picked that morning” produce meant far better flavour, shelf life, and yield, and therefore the cost difference was much less than you would think. Also, the relationship with the farmer on a year round basis meant paying the same price all the time, rather than fluctuating seasonal prices in the market place. Once something was gone for the year, it came off the menu, and you would move to something else, again helping to develop seasonal creativity. They also both stressed the need of more chefs to subscribe to the philosophy and put their money where their mouth was, if we were ever going to have the kind of network of small farmers and regional suppliers that was present in Europe and California.

Having been newly indoctrinated into the organic, seasonal, local food movement, I embraced this new approach with open arms. My drive to work, once we moved to Aldergrove, started to mean regular side trips down country roads looking for farm stands and signs of product for sale. My attendance at the BCARA meetings became a regular monthly occurrence, and every farmer I met led me to meet another. By that summer, I had met a supplier for free range eggs, chicken, naturally raised pork, a custom sausage maker dedicated to old fashioned practices and natural ingredients, other farms which supplied ingredients that the Kings didn’t have, organic beef from the Chilcotin, fruit from the Similkameen, as well as sources for organic staples like grains, flour, and cheese. (at that point there were no locally made small cheese producers), but it was certainly apparent that this local movement would only continue to grow, it was only a matter of time before it went mainstream.

Hand in hand with that came the approach to seafood that I would adopt as the only sensible option: local species, in season, no farmed salmon, and FRESH FRESH FRESH. I was lucky to have a great supplier in Deluxe Seafood who understood the need to go out of their way to supply a small restaurant with certain products, like picking through 100 pounds of fresh sole to find me 10 lb of thick fillets, and it too was the start of a long relationship that would last me 20 years in small restaurants. In those days, openings for things like halibut and fresh spot prawns were sporadic, and knowing that I did the menu twice a week and ran a daily special, the 7 am phone call from Dave became a regular occurrence, saying the halibut boats were coming in or the prawn fisherman was about to land. Again, it became the fisherman who decided the menu, not the chef, and learning to wait and see what you would get to cook became a philosophy as well as develop skills that would serve me well for years to come.

My days became adventure before cooking, an exploration and a farm visit in the country to discover the menu, then off to the restaurant to cook it. Weekly excursions to Edenvale (then the largest organic farm in the valley) Hazelmere, Glorious Garnish, as well as the egg ladies (I had two, and would bring extra in for my Avalon milkman and his customers), P&G sausage, and more provided a year of inspiration and direction. A few praises in the press, as well as a few misses, chalked up to youth and inexperience, and I really thought we were on the verge of a real breakthrough in Vancouver. In those days there were few places to by natural foods and organic ingredients, Capers in West Van, a few co-ops, Kits Natural, and Sweet Cherubim were about it, but you could sense that there was a real market for wholesome ingredients, as the boomers began to turn 40.

Then came recession, and with it change.

We went through an ownership change, and although the status quo was left for a while, it was quite apparent that the vision my previous boss had shared with me was not shared, and by the spring of the following year, It was decided that a different direction would be taken. Since that direction involved getting rid of all of the “expensive” ingredients for a better bottom line, something I was not willing to do, I was sent on my way. Ideals still intact, I retreated home to contemplate.

(end part two. Next, from kings to bishops with a stop in between)

Busy Busy Busy

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been remiss in my postings here, and although the last month and a half has been hectic, there has been some cooking going on in my life. I’ve collected some recipes together from some of the extracurricular activities that have been on my plate and shared them with all of you today.

January marked the start of a busy season, getting ready for upcoming trade shows, conventions, and such, as well as being invited to be one of 6 guest Chefs in the BC Hospitality Foundation fundraising dinner on the 28th. Never being one to decline an honour to cook alongside some friends (old and new) for a cause, I was paired up with Hills Foods to prepare a couple of appetizers and the main course. For starters, a wild boar pate was suggested, so we made a nice recipe that included dried cranberries and boar bacon, topped it with spiced beet relish and served it on pumpernickel toast. There were a variety of vegetables offered as well as some wild huckleberries, so the other hors d’oeuvre was a winter vegetable fritter with huckleberry compote. The main course was to be venison, so a simple, yet elegant preparation including roasted venison loin, caramelized vegetables, and herb gnocchi was decided upon.

The first order of business was a press dinner the week prior, a chance to meet the others involved and see the menu in its entirety. A resounding success, there was everything from local scallops, wild mushrooms, an exquisite study of local duck, the venison, and a selection of cheeses, followed by an exceptional dessert courtesy of Greg Hook at Chocolate Arts. My colleagues (Lisa Aheir, Ben Genaille, Rob Feenie, Daryle Nagata, Greg Hook, and myself) represented the province in great fashion, co-ordinated masterfully by Daryle Nagata at the Pan Pacific and his exceptional team.

The main event the week later, following on the heels of a busy weekend at the foodservice expo was also without incident, and a successful event for the foundation. February rolled into view and along came several events in close succession, all involving classes. I had been invited out to Wellbrook Winery, a fruit winery close to home to do a class in the evening, and did a nice light late winter menu of a prawn hot pot, goat cheese and beet salad, trout with mussel chowder, and pears poached in one of their wines with hazelnut shortbread. A lot of fun, good food, and a good time was had by all (including the teacher) To finish the week, I had back to back classes, first an all day seminar with 30 high school teachers for a professional day, also a blast. We packed the agenda with deboning chicken and trout, making about 10 recipes all together varying from mushroom risotto to creme brulee. Saturday’s class was a birthday dinner for a group of dedicated foodies, and we had a nice relaxed evening making goat cheese pate, grilled quail with mushrooms, a citrus and avocado salad, the roasted venison dish from the hospitality dinner, and chocolate souffle. All in all a busy week, but a great time and some great food was the theme of the week, and I had a chance to meet some great new people.

My family has not starved throughout this period, I’m glad to report, and I have catalogued a few dinner recipes to share soon, I promise. Until then, there are some new recipes to try, all of which have been a part of the last month’s events, some more than once!



Goat cheese pâté

A nice savoury spread for bread or crackers, this can be made in about 5 minutes.

8 oz fresh soft goat cheese
2 tbsp finely diced kalamata olives
2 tbsp sundried tomatoes, finely diced
2 tbsp chopped herbs

Cream together goat cheese with olives and sundried tomatoes
Roll into a log and coat with pepper and chopped herbs
Allow to set in the refrigerator for at least an hour
Serve with fresh bread or crackers