Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chaîne des Rôtisseurs - Western Australian Jeunes Commis competition

I feel privileged to have been a tasting judge at the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ Western Australian Bailliage Jeunes Commis competition on Wednesday 16 April 2013, my second year to have undertaken this role.

5 brave and talented young chefs, some as young as 16 & 17, competed under great pressure in Crown Perth’s commercial kitchen to design, cook and plate up a 3 course meal for 4 people within 3 hours, to be served in one of the Crown’s ballrooms.  This was not a case of all comers being allowed to compete.  Rather, care and consideration went into selecting the competitors to ensure that the limited spots in this event went to worthy challengers:

  • Michael Hull, Crown Perth
  • Zak Kinnear, Secrets Golf Links, Mandurah
  • Jemima Evans, Harbour Fitness, Secret Harbour
  • Melissa Spencer, Crown Perth (patisserie)
  • Oliver Scott, Salt on the Beach, Fremantle

This year, we had 4 kitchen judges and 8 tasting judges, with the tasting judges staying out of the kitchen and carrying out a blind tasting of numbered plates so as not to have their judgment affected by what went on in the kitchen.  All of the judges were hospitality professionals, except for WA Bailli Regional Wayne Teo and myself, who were tasting judges.  The judges were:

Kitchen Judges
  • Chef Phil Westwood, Challenger Institute
  • Chef Michael Canavan, Challenger Institute
  • Chef Patrick Carter, Challenger Institute
  • Chef Marco Bijl, Crown Perth

Tasting Judges
  • Bailli Wayne Teo
  • Chef Sean Marco, Crown Perth
  • Chef Travis Simmonds, Crown Perth
  • Chef Ralf Vogt, Crown Perth
  • Chef Matt Horne, Crown Perth
  • Tracey Ashman, Apprentice Coordinator
  • Chef David Webster, Secrets Golf Links, Mandurah
  • The Frenchman

The black box of ingredients was unveiled first thing that morning, and included some challenging compulsory ingredients: lamb shoulder on the bone, mussels, eggplant, dried apricots and bananas.  Competitors were also given a wide range of optional ingredients to choose from – the snapper was a popular choice.

The winner of the WA Jeunes Commis is Michael Hull of Crown Perth, who led by a clear and convincing margin in the eyes of both the kitchen judges and tasting judges.  His entrée of perfectly cooked snapper and mussels with a perfectly crisp slice of prosciutto and main course of deliciously tender lamb shoulder on a bed of apricot rice and eggplant mousse were easily the best executed and tasting dishes; his dessert of panacotta with lime zest drew rave reviews from some tasting judges for the remarkably striking and lively flavour of the accompanying lime jelly which perfectly complemented the pannacotta, itself displaying a perfect balance of creaminess, texture and firmness.
Michael will now undergo intensive mentoring and grooming in preparation for the Australian national Jeunes Commis competition that will take place on the Gold Coast on 8 June 2018, utilising funds and resources that the WA Bailliage has set aside to be spent on the development of young talent in the hospitality industry.  This includes dining out at some of Perth’s best restaurants to better understand the front of house experience.
National Conseiller Culinaire and WA Vice-Conseiller Culinaire Phil Westwood, remarked that everyone was a winner – all competitors received a certificate of commendation, a Chaîne apron and pin and a cooking book or recipe diary.  Michael’s prize also included the State winner’s medal, a cheque for $300 and a magnificent Heston Blumenthal cookbook.

All competitors received valuable advice from the judges, which included last year’s Australian Jeunes Commis winner and Chef Rôtisseur Travis Simmonds – among Travis’s pearls of wisdom was the need to integrate the compulsory ingredients into the dish, rather than just sprinkling them on as a garnish or an afterthought.  Chef Westwood also commented that all of the competitors performed with remarkable composure, and that he had seen more experienced young chefs crack under the pressure they experienced that day.

Competitors were also encouraged to compete again next year, armed with the new knowledge, experience and advice gained from their participation this year.

The WA Bailliage wishes to express its gratitude to Crown Perth for generously providing its world-class commercial kitchen and cooking supplies for the competition, and especially to Maître Rôtisseur Chef Sean Marco for his staunch support on this and other Chaîne events and endeavours.

Full credit and congratulations for a successful and well-run event must also go to National Conseiller Culinaire and WA Vice-Conseiller Culinaire Phil Westwood for his tireless efforts in organising and running this very important culinary event.

Vive la Chaîne!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why you should grind your own coffee

When I woke up this morning, I groggily fumbled around with Miss Silvia for my morning espresso, but had to pause a moment when the coffee beans started grinding - so that I could enjoy the delightful, sweet aroma of caramel wafting up from the freshly ground La Lagunila Mexican Cup of Excellence #3 beans (locally roasted by Ristretto just 2 weeks ago - in the zone!)  And the palate - crisp, fresh dried apples with a hint of vanilla.  Wow.  What a perfect thing to wake up to!

For those of you who still buy pre-ground coffee from the supermarket, or even from the "gourmet" coffee shop - this is what you're missing out on.  That's why the big chains stick all these weird flavours like vanilla and caramel and what-else into their pre-ground stuff.  Or even their whole beans that are intended to sit on the supermarket shelves for months on end (once again, the dollar wins out over quality control).  Because the beautiful natural flavours and aromas have long ago dissipated by the time you crack open the bag to make your first coffee.

Have you ever drunk a freshly-ground, freshly-brewed coffee and marvelled at the natural caramels, vanillas, apples, citrus, chocolates or even coconut aromas and flavours?  If not, then you're missing out.

And that folks, is why you should grind your own coffee, and also why you should use single origin coffee roasted by someone who cares about their art.

P.S. The photo is of the same bag of La Lagunila, taken when the guys at Ristretto generously offered me a surprise taste comparison between the La Lagunila and the blend of the week (which incidentally was composed of two single origins from El Salvador and Indonesia).  Both were marvellous.

Post-note (30 May 2015): I believe that you should only grind your beans just before you make your coffee - this preserves maximum flavour, oils and freshness.  No need to be precious about getting the best, fancy top of the range grinder, unless you're an über-aficionado of coffee who lives for all of the barely imperceptible nuances and dimensions of flavour and texture that us mere mortals could not even comprehend.  Or unless you're running a cafe and need a serious industrial strength grinder - but this article is directed at the home coffee aficionado.

All you really need is to ensure is that your grinder has a burr mill rather than steel blades (the latter will heat up the coffee and degrade its quality before it even goes into your filter basket).  You should also make sure that you can adjust the fineness of the grind, because different beans with different post-roasting ages will require a different fineness of grind.  Generally, the longer it has been since roasting, then you should consider a finer grind - unfortunately trial and error is mandatory since every bag of beans will be slightly different).

A ceramic burr grinder will in theory generate even less heat than a steel burr grinder, but I'm not sure it will make a real difference if you only grind enough beans for one or two shots of coffee at a time.

Of course, you get what you pay for, so it's a bit of a balance between a lower price and acceptable durability/quality.

To save you some effort, I've done some searches: the Cuisinart (see my US Amazon Affiliate link below) is an example of something that will do the job, but which won't cost a huge amount of money.  Unfortunately, it doesn't ship to Australia, but I hope that this example gives you an idea of what parameters to look for in selecting a coffee grinder for home use.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Print Hall Dining Room, Brookfield Place, 125 St George's Terrace, Perth

 A few weeks ago, I had lunch at the Print Hall with my dear old friend and mentor Dario.  Alas it had to be a short lunch (by our standards) of less than 2 hours as he had a meeting with lawyers in the afternoon (always something to look forward to!) and I needed to pack for my departure first thing the next morning on a week-long trip to Melbourne and then Hong Kong.

The Print Hall is a pretty special place – a palatial open bar area dominates the ground floor atrium; the back of this leading to its flagship Print Hall dining room.  Then there’s The Apple Daily on the next floor up, a casual and cheerful place serving up modern Asian fusion cuisine by Sunny Ocampo.  I haven’t met him yet but Jerry Fraser tells me that Sunny’s inspiration is Cheong Liew (who happens to me one of my all-time favourite chefs, alongside the Demon Chef and Fergus Henderson).  On the same floor is the private dining room, which, from the last time I ate in that room, offers a perfect private dining experience.  On the funky rooftop, you can find Bob’s Bar, apparently named after a legendary Aussie Prime Minister from that side of politics when they also used to care about the Australian people as a whole rather than this class warfare crack that they are pushing nowadays.

And of course, there’s Jerry’s Oysters, happily ensconced in the corner of the main bar facing the main dining room under the neon sign “Jerry’s Oysters”, which is where I caught up with old friend Jerry Fraser the King of Oyster Shuckers to reminisce about the good ol’ days at Churchill’s in the back of the WA Club, when he used to shuck over 100 dozen oysters on a single Thursday night.  I also gifted Jerry with a precious bottle of Akabanga from my fast-dwindling stocks of this delicious, flavoursome and fiery Rwandan chilli oil. I’d like to see the look on the faces of those blokes who claim to be impervious to chilli, and disregard the recommended limit of one (or half) drop per oyster!  This chilli has a delayed action – you taste the flavour first, and a few seconds later, the burn hits you like walking into a glass door if you’ve overindulged.  While chatting to Jerry, a solicitous Cathy (the manager) comes round to make sure I am okay and organises a Hendrick’s gin and tonic for me.

The other diners at the Print Hall’s dining room sport a professional, corporate look.  I bump into a mate from university, Chilla – he’s on his way to a meeting.  But he takes time to stop and chat with me and Dario before he heads off.  I sincerely wish him all the best, all the way to the dizzy heights of his chosen career.

Once we’re done with our deliciously plump oysters (the Walrus would have shed great rolling globs of tears at these beauties), Jerry takes it upon himself to usher Dario and I into the elegantly minimalistic and tastefully decorated dining room, where Dario instantly notices the exquisite handblown Italian decanter, with little indentations at the bottom for your thumb and fingers to facilitate the pouring of the wine.

The service is amazing – there is absolutely nothing to whinge about.  The menu arrives when you are thinking about it.  The sommelier turns up to ask you about wines when you are thinking about it.  The waiter assigned to our table asks for our order when we have just decided on what we want.  The waiter then compliments me on my choice of burgundy which nicely complements my entrée and main.  The food arrives without either of us feeling like we’ve had to wait for it.  Someone turns up to replenish our water glasses.  When we want our bill, we just turn around and our waiter is there!

For my entrée, I order the Avruga Caviar on a bed of fresh Mandurah crab meat, accompanied by a perfect quail yolk, crouton squares and an ascetic sprinkling of vegetals, including sliced beets and a couple of green leaves.  Delicious.  Beautiful.  And it does complement my pinot noir!

For my main, I have the lamb fillet and lamb shank.  ‘nuff said.  Perfect.  The fillet is perfectly medium rare, tender yet textural.  The shank falls off the bone and melts in the mouth.  Dario’s main is the Barramundi, sitting on a bed of delicate greens and squid legs.  Beautiful.

We talk about life (one of my favourite topics, as you may have gathered); Dario’s beautiful and loyal wife Suzie and his sons’ diverse interests.  What's next on the horizon of life; the things that matter; the things that make a difference.  We reminisce about that warm, enjoyable winter’s dinner at my place with Dario, Suzie, Lisa and Joe.  The ever effervescent Joe – not a drop of alcohol, yet always the life of the party!

And then all too soon, it’s time to go.  Such is life – there is never enough time for the important things.  Dario has to go to his meeting with the lawyers (sad I know), and I need to go home to start my packing.

I look forward to the next catch-up.  Definitely a long lunch next time ...