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.....