Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the tourists have arrived

it was an odd start to the summer season this year. having christmas day fall on a thursday after a leap year, people seemed a little caught off guard. we were expecting a huge boxing day rush, but it wasn't to be, and that included the pub and other businesses in the village.

but as the weekend wore on, the holiday makers arrived. our covers numbers increased steadily with our busiest day by far being monday. we're noticing that breakfast trade is slowing, lunch steady but the late-afternoon around 3pm-5pm is our new peak service time. perhaps it's because there's nothing much open then, the pub's bistro is shut from 3-6pm, the deli and the other cafe closes as well, and the roadhouse up the highway is the only other option.

below: free-range herbed eggs on organic sourdough toast, with smoked salmon and ricotta cheese:

Friday, December 26, 2008

unboxing days

from today, we're expanding our hours. we'll be open thursdays through mondays from 8am til afternoons - anywhere from 3-4pm, probably. whenever things look like dying down, but again, we can never pick it.

on the specials board this morning:

mediterranean burger, with tzatziki, kalamata olives and tomato;
pastitso - greek-style lasagne, with salad;
tex-mex burger, with guacamole, tomato and chili salsa and lettuce;
bangers and mash with an onion jus;
soups: lentil; creamy pumpkin

had a great thai chicken salad on the board last weekend, inspired by a bucket full of wonderful snow peas a friend brought in from her garden... but only one person oredered it. as a matter of fact, salads themselves don't move well up here for some reason.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

chrissy eve

looks like we're having a white christmas, but fog rather than snow:

we're open from boxing day. so it looks like we'll be spending our christmas day in the kitchens prepping. such is this biz.

may you all have a wonderful, happy and safe holiday season. we hope to see you before long.

Monday, December 22, 2008

week three

'twas the week before christmas, and all through the town...

no customers about, nobody around.

we expected a little bit of a slow pre-holiday weekend, but sunday took us by surprise. aside from a few takeaway coffee orders, we didn't have a single top until 1.30. the kitchen then turned thirty covers in two hours, which is what we did all day saturday. and that's not counting the front house, which had coffee and cake orders as well.

fortunately, people turned up for the music session. below, stewart peters, snez and simon crosbie:

tried a couple of photos during service, but rachel moves so fast, she's just a blur in all of them:

from this weekend, we'll be open thursdays through mondays, excepting this thursday, which is christmas day. that means we have to order our stock early and hope we don't run out mid-weekend. they say the week after boxing day is very busy up here, and we're going to be short-staffed. should I start stressing now, or wait til santa comes?

Monday, December 15, 2008

shake and bake

our polenta and orange cake has been the runaway hit of the pastry menu. partly because it's gluten-free and partly because, well, it's delicious. if we do say so ourselves. in process:

mixed berry muffins. this was taken sunday morning. by mid-afternoon, they were all gone:

pattern? what pattern?

one thing that seems clear after two weeks of trading is, we can't pick the customer flow at all. it's never easy at the best of times, but with the passing tourist trade, we've quickly realised that any time of the day is 'peak hour'.

the blackboard games continue with our pals at the pub across the road. I had a camera on hand during their latest offering:

again, we had a mix of locals, tourists and several friends who made the drive up from the city to check out the new place.

we've taken another chef on board to help take some pressure off of me, especially during the sunday music sessions when I need to get out of the kitchen and play host. she's bringing a lot of great ideas and energy to the team, and we'll revamp the menu some this week.

there's still a fair bit of talk about opening nights for dinner, but we're resisting it for a few reasons. the locals wax nostalgically about how the place was years back, but times have changed, the economy is in a huge downturn, and we know all too well from our previous experiences that people's stated best intentions don't always eventuate in bums on seats. the realistic possibility of pulling eighteen hour days in order to serve four covers is too recent a memory just now.

Friday, December 12, 2008

week two

prepping and setting up for our second weekend. we've changed around the staff and serving system, along with fleshing out the menu a little. last weekend was pretty warm for the mountains, but it's chilly and overcast now. could mean the difference between soups and salads on the specials board.

thanks for all the nice comments we've received on this blog, our myspace page and via email. it's been most encouraging as we knew that getting this place back up and running would be a major task that will take some time.

we'll continue to welcome your feedback, both positive and critical, as we're on a mission to get this as 'right' as possible.

it's always amazed me how many people are in hospitality that are, well, unhospitable. lazy, careless cooks, rude and insulting owners, ignorant and apathetic waitstaff. it's food, it's not brain surgery. often, all one needs to make it work is to love it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

what's on your mind?

didn't realise that I'd had comments on 'registered users only', so I've removed it.

which means anyone can comment, even anonymously.

I realise that's asking for potential spam/idiots/threadjackers/etc, but we'll see how things go. we'd like to hear from as many of you - genuine - folks as we can.

play nice, now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

opening weekend

we opened the doors, we served, we shut the doors. we survived.

we had an up-and-down saturday, little flurries of customers mixed with quiet periods. sunday, we were steady straight through from eight am til five. the mix seemed to be about 60% locals and 40% tourists, but it's hard to say exactly.

we got an idea of what's working on the menu and what isn't. some of the equipment is a bit erratic and made for a few blunders, timing and food quality-wise. but we're working it all out. fast.

didn't get a chance to get any photos, maybe next weekend.

we've gotten to be good friends with the folks at the pub across the road, and even share some staff. a friendly rivalry has developed a bit with our a-frame chalkboards, I'm usually sneaking over and changing theirs. on opening day, we looked outside to see the boys on the footpath with a big chalkboard reading "cafe closed, come in here". funny stuff. wish we'd gotten pics.

Friday, December 5, 2008

almost there

twenty hours til opening.

asparagus and mushroom omelette:

I was originally going to do this as a fritatta sort of bake, but decided it works better as an omelette. on the specials board all weekend.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

baby it's warm outside

figured it was about time I posted an exterior view. the upper awning's painted, but the signage isn't up as yet.

pay no attention to the sagging guttering, we'll get to that soon.... we hope.

oh, the cute lil shop to the right of us is up for rent. cheap, too. let us know if you know anyone interested.

Monday, December 1, 2008

home stretch

it's monday. we open saturday.

a few things that most cafes use:

eftpos/credit card machine
salt & pepper table shakers
outdoor signs
juices and soft drinks
takeaway containers
working underbench fridge
cheque book for the business account
coffee roaster, fully installed and flued

all of these things are due to arrive within 48 hours before our doors swing open.

today's crunch time for the menu. we'll keep things simple for the first few weeks until I can be confident of the consistency and quality before expanding too fast. at present:

fruit and organic breads, jams, honey etc
a few egg dishes with smoked salmon, asparagus, mushrooms, bacon etc
the archetypical big brekky
a couple of soups, made daily and changing with the seasons
a few toasted focaccias with various meat, veggie and cheese fillings
burgers, beef, pork chicken and veggie
souvlakia, probably just chicken at first
the usual salads, fries etc

and of course, what'll end up on the specials board, which will be decided each morning.

as soon as I'm comfortable, I'll add in baked beans and pancakes, but I'm not 100% happy with how they're turning out just yet. fussy? of course. I want this to be right.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

why a chef?

read an interesting op-ed piece in this weekend's ny times by author marcella hazan. a brief excerpt:

“My husband is such a great chef,” my hairdresser was saying.

“Oh,” I said. “What restaurant does he work in?”

“No, no, no, he doesn’t work in a restaurant. He is an electrician. But he does amazing things on the grill when we cook out during the weekend.”

This happens a lot. “Chef” has pretty much replaced “gourmet cook” to describe anyone who cooks well. How many times over the last few days, for instance, did you hear it used to refer to the person who prepared a Thanksgiving meal?

I'd concur. it seems that since the recent boom in television cooking shows has led to an oversaturation of the term, "chef". hazan again:

For starters, “chef” is a job description — a chef is someone who cooks professionally, usually in command of a restaurant’s kitchen brigade, and depending on the brigade’s size, he or she might not even be doing any of the actual cooking.

it could be argued that everything around us is becoming more and more instant. make an appearance on dancing with the stars, and you're a dancer. run a marathon and you're an athlete. steal from and leech off of everything decent around you and you're a lawyer. we're not a doctor, we say, but we played one on television.

I'm not a chef, at least not in the traditional sense. I didn't sweat out years at the cia then endure twenty hour days on a line being pushed beyond human limits. although in hindsight, I kinda wish I had. kinda.

if you want to get an idea of what that world's like, check out ritchie's line cook blog.

no, I'm the classic accidental chef, taking over the reins in the gypsy gal's first cafe because a) we had a kitchen available and 2) we couldn't afford to hire anyone else. from there, slinging focaccias and tossing salads, I learned how to cook professionally. I taught myself how to make things completely from scratch and learned the difference between preparing home meals and holding foods for service. I annoyed the shit out of 'real' chefs until they let me hang out in their kitchens, watching, learning, tasting and understanding. I stalked the various pro chef forums, asking silly questions like "how do you guys really hold a risotto for service so it can come out in ten minutes instead of the forty it takes me in my kitchen?".

by the way, whenever I'd ask that last question, I get as many as a dozen completely different answers. one thing most chefs agree on is they don't agree on much.

so even though I'm a 'chef' in the general sense, as in I am a professional cook, using my experience, talent and palate (and let's hope they don't let me down), I'm not a properly trained or qualified chef. does the distinction even matter?

in my opinion, not as long as the food's great.

Friday, November 28, 2008

pleased to meat you

chef's special burger: beef and pork patty, aged cheddar, truss tomato, caramelised onion and wasabi mayo on an organic turkish roll.

and the aforementioned hand-cut chips with paprika salt.

you vegetarian/vegans, don't fret, there'll be plenty of options for those of you who choose to miss out on some of life's finer foods...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

out of the tin or out of the garden?

ten days out, and I'm still wrestling with the menu. the problem is, I don't want to overreach as far as the size and complexity of our menu goes because a) the kitchen gear's limited; and 2) so are our staff numbers. and I'm really adamant about not buying in anything 'pre-made', right down to the sauces. but it makes me wonder, does the average diner know - or care - about the difference?

one would think that in this day of talk about sustainable, free-range, fair trade etc, there would be a greater public demand for fresh, seasonal food. the real foodies have been all over this for most of their lives, of course. but have we, as a culture, become too 'dumbed-down' by fast food, quick service and convenience meals?

a chef friend told me that upon taking over at a pub bistro, he set about freshening up the menu. he started making gravy from scratch and serving it with chips. but the regulars started complaining until one day, out of desperation, he used the powdered instant masterfoods mix. they loved it. he shrugged his shoulders and decided to give them what they want.

you'd think that the prevelance of behind-the-scenes type tv shows like kitchen nightmares and the chopping block would've changed some people's perceptions of what value they were getting for their bucks. particularly the so-called 'fine dining' houses with chefs that would pull containers of pre-made sauces, pastas, curries etc out of the freezer and chuck into a microwave to serve.

but does it? I'm hand-cutting potatoes for deep-fried chips. I don't want to use the frozen variety. I'm spending hours making fresh soup stocks whereas most similar bistro/cafes would use powders and cubes. I'm making mayos, pasta sauces, soups and salad dressings knowing that at other cafes down the road, there's tins and jars of instants and ready-mades being served. despite a few locals asking if we're doing seafood, we're too far away from both the ocean and a quality fishmonger to get anything decent aside from frozen filets-in-a-box. if I find anything fresh and interesting in the mornings, it'll go on the specials board.

we're both working other jobs to support and sustain this new business. time is at a premium, yet I'm committed to doing this right. but will anyone notice or appreciate the difference? we'll soon find out.

the challenge for us is to strike the right balance. this has been a food location since the 50's and has seen everything from milk bar/gelato to casual bistro to fish-n-chips takeaway to fine dining. we've heard plenty of stories from the locals about which incarnations they did and didn't like, and have taken many suggestions and comments on board. somewhere between the golden arches and the michelin stars lies our course.

I invite your comments.

Monday, November 24, 2008

what's a hat between friends?

the sydney morning herald's foodies have a 'star' type system to award top restaurants. using the chef's toque as a logo, they award 'hats' for excellence. a three-hatted restaurant is at the top of the pile.

I was most amused to read the following typo in the local paper's jobs guide:

Darley's Restaurant, SMH Hated Restaurant and Regional Restaurant of the Year 2008, invites applications for the following positions:

didn't know the venerable good food guide felt that way, fellas.....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

twelve days til opening, and the 'things-that-must-be-done' list is still resembling smiths in a welsh phonebook. or waleish, as some drunk local dubbed them a few weeks ago.

I won't even bore you by listing what's still broken/in need of repair/not functioning correctly/et al, but suffice to say that 'quiet optimism' is being gradually replaced by 'undulating panic'.

at least we now have coffee:

the awning was due to be painted today, but that's been postponed as winter's returned with a vengeance. it actually snowed here yesterday - mid-november - which would be mid-june in the north.

trying to remember what made us think all this was a great idea.....

Friday, November 21, 2008


the machine's in and running. with a few hiccups, of course, involving everything from rewiring wall circuit plugs to replumbing er, plumbing. but it's pumping a nice crema, and the world's looking a mite better this arvo.

made about ten litres of veggie stock today, thinking about soups:

sweet corn chowder
kumara and bacon
porcini and onion
roasted tomato and basil
chilled asparagus and pea
artichoke and new potato
pumpkin and chickpea
slow cooked lamb and white beans
chicken coriander noodle
greek lemon chicken

you may see these on the specials board througout the next few months.

I'm getting hungry now...

random notes

with any luck, we'll have our espresso machine up and running today. that'll be a big psychological milestone, and the gypsy gal will be ecstatic.

other delays continue to sidetrack us though. the guy who's supposed to help us set up our roaster is injured. I can't seem to find anyone to have a look at my underbench without a three-figure deposit. the deep-fryer's not working correctly. the eftpos machine's gonna take longer than expected. we're opening in two weeks and fast running out of time and money.

ever seen those tv shows where people are setting up new restaurants? I've always admired the way they just pick up the phone and say, "get me a [insert item here] and bill it to the office." then, there's an on-cam with a toothy-grinned jamie oliver type saying, "well, we're half a million over budget *shrug*".

in our world, half a dollar over budget means the car payment doesn't get made, rent's late or the phone people get begged for another extention. this will be the third place that we've opened on an absolute shoestring. perhaps I should write a book about it.

on a sidetrack, ever wondered what goes on in a frozen pizza factory? check this out.

one of the locals suggested we put in an indoor rock-climbing wall. in a cafe. he was serious. seriously nuts, mebbe...

enough random bloggery, I'm off to make veggie stock while waiting for the coffee tech to arrive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

espresso my gratitude

the coffee machine's... the correct machine - has finally arrived.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

dinner this eve

grilled cajun chicken on chive and garlic butter mash.

it was so delicious, I may just put it on the menu.

music stuff

starting to get the music calendar filled. locked in so far:

sun dec 7th: cathy gibson and keith young. also lyn taylor from the orphans is making the trek up the hill from the city.

sun dec 14th: shane flew, all the way from dee why.

sun dec 21st: snez and stewart peters.

and lots of penciled in / to be confirmed etc.

I had a rehearsal with the new blues trio I'm putting together here. we set up in the dining room with the house p.a.. the room sounds pretty good, I'm pleased and looking forward to launching our sunday sessions.

and I've finally gotten around to fixing the timestamp so it's now in our local time. sorry for any confusion.

nineteen days til opening. sheesh.

good news, not so good news dept.

the good news is, the roaster arrived, along with some other new gear. so did the long-awaited espresso machine.

except it was the wrong one. instead of a volumetric auto wired for 15 amp, we got a 20-amp manual. so it went back. next week, the company says. for the fourth week in a row. it's almost as bad as our bank dramas.

anyway, the grinder works. nothing like fresh roasted, freshly ground beans. if only we had a machine to brew it....

new toys for the kitchen:


Wednesday, November 12, 2008


slow-dessicated after 24 hours of marination. succulent, chewy in a way that redefines 'al dente'.

jerky is one of the things I miss about living in north america. not many here know about it, and the commercial variety usually found in vending machines at pubs is nothing more than dried soggy cardboard with salt and pepper added.

all that's missing is a cold draught beer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

paloma phoenix

in addition to the usual musicans/friends/family/etc, we've been collecting various chefs, restaurants and food-related myspace friends.

I'd just gotten an add acceptance from camille becerra, who was in top chef's third season and runs a cool brooklyn eatery, paloma. checking the website, I was stunned to read that they'd suffered a major fire, on election eve of all nights. read more here.

our hearts go out to camille and her staff. as we're trying to get this place ready for operation, it's easy to forget just how quickly it can all vanish.

and I'm now reminded to double-check the smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. as should you.

but who's counting?

twenty-six days til opening. the front window's been cleared of the showcase wall that blocked it, now the front counter area is bright and airy. painting continues. cleaning continues. more cleaning continues.

the equipment company accidentally sent our espresso machine to another restaurant, so they've agreed to replace it with an upgraded model - looks to be a san marino very similar to ones we've had before, so the baristagal's happy.

the completed - well, started - website should be up by the end of the week, if I can pull my finger out. problem is, when I get to the end of the day after cafe work, plus my graphic job, it's hard to find clarity and enthusiasm to write anything that makes sense. I haven't been sleeping well either, which doesn't help. perhaps it's stress. perhaps it's just the normal pre-launch nerves. this will be our third shot at a successful cafe, and the pressure is on to make it work.

some in-progress pics:
front window before surgery:

after surgery:

these are a few of chef's favourite things:

shake it up, baby:

the herb garden's coming alive - and in serious need of weeding:

and this little critter's trying to beat me to it:


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

that's gotta be a record

less than three hours ago, an update was posted here on this blog. I'd mentioned that we hadn't had any contact from reps from either of the big two beverage companies here, coca-cola amatil and cadbury schweppes.

coke's media monitors picked up the reference, and we've just had a phone call from a sales rep apologising and promising to follow up with our needs.

three hours later. good work, folks. that's even faster than my local's bar staff at happy hour.

although we're still puzzled as to why cnn and fox news are still carrying differing electoral vote figures for the u.s. election.

blahs and blues

it seems that no matter how much setup time one has for a new venture, things always seem to... conspire?.... to ensure as many delays as possible occur.

the new roaster, cap machine and kitchen gear we were supposed to get last week, but was rescheduled for today - nah. maybe next week. maybe.

I'm fearing a huge last-ditch 48 hour rush is the most feasible outcome, and am considering postponing our opening date, as something else is bound to not happen on time.

the upside is the dining room looks great, and the corner wall has come out, brightening up the room by the nth degree. I'll post before-after pics after we finish and tidy up. the stove's working, although a little erratically, and the whole kitchen's looking clean and ready for service.

the downsides... I still can't test the deep-fryers, the underbench needs service (and we need $$ for that). my panini and salamander are lost interstate somewhere. the coolroom door seals need replacing. the dishwasher is still leaking, as is the underbench. the roaster delay means we can't start on-selling coffee beans and generating revenue.

we don't know what we're doing about a drinks fridge, as both coke (coca-cola amatil) and pepsi (cadbury-schweppes) have simply failed to get back to us, after about four weeks of chasing reps. mind you, this happened to us at our last place, and we ended up buying by the carton from food wholesalers.

and there's an issue with our intended signage above the awning of the building. structurally, the whole thing looks like it's about to fall apart, and I don't know what we'll do about that.

stressed? naw, not me. not as long as there's a pub across the road....

Sunday, November 2, 2008

newslist is now up

signup forms are now on both our myspace page and the main website splashpage.

this is for our live music calendar and newsworthy local events. we'll probably send these weekly, with no spam attached.

and what's with this spam stuff anyway? had a whole different meaning ebfore this newfangled interwebz, no?

organic free-range lo-gi gluten free coeliac non-fat dairy-free lo-carb diet vegan-friendly spam. mmmmm.....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

be our friend

our myspace page is up and running. go visit and send us a friend request.


comfort food

one of my faves. grilled chorizo, in a spicy tomato sauce with pecorino cheese, fresh herbs, cracked black pepper on spirali or penne:

got the dining room set up, basically:

the roaster's been delayed til next week. only five weeks til opening, but who's counting?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

taking and making stock

progress report: kitchen's up and working. burners and flat-top all seem to work, although the hotspots on the grill are spread around like a nine hole golf course. the underbench seals need replacing, but it seems to cool properly. haven't fired up the deep-fryers yet, but they look okay. the coolroom door's not 100% either, the previous chef had a large wooden plank to wedge it closed...

the coffee roaster arrives tomorrow, it needs to be flued so we're not sure just where it's going to go as yet. the espresso machine, salamander and panini press arrive next week. there'll be lots of last-minute scrambling, and I don't mean eggs.

the floor's been repolished, the windows cleaned (well, sorta...) and the carpet in place for the music stage. I've decided not to build a riser, we'll just have the floor with a nice rug. these things may change as we go along, y'know.

yesterday I made about ten litres of chicken stock and a few litres of tomato sauce. blanching:

tomatoes are cheap at the moment, only two bucks a kilo at my local providore. I'm still trying to source organic veg and eggs.

I'll get the newslist up and running this week, so anyone wanting email notices about music etc can join.

it's all feeling much closer now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

the hounds of chow

some observations I've made reading the chowhound boards:

when posting a new topic, nobody bothers to check to see if a thread already exists on exactly that same topic.

80% of those who post comments have absolutely no sense of humour, let alone an understanding of the concept of irony. no, make that 90%.

instead of inspiring viewers to become better cooks and appreciators of food, the food network appears to have accomplished the complete opposite. a film analogy might be porky's over citizen kane.

to many, fast food from an international chain is an acceptable and valid choice of cuisine for the whole family.

the best way to make big money in food is to be young, attractive, and ghost-write a glossy coffee-table cookbook.

the threads with the most responses are those discussing children's eating habits.

a lot of people in middle america really, firmly believe that rachael ray is a talented professional cook.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

cleanliness is next to.....

finally getting the place clean enough to start operating the gear. the stove's roared to life, although you have to be a contortion artist to ignite it. haven't got to the deep-fryer yet, we're trying to get the dishwasher moving today. there's a funky electronic feed system that I'm trying to figure out, and not much info on the web.

the kitchen, in progress - before:

so far:

back to work.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'll have the veggie falafel, thanks

there's always talk about health and sanitary issues in kitchens. especially as I've spent the better part of two weeks cleaning one. but this story gave me a chuckle:

Man making kebab next to corpse hit by ban
October 15, 2008, 10:47 pm

LONDON (Reuters) - A man discovered making kebabs near a corpse has been banned from managing food businesses and fined 3,800 pounds, Wolverhampton City Council said on Tuesday.

Jaswinder Singh, 45, was found by police making kebabs at Pappu Sweet Centre and Catering in Wolverhampton in August in a kitchen where a dead man was lying on a sofa.

As well as the corpse, the policeman discovered another man smoking and spitting repeatedly on the floor, while in a room near the kitchen, a defrosting chicken, oozing blood and juices, was covered with flies.

Environmental health officers had visited the shop over a number of months previously where they had warned Singh to improve his food hygiene standards after finding rat droppings as well as a dead rat beneath a pot.

"We were called to reports of a sudden death," said West Midlands Police spokeswoman Joanne Hunt. "A post mortem was carried out, but found the death was not suspicious, so the matter was referred to the coroner."

Wolverhampton's city council's chief environmental services officer Nick Edwards said: "The council will not tolerate those who put the public at risk by preparing food in insanitary conditions.

"We are pleased that the council's actions have resulted in the courts banning this individual from ever running a food business again."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

quote o' the day

"Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected, by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table."

-Charles Pierre Monselet, French author(1825-1888)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

something to wine about

I often like to peruse the various food boards, such as chowhound. most of these are north american based and probably 85% of the traffic are their locals.

but I'm constantly amazed at how many people post recipes that include using wine, but add the disclaimer, "I don't drink wine, so I just use anything around".

how in the hell can you cook with something that you cannot/do not taste? it's like the occasional contestant/entrant on competition shows like hells kitchen and top chef who, for example, don't eat seafood but are prepping a turbot or cod.

there's an interesting story in today's good living about a blind chef, a home cook who can't smell, and a winemaker who's allergic to alcohol. at least they have good excuses....

Monday, October 13, 2008

from little things...

just started the herb garden. basil shoots:

also planted coriander, garlic and regular chives, dill, greek and italian oregano, continental parsley, plus jalapeno chilles and baby rocket.

more to come, possibly even cherry tomatoes and capsicum. the frosts are pretty heavy here, even during spring and autumn, so it'll be trial and error.

long-time readers of my other blog may remember my somewhat amusing efforts to start a garden about six years back. let's hope I'm more successful this time.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

celebrity chefs and other oxymorons

this was originally posted 12 may 08, and seemed to be one of the most viewed from my old blog. so it's reposted here:

I'll admit it, I'm a cable tv food channel addict. I find inspiration in many of the programs, and often tune in just before a dinner prep to 'get into the groove', as it were.

someone recently said that tv chefs were the new rock stars, and that I find a frightening notion. especially as I'm considered an "old washed up has-been rock star", by many, including my children. especially my children.

I suppose the notion of the "critic" applies equally to both. to have spent most of one's life creating something out of raw ingredients with love, passion and skill, then to have some twat fresh out of journalism school dismiss it as being "too derivative".

but what exactly are these nuevo culinary stars suppose to communicate to their 'fans'? is it fair to include cooking amongst music, dance, theatre, film? are they all ars gratia artis or sheer entertainment? both and neither, one could argue.

I'd say it has more to do with the late-20th century disease known as the cult of personality, or celbere gratia celeb, possibly (with apologies to any romans left wandering about the aqueducts).

in a world where the likes of a paris hilton or even perez hilton can become 'famous' for doing nothing other than being opulent and pesty, it's no wonder that certain egotistical, insecure and clueless chefs found new careers. or possibly, first careers.

so my enjoyment of watching intriguing, creative food being prepared by the few clever and talented chefs on the food network is always tainted by dodging these so-called 'celebrity chefs', who spend more airtime flogging their latest line of books, kitchenware, trendy appliances and the like than actually working with food. and when they do, it's usually a tolerated distraction - "Look at that magnificent trout!! It'll look amazing on my new dinnersets, available from the website below [web address now covers the fish, which is never to be seen for the remainder of the program]".

a random sampling of some of the main offenders, in no particular order, as I find them all annoying as hell:

jamie oliver. yes, I'll be expecting the hate mail, flame throwers and all-around abuse from the soccer moms of the world, but really, this guy is grating beyond belief. he's like a slightly more grown-up version of an eastenders regular. sure, he's done a lot for the british school lunch programs (well, anything'd be a help there), helped underpriveliged kids with his fifteen series (ditto) and covered a lot of ikea coffeetables with colourfully bound prints. but I can't recall the last time I saw him actually prepare anything that one could a) follow; 2) replicate and c) want.

nigella lawson. I can understand the local appeal of the self-appointed domestic goddess, every brit housefrau can see how to make the most basic food from the most common ingredients usually found in most brit pantries next to the delia smith books, and lots of pudgy, pasty-faced pommy blokes can drool in fantasy, wishing it were her in his kitchen and not that bewildered pepperpot that he married, the one that keeps hiding his sherry behind the delia cookbooks.

I've actually caught a nigella episode once where she gleefully demonstrated the fine art of bubble-n-squeak, one where she raided the pantry after a night out (presumably, the limo driver didn't have any grey poupon in the glove box) and several where she refuses to actually touch any food ingredients by continually placing them into plastic bags, which are then shaken (and thrown into the bin, I'm guessing green ain't the right pastel shade for her). the gypsy gal finds her annoying purely by wearing cardigans that match the kitchen colour sceme.

rachael ray. the one who put "yummo" and "evoo" into the average yank lexicon. the one whose best work was probably the fhm photo spread. the one who's better off now serving as the trailer-park oprah to middle america than serving lunch for $40 a day (and the same budget for wardrobe).

ainsley harriott. it's like watching lenny henry do food, except I'm not too sure this ain't a parody. and what's with the swashbuckling sautee pan moves? dangerous in real life, methinks. I've often wondered if len... sorry, ainsley is the child of that guy who did the 7up uncola ads in the 70's. mahvelous.

bobby flay. someone stuck a ken doll in the kitchen and figured out how to animate it.

tyler florence. see above entry.

tom parker bowles. with the personality of a goldfish and a toothgap that alfred e. newman would be proud of, this guy is very, very lucky that he's got a family inheritance in the wings.

emeril lagasse. buy his books, order his knives, eat his produce, use his toothpaste and recreate his catchphrases with a gusto that bart simpson could only have dreamed of. oh, the dude's a chef as well? oy vey.

rocco dispirito. he and flay should start a new madame tussade's wax museum for chefs - starring their real selves. at his best, he's a lame hell's kitchen contestant about to get kicked off, at his worst, he's that kid down the block that everyone wanted to beat up, except that his mom was the school principal. remember the scene in the show the restaurant where the smart-arse intern kid called rocco "captain douchebag"? the kid shouldn't have articulated it, but it was clearly what rocco's staff were thinking.

antony worrall thompson. the only other garden gnomes that I've seen in a kitchen sat silently on the windowsill. this is the guy who published a "recipe" that calls for five snickers bars, puff pastry, mascarpone, soft cheese, sugar and eggs. I'd doubt even ra-ray would give that atrocity a yummo. gordon ramsay called awt a teletubbie, which is possibly the best call I've heard in yonks.

iain hewitson. huey is arguably australia's best known chef, along with australia's best known songwriter, neil finn and best-known actor russell crowe - all new zealanders, of course. after years of demonstrating the making of (purportedly) wholesome, nutritious meals, an overweight huey became the new poster child for jenny craig. there's a parody of huey's wiki page here.

a brief 'boy thing' aside - the following I do enjoy watching, but have yet to learn a thing about food from any of them: giada de laurentiis; clodagh mckenna; tana ramsay; rachel allen; tamasin day-lewis and sandra lee.

I really don't count iron chef as a true culinary show, it's more a hybrid of wwf and sale of the century. although I'd love to see an aussie version. I can imagine chairman kaga "revealing the mystery ingredient..... vegemite!!"

and I'm not sure where to place people like keith floyd, alton brown, ming tsai, maggie beer, hugh fearnley-whittingstall, rick stein and the rest.

so, to all these tv personalities, I say, shove over for the real deal. the true chefs with a lifelong passion for food that outweighs their need for fleeting publicity.

with that, I'd like to give a nod of the toque to those for continued inspiration, education and spiritual cuisine guidance. I'd like to thank (again, in no order):

serge dansereau, tony bourdain, john burton race, neil perry, michael smith, christine mansfield, richard corrigan, rosemary shrager, tetsuya wakuda, giorgio locatelli, atul kochhar, paul rankin, stephanie alexander, marcus wareing, tony bilson, mario batali, charlie trotter, angela hartnett, raymond blanc, kylie kwong, michael chiarello, lidia bastianich, yes, gordon fucking ramsay (the guy can cook), clarissa dickson-wright & jennifer paterson, and finally, marco pierre white.

now shut up and cook, y'all.


the story so far

ok, from the previous post last may, things have progressed rapidly.

at the beginning of the year, we'd looked at a run-down but groovy old cafe site in the blue mountains. it had been closed for about two years, and the notion of building local trade looked rather daunting, to say the least. we passed, and looked further afield.

six months later, we'd been putting in offers to buy a house in the area, and stumbled across the cafe again, which was still available. we held some talks and came to an agreement to try the premises out for a year. as the place also had a residence in the rear, it seemed like a more feasible opportunity.

we moved in a few weeks ago, and have been spending a massive amount of time cleaning, repairing and generally making the place liveable. we're going to keep our "day gigs" and only open on the weekends initially. we'll know soon enough how viable the place will be.

here's some "before" pics:

strangely, the place looks better in these photos than it does in real life... no matter, we're pressing onwards. the cafe is something of a local landmark, I'm not sure if we'll be exactly returning it to its glory days, but we'll see what we can manage.

we're shooting for a december opening. updates and progress reports will be posted here.

visit our myspace page, and become a friend.

cc & am

from the beginning

hi, I'm one of the co-owners of the mount vic cafe at the top of the blue mountains, an hour and a half west of sydney australia. this is the updated blog:

originally posted 03 may 2008:

for the past seven years, I've kept a personal blog, covering my music career, family matters, randoms thoughts, observations, jokes and pure ramblings.

after thirty-odd years in the music biz, I've been feeling the need to move in a different career direction. I'd travelled the world with successful bands and eaten at all kinds of fooderies around the globe. but until I was into my early thirties, I couldn't cook much more than anything from a can or packet.

gradually, I began playing in the kitchen, adding spices, herbs and other elements, experimenting on my friends and family. I'd come up with any excuse to hold a bbq or dinner party, just so that I'd have the excuse to cook.

but it was all random foodplay. I hadn't any formal or even casual training, and really didn't understand the science of food at all.

about five years ago, my partner, the gypsy gal, decided to open a coffeehouse / espresso bar. we ended up with a nice lakeside place north of sydney that had kitchen space and a demand for food. not really being in a position to hire a chef, I jumped in headfirst.

mind you, it was simple stuff, toasted focaccias, soups, salads and the like. typical cafe light brunch stuff. but I got the bug, and soon found myself visiting the local markets, putting daily specials on the board, such as grilled salmon, pastas, gourmet burgers, etc. I found myself befriending local chefs and hanging out in their kitchens while they were prepping, watching, asking questions, learning.

what we started with:

what we created:

after a year, our building was taken over by big money property developers, and we soon found ourselves out on the street. we headed back to sydney holding creditors at bay and found ourselves with an opportunity in a funky old restuarant in the inner west.

there was potential, it seated 40-ish, we had a bar, open fire and featured acoustic music nightly. our mediterranean influenced menu was a hit in an area over-saturated with traditional italian, and we found a great chef. al had previously worked around the sydney area for the likes of serge at regent's and others. he loved what we were doing and came onboard for a pittance of his usual wage. I was his sous/kitchen hand, and learned a lot from him.

a family tragedy called al away, and not having built sufficient trade to hire a qualified chef, I found myself taking the kitchen reins. I'd been on a steep learning curve, but again our menu was relatively easy to maintain. souvlaki, grilled chicken and meats, salt & pepper calamari, I'd gotten a good handle on it all under al's supervision. we hired a kitchen hand and pressed on.

here's what it looked like:

the kitchen, with al ducking out of camera:

again, after about a year, we found ourselves being pressured into an unrealistic lease. reluctantly, we again walked. we swore that we'd never get into pro food again and returned to 'day jobs'. I worked at a guitar store and revived my graphic design business.

that was three years ago, and now it seems, the bug is still biting. I've been considering whether to pick up a casual kitchen gig just to get my skills up, and we'd been exploring a few cafes we'd seen for lease.
it's time to make a serious change in my life. my passion for good food is nearly overwhelming my soul. this blog will chronicle that journey.

oh, the word "foof" comes from the gypsy gal, who when typing the word 'food' into an instant message box, hit the key next to her letter 'd' - hence 'foof'. it's become a long-standing gag in use by our family and friends.