An­tipodean ‘ French god­fa­ther’ says let them eat pot-au-feu

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - Graeme Blun­dell

AUS­TRALIAN din­ers owe a great deal to the French Revo­lu­tion. It was the dis­man­tling of the aris­toc­racy that sent pan­icked royal chefs into the streets to ply their craft among mere cit­i­zens.

And what­ever the trends — this year’s ice cream cone of minced frothed salmon may be next year’s carpac­cio of toma­toes— French gas­tron­omy still holds sway over fine din­ing in many of our great restau­rants.

Gas­tronomiCity, while an awk­ward word (it sounds bet­ter with a French ac­cent), is an in­no­va­tive cel­e­bra­tion of the Gal­lic in­flu­ence. Or­gan­ised by Sof­i­tel French Ren­dezvous and the French Trade Com­mis­sion, the aim is to in­tro­duce a taste of Parisien lifestyle across Aus­tralia lead­ing up to Bastille Day on July 14. One hun­dred and fifty res­tau­ra­teurs and chefs are fly­ing the tri­col­ore with per­sonal panache. Your sub­sti­tute FoodDe­tec­tive at­tended this week’s soiree at Syd­ney’s Bil­son’s Restau­rant to cel­e­brate the ini­tia­tive, with tast­ings of Ayala cham­pagnes and wines from Joseph Drouhin, one of Bur­gundy’s finest do­maines.

Recipes for canapes were pre­pared in Tony Bil­son’s kitchen by par­tic­i­pat­ing Syd­ney chefs, in­clud­ing Mark Best of Mar­quee, Matt Kemp of Balzac, Manu Fiedel of Bil­son’s and War­ren Turn­bull of Assi­ette.

Bil­son sent a mes­sage from France, where he is in­ter­view­ing the leg­endary Roger Verge, Paul Bo­cuse, Michel Guer­ard, Alain Du­casse and a bunch of as­pir­ing Guide Miche­lin chefs for a pro­posed television doc­u­men­tary. ‘‘ I can’t be­lieve Bil­son is Aus­tralian,’’ Fiedel mut­tered emo­tion­ally to De­tec­tive . ‘‘ He is the French god­fa­ther of Aus­tralian cook­ing.’’

De­tec­tive still re­mem­bers Bil­son from the mid-1960s at Melbourne’s Al­bion Ho­tel where, dressed in tra­di­tional chef’s whites, in­stead of punch­ing out con­ven­tional counter lunches, he was cook­ing pot-au-feu of veal shanks, noisettes of pork with apri­cots and Di­jon mus­tard, and do­ing shame­less things with lamb and peaches.

THE equally peri­patetic Chris­tine Man­field — chef, au­thor, food man­u­fac­turer, pre­sen­ter, teacher and gas­tro­nomic trav­eller — is stag­ing an Aus­tralian come­back. Last seen at Lon­don’s much-awarded East@West, she is open­ing Uni­ver­sal (‘‘so-named be­cause I’m a global chick’’) at Repub­lic in Dar­linghurst in Syd­ney’s in­ner east in early Au­gust. ‘‘ I’m mov­ing on from mod­ern Asian, go­ing for di­ver­sity with smaller dishes and scrap­ping a tra­di­tion­ally struc­tured menu,’’ she tells De­tec­tive . ‘‘ But def­i­nitely not tapas or, god for­bid, any­thing slap-dash bistro style.’’ De­tec­tive can feel the shud­der down the phone line.

Each dish will be ‘‘ a com­plete, struc­tured and def­i­nite thing’’, she says. ‘‘ And very sexy and se­duc­tive.’’ There will be a chang­ing list of 20 items, with din­ers able to im­pro­vise with the menu. ‘‘ I want to change the way my din­ers in­ter­act with my kitchen,’’ Man­field says, sound­ing as much a theatre pro­ducer as a kitchen mistress. She calls it food with­out borders.

While she’ll take book­ings ‘‘ for the or­gan­ised’’ at Uni­ver­sal, Man­field wants to keep din­ing space for what she terms ‘‘ the spon­tane­ity of in­stant de­ci­sions’’. (But De­tec­tive won­ders how many days it will take for Uni­ver­sal to be booked out months ahead, the way Man­field’s for­mer Syd­ney hang-out Paramount used to be.)

Man­field says she has al­ready rat­tled her staff, many of whom have fol­lowed her from Lon­don. ‘‘ They are rolling their eyes at me,’’ she laughs, as sassy as ever. ‘‘ They keep say­ing I’m a bloody mad bitch.’’ She has teamed with famed de­signer ar­chi­tect Tina Engelen, de­ter­mined her new ven­ture will em­body the spirit of im­pro­vi­sa­tion. ‘‘ I want the place to look like an al­lur­ing spice box,’’ she says, em­phat­i­cally. ‘‘ We are go­ing to be a point of dif­fer­ence.’’ You can al­most see the famed Man­field eye­brow lift.

MELBOURNE’S Raw Ma­te­ri­als founder and di­rec­tor Andrew Gray has cre­ated a high-qual­ity range of goats’ cheeses, dubbed 180 Acres, which harks from the happy goats and lush green pad­docks of Tas­ma­nia. Gray, a for­mer chef, be­came pas­sion­ate about cheese while work­ing for Tassie’s King Is­land Dairies. His in­ter­est led him to be­come an ac­cred­ited cheese critic, en­abling him to sit on the pan­els of Aus­tralian shows.

And judg­ing by his new range of vel­vety and soft cheeses, he knows how to make them as well as any­one in this coun­try. While De­tec­tive ’ s col­leagues de­mol­ished most of the demo sam­ples ( The Aus­tralian ’ s lit­er­ary ed­i­tor, Deb­o­rah Hope, con­fesses to us­ing the very good fetta on home-made pizza), he was able to scrounge the mar­i­nated chevre, all gor­geously vis­cous in olive oil, pep­per­corns, gar­lic and thyme. Avail­able from the splen­did Macro Whole­foods Mar­ket in Syd­ney’s Crows Nest, which fea­tures a range of more than 8000 en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly de­lights. www.macrow­hole­foods.com.au.

DE­TEC­TIVE re­cently cir­cum­nav­i­gated the Ap­ple Isle aboard the ex­pe­di­tion ship Orion on a food and wine cruise with chef Serge Dansereau and has to say that, while the King Is­land cheeses were as won­der­ful as ever, the pre­sen­ta­tion of tourism on that lit­tle is­land needs des­per­ate over­haul­ing. About to leave the is­land by Zo­diac am­phibi­ous rub­ber boat to join the ship, De­tec­tive and his fel­low cruis­ers were ac­costed by ob­du­rate of­fi­cials from the De­part­ment of Trans­port and Re­gional Ser­vices, re­spon­si­ble for port se­cu­rity.

De­ter­mined that he was an il­le­gal im­mi­grant or pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist car­ry­ing ex­plo­sive ched­dars and goat’s cheese ord­nance ca­pa­ble of de­stroy­ing Melbourne’s theatre in­dus­try, De­tec­tive was ques­tioned and his cre­den­tials checked in freez­ing winds. A strip search was avoided only at the last minute when he pro­duced a dou­ble-bar­relled Black La­bel Dou­ble Brie.

WHILE on the topic of great pro­duce, De­tec­tive is in­formed that the Aus­tralian blue­berry in­dus­try is gear­ing up for an­other suc­cess­ful year. With con­sumers seek­ing a more bal­anced and healthy diet, de­mand for the hum­ble and tasty blue­berry is in­creas­ing and Aus­tralia has be­come one of the world’s lead­ing pro­duc­ers.

‘‘ It’s our qual­ity and con­sis­tency that dif­fer­en­ti­ates us from other sup­pli­ers glob­ally, epe­cially in the area of re­search and de­vel­op­ment of plant va­ri­eties and han­dling tech­nolo­gies,’’ Peter McPher­son, gen­eral man­ager of Ber­ryEx­change (for­merly Blue­berry Farms of Aus­tralia) tells De­tec­tive . The de­li­cious lit­tle blue fruit has been found to re­duce the in­sulin re­quire­ments of di­a­bet­ics, help con­trol uri­nary tract in­fec­tions, im­prove night vi­sion and re­tard oc­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion. De­tec­tive be­lieves blue­ber­ries could even be health­ier than red wine. www.abga.com.au

DE­TEC­TIVE loves: On the healthy bev­er­age front, Found, Aus­tralia’s new­est pre­mium bev­er­age com­pany, has launched de­li­cious 100 per cent or­ganic (and kosher) pomegranate fruit juice, full of an­tiox­i­dants, po­tas­sium and vi­ta­min C. www.foundor­ganic.com.au.

DE­TEC­TIVE loathes: Wait­ers ad­dress­ing groups of din­ers as ‘‘ guys’’, as in: ‘‘ How’s it all go­ing, guys?’’

Din­ing is not aer­o­bics where it’s all right to ad­dress a class as guys and wear bet­ter clothes than the par­tic­i­pants.

Also on the restau­rant hate list: the per­sis­tent and shame­less steer­ing to­wards ex­pen­sive sides and add-ons and the fail­ure to ad­dress the pac­ing of cour­ses.

Global chick: Man­field

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