Intermission: Walking the walk, talking the talk

I go to a lot of cafes. I try and go to a lot of restaurants. A lot of other people do this too! I was very late to the food blogger game, so I don’t perceive myself as one even though I probably behave like one. I just simply like keeping my own blog about what I’ve experienced.

I don’t go to half as many places as food bloggers, so when I look at what they write about the food, and I compare it to what I can taste from my food, I wonder, am I doing it right? And that’s there my own cooking adventures come in. Every now and again I read up about hospitality, running a cafe/restaurant, and I also try and make the style of foods that I like! And then when things work, it makes me realise I probably do know what I’m talking about (most of the time) – I’m just not terribly confident with my own opinions – especially when it comes to my coffee palate. So my ultimate challenge and self-assurance I know what I’m doing? Cooking.

I base my cooking around my favourite cuisines (modern Australian/contemporary, Japanese) and whatever I find at the markets I visit. It’s highly seasonal and very much decided as I buy each ingredient. I only look up recipes if I need something exact (pastry, curd, tamagoyaki) and rely on my own eating experiences for flavour and cooking time.

Jewelled sea – tea cured trout, scallop, jerusalem artichoke, horseradish creme fraiche, finger lime

By far the prettiest dish I’ve ever made, this was inspired by the raw marron dish at Quay. It was an exercise in knifework, curing, dehydrating (via baking), textures, and flavour balance. This was the only dish of mine where flavour fell far short of presentation. It was a pretty cool feeling for my brain to go into what I call “troubleshooting” mode, where I immediately compare what I taste to both what I expect to taste, and what I expect it to taste from a high end restaurant.

The pink gems of finger lime were absolutely beautiful, and my jerusalem artichoke chips curled up quite nicely, and gave the dish a sweet nuttiness that worked well. The raw scallops also added sweetness, while the cured trout was the salt element. The horseradish creme fraiche was meant to mimic wasabi, and add tanginess and kick, but I got that horribly wrong. Turns out finely chopped horseradish doesn’t actually mix properly, so there were bits in my cream. The balance also wasn’t there; it had to be more burning and lighter. If I’d manage to whip it into airiness it probably would have worked. It also needed more sour, with the amount of finger lime I had placed, it wasn’t enough.

Overall was I pleased with my dish? Yes for presentation, no for flavour. I usually make food that tastes as good as it looks or better, and this wasn’t one of them. I still have a lot to learn!

Trufflemania beef tartare

Beef tartare – an exercise in knifework, hygiene, portion sizing, flavour, texture. And some luxury overkill. My personal goals for this were: handmade potato crisps, finely cut tartare (to the finenesss of Fix St James) and of course, brilliant knifework on onions.

For my third time ever using a proper chef’s knife, I was very pleased with my onion and potato results. I got the beef quite small, but fell well short of my goal to have the tartare as fine as the onions.

The best shot I had before I showered it with truffles. It turns out 160g of eye fillet steak made a substantial amount of tartare, but I was lucky that it was large enough to be proportionately fitting for the yolk on top. This is my preferred style of presentation for tartare – unmixed so that I can play with my food. However, as long as it tastes good, I’ll quickly forget about caring for presentation (for the most part).

Curvature – tuna, kingfish, salmon roe

This was an exercise in knifework and presentation. The flavours here were minimalistic (ginger soy) and no requirement for texture, since this was a sashimi style dish. The original idea was to have this as a straight line of alternating kingfish and tuna cubes, taking advantage of the colour gradation of the tuna so that I would start out red on one end, and end up white on the other. Obviously, it changed a lot, hence the name changed from “Gradient” to “Curvature”.

I didn’t do well in presentation – as you can see the heights of each piece varies far too much – this was because I was plating and checking top-down view only and hadn’t stopped to think about checking from a horizontal view. However, it tasted good! And that’s what matters.

Sure, most of my stuff is raw. Sometimes, flavour takes the backseat because I figure it’s supposed to work. In those instances, I get to work on other artistic elements – like theme! After having found this massive Coffin Bay oyster, I knew exactly how I wanted to garnish it.

I wanted a lot of green, but I wanted greens to make sense. None of these land vegetables to accompany a fruits de mer. So beachside succulents it was – ice plant and sea blite were what was available to me. The addition of shiso leaf in the background was a Japanese touch to add a backdrop. If I could have foreseen one element, it would be edible sand to complete the seaside theme.

It turns out I don’t particularly enjoy eating large oysters. I like little ones that I can eat in one bite!

Toro and truffles in the same season meant I had to combine both, especially after seeing Sokyo’s omakase serving up toro, uni and truffle ships. I knew I had no idea what the technique was for making nigiri and I was too lazy to Google, so this was an exercise in understanding, mimicry, flavour and presentation.

Now I’m awful at cooking rice. I hate eating it unless it’s in a rice pudding or sushi, so let’s not talk about that. I did spend a good while balancing out my sushi rice seasoning, as I made it to my taste from rice vinegar, mirin and salt. My memory of Sokyo’s toro nigiri was still strong, so I knew what I was after.

I’d say I definitely made something that looks like nigiri, though you can see that I had a hard time matching the fish cuts to the shari. This was also partly due to the size and shape of the tuna belly I’d bought. Oh well, it tasted amazing!

“Not anmitsu”

And when I’m not working with raw ingredients, I do actually cook. Handmade red bean paste, coconut milk jelly, orange baked rhubarb. For some reason, I never end up with all the ingredients I need for a proper anmitsu all at once, so the best I get is something that I pass off as a “not anmitsu”. Regardless, it’s a refreshing dessert!

And my most recent plate-up – scallops and pea flowers. I saw some flowering pea tendrils, so I absolutely had to get them! Edible flowers are limited and expensive, so I was very pleased that I was able to pick these up as just a bunch of pea tendrils. The flowers were a bonus! And what better way to dress them up than with some large, plump scallops! They were seared with lemon butter, then sprinkled with black salt for presentation.

Thus my cooking is a reflection of my dining choices and vice versa – they build upon one another for inspiration! However, being only a home cook means I don’t get to do these too often, and so the amount of time invested into a making a single dish is enormous! Most nights it’s just baked beans or bacon and brussels sprouts 🙂

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