Quick Bytes – THERESA MAY TACKLES FOOD WASTAGE

I don’t know whether you have noticed – but, in the middle of the political crisis in Britain about Brexit, the Daily Mail’s lead story was dedicated to the fact that Theresa May is championing reducing food waste and thought it was perfectly fine to scrape the mould off a jar of jam and eat what is underneath.

Admittedly, when questioned further, she admitted that it was most probably a case for the individual, but I don’t think I’d want her running my kitchen – let alone my country.

(The Daily Mail also noted that most jam sold in Britain originated in either France or Germany. So, after Brexit, jam should maybe play no role in her breakfast anyway?)

I also liked opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s comments. As a lover of both making and consuming jam, he noted: “I never personally get around to scraping off mould, as my delicious efforts never last that long.”

THE JOYS OF BEING A FARMER IN OZ

Now, while I understand there are a number of problems supposedly associated with global warming (but do not necessarily agree with them), my main sympathy lies with our farmers – on whose shoulders the demands will be levied in order for Australia to meet the Paris Accord.

Because of the predilection of our livestock to excessively fart (and our farm machinery to belch out huge amounts of noxious fumes), the onus will be on them to drastically cull both farm animals and machinery whilst, at the same time, pay increasing prices for energy as the country attempts to reach what, to me, seems to be unrealistic alternative energy targets.

But, one has to ask, are we the only country that is attempting to adhere to such targets? (And, if so, will we make the slightest difference?) As we know, the USA has pulled out of the whole shebang and is happily building more coal and gas-fired power stations – as are many other countries, such as China, India and Indonesia. And, as well, it’s pretty obvious that none of these countries will be culling anything and, instead, will continue business as usual (using, in most cases, Australia’s gas and clean coal to do so).

So, where does this leave Australia? Up a creek without a paddle is a phrase that springs to mind. As does the fact that, whilst our energy is being put to good use around the world, our general populace can’t afford to heat or cool their homes, and businesses (as well as farmers) are facing an uncertain future, as power bills continue to escalate.

But, we’ll be fine, won’t we, because this country is destined to become the food bowl of Asia. If I hear that once more, I’m going to scream! Because the farms that are supposedly going to supply all the bounty are not only going to be affected by the adherence to the Paris Accord, but are also faced with the problems that are always associated with farming in Australia – drought, flood and let’s not forget the high cost of labour (that is if you can persuade anyone to actually work on your farm). And, then there is another significant problem – only a small amount of Australia is arable and much of that land, as we speak, is being gobbled up, as farms are being crowded out by councils and governments rezoning these areas for housing. Areas like Werribee just outside Melbourne, which was where much of Victoria’s greens were grown – now, as the locals say: “As the housing gets closer, even though we were here first, it is a problem because practices like spreading fertiliser, spraying agri-chemicals or running farm machinery 24 hours a day is not compatible with our urban neighbours.” Added to this is the fact that, because of this urban sprawl, speculators are buying up farmland at highly inflated prices and then sitting on it (unused), as they lobby the various authorities to have it rezoned. And, anyone who has ever watched a local council or state government at work will know exactly how that ends. (I know I digress, but look at all the Melbourne pubs that have been pulled down recently to make way for apartments. What is the common excuse? “We weren’t asked soon enough for protection.” What a load of bullocks! Isn’t that what you were elected to do – protect?)

But, back to the problems in the bush, which are fast becoming an Australia-wide problem.

First of all, we need to get out of the Paris Accord (and not just shelve it – get out of it completely). Then we need to fire up new clean coal or gas (or even nuclear) fired power stations. The urban crawl also has to be addressed – cutting migration would help, but so would an insistence that migrants must locate to regional areas – not Melbourne and Sydney, as is the current norm. And, not just for a year or so. Fruit picking anyone? Now, there’s a thought! And, above all, start building dams to conserve the water when it does fall. (Do you realise that only 1 per cent of the water that falls on this continent is saved?)

Hopefully, with our recent change in leadership, we have a Prime Minister who has the guts to tackle these problems head on. Then we can forget about farting cows and seriously talk about being the food bowl of Asia, rather than sitting back and watching as increasing numbers of farmers leave the land.

ps.  Obviously, the powers have begun listening to me, because in the past weeks not only have they been talking about coal, but they have also spoken of dams in the Northern Territory and migrants being forced to spend five years in regional areas where there is work available. Hopefully, this is not just hot air and we can look forward to a rosier future for the bush, especially now that the previous Prime Minister has sulked off home with bat and ball.

Quick Bytes – DID YOU KNOW?

In 1946, amendments to the Liquor Licensing Act in NSW created their first licensed clubs and allowed restaurants to serve ‘light wine and malted liqueurs’ with meals until 8.30 pm.

But restaurants with seats in alcoves along the wall were excluded. The police presented evidence, in getting these banned, stating that the combination of cosy alcoves and liqueur would leave the door open for “a great increase in promiscuous sexual behaviour.”

THE ART OF DINING ALONE

As a man who produces a YouTube channel (Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One or Two) dedicated to producing recipes for one, it’s obvious that I would be interested in the increasing popularity of dining alone.

Actually, I have always been a supporter of such a practice and, in fact, at my restaurant Fleurie – which only had 44 seats and was always booked a month in advance (I wouldn’t take bookings any further out) – I always kept one table up my sleeve obstentially for mates, regulars and the like – a table that I also happily let for solo diners whether they were mates or not. But, I do remember the other hot restaurant of the moment Petit Choux not being quite so generous and turning away my Sous Chef because he wanted a table for one. I rang the owner who said: “Of course he can have a table and I’ll sit with him, otherwise people may get the idea that we let tables go for singles.” Well, John actually didn’t want to dine with him – not just because he was a bore, but because he actually wanted to dine along, was quite happy doing so and didn’t expect any special treatment because of same.

I was reminded of this by a recent article in The Age that spoke of a restaurant which proudly told of putting a goldfish in a bowl (named Embla) on a lone diner’s table for company. For some reason, Sydney’s Firedoor was quite proud of this, supposedly, thoughtful effort. And, other restaurants, whilst not repeating the fish dining companion experience, spoke of involving the guest in everything from video games and WiFi to specially created menus to detailed descriptions of a dish’s component to, worst of all, tours of the kitchen.

In fairness, I am sure there is the odd customer who enjoys such efforts. But, as a person who has always enjoyed the peace and quiet of dining alone, one can only hope that most staff understand that many such clients just want to be left to their own devices. And one can only hope that all staff are instructed how to read the signs, because we have all experienced those well-intentional waitpersons whose involvement in your dining experience goes something along these lines: “Hi, I’m Bruce your waitperson for tonight and I’m going to enquire every time you take a bite whether you’re enjoying your meal, and the rest of the time I’m going to stand at the end of the table and bore the shit out of you.”

But, jokes aside, there are good things coming out of restaurants realising that there is a demand for sole dining and not just at that table stuck next to the kitchen or toilet door. (L’Archestrate in Paris where, at regular intervals, Chef Alain Senderins would burst out of the kitchen to glare at the staff – banging my table as he did so.) No, what I’m talking about is seating arranged around the kitchen bar or on a communal table, which is now common practice in restaurant design. As is the offer, in many of our leading restaurants of half serves where applicable and a good selection of quality wines by the glass – all of which certainly makes the solo dining experience more enjoyable.

And the number of persons dining along is definitely increasing. According to booking service Dimmi, solo reservations have risen by 27% in the past year and according to hospitality professionals “there is no longer a typical demographic for solo diners. They range from young cooks wanting to experience other establishments to travellers and business people to my dear mate Siggy, who has been a happy solo diner for the 30 years I have known him and does it because he not only enjoys food, but his own company as well.

As Lennox Hastie of Firedoor states: “It’s actually a huge compliment for me as a chef and restaurant owner when someone comes in and eats alone, because they are purposely coming to your venue for your food – not because friends have dragged them there.” Very similar to my feelings all those years ago at Fleurie and, although I do appreciate his sentiments, when I visit Firedoor (which is certainly on my list) if he plops a fish in a bowl on my table, I will not be responsible for my actions – SASHIMI ANYONE?

 

COQ AU VIN REVISITED   (for 1)

Put 1 chicken breast, skin on, in a bowl and pour over 1 cup decent red wine. Marinate in the fridge overnight, turning once or twice.

When ready, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and seal the drained breast all over (retaining the liquid). Remove.

Add 4-6 whole small button mushrooms to the pan with 4-6 peeled baby onions and 1 sliced small bacon rasher. Cook until coloured. Then add 1 heaped tbsp plain flour, mix very well and cook for 1-2 mins, before adding 1 cup beef stock, the marinating wine, 1 crushed plump garlic clove, 1 bay leaf, 1/3rd can diced tomatoes, seasonings and 2 thyme sprigs. Cook gently and, when starting to thicken, return the chicken and add a good slurp of fresh wine. When the chicken is ready, remove and if necessary cook down the sauce until thick and fragrant.

VEGIES – BROUGHT KICKING AND SCREAMING INTO THE CURRENT CENTURY

“We live in a society that consumes more meat than any other group in history … and most health professionals agree that eating so much meat takes a toll on us as well.” – Ruth Reichl, Editor, American Gourmet magazine.

I’m definitely showing my age, because I can remember when a request for a vegetarian option in a restaurant usually involved an offer of a pretty basic salad or a plate of vegies that were being served that day (as a friend witnessed – exactly the same as the person next to her, minus the meat). Fast forward to today and it is rare for a menu not to list a fair number of vegetarian alternatives of a serious nature.

So why such a change in a fairly short period? Sure, social media has certainly brought to the forefront pertinent facts, such as the huge amount of land needed for raising introduced animals, such as cattle and sheep, and the damage they do to the environment (without even mentioning the effect their farts have on global warming). And, we have certainly learnt that a huge piece of meat and a mountain of chips is maybe not the perfect balanced diet.

As well, the advent of kitchen gardens as part of many passionate restaurant chefs’ repertoires has certainly seen a change in their attitude towards vegies. As a chef-mate recently told me: “I didn’t realise how quickly vegies grow and I am continually waking up in the middle of the night thinking ‘what the f..k am I going to do with all those bloody artichokes, fennel bulbs, beetroot, etc., etc.?’” A bit different from my early days at Fleurie when I got so excited when my mate Boyd Piercy arrived with some just-picked baby tomatoes (still on the vine – my god!) or a tiny bunch of baby basil or mint.

Apart from that, it also has a lot to do with us all discovering that a meatless meal cannot only be bloody delicious, but exciting to boot. For example, chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Skye Gyngell, Sophie Grigson and Bobby Flay have reintroduced us home cooks to basics such as cauliflower, carrots, pumpkin, brussels sprouts and cabbage, as well as every grain known to man (or woman) and brought them kicking and screaming into the current century. A whole cauli baked in a very hot oven smothered in a brilliant blue cheese-spiked creamy sauce; my beloved brussels sprouts served raw, but finely shredded, in a Vietnamese slaw with lots of fresh herbs and Nam Jim dressing; Parisienne chef Guy Martin’s Pot au Feu of baby carrots; Skye Gyngell’s inspirational vegetable mezze platters or braised artichokes with fennel, tomatoes, olives and preserved lemon; or a Hewitson favourite – a Japanese red cabbage and pickled ginger ‘cake’ sprinkled with kecap manis.

And then there are more traditional favourites such as Pumpkin & Ricotta Lasagna, Eggplant Moussaka or Parma, as well as curries, chillies and even American-style spicy baked beans piled high with chopped avocado, sour cream and fresh coriander. My wife, Ruth, recently whipped up a delicious Leek, Potato & Cheese Pie with a puff pastry lid, and I will eat any variations on Ratatouille or Shakshuka, particularly if there is a good dollop of Persian feta or goat’s cheese melting over the top and good bread alongside.

Now, whilst all of these dishes sound (and are) dammed tasty, I must admit I am still not sold on the idea of becoming a ‘died in the wool’ vego. Although, I must admit, my red meat consumption has certainly declined in recent years.

What I would like to advocate is that even a passionate meat eater could benefit (as would the environment) from a slight change in our eating habits. Consider setting aside one day (at least) a week where our meals are based solely around vegetables – and, not like my niece, who at a young age announced she was not a vegetarian and, for the next few days, ate hot chips for breakfast, lunch and dinner!). No, what we want is the same effort put into your vegetable offerings as you would put into your normal meal – nutritious, yes, but above all exciting and full of flavour – something that both vegetarians and meat lovers will enjoy equally.

 

PS.

Just out of interest, the first Vegetarian Society of note was founded in 1847 in Ramsgate on the English coast. 150 members were signed up, but it had a fairly short life, as one of the other key rules was that all hot food should also be avoided, because according to the founding fathers “they acted injuriously on the teeth, debilitated the stomach and through that every organ of the human body.” What a surprise that particular society quickly disappeared without a trace.

 

PPS.

And, a few books that feature exciting vegetable recipes:

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi

A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gyngell

It’s All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow

Simple Recipes, Amazing Food, All Plants – Bosh! by Henry Firth & Ian Theasby

Plants Taste Better by Richard Buckley

and an oldie, but a goodie – Greene on Greens by Bert Greene
– Not 100% vegetarian (but pretty close), this books covers everything from artichokes to zucchini and almost every vegie in between. Tips on growing and purchasing, as well as hints – some super helpful, some not. For example, did you realise that the flowers of the kohlrabi, if left on the bush, keep garden pests away? Can’t say I did. And, Bert’s grandmother made dandelion liquor (not wine), which was absolutely disgusting, but was supposedly good for the digestion – if you could keep it down! Or that the name pea was the singular abbreviation of pease, which was the original name of two or more of those yummy little green numbers. Fascinating!

AWFUL OFFAL RIDES AGAIN (vegetarians & vegans keep clear)

For a very brief period in the early 70’s, I worked at Lacy’s – a very fashionable restaurant in London. Owned by highly regarded Chef Bill Lacy and his wife Margaret Costa, the Sunday Times Food & Wine Editor, it  championed offal. And, in her wonderful “Four Seasons Cookery Book”, Margaret christened the offal chapter ‘Awful Offal’, lamenting the fact that all these delicious bits and pieces, so full of nutritional value, ended up with such an awful nano – even refusing to quote the Oxford Dictionary (parts fallen or cut off”), as it may “put you off these good and nourishing foods forever”.

These days, Fergus Henderson of St John’s Restaurant in London fame is regarded as the champion of ‘awful offal’, but isn’t it time that us Aussies in, a day and age when we continually talk of no waste, jumped on the bandwagon of offal to a greater extent? In fact, how dare we even consider slaughtering a beast, any beast, and not using up every skerrick of same. Instead, we need to follow the lead of our parents and grandparents and embrace delicacies such as kidneys, liver, tongue, brains, sweetbreads and the like. Although, I must admit, my mother and grandmother almost put me off tripe for life when they smothered it in the world’s worst white sauce (cornflour thickened milk with tonnes of parsley). It was only when I discovered the joys of the French version (Tripes a la Mode de Caen), where the Bechamel was not only made correctly, but it was heavily flavoured with the world’s best apple brandy – Calvados. But, I do remember my father happily eating my mother’s version. Then again, he also loved haggis (he was a Scot). I do wonder whether it was the generous tot of single malt alongside that swayed him. Me? Haggis didn’t ever do it for me and I am, to this day, reminded of Greenkeeper Willie from The Simpsons, who described it as “the awful bits and pieces from the animal stuffed into a wee lamb’s stomach” or words to that effect.

Anyway, I digress, my Salade Nouvelle of pan seared duck livers with baby spinach, bacon, lardons and a tangy mustard dressing was always popular on my restaurant menus. As was Twice-Cooked Ox Tongue with beetroot relish and/or celeriac remoulade and a Chicken, Brain & Spinach Pate en Croute was an absolute hit.

Also, as a kid, I was pretty keen on Crumbed Brains & Bacon and Devilled Kidneys, and Lamb’s Fry went down a treat as part of our breakfast feasts, particularly if there was fried bread alongside. I will always remember Ann Taylor’s stunning Calf’s Liver with onions from her Sydney restaurant, the highly moreish salad at Leon de Lyon in (where else) Lyon, which was packed with goodies – many of which I was loath to enquire as to their origins (it was so tasty, I ordered seconds!), and then there was Jimmy Shu’s bloody wonderful crispy tripe, which I hope still features on at least one of his many Northern Territory establishments.

And, I mustn’t forget the Sweetbreads Grenoblaise from Melbourne’s Fanny’s – one of my favourite restaurants of all time, which were drenched in a foaming mix of brown butter, capers and tiny wedges of lemon – delish!

All in all, enough to encourage each and every one of you to immediately rush to the butcher’s shop and grab some offal, any offal. But do keep in mind that this is not supermarket fodder and you may have to visit a ‘real’ butcher and maybe even pre-order some of these delicious goodies.

 

PS.

For all you tripe haters, here is a recipe that will appeal. Keeping in mind how much Aussies love anything crumbed, just parmesan crumb fine slices of par-cooked tripe, deep fry and serve with a Sauce Bearnaise laden with lots of fresh tarragon.

A friend of mine served such a dish to his kids without appraising them of the fact that it wasn’t chicken or fish. It’s alright, I’m not advocating such behaviour, but they scoffed the lot.

 

PPS.

Another of my father’s favourites – the unfortunately named faggot. Originally a Cockney working class creation, the faggot is a simple sausage of ground bits and pieces wrapped in caul fat (lining of a pig’s stomach) and baked until golden brown. Absolutely delicious, it’s other claim to fame is that a tray in a faggot shop in London’s Pudding Lane, which caught fire in 1666, started the Great Fire of London. The moral of the story – don’t flame the blessed things.

 

And, there’s more … for plenty of new recipes, log onto my YouTube channel – Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One (or Two) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDLNrITNG0Gyhpz6350FA

Move over Gordon f…ing Ramsay and Jamie Boy, a true English super chef arrives in Oz (and I bet you he doesn’t have any problems keeping his doors open!)

I’m enjoying the new Fairfax Good Food sections and, in particular, was very interested in an interview with English chef, Alastair Little, which revealed that he is to take over the late Jeremy Strode’s CBD Restaurant in Sydney. Excited because, to my mind, Little was the star of those heady days in London (the eighties) when ‘young Turks’ such as him, Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leith and Marco-Pierre White showed the world that English boys could actually cook. Although, the early days from this self-taught cook were not all beer and skittles.

“My cooking career was launched at the Old Compton Wine Bar. ‘Launched’ is perhaps the wrong word – kick-started is more like it, in that the Chef left and I volunteered to have a go. The very next day I was cooking 80 lunches armed with a copy of Elizabeth David’s ‘Provincial Cooking’ and a self-confidence that can only be viewed as foolhardy. My first ever review followed soon after. The Times Diary made several pleasant comments about the wines, the quality of the breads and cheese, but observed that ‘the only cooking he noticed was by a young man who was preparing lamb chops by the simple expedient of setting fire to them on the grill.”

Fortunately, by the time I came across Chef Little, he had honed his skills a little and was heading the kitchens at L’Escargot in Soho, which was owned at the time by wine guru Jancis Robinson and her husband, Nic Lander. Interestingly, also ensconced in the kitchen was one of our most talented produce-driven chefs, George Biron of Sunnybrae at Birregurra fame (now Brae). The food was marvellous – simple and fresh, yet highly skilled cooking.

After a stint at the highly rated and influential 192 Kensington Park Road, Little returned to Soho and opened his own eponymous restaurant in Firth Street.

I ate there a number of times (my brother Don owned wine bars nearby) and it was actually those visits that encouraged me to return to Melbourne and open a 40-seater – Fleurie – following the Little (and, dare I say it, Biron) principle of ‘keeping it simple’. In fact, I think it was a wonderful Tortino of crisp potato topped with the most perfectly cooked, spotlessly fresh anchovies and a scattering of what the Italians would most probably call ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ that tipped me over the edge. Sadly, I could never find, at that time, anchovies of the quality that would make such a recipe proud, so my dream dish never made it onto the Fleurie Carte. But, hopefully, Mr Little has more luck and the dish will feature in Sydney – I will certainly be keeping my fingers crossed. But, no matter what, I will be looking forward to more inspired cooking from the master.

PS.
Alastair Little and I, seemingly, have another thing in common – we both taught ourselves to cook (or at least to appreciate great produce) with the help of Elizabeth David and, in particular, her book “French Provincial Cooking”, pub. 1960. I will always remember, at a time when commercial tomatoes were pale and insipid, her tale of the joys of eating just-picked tomatoes with good bread and the best butter from Normandie. Little was obviously also impressed, because he talks of presenting an entree of a great tomato with mozzarella and the best olive oil, and gobsmacking the locals who had been brought up on Italian restaurant fodder of salads dressed with the oil from the chip fryer.

PPS.
I also noticed that his new restaurant will feature freshly shucked oysters with tiny spicy sausages. A wonderful flavour combination – the salty brine of the oysters and the hot spicy sausage. This recipe also featured on Jeremy’s menu, as it did on a number of my restaurant menus.  Although, I must admit, I didn’t pinch the idea from Little, but instead first encountered the dish in Bordeaux (circa 1970), where it was always washed down with a glass of crisp, flinty Muscadet – yummy!

And, there’s more … for plenty of new recipes, log onto my YouTube channel – Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One (or Two) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDLNrITNG0Gyhpz6350FA