Sunday, September 5, 2010



“Are you ready for the long flight” is all I heard amongst the “have an amazing time” and “takes lots of pictures” leading up to our big trip to Australia for winning the Australian Lamb Burger Recipe Contest. Yes, fifteen hours is quite some time to be cooped up in a fuselage, encased with the some of the worlds strongest metals, but this was different. This TransPacific flight was done in the comfort of a Qantas Airbus A380, a mammoth with wings, a den of comfort and entertainment all squared away in an area of 10 cubic feet of economy class. If Nicole and I were this comfortable, I could only imagine how well off our travel mates in Premium Economy were: Kristina Vanni, my fellow recipe winner, Chandra Ram, editor of Plate Magazine, Stephen Edwards, Chef from Meat & Livestock Australia, and Rick Gresh, Executive Chef of David Burke’s Primehouse in Chicago.

Fifteen hours passed like five, so we were all ready off to a great start. It was adjusting to the time difference that presented itself as a challenge. We left at 10:30pm Saturday night and arrived in Sydney at 6:30am on Monday, so you can only imagine how screwed up one, such as me, that keeps a tight schedule would be a little out there. Nonetheless, we were here for business and we would have a full agenda presented in front of us.

We checked in at the Amora Hotel located centrally in downtown Sydney just a short walk from the Rocks, the pioneering village just west of the Harbor Bridge and, of course, the breath taking architecture of the Sydney Opera House.

At about 3pm we met up with more MLA staff, Elissa and Mel, who would serve as our “tour guides, concierge, and babysitters”. Australians are a pleasant lot, highly sociable, friendly, and generally just a good people to be around.

We took a short walk through the city trying to remember to look the opposite direction when crossing the street. That whole thing of cars driving on the wrong side can lead a naive American into trouble if you are not careful. “Look both ways before crossing the street” takes a whole new meaning down under.

We wander off to an old bank that has recently went through a 36 million dollar reservation, home of the Rockwood Bar and Grill and the Spice Temple, two restaurants in partnership with celebrity chef Neil Perry, I’m guessing the Thomas Keller of Australia.

As we enter we are greeted by a kind waitstaff and scurried downstairs behind a LCD screen door blasting rays of color up and down the screen giving the entrance a psychedelic vibe. As we traverse the spiral staircase and drop into the Chinese den, dark, sexy loungy room, we are introduced to Executive Chef Andy Evans. He is another kind Australian, red hair, freckled and eyes wide and attentive like his focus from his work never leaves his mind.

The kitchen is quiet, but ironically full and busy with about 8 cooks working on an island station prepping things like salt prawns, various vegetables, and sous vide brisket. They have a live clam and lobster tank in the kitchen and no vent hood. That’s right, no vent hood, as the kitchen is entirely comprised of Electrolux electronic and magnetic induction cooking equipment. The chef states that the equipment is so accurate that they can control and maintain the temperature of their cooking equipment to the tenth degree. Impressive to say the least and not to mention not hot!

We visit the basement meat lockers to view the inventory, the money maker of the restaurant upstairs the Rockwood Bar and Grill. These two establishments share the purchase of beef by purchasing whole Wagyu cattle carcass...Rockwood using the primal cuts and Spice Temple using the secondary cuts. You will notice that this is consistent amongst Australian chefs, to buy the whole carcass, break it down and design their menus from nose to tail utilizing every bit of the animal.....Inspiring! Rows and rows of dry aging beef on racks, hind quarters hanging by hooks piercing through tendon and extraneous fat. There is a musty, cheesy smell throughout this meat locker. The beef is shrinking, its drying, its aging, but its developing dynamic flavor and a tenderness that can not be achieved otherwise.

We go on and on touring this restaurant "complex" of sorts seeing the layers of detail and thoughtful planning that was considered to design such a monstrosity of an investment. We pass by the banquet room and then the production kitchen that is buzzing with baby face commis scurrying away prepping tray after tray of lasagna bolognese, crab cakes, sous vide brussels sprouts, fresh pizza dough, amongst other things.

We finish the tour in their bar and our told of the owner's personal four million dollar wine collection and then are engulfed by thousands of riedel crystal wine glasses that make up the chandelier. You talk about excessive and unique, imagine glass after glass matchsticked upon each other stretching over the bar about 30 feet long and 10 feet high, polarizing light on our amazed faces.

We head back to our room briefly to freshen up and get ready for our pre-dinner drinks at the Opera House. It is a beautiful scene, we've seen it all before on television on New Years or during the Olympics, but seeing it in person gave me another feel. I had an electrifying sensation pulsating my veins that provided a sense of place for me...that travel opens eyes and hearts, that I've earned my way to Australia somehow, someway and that the inspiration that I am always seeking would finally be discovered in the next few weeks.

Drinks on a harbor framed by the stacked conch like shells that make up the Opera House cover, blue sea water and a steel framed arc that symbolizes the vitality of Sydney. We sat sharing Cooper’s beer awaiting our first meal in Australia.

Spice Temple is Neil Perry’s representation of modern Chinese food. We sat in our private dining room with the regular group along with 8 others from MLA who sponsored this trip. Being the special guests, the foodies, and the chefs we were guaranteed a barrage of courses and plenty of wine. To give you an idea, think pickled cabbage and cucumber, stir fry minced pork and eggplant, cumin lamb with fennel in freshly steamed buns, brisket with fermented black bean and house made oyster sauce, blue eye fish with ginger broth, and the grand finale, poached flat head mullet with toasted chili. Sounds fairly tame, but this dish was wild and feral with a toasted burn from three chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. To the eye, the bowl appeared to be filled with shimmering chiles slicked with oil, but as the server fished the chiles from the bowl, a delicate fish and onions lay serenely in a pool of infused soy and an oddly mild broth. The burn was more toasty than fiery...I guess looks can be deceiving.

This was not Chinese food that I have ever had, but that is not what was unique to me. It was the sauces and the balance of flavor that was most memorable. There was not once, cloying sweet sauce, or an overly salty soy bit of meat, or a gloopy sauce thickened with cornstarch. This was like taking years of training in haute cuisine, using refined technique and understanding of ingredients and applying it to the greatness and soulfulness that comes from Chinese peasant recipes.

This was a good start.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anthony go to Strawberry X for brunch. Tell Chef Tracey I said hello. We did the Olivado culinary challenge together. Food is amazing! Surry Hills part of Sydney, I think.Also Billy Kwnig's if you can get in. Herbies Spice shop is killer, tell Ian I said hello. Hope you can get this.