Harvested at SunnybraeFor a long time I have been fascinated by the restaurant kitchen. I don't ever really want to work in one but I've often wanted to be a fly on the wall, actually in there feeling the heat and smelling the food rather than just watching bits and pieces of the action on television. I'm intrigued by the whole process of getting food onto the table from knowing what to prepare ahead and how much food to have on hand right down to making sure that it gets to the table hot enough. And I'm fascinated and awed by the dedication and enthusiasm of those who devote their professional life to cooking for other people.
Anyone can learn how to cook – basic stuff like boiling water, frying an egg – and how to follow a recipe. But for me to be a really good cook requires innate ability and almost an obsession with experimenting and learning and creating. A good cook understands ingredients, can read food by the way it looks and smells and mixes flavours and textures the way an artist might mix colours to get just the right combination. I regard myself as a competent home cook rather than a good cook. I'm a little too afraid of failure for one thing and tend to be more of a recipe follower than a generator of ideas – although I have often been heard to lament that most of my real failures have come about because I have followed the recipe rather than my own instincts. I don't think I was born with any great talent for cooking but I do find it a satisfying and enjoyable creative process and I'm always on the look out for inspiration.
Which leads me to the highlight for this month – cooking with George Biron at Sunnybrae. I have made no secret of my enthusiasm for all things Sunnybrae and it was a simple matter to convince myself that a day or two in Victoria was exactly what I needed as an early birthday present. George's Mondays are less of a cooking class – although there is plenty to learn – and more of an opportunity to cook together, to try some new techniques, to experiment with new ingredients and gain a little more understanding about food and cooking. Anyone who attends can request a particular ingredient or technique that interests them and George structures a menu around these requests based on his philosophy of using locally sourced, fresh, seasonal and sometimes unusual ingredients. There's a lot to take in and trying to take some notes while watching, listening and doing required a good deal of concentration so that sitting down to enjoy the food we had helped to prepare was very welcome at the end of the day.
Lunch consisted of bread fresh from the woodfired oven, home made taramasalata, a vegetable strudel made with yufka pastry, a tomatillo salad, and a green papaya salad with farmed prawns followed by braised beef ribs served with potatoes salardaise and a sweet and sour cucumber and tomato salad and finished off with crème brûlée and persimmons, pomegranates and ground cherries in a lemon verbena syrup served with star anise and lime flavoured ice cream.
Taramasalata, tomatillo salad and the wonderful fresh bread straight out of the ovenI came away full, happy and reinvigorated and reminded that good food, good cooking is also about generosity – being generous with ingredients, with knowledge and ideas and with your time. Many thanks George.(My family should thank you too because they have already been treated to the beef ribs and the tomato and cucumber salad.)
After Sunnybrae we drove along the coast road to Adelaide. I am no fan of driving holidays but the coast road is a bit of an exception because the outposts of civilisation are reasonably frequent and the scenery was magnificent. The only real disappointment was a distinct scarcity of lobsters in the lobster capitals of Robe and Kingston which we should have anticipated as it is the end of the season and the quota already accounted for.
Being away from home food becomes even more of an obsession than usual- it is no longer just a question of what to eat but where. Scouting for restaurants and eating three meals a day purchased from unfamiliar sources and produced by unknown hands gets a bit tiresome. I don't know how vegetarians cope when they are away from home but I was desperate for something green and crunchy by the time we reached Adelaide.
Eating wasn't our main reason for being in Adelaide;
we were there for the Special Olympics National Trials to cheer on the lovely Lisa who was competing in Bocce. She came away with three medals including the Gold Medal for the teams event!
However after the competition finished we did indulge in a trip to the Adelaide Central Markets – a wonderful place to be on a Saturday morning, full of life and tempting goodies (including this amazing selection of glace fruit) - and we spent a day in the Adelaide Hills home of my latest favourite cheese Paris Creek Nuage Blanc (which is the best cheese you will ever buy in a supermarket gorgeously oozy on the outside, firm and crumbly in the middle) AND of Woodside Cheese Wrights AND Udder Delights – so much cheese, so little time!
Back home and eager to get back into the kitchen I was interested to read Michael Ruhlman's 'Message to food editors: What 30 minute meals really mean' (and see also here) because there really isn't any good excuse for not eating well – fresh, seasonal produce, prepared with a bit of care. Which does not mean buying the white asparagus from PERU which was available at the green grocer this week!