Big Appetites

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Yes siree! 
I wanted to share with you the work of Seattle photographer Chris Boffoli on his new project, Big Appetites. I originally stumbled upon these photographs on Smith Journal (supposedly a gentleman's magazine but, meh). The subject matter is of the world in miniature but as a fantastical foodscape. Hansel and Gretel, eat your heart out! The images have been meticulously constructed (each figurine was hand-painted) and have a whimsical sense of humour about them. They are perfect for a little bit of "Caption this!"

I love the vibrancy that Chris has brought to the work. Inspired by his model-making as a child (Matchbox, anyone?) he has sourced  food locally from places such as Bakery Nouveau (for patisserie goodness) and given it a playful spin. There are some more pressing issues raised however, such as over-consumption and portion sizing - slightly overshadowed however by the light-heartedness of it all. It's a macro-photographers dream i.e. mine!

If you're lucky enough to be in NYC at this very moment, Big Appetites is exhibiting at Winston Wachter Fine Art NYC from June 21st to August 24th. For the rest of us, we can enjoy this version of extreme food-styling in the meantime...

Lazy Janet would use any excuse at all to stop paddling.

422 days without an accident at the chocolate quarry.

Gary always used too much mustard. But no one could say so. It was a union thing.

It was so like Patty. Right idea. Wrong execution.

If they'd only realize that the killer was right there in the crowd.

It seemed an opportune time to school little Danny on the pitfalls of eating yellow snow.

All photographs and captions by Chris Boffoli from Big Appetites.

Finally, here is a wee segment featuring Chris from NBC First Look:

View more videos at:

Thanks for reading! M

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Sunday, 24 June 2012

I don't remember my dreams *sad face* but odds are that like Chef Jiro Ono, I also dream of sushi. I'm playing film critic this week:  two hits in 3 days (the first was Take This Waltz) must mean that I'm on fire, obviously. I first heard about Jiro Dreams of Sushi from The Thousands guide back in May. As soon as I saw that, I was itching to see it. As luck would have it (not), it was showing in one cinema in Sydney. So I had to wait till I was back, praying that it was still showing! I was really glad I got to see this gem. Here's why...

Warning: you will never look at sushi the same again. Though, it's probably for the best (shame on you, sushi train)
The movie poster acts as a visual menu - how delightful. And Jiro takes his rightful place in the limelight. Those macro photographs but mine to shame! Source: Berlin Film Society

Directed by filmmaker David Gelb, the film tracks the rise and rise of Jiro Ono and his family run sushi restaurant in Ginza, Sukiyabashi Jiro

Accolades - Jiro Ono was the first (and oldest) sushi chef to receive 3 Michelin stars. He has been described as the world's best sushi chef by the likes of Joel Robuchon and Anthony Bourdain and Japan has declared him as a national treasure. His hardwork and dedication once saw him receive an award during the day, only to return to the restaurant for dinner service that night. He is 86 years old and has had the same routine everyday for 75 years. Amazing.

Who - Shokunin (skilled craftsmen) Jiro Ono and his eldest son Yoshikazu operate Sukiyabashi Jiro. There is also a 2 Michelin-starred branch in Roppongi Hills run by Jiro's youngest son, Takashi. Some diners find they get too nervous eating in front of Jiro and would prefer the more relaxed atmosphere at Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi (lol). Jiro watches you as you eat each piece, noting your handedness (to place the sushi on the correct side), gauging your reaction - too much pressure!

Why so serious? The sushi dynasty of sorts. I loved hearing the scared apprentice stories. They really cop it (workload wise) too: they get to prepare the scalding hot towels (a right of passage) and tenderize the octopus by hand  (read: massage for 40-50 mins, the poor sod!)  Photo: Benjamin Oakley Wilson
Yoshikazu is the heir to the throne at Sukiyabashi Jiro. His father's reputation precedes him though and they are rather big (actually humungous) shoes/geta sandals to fill. Unfortunately for him, he has lived in his father's shadow for 30 years and will be compared to him for the rest of his life. But that's just how the cookie crumbles. 

Where - It's a tiny 10 seater found in the basement of a Tokyo Office Building. The restaurant is in the traditional Japanese style, without bells or whistles. The chefs prepare each morsel in quick succession in front of you. Each piece must be eaten straight away. The sushi speaks for itself. 

In succession, Chef Jiro Ono, his eldest son Yoshikazu and the 3IC (but more on him later). Photo credit: MovieCheeks
What - the Omakase menu or "Chef's recommended Special Course" is essentially a degustation of 20 freshly prepared sushi. This will set you back a tidy ~¥30,000 (US $370). Woo, nearly 20 bucks a pop - could you handle that? Probably one of the cheapest 3 Michelin-starred meals you can get!

I love the attention that Gelb paid to detail - the intricate processes, the delicacy of forming the rice in the hand, the gloss of the top coat of sauce (lush!). Gelb used super slow motion to great effect. It felt so reverential and like  watching artists at work. Which is true, to a certain extent. My favourite moments came when sushi was placed on the black serving dishes where it literally 'sighed onto the plate'. OH. MY. GOD.

One exceptional scene was the 'sushi concerto'. Played out to Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 21, one of the sittings at Sukiyabashi Jiro is filmed with such flair. The classical soundtrack was just perfect with Bach's Cello Suite no. 1 (Prelude) to top it all off. Each of the 20 courses is shown from start to finish and you are instantly transported into the restaurant, waiting with anticipation on one of the stools. Juuust magic.

Cue photos of glorious sushi:
Knock me sideways: I had no idea there were 3 different types of sushi tuna. I only knew of sashimi or cooked! From a bluefin there is akami (lean), chu-toro (medium) and o-toro (fatty). Well, now ya know...
Ebi: shrimp. So simple but oh so delicious...ah!
It's Anago! Oh my favourite...eel. I was so pleased to see this on the menu, this is the one I get every time. Photo: Hamsap Sukebe
La pièce de résistance: tamago. The final course of the omakase. Amazingly, it is only at the end of a 10 year apprenticeship that a training chef can learn to make the egg sushi. For, 3IC whom I mentioned above it took him 3 or 4 months and hundreds of attempts before Jiro gave his approval. At this, the apprentice cried tears of happiness. Their passion and unyielding drive to improve and please Jiro is incredible.
The aim of the game - it's simple really (sure sure)...serving sushi at it's "ideal moment of deliciousness". Rice is served at body temperature and fanned until it is just so. Nori sheets are tempered with heat from a grill. Mackerel is filleted when the fish is still alive (the fish was literally still gaping in the frame). And their knives were like samurai swords! Double edged blades with inscriptions down one side...forget Kill Bill!

The best of the best, Sir! - each providore that works for Jiro was a specialist in their field. The tuna man only sold tuna (watch for the tuna auction, it's a flurry of awesome), and would examine the quality of the meat by torch light. Each morning, after Yoshikazu returns from Tsukiji market with the fish for the day (personal bicycle delivery!), Jiro would taste the fish to ensure it met his exacting standards. The rice supplier had a special type just for Jiro. Jiro notes in the movie that the guy knew so much about rice that sometimes he thought he was making it up! 

Language barrier - the staff only speak Japanese (I wouldn't want it any other way) so it is best if you go with someone that speaks at least conversational Japanese. What a shame to miss out on their witty banter! Dang. The film is subtitled which did get a little annoying, I didn't want to be reading all the time. I want to look at the food!

The dilemma - almost as an afterthought, a few minutes were devoted to the issue of overfishing. The Japanese are notorious as the worst offenders, as whaling continues with so-called 'scientific purposes'. Yes, the staff acknowledge that it is an issue but without fish, their business wouldn't exist! So what do we do?! The doco End of the Line tackles overfishing and the devastating effect that it has on our oceans' ecosystem.

The verdict - sometimes, we need to hear about the little guy, the little fish in the culinary pond. Who needs your Ferrans, your Blumenthals and your Changs with their hocus pocus when you've got guys (and gals, I assume) who have complete mastery over the one thing that they do best. Another example that springs to mind is Pizzeria Da Michele in Napoli that specializes in 2 types of pizza: margherita and marinara (since 1870, punks). Ooh the memories :)

Let me tell you that Gelb has done a magnificent job. I LOVED this movie, and its not just because I'm a sushi nut (hey, I'm the first to admit it). Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the ultimate tribute to his craft. It is a feast for the senses (too bad you can't taste!), executed with a deft touch.

Consistency, precision and flavour. Nailed it! Photo credit: Hamsap Sukebe 
I feel like there is going to be a rush for bookings after the movie's release. I found a real-life review of the restaurant here. What a brilliant advertising campaign! Wait lists were 1 month when the movie was filmed but are about to blow out to much longer no doubt. Now everyone feels they must try Chef Ono's nigiri before he retires. Chef Ono has built a stirling reputation as a shokunin. More than half a century later, he is as disciplined as he ever was and works to live. Everyday he and his shokunin strive to do better every day which keeps them at the top of their game. I think Yoshikazu will do just fine with the legacy left by his father, I have faith.

If I didn't already have you hooked ;) Here's the trailer:

Happy days! I'm done. Thanks for reading! M

Sokyo @ The Star

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The usual dilemma: it's Saturday night...where the heck do we go to eat? It's gotten to the point where there are so many places on the "to eat" list that I even have difficulty choosing between those. That, and so many restaurants don't take bookings (which is complete bollocks, by the way). That's why it's great when someone else makes the decision. The Star it was (perfect too, to keep out of the rain). 

At the end of 2011, the Star underwent a complete image overhaul. Now, it's a little bit fancy (schmancy) - to steal a lame ad jingle (and i can't even remember where it's from...oh yeah, Macca's LOL). Walking through, it has a strong resemblance to the Crown in Melbs with a lot of black marble, huge dining spaces and the requisite designer boutiques (Gucci, anyone?). Strolling across the gaming floor however, the decor looks extremely run down and dated i.e. tacky+++ (maybe that's just how casinos ARE. Ew).

Before pre-drinks I couldn't help but have a sticky beak at the Zumbo dessert bar. People go mad for it and I don't really know why (he's got a monopoly on dessert, damnit!). The concept is that of a dessert bar/sushi train hybrid where you take your pick of Zumbo's wildest and wackiest creations. I didn't look inside but I could imagine patrons just passed out over the bar, face planted in buttercream/mousse/macaron crumbs. SUGAR COMA! Most of the things were sold out at the front (the stock standard pastries like pain au chocolat) but there were also his signature "zumborons" (I'm cringing) on display. I'd actually like to try the ones from Baroque Bistro in The Rocks, I find Zumbo's incredibly sweet (see here). What he really needs is a bit of competition P.S. I'm looking at you, Vincent Gadan of Patisse!! Would you just look at his raspberry  souffle (Aaah)

Raspberry Souffle served in individual copper pots. These babies were featured on French Food Safari on SBS last year. Photo from Corner Cafe
So you can probably guess that dinner plans were made for Sokyo, restaurant of chef owner, Chase Kojima. It's situated on the ground floor of The Darling boutique hotel. It's the hot ticket that I didn't even know about. My bad. But you can hardly blame me (who can keep up with it all in Sydney anyway?). It's all very 'fluid' and 'a bit shit' for restaurateurs at the moment. Also, R.I.P. Becasse *sigh* (I didn't even get a chance to eat there!)

All my dining buddies and many of their friends had already been to Sokyo so I was obviously missing out on something. Or was I? I must say I was quite torn about this one. Stepping in (into utter darkness, deja vu) to the restaurant we were greeted by the front of house staff who said our table wasn't ready and that we'd have to wait in the bar for 15-20. Say what? We booked for 2030, so what is the purpose of booking then? The worse thing was we had just come from pre-drinkies at Black bar by Ezard (which seemed a much more professional outfit). P.S. my Leisure Suit cocktail was lovely (London dry gin, rose water, cucumber puree)

The restaurant has a very sleek, modern interior with a feature of ropes draping down from the ceiling. We were seated at a round table that had a pretty decent view of the kitchen. This is it:

I like the look of those chairs. The kitchen is centre stage (but to the left in this picture) where you can watch the chefs in action. I swear, I could just watch (sashimi) knife work all day Photo from The Star
A few notes:

  • Nightclub music - I'm a little hard of hearing at the best of times but the music from the bar (across the way) was also blaring in the restaurant. Why?! I'm in my twenties so I don't mind the club scene, but not during dinner please! I thought it created the wrong kind of atmosphere for supposed "fine dining" (especially when charging those prices). Was it because we were at a later sitting? Boo.
  • Service - was a bit hit and miss, often miss. The dynamic between the front-of-house staff was very frenetic and chaotic (and not necessarily in a good way).  One shouldn't have to ask for a top-up of wine - am I being facetious? However, a friendly French waiter saved the night for us, in his enthusiasm to offer us dessert recommendations, including 'how to eat' them. Bon.
  • Unnecessary ($$$) - the infamous surcharge of $8 per head for groups > 8 people. WTF? This is completely unreasonable. Isn't that additional business for the restaurant?! Don't penalize the customer
  • Plates - on the smaller side but perfect to share
  • Whoops - the Maitre d' (I assume) dropping a plate right behind my friend's chair. Skewers take flight!

And finally, the food & drink part (get a load of this)
  • [Wine] 2009 Louis Michel & Fils - Chablis, France (Chardonnay). My wine knowledge does not span much further from "white and red" but this Chardy was nice & refreshing with a very clean aftertaste. A perfect accompaniment to the large amounts of seafood we'd be ordering haha
  • Edamame Soybean (edamamejio) - the sea salt just made these addictive. Once you pop you can't stop (to borrow/pilfer another jingle)
  • [Sashimi] Hokkaido Scallop Yuzu Honey (onion, capers, yuzu honey, crunchy miso) 
These were delicious and plated beautifully. The scallop sashimi was so thin and fresh and I love the textural crunch offered by the miso flakes
  • [Sashimi] Kurobuta Black Pork (thinly sliced pork belly, dashi jelly, mache, salty caramel sauce) - this was also very nice. The dashi jelly is a nice touch
  • [Tempura] Sand whiting (curry salt, apple aioli, layu) - highly recommended, these went down a treat. The tempura batter is so light and the whiting were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The aioli was a great dipping sauce. I imagine these as the perfect snack with a beer!
  • [Robata i.e. skewers] Beef (short rib, caramalized eschallots, BBQ teriyaki) - nice and tender
  • DengakuMan (caramelized miso cod, Japanese salsa, celery croutons) - the star at The Star. This "essential dish" is fantastic. The fish was so soft and flaky and the miso sauce and cucumber salad/tomatoey salsa was just perfect. Do me a favour and order this one okay? ;) It's a must
Yum, I'm remembering how good this dish was. You could flake the cod with your chopsticks without any effort at all. Aah!
  • Lamb Chop Maple Miso (Maple miso, burnt baby eggplant) - the add-on because we were demolishing the rest of our order
The maple glaze was almost redundant here (and too sickly sweet). The lamb chops were tender but had great big globules of fat still hanging off them. Render that off people! The eggplant cream was the highlight. P.S. sorry for the exceedingly dodgy picture (it was dark!)
  • [Sushi roll] Japanese Barbecue Roll (Karubi short rib, gochijang sauce, white kimchi) - average, no need to bother with that one
  • [Soup] Kyoto Clear soup (enoki mushroom, citrus drop)

Dessert (of) course
  • Donatsu (pineapple marscapone filling, creme fraiche ice cream) - The waiter was saying "Donatsu" in his accent and we were like "Doughnuts...?" Luckily, they were the Japanese version of donuts or things might have gotten hairy. Language barrier on all fronts! Hey, good looking...
Yes, but unfortunately they looked better than they tasted. The outside was not that crisp and the inside was too soft and batter-y (not cooked completely through). The ice cream was nice though
  • Chef's dessert sampler (chef's selection of 4 desserts). Pretty good value for money at $26 and contains each of:
    • Sokyo "mochi ice cream" (yatsuhashi kyoto mochi, frozen strawberry milkshake) - this one was alright. At least the flavour was imparted from actual strawberries (always a plus)
    • Goma street (caramelized white chocolate, sesame ice cream) - the chocolate component was very very sweet but I'm a sucker for a good black sesame ice cream
    • Yamazaki caramel macchiato (coffee ice cream, coco nibs, whisky foam)- like a Japanese tiramisu
    • Miso tapioca (red tea foam, coconut cream, miso caramel, orange air) - definitely saved the best till last. YOU MUST ORDER THIS ONE
The Yamazaki macchiato (left) was a nicely layered dessert. The crunchy bits of cocoa (very much like coffee beans) paired nicely with the cream. The miso tapioca (right) was a stand-out for sure. I was hesitant about having miso in a dessert but you can't taste it at all. Instead, you get that lovely hit of red tea that has been infused into the foam and the lovely texture from the sago
Overall, the dining experience was quite variable but I think that particular dishes have rather redeeming qualities. Definitely glad I tried it out. Anyway, I hope this review is more help than hindrance! Phewee! That was a marathon and a half. Thanks for reading ;)

My Hungarian Oxheart and Other Spoils

Sunday, 17 June 2012

It is my pleasure to share with you the spoils of a cool, drizzly morning spent at Eveleigh Markets @ Carriageworks. See my previous words on Farmer's Markets in Sydney here. Mon père and I spent a substantial amount of time doing laps of the marketplace, doing recon of which kale looked the best, who has the nicest carrots (heirloom, naturally) and choosing amongst a dozen or so different potato varieties. Simple pleasures...

Getting the good stuff, we left sans sourdough and organic meat this time which is slightly unusual but otherwise we had the pick of the crop. Beautifully fresh, flat leaf parsley, purple heirloom carrots, potatoes by the kg (Rideau and Red Norland), baby leeks and some breakfast goods (muesli and yoghurts - pomegranate & guava). The cream is from Country Valley Dairy from Picton and the churned  butter (it ain't cheese!) from Pepe Saya
 Ay Carumba! This mother is a Hungarian Oxheart tomato. It's probably the size equivalent of about 4 regular tomatoes combining to form MEGA-MATO. The grower recommended this one for my minestrone (the plan) for it's robust flavour and meatiness - i don't doubt it!
Be still my beating heart: the weigh in. It tipped the scale at almost a kilogram. And look at the dimple! Just as mother nature intended, many of these heirloom veggies have lots of knobbly bits (sometimes resembling certain bodily appendages), psychedelic colourations and unusual shapes (like this bad boy). A bit of quirk never hurt anyone ;) 
I think I'm going to have fun cooking up this swag. Have an enjoyable Sunday - the perfect day for lazing in pyjamas and home cooking with family. There's more to come! xo

Road Test #1

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Hi all,
I thought I'd share with you some of my escapades in the kitchen. Not wanting to toot my own trumpet or anything but I really don't mind cooking at home to save a buck, or 30. No wonder the restaurant biz is in struggle city *sad face*. Being a student, I am used to cranking out whopping big vats of so called "one-pot-wonders" to last me the next 3 or 4 nights. Is that so bad? 

Here's a yee-old faithful pasta dish:

This one caught my eye from the Fare Exchange article from Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine (April 2012). This magazine my friends is gold. And great if you're looking for restaurant/recipe/travel "inspo" (eucch, don't you hate that slang). It's a rigatoni with braised pork, tomato and olives from the Sculpture Garden Restaurant (National Gallery; Canberra, ACT). I've posted the recipe at the tail end

Letting the stove do all the work: the pork is everything here and MUST be tender! I recommend at least 2+ hours (the recipe says 3 in the oven but I cooked on the stovetop instead). If you have a pressure cooker at home well, you're in business aren't you ;)
A true likeness, or so I'd like to think! My food styling pedigree is basically non-existent but I reckon the dish tasted pretty good! The olives are a perfect salty hit to the shredded pork. That's a big plate of pasta you got there (i hear you say)...why yes, yes it is.

On the side:
It may seem basic but sometimes salads can be glorious. I'm sure Damien Pignolet will attest to this. This one is by chef Matt Wilkinson from Pope Joan and Circa(look, to be honest I really should just up and move to Melbourne), who has recently published a veggie friendly cookbook, "Mr Wilkinson's Favourite Vegetables". Okay, so it sounds like a children's picture book, but never mind that! The recipe was featured in the March 2012 issue of Australian GT and is posted at the end

Fresh and simple. That's all I could really ask for at the moment and Matt has hit the nail on the head. The dressing has but 4 ingredients and is incredibly tasty - only lashings of it will do.
Pork riga
1.5 tbspn olive oil
1 onion + leek + celery stalk, chopped finely
350g pancetta, chopped finely
150ml Madeira (I survived without this)
800g canned crushed tomatoes
1kg boneless pork shoulder, cut in half (or smaller to reduce braising time)
200g black Ligurian olives, pitted
30g butter, coarsely chopped
1.5 tbspn marjoram leaves, plus extra to serve
750g died rigatoni
Finely grated parmesan to serve

1. Preheat oven to 120 degrees C. Heat olive oil in large casserole dish over medium heat. Add onion, leek and celery, stirring occasionally until tender. Add pancetta and stir occasionally until golden
2. Add Madeira and simmer until reduced by half, add crushed tomato, bring to the simmer, season to taste, add pork shoulder, cover and braise in oven, turning once, until very tender (3 hours). Remove pork and coarsely shred, set aside
3. Process cooking liquid in a food processor to a puree, transfer to a saucepan over medium heat and simmer until reduced to a thick sauce. Stir in pork, olives, butter and marjoram, season to taste
4. Cook rigatoni in a large saucepan of boiling salted H2O until al dente, drain, toss through pork mixture and serve hot with extra marjoram and grated parmesan. Et voila!

Bean salad
2 small Spanish onions, skin on
300g green beans, top and tailed
300g yellow beans, top and tailed
375g cooked cannellini beans (tinned will do)
3 Roma tomatoes, quartered, seeds removed, cut into thin strips
1 punnet baby basil, or 20 basil leaves finely chopped

1 tbspn Dijon mustard
75g creme fraiche
90ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tbspn Chardonnay vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Wrap onions in foil and bake for 15-20 mins or until knife pierces through easily. Take out from oven, unwrap and set aside to cool
2. Bring 1L of salted H2O to the boil. Add green + yellow beans and cook for 4 mins or until "just still crisp" (a bit of an awkward turn of words but okay). Drain and refresh in icy cold H2O. Drain again and place in a large bowl
3. Add cannellini beans, tomato and basil. Peel skin off onions, cut into eighths and add to beans. Season to taste
4. For the dressing, whisk mustard and creme fraiche before adding olive oil + vinegar. Season to taste
5. Pour dressing (like, a lot) over the bean mixture and serve

Happy days :) :) :)


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