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