※ Interview A Foodie (Taiss Q)

1. What's your worst food memory
This is a tough one to answer, right off the bat too! It's a toss up between three events ... but I guess the most colourful one would have to be in the late eighties. 

It was the first time I was invited to dinner outside of the extended family and it was to the home of  ... I wish this could be put more delicately ... a culturally clueless and more than slightly bogan Anglo-Saxon family.  They made a special effort, they told me, to make something that I would appreciate seeing that I was from an "eye-tie" background. They had made "spag" for dinner. This, apparently, was served in the traditional way: spaghetti from a can, served over toasted white bread that had been "buttered" with margarine, coated in White Crow tomato sauce and topped with a Kraft Cheese slice.

I felt like, what I can only imagine, a vegetarian Muslim being served pork would have felt. I was shocked, horrified, culturally mortified - but I was confused over which part of me was feeling these things.

2. Best food memory
1985. Italy. Fresh crusty bread coming out of the wood fire oven and served with the home made preserved olives, pancetta, goats milk curd and a banquet of other goodies all of which had not just been made by my grandparents, but grown by them on their land in Calabria. The combination of food that was truly fresh and so full of flavour was incredible, and was probably the catalyst for my becoming a foodie.

3. My signature dish is.
For a long time, the southern Italian style ruled my cooking and home made pasta - with creations like vegetable Lasagna and ragù alla bolognese - as well as on over the top Drunken Tiramisu would have been presented. Later, a fusion of asiatic and native flavours dominated my cooking so truffle-porcini pasta ravioli encasing a crocodile and macadamia nut filling and topped with a saffron cream and caviar sauce became my dish ...

Right now, though, I'm in the throws of re-inventing my cooking (yet again!) and that involves a lot of exploring and experimenting ... so right now, I don't have a signature dish. I'm still interpreting, experimenting and creating

In all honesty, I hope that I never have one dish to sign my culinary name, but a whole raft of dishes that say "try it at least once, twice if you're unsure, and thrice if it's nice!"

4. One of my favourite food photographs:

This triptych is symbolic of my feelings around food and the images almost awaken the different senses with the tactile changes and scents of the tomatoes at each stage - the firm, solid fruit that is accompanied by the fresh just picked smell of the vine; the wet and slippery feel as you scoop out the the seeds with the sharp and slightly acidic smell they emit; and the soft cases with their deep enticing roasted nose of the third ...

5. Ingredient I'm currently obsessed with is
What day is it? Oh right! This week, raw cacao has me in a tissy. The properties espoused include antioxidants, cancer fighter and delicious in a 'not chocolate but more coffee' kind of way. I've already used it to make a braised ox cheek, trying a 'conejo en mole' interpretation because of it and from there will see what else I can conjure up!

6. Worst kitchen injury
According to my partner, the most dangerous thing in the kitchen is me. Apparently, I would be classified as an OH&S risk to myself if I was ever to enter a commercial kitchen ... I suppose she gets this idea because i am constantly cutting myself (and have lost the top of a fingertip or two). Scalds and burns are practically an everyday occurrence for someone who forgets his skin isn't made of silicon ... but I guess the worst was second and third degree burns I got back in 1999 due to picking up the cast iron casserole dish out of the oven with loose oven mitts, causing it to slip out of them and onto the inner forearms ... where my brain then decided I could bear the pain and make it to the counter top rather than allow dropping it on the floor and waste a days cooking efforts ...

7. Cake I ask for on my birthday
I'm not much of a sweet tooth. I am, however, in love with the complexities of the sensory immersion that flavours, textures and scents can create ... so, for my birthday, I don't ask for a cake - I ask to be taken out for a degustation dinner instead. 

Push come to shove though, my two favourite cakes are a vanilla bean tea cake and a New York baked cheesecake.

8. Favourite Chef
Funnily enough, is not actually a chef, per se, but a physical chemist who is the man who coined the term of scientific observation of "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" - Monsieur Hervé This. 

Whilst there are others who can be called practitioners and artisans of the culinary arm ("molecular gastronomy") his work spawned, Hervé worked to understand the mechanisms occurring during culinary transformations. Reading his books and blog has led to basic understandings that have helped me re-work the way I think about cooking. From understanding that boiling an egg at 65*C will ensure a perfectly boiled egg that has a solid white with a running yolk; that fats in dairy will carry a flavour; that cold water added to egg white will cause it to create more foam; or the effect of collagen degredation has in meat tenderness and how to take advantage of it with a brining solution. 

9. Share with us one of your favourite recipes 
Porterhouse with wild mushrooms, red wine jus and heritage vegetables
    • Porterhouse steak
    • Wild mushroom mix (from the farmers market or a gourmet mix of forest mushrooms from the local green grocer)
    • Heritage carrots
    • Roma tomatoes
    • Tuscan onions
    • Shiraz
    • Dijon mustard
    • Raw sugar
    • Canola oil
    • Fresh ground black pepper
    • Salt
      1. Generously salt each side of the porterhouse and allow meat to warm to room temperature
      2. Peel the Carrots and cut into wedges
      3. Slice tomatoes in half, salt the cut surface and drizzle a little oil over them
      4. Peel and cut the Tuscan onion in half lengthwise, lightly sprinkle with raw sugar
      5. Peel and roughly chop the mushrooms
      6. Place a knob of butter in a mall pan and gently sauté the mushrooms
      7. Brush off excess salt from the meat and coat each side with oil
      8. Meanwhile, place a large fry pan on stove and heat until a drop of water dropped on the surface will do the "sizzle dance"
      9. Place the meat onto the pan and sear for a few minutes before turning
      10. In a small bowl mix two parts Shiraz to one part dijon mustard and cracked pepper to taste
      11. Turn the meat over and add the carrots, onion and tomatoes to the periphery of the pan
      12. Pour the mushrooms over the meat followed by the Shiraz
      13. Place the loaded pan into the oven for 15 minutes
      14. Remove the meat and set aside to rest
      15. Return the pan to the oven for an additional ten minutes to finish and glaze vegetables
      16. Remove the pan from the oven and return to stove
      17. Remove vegetables from the pan and reduce the remaining liquid until thick and syrup like.
      18. Place the mushroom topped meat on plate surrounded by the reds and purples of the vegetables and pour the jus around the edge of the plate.
      Try and slow down and savour each bite - it's difficult, but it can be done.

10. Favourite kitchen appliance and what I make with it most often
I recently destroyed my fancy little porcelain mortar and pestle, which was by far and away my favourite thing to pound and mix herbs and spices. Before I was gifted an old stone bowl to replace it, I discovered that my little coffee bean grinder has become my favourite tool to blend ingredients, so much so that i have even begun preparing huge batches of mixes on the weekends to keep aside for easy 'ready to use' convenience during the week. 

11. If you were on death row, what would your final meal request be.
I was thinking about this for some time, and in the end, the thing I decided upon was not some extravagant multiday preparatory meal to extend the stay of execution ... I'd honestly would like an antipasto come ploughman's lunch mix. Just good, fresh, quality foods. Oh, and a bottle of Grappa.

12. What did you learn from you mother/grandmother that you use often in the kitchen.
Nothing beats good old fashioned elbow grease ... Except elbow grease with extra swearing! 

I've had a number of kitchen appliances that I've either purchased or been given as gifts that are meant to simplify or enhance the preperatory process, and with few exceptions, I have found that doing it by hand is far often superior to doing so by appliance.  

13. What the name and address of your blog
I'm no master chef ... 

14. What are five things you can’t live without? (don't have to be food related)
  1. Good friends and company : My constant penchant for taking on far more projects than i have time to complete is often the very reason why I don't make use of this as often as I could/should, but I would still not cope if it wasn't there.
  2. A spirit of exploration and adventure: people often mistake this as a need to travel, but I believe that fundamentally its about the willingness to expand ones mind, to explore and cross the borders in all aspects of our lives and to strive to keep learning new things every day.
  3. Access to fresh quality produce : we have some of the best farm produce in the world here, and with even a little effort, it is not difficult to source practically all manners of wonderful ingredients which without, it is practically impossible to make great meals. Support your farmers people!
  4. The internets : seriously, if I could have my brain jacked in permanently I very well might!
  5. A working kitchen. Enough said.

15. What are your favorite cookbooks that you would recommend every home cook own and why?
With a massive collection acquired over the last twenty years, its hard to narrow down the choices, but considering the last edict of the question, I would have to recommend not cookbooks but culinary reference manuals: 
  1. Larousse Gastronomique : The one encyclopedia every cook should have - covering everything from cooking techniques to ingredients, and recipes to equipment, food histories, and culinary biographies - worth it's hefty weight in spices.
  2. The Flavour Thesaurus and/or The Flavor Bible : Both books tackle the concepts of "what goes with what?" Each explores the concepts from different directions and whilst I have a certain bias towards the first, the latter is also a worthy addition to the shelf.
  3. Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking & Building a Meal both by Hervé This : To get an understanding of how certain processes alter the very molecules of foods to transform them and even an insight into the very properties that tickle our senses and stimulate our appetites.
But for those seeking recipe compilations and perhaps something a little different, let me suggest two that may not have made it onto many shelves:
  1. Wild Weed Pie - A Lifetime of Recipes by Janni Kyritsis : while it is out of print now, if you see it in a second hand store or down at Books for Cooks (in Fitzroy) snatch a copy! When a Greek migrant electrician came to Australia and found it severely lacking in the flavours, customs and joy of Mediterranean cooking, he had to teach a local cook how to make something because he wanted to see it on the menu. From there, he became one of the catalysts who changed the food scene of Australia in the early eighties. His recipes are wonderful with a mix of restuarant creations and peasant food which has put on its best Sunday garnishes.
  2. Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking by Fergus Henderson : Once upon a time, the brittish chefs were actually renowned for their cooking - the now almost derogatory call of the British as "roast beef" by the French was once high praise for their skills in roasting and grilling skills that were sought and taught in courts across Europe. From his research into this once glorious gastronomic past, Fergus has created a collection of recipes, celebrating, as the title implies, the almost forgotten high sophistication with peasant roughness of this old style thrifty rural British tradition of making a delicious virtue out of using every part of the animal. 


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