The first part of my two part coverage of the Taste of Sydney festival 2009 focused on the food, specifically the pursuit for culinary nirvana. This closing chapter will look to provide some insight into the people behind the food (namely the chefs), as well as some lessons learned.
This post is a long one, so apologies to those who are time poor or have short attention spans.
Martin Boetz (Longrain Restaurant & Bar)
I’ve only ever eaten at Longrain once. It was during a lunch break while I was attending a St John’s first aid course in Surry Hills. Before then, I knew nothing about the restaurant nor its executive chef Martin Boetz. However, the experience of that single meal had won me over and changed my whole perspective on Thai cuisine. On that day I’d ordered the pad thai, which is what I always order when I go to a Thai restaurant for the very first time. It’s a benchmark dish of sorts for me. Further discussion on the topic of benchmark dishes will wait for another day.
The pad thai at Longrain was the best pad thai that I’ve ever had in Sydney. None have even come close, either to the freshness, taste, texture or quality. On the other hand, nor have any come close to its seemingly steep price, which was in the low $20’s at the time.
Having the opportunity to eavesdrop in on a chef’s table conversation with Martin was personally rewarding, getting some insight to the chef and the restaurant. Here’s a list of things I found interesting:
- Restaurant started in 1999. 18th July will be its 10th anniversary. A party will be held at the restaurant to commemorate this milestone.
- The name of the restaurant is not a reference to a variety of rice but instead to the long grains of the large wooden communal tables at the restaurant.
- The concept of the restaurant prior to Martin’s involvement was to include influences of Mediterranean, Japanese and Asian cuisines. He did away with this along with the restaurant’s former name, Crayfish.
- Martin is thinking about putting together a tasting menu for two, to sample a variety of dishes from Longrain.
- Tries hard to deliver the best ingredients to his customers.
- Purchases and butchers whole animals, not wasting any part of the animal with the dishes served at the restaurant.
- Side dishes and sauces served with a meal at Longrain are there to serve a purpose, not to act like a pretty garnish.
- All food waste is sent off weekly to be composted (Saturday if you want the specific day).
- A tip when chopping chilies – rub oil into the hands. It blocks the pores from taking on the fire of chili.
- Martin’s birthday is on the 27th August, though specific year was not mentioned.
On a side note, Martin was very hard to photograph with my limited skills. Out of 42 photos, the photos posted were the only two even remotely usable. Martin’s face is very animated when he talks, which made it very hard to get a decent shot without some weird facial expression being pulled. I had initially thought about putting together a collage of these weird and funny faces, of which I have an abundance to choose from. Perhaps another time… :)
George Francisco (Jonah’s at Whale Beach)
I was fortunate enough to attend his master class at the festival. Hosted by Anthea Lucas, editor of Australian Gourmet Traveller, the class demonstrated the preparation of two dishes served at Jonah’s – truffled toasted gruyere cheese sandwich with truffled egg and his signature dessert, the vanilla panna cotta with fresh pomegranate and lavender honey.
This section is intentionally short on copy (at least by my standards) as I’ll hardly do the following videos justice. If you only have time to view one video, I’d advise watching the first one. The others are instructional videos, which may seem a little long or uninteresting to those that are not into cooking lessons.
Disclaimer: The video was captured on a compact camera without a tripod or skilled operator, so some of the footage can be shaky at times. For some reason, there is a problem with the start of each video which I’ve not been able to resolve. Also, if you’re wondering about the colour, it’s meant to have a golden age feel to it, due to the retro Smeg fridge in the background. Actually, it’s because I wasn’t able to work out how to turn off the colour adjustment filter for the video in time but it kinda works. Sort of…
Edit: I have since worked out how to change the colour settings for video. Ever have one of those moment where you’re furiously working away at a resolution to a problem but the problem beats you and you wind up giving up in reluctant defeat of will and ego? Then days later (in my case weeks later) you look back into the problem and are able to resolve it within a few seconds, which is followed by an explosion of sugar!, darn!, fiddle sticks!, mother lover! and other words expressed in frustration and self derision? It was kind of like one of those moments.
Truffled toasted gruyere cheese sandwich with truffled egg. [6:10]
Vanilla panna cotta with fresh pomegranate & lavender honey. [9:28]
Kudos for making it this far. I’ll finish off this post with a few lessons learned during my time at Taste. Feel free to take the following with as much salt as you feel necessary. It’s just things I’d learnt that worked/didn’t work for me.
Don’t pay at the door – Though a little money was lost due to not preordering tickets, the biggest issue was dealing with the long, crowded queues. Under a blistering sun without shelter, this was no fun. Would have been worse if it was raining though so I consider myself lucky in that regard.
Go early – This was more due to the way in which they handled the collection of crowns, as the people who had preordered crowns along with their tickets online still had to wait in long queues to collect them. It would have been much better to buy the ticket online and purchase the crowns from the many stalls and free agents walking around.
Going early would also mean that you can have as much time at the event as possible without a sense of feeling rushed. As I did not, this meant for me that I couldn’t devote as much time as I wanted at the produce stands.
Bring friends – Having others come along with you to an event such as this means that you have the option to try out a lot more than what you would on your own and likely for less money. Having gone on my own, I was limited with range of dishes that I could try for the amount of money I was willing to spend.
Go it alone – This one may seem odd considering the previous point. However, this one worked real well for me (despite what I said earlier) as I didn’t miss out on most of the things that I wanted to do on the day. This may be difficult to do if you have friends who insist on sticking together as a group but I say don’t be afraid to go for it. On the plus side, you’ll have more to talk about as you share your different experiences.
Plan your shots ahead – Though the first shot with Jared Ingersoll at a Chef’s Table discussion is a random inclusion in this post, it was not a random photo at the time it was taken. I’d used the brief amount of time I had prior to George Francisco’s master class to take test shots at the Chef’s Table to sort out the best angle, and lighting issues such as dealing with unwanted reflections. This allowed me to focus on taking the shots itself whilst being able to pay attention to the discussion. For an amateur such that I am, this one point helped immensely.
If you’re going to shoot video, bring a tripod – My arms were so sore from trying to hold the camera like a human tripod that they ached for the next three days. This was with a compact camera. Imagine what it would have been like with a DSLR! (if you’re ever so inclined to do so). Not having a tripod also makes for some shaky shots.
Don’t be shy – I’ve yet to come across a single advantage of being shy and with events such as this, I can only see this equating to lost opportunities and experiences. For instance, being the only person to use a compact camera to record video during George Francisco’s master class (at least from what I could see), you really stand out. Especially, when you’re standing off to one side where you’re in plain view of most of the seated audience. I felt like an idiot the whole time but I was glad I did it in the end. Just for my own sake, and not because of what it has brought to the blog.
By the same token I never “got around” to talking to the chefs. Never said I was perfect :)
Edit: An addition lesson to learn…
RTFM – To get the best out of your camera, or at the very least know how reverse a screw-up, read the manual. Using “the force” to work out the camera’s functionality works to a degree but there are its limits, as I learned the hard way.
Here endeth the lesson.