Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Back of House: The World by Jeff Martin, at Gould Galleries

The line cooks are hunched over their masterpieces. Constructing, arranging, refining. A waiter floats by, balancing a perfect three-plate carry. The air is thick with exquisite concentration.

I am in one of the world's most famous and prestigious commercial kitchens. The kitchen of Noma, Copenhagen.

Okay, I wish. I'm actually gazing upon a magnificent 150 x 180 cm oil-on-linen painting of Noma's kitchen, created by Jeff Martin for his latest Back of House exhibition.

Noma, 2011; Jeff Martin, Back of House - The World. Picture used with permission of Gould Galleries.

Jeff Martin's Back of House series began in 2007 with his portrayals of Melbourne's well-heralded local institutions - amongst those, Abla's, Flower Drum, and Jacques Reymond, to mention a few.

This was followed by a Sydney sequel, with Aria, Tetsuya's and Guillaume at Bennelong headlining another impressive list of big names.

And now we have Back of House - The World, which transports us to the kitchens of the calibre of Noma, Le Chateaubriand, and French Laundry.

The typical commercial kitchen tends to be sterile in colour - think lots of silvery-grays - but vibrant in atmosphere, individual quirks emphasized by the people who work within. It is invariably busy. There is always something to be done - quickly, carefully, perfectly. It is a place fraught with tension; overflowing with expression. And I can see it all in the Back of House paintings (a favourite is the one of Oud Sluis in Holland - sleek, but flush with character). You may notice - as I did - that the plates and pans are all blank; yet somehow, it feels right. It's not about the food here. It's about the space where the food is made. It's about those who give it their best behind the scenes. And it looks so very grand indeed when you're standing right there, taking it in.

Oud Sluis, 2011; Jeff Martin, Back of House - The World. Picture used with permission of Gould Galleries.

The images here are a teaser, and do not do justice to the actual paintings in all their glory. For real impact, go for a stroll in the gallery before the entire exhibition is flown off to London for the San Pellegrino The World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival may be over, but Back of House - The World by Jeff Martin is still exhibiting at Gould Galleries until the 10th of April. It's not a huge one (19 works in total), but well worth dropping by if you're an art lover, or if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

What: Jeff Martin, Back of House - The World.
Where: Gould Galleries, 270 Toorak Road, South Yarra, 3141 Victoria, Australia.
When: 1st March 2012 - 10th April 2012 (extended from original end date March 31st).
Pricing: Free Entry. Price of works range from $1,600 to $13,500.

Five Copper Pots, 2011; Jeff Martin, Back of House - The World. Picture used with permission of Gould Galleries.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

banana lime buckwheat pancakes (vegan & gluten-free)

vegan and gluten-free banana lime buckwheat pancakes.

Bananas are cheap again. It's funny, the way price affects how I treat my produce. Now that they don't cost a fortune, I'll buy a bunch and leave them lying around the counter for days, giving them nary a thought. Over time, they start softening, collapsing in a sweet surrender, the yellow skins darkening with an increasingly relentless influx of brown spots.

And then I look over one day and think, oops, perhaps I should start using them before they go bad.

So that was how it came to be that I made these vegan and gluten-free buckwheat banana-lime pancakes three times in a row. There are slight differences in the flavours and textures each time I make them, depending on how ripe the banana is, and how thoroughly I mash them. Invariably, however, they tend to end up tasting like juicy banana bread in pancake form, and you can't go wrong once you give them a good slosh of maple syrup - the magical finishing touch.

vegan and gluten-free buckwheat banana-lime pancakes
(serves 1 - 2)

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 overripe banana, approx. 15cm / 6 inches in length, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
pinch of lime zest (optional)
1/2 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon oil
more oil, for frying
maple syrup and wedges of lime

Mix buckwheat flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, form a well in the middle, and set aside.
In another bowl, mash up banana flesh with lime juice (and zest, if using) with a fork until mushy, then stir in soy milk and oil. You could also use a blender or food processor for a smooth texture, but I like it the rustic way.
Pour the banana puree into the well of the first bowl, then stir gently with a wooden spoon until just combined - do not overmix. At this point, the batter should be thick but still pourable, with a slightly lumpy appearance, resembling a porridge.
Heat up a well-oiled frying pan over medium heat.
Drop 1/4 cup of the pancake batter into the frying pan and cook for approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds to 2 minutes, or until the edges set and bubbles pop on the surface. Turn and cook the other side for 30 seconds to 1 minute until golden, then flip onto a plate.
Repeat with the remaining batter. You should end up with 4 fat pancakes.
Serve with lashings of maple syrup and lime wedges to squeeze.

gluten-free and vegan buckwheat banana-lime pancakes in a sinful maple syrup bath.

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Thursday, 15 March 2012

byron bay. fun in the sun.

A recap of my time in Byron Bay...

We spent a whole day in the sun on Wategos Beach. The waves were lush. The sun was strong. We all learnt a lesson that day. If you're going to be spending 6 straight hours basking in the sun and playing in the waves, apparently applying sunscreen twice is NOT sufficient. Even if the label does say water-resistant for up to 4 hours. So a word of advice: double up the protection, stay safe, and then... relax your hearts out. We got that one right, at least! And oh, isn't it gorgeous?

Wategos Beach.

If you're planning to spend the whole day at the beach, remember to pack drinks and food. We did a supermarket run to grab the ingredients and created sandwiches consisting of wholemeal bread, homemade avocado and lime spread, Hungarian salami, English ham, Swiss cheese, tomato slices and leafy salad mix.

My sandwich.

We dragged our sunburnt selves to the Byron Bay lighthouse later that evening.

Byron Bay lighthouse, near Wategos Beach.

The views were magnificent...

The view from the hill.

And we spied a wallaby, too.

A little wallaby. Awww.

On one of the days we drove west to Nimbin, a small town renowned for attracting hippies seeking an alternative lifestyle. They're enthusiastically pro-weed in these parts, and this is reflected in idealistic shop names such as Bring A Bong and Happy High Herbs. We agreed, however, the novelty wears off fairly quickly and Nimbin is probably not that exciting unless you accept the random offers of "mushrooms and cookies". Arriving late in the afternoon didn't help - most of the cafes start closing up at around 4pm. We did manage to quench our thirst with some refreshing organic icy poles, though!

A lime popsicle.

But what about the food, you ask? (Or maybe you don't, but I'm telling you anyway...)

Well, on our first night we went to The Balcony Bar and Restaurant, where we got a table - you guessed it - on the balcony. The food and service was hit and miss, and in summary, considering the prices, not really the sort of place that begs a return visit, but I did enjoy the Spanish seafood stew, zarzuela, which, despite a couple of shortcomings - I thought the seafood could be fresher, and the sauce a little less salty - I found to be supremely addictive and I easily cleaned up the dish with the accompanying crusty bread.

Zarzuela at The Balcony.

We had a simple, amiable lunch the next day at Treehouse at Belongil. Light salads. Crispy wood-fired pizzas with juicy toppings. We caught them at a quiet time, and savoured the cool, relaxed vibe.

Vegetarian pizza at the Treehouse.

Later, a spicy dinner at Thai Lucy. The proprietress was a gregarious Thai woman, slightly klutzy and vibrantly charming. It was one of the few places that night which were still welcoming of guests at around 9.30pm, and we were grateful. The food was actually very good too - we had a fresh and tangy papaya salad, a larb-style salad with chicken or pork - I can't remember which, hot tom yum soup, red duck curry, and a pad thai which was, happily, not too sweet for me. A very satisfying meal.

Red duck curry at Thai Lucy.

Friends had recommended Fishmongers for fish and chips prior to the trip and I made sure we fit it in our schedule. Simon and I shared half a Family Box. It was massive. The chips weren't as crisp as I would've liked, but that was the only real letdown. The assorted seafood was great - super-fresh oysters, crunchy fried fish with silky flesh, succulent prawns. We were well-stuffed by the end of it.

Half a Family Box at Fishmongers. Fish and chips, oysters, and more!

On our last day, we went for brunch at The Top Shop. I love the cute, laid-back look of the cafe hut.

Off to The Top Shop...

You can pick out pastries and cakes from the display cabinet, but there is a decent emphasis on fresh and healthy meals, too. My friends' choices ranged from muesli to burgers. I had a sweet, sticky praline scroll and a pleasantly refreshing (though nearly verging on bland) smoothie with pineapple, almonds and coconut milk. We were all quite content.

A cool, light smoothie.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye. Bye bye, Byron Bay... it's been nice knowing you.

Oh, and yeah, there's Sydney... but let's say my camera enjoyed the beach a little too much and had, er, subsequent issues - some of the images in this post were affected, too, in case you were wondering. So, unfortunately, I didn't get many good photographs on the second half of my trip. Short summary: loved having congee and Chinese doughnuts for breakfast at Superbowl in Chinatown; was wonderfully entertained at La Soiree (fans of The Bath Boy, David O'Mer, will be jealous to know that I had a glorious glimpse of his perfect physique as he swung right over me); tried to get in touch with my sensitive artistic side at the Picasso exhibition; and had a peek at the flamboyant costumes on the night of Mardi Gras.

Alright, now I'm done... be back with a recipe next week!

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

mango salad smoothie

mango salad smoothie.

Hello, everyone. I'm back! I had a wonderfully relaxing time in Byron Bay and Sydney... but it's all over now. Sniffle. I'm slowly adjusting to the daily grind and routine of work, errands, and other obligatory things I feel like I should do as A Responsible Adult.

I'm also still going through my photos and writing up my post about the trip, but in the meantime, with the mango season coming to an end in Australia, here's a quick smoothie idea while you can still find these succulent orange beauties in the markets.

This mango smoothie is creamy, fruity... and green. Yes, you will find not only dairy and fruit in this lush beverage, but also a sneaky handful of salad leaves. The appearance gives it away, but the taste is almost imperceptible, depending on how generous you are with that handful.

Easily whipped up in a matter of minutes, this smoothie makes a delightfully nutrient-rich breakfast. Protein? Check. Vitamins? Check. Minerals? Check. Deliciousness? Check!

mango salad smoothie, aka green mango smoothie

1 small ripe mango (approx. 300g / 2/3 lb), cold from the fridge - peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 handful mixed salad leaves (1 loose cup)
1/4 cup plain natural yoghurt
1/4 cup cold milk
a few ice cubes, and sugar or honey to taste (optional - only if you want it colder and/or sweeter)

Blend all ingredients together and serve immediately. Enjoy while daydreaming about your next holiday.

a cool green mango smoothie. yes.

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