Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Foodie or a Food Snob?

The term Foodie means different things to different people. Some wear it as a badge of honour, others consider it code for a food snob and then there is the idea that it is just a term for someone who loves all thing food related.

The other day younger sister called me a food snob. I had said that I wouldn’t be happy eating tinned baked beans for dinner every night for the rest of my life. Since then I have spent some time thinking about it and I still refuse to accept that makes me a food snob. I need variety and simply put, I love food! While I enjoy fine dining as much as the next person but I don’t believe it is all about fine dining and am more than happy to have cheese on toast for dinner on occasion.

I accept that there is just as much merit in the array cheap eats to be found around Melbourne as at our top end restaurants, not to mention market shopping and a home cooked meals- it about quality and circumstance, that is the right quality & price for the situation. I resent paying top dollar for a middle of the road suburban restaurant that serves diner quality meals, I enjoy my local fish ‘n chip shop but I don’t want to pay as if I have had a night out at Vue de Monde. Does that make me a food snob or a discerning spender?

Watching a few reality TV food shows recently (particularly the promos for Channel 7) I have noticed a worrying thing- the rise of a bitchy competitiveness that is creeping its way into the foodie’s real world. Recently out to dinner with friends and one diner ( & new foodies convert) announced she had discovered a great new restaurant. The restaurant was not really new and the reaction was disappointing- many of our fellow diners’ just half nodded and started new conversations, some barley acknowledged her- we may as well have said “sweetie that place is so last season” and turned to walk away. The restaurant in question has been around for more than ten years but they still serve great food, it was new to her and she should have been listened to and engaged.

I heard about an uncomfortable dining experience: one diner was openly and publicly humiliated by another diner- chastising them for breaking some obscure dining etiquette from the 1800’s. The evening became one where tension was the main course rather than the enjoyment of good food, wine and of course company. We have all been out with that obnoxious person who is rude to the wait staff and it is never enjoyable. You could “shout” me dinner at elBulli or Fat Duck but if that was the environment I had to endure (poor company), I would prefer baked beans on toast - good food is nothing without good people to enjoy and share it with.

So when did the “Foodie World” become so competitive and bitchy? I thought that a love of food, being willing to try new things and having a desire to learn was all I needed to be part of the foodie movement. I believed these values tied us together. I seemed to have missed the memo explaining that I have to have eaten at all the top restaurants (both local & global), have an encyclopaedic knowledge culinary methods and obscured ingredients and that every meal (including vegemite toast) had to be a restaurant quality experience complete with plating & garnish.

The food world seems to have it own set of cool kids, with the rest of use just pressing our faces up against the glass or trying not to get noticed, so they won’t steal our lunch money. Mocking amateur enthusiasts because they made mistakes or lack knowledge is not nurturing and does nothing to entice new blood into the industry.

Professional chefs will be the first to admit they are always learning, the best ones are enthusiastic teachers who passionately share their knowledge. As an amateur enthusiast (or as one dear friend put it amateur cook but a professional eater) I refused to be intimidated by people who know more than me, rather see them as an opportunity to learn. Likewise I try not to intimidate those who can learn from me. After all the more people who love food and have that interest nurtured, the more great chefs we might get and the fewer crappy meals we will have to endure and pay for in the future....

Are you a foodie or a food snob?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One a penny, two a penny....

This year to my despair I saw my first buns in stores back on December 27th, the first trading day after Christmas!!!!! Don’t be mistaken I love a hot cross bun, hot from the oven ”a la natural” or toasted with lashings of butter. However, Hot Cross buns have become for me a symbol of retail greed.

Placing Hot Cross Buns and chocolate eggs on the shelves in December (even in January & February) takes the unique & special feeling out of the celebration. Easter, like Christmas has all ready had its religious significance diminished for some of us even removed, for me the tradition is more about spending time with family. How many of us actually know someone observing lent? Now, not only are we not observing the many of the tradtions we can indulge in those that we do for three month before hand! What to we have to look forward to?

Innovation can be a wonderful thing & I have sung the praises of industry innovators in a previous blog. However, like cover versions of hit songs I believe the innovation has to at least equal too if not surpassed by the original to be worthy. The recent trend of chocolate hot cross buns has managed to take hold despite been far from a worthy cover version of the original.

I love a light yeasty bun, which is generously spiced and packed with fruit (peel optional) – this is the style I grew up with. There is no right or wrong here just a preference- many people like a heavy (almost bready dough) to support lots of fruit and spice; it is a matter of taste.

Do you like the chocolate buns? Do you buy them in January?
Here is the recipe for the Easter buns which make my heart sing... as long as you don’t break it out in January!


Ingredients – makes 1.5kg of dough (approx 30 x 55g buns)

Use of mixer with a dough hook highly recommended due to the amount of required kneading

Zest of ½ a lemon
Zest of ½ an orange
760g strong bake flour
125g sugar
11g milk powder
11g salt
11g malt powder
20g bread improver
70g butter
425ml water
75g yeast (fresh)

320g sultanas
95g currants
74ml orange juice

Spice for Dough
 30g mixed dutch spice

350ml milk
20ml oil
40g melted butter
20g sugar
200g plain flour
100g self raising flour
Pinch salt

15g gelatine soaked in 250ml of water
Bring to the boil.....

500ml water
170g sugar
Juice & Zest of a lemon
Juice & Zest of an orange
8 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Add the gelatine & water it is soaking in to the boiled mixture, return to the boil and it is ready to use.

Soak Sultana’s & Currants in the orange juice over night.

Take the temperature of the flour and note it down.
Combine all the ingredients (except the yeast, water, fruit & spice)

Dissolve the yeast in the water-

The temperature of the water should be 60°C MINUS the temperature of the flour (so if the flour is 24°C then the water should be 36°C) If it is too hot you will kill the yeast.
And add to the other ingredients and mix until the dough is “clear”- meaning it doesn’t stick to the dough hook, sides or bottom of the bowl

Add the fruit and carefully incorporate into the dough. When the fruit has been incorporated you can finally add the spice-

Do not mix very much once the spice is in as it will kill the yeast
Do not be tempted to add spice at the start as it will kill the yeast
Leave the dough to rest covered and at room temperature (not warm & not cool) until it stars to rise (approx 30-40mins)

Cut in to 55g size pieces (or to the size you want) and roll into shape, place in straight lines (makes piping the crosses much easier) on baking trays

Leave to stand in a warm place until they are at least double their size, then pipe crosses on top using a piping bag.

Bake in a hot (210°C - 220°C) oven until cooked – approx 20-25minutes

Remove from oven and brush with spiced wash


Thursday, March 11, 2010


Floods at work 6th March 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quince and Ricotta Tart
Quince season is nearly here, so here is a recipe for our most popular quince product, Quince & Ricotta Tart- please don’t call it cheesecake (I have issues!)

Pastry Case
170g butter
85g caster sugar
50g (1) egg
260g flour
Lightly cream butter & Sugar
Add Egg & mix until combined
Add Flour & mix into paste, until it comes clean off the bowl – be careful not to over mix.
Transfer to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30mins (or overnight)
Lightly flour workbench & roll out into a sheet approx 5mm thick & big enough to cover an 18cm diameter tin –fluted sides & loose bottom.
Grease the tin
Line tin with the pastry being careful not to stretch (it will tear or shrink back if stretched).
Return to fridge for 30 min (or longer if required)
Pre-heat oven to 150°C.
Line top of tart with foil or baking paper & fill with pastry weights (dried rice or beans) and bake for 30mins
The pastry should be baked and but not coloured- allow to cool
Check for holes & cracks, patching any up with the left over pastry

Poached Quince
1 quince – peeled & halved and cored
500ml water
20g sugar

Place water & Sugar in saucepan & gently bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
Place the quince halves in the simmering syrup, poach until tender- do not overcook the quince or it will become too soft. It will take approx 40 -45 min.
Remove from Liquid, cover and cool, and then slice into 5mm slices.

Cinnamon Sugar
100g granulated Sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
2-3 small drops olive oil
Place all the ingredients into a bowl & using your hands rub oil in to cinnamon & sugar to ensure even distribution and prevent separation. Set aside until required

Filling & Assembly
125g ricotta cheese
50g (1) egg
60g fresh cream
Zest of 1 lemon
Pre-heat oven to 190°C
Place ricotta cheese & sugar in a bowl and beat until smooth.
Add the egg, cream & lemon zest, and blend together until smooth. Do not over beat mix
Pour 1/3 of mix into the pastry case, then place quince slices evenly over the filling
Pour the remaining mixture over the quince and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar
Bake for 25-30mins (or until mixture is set).
Cool before removing from flan case
Dust generously with icing sugar before serving.

Give it a try & let me know how it works out...
I forgot they will be on special at our Bentleigh and Camberwell stores on Tuesday 16th March - for those that cant be bothered with the baking & want to get straight to the eating

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food Club: The first rule of...

This year I finally joined a book club. I have always resisted because I felt I wasn't intellectual enough in a literary sense. I have discovered what a wonderfully safe environment they can be for the less academic reader. I have read books I never would have and thought about them in new ways.  So when I read epicure last Tuesday and discovered that people do what I had only dreamt and joked about- FOOD CLUB, I was ecstatic.

Our book club incorporate this a little; we have a food theme to match the book. But to make it all about the food- I had only dreamed!

My dear friend Random Pear & I have a two man Food Club of  sorts- she lives in Sydney & I in Melbourne, & a couple of times a year we venture to each other’s current home town and take a foodies tour of Melbourne/ Sydney. We are talking serious eating Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner for two to three days. Our motivations something our less culinary enthused partners struggle to understand.

The Stand out for me in this article was Duck Club - Oh my freaking God! Not a highly intellectually response but the images of luscious duck dishes are swimming around in my head and there is no room for eloquence.

So it got me thinking of the food dedicated clubs I would like to join or form. Here is my not so shortlist....

The Yum Cha Cha’s
Pork Belly Appreciation
Middle Eastern Food Caravan
New ingredient of the month
Chilli Chow Down
Ice Scream for Ice Cream....
Degustation Dinners
The Real Turkish delight
Quest for the best Pub food
Quest for the best Fish & Chips
Cheese Tours
All Day Breakfast Club
We bake to justify the purchase of our Kitchen Aid’s Mother Group
My Partner eats to live, not lives to eat Support Group
Over Eaters Anonymous
I love summer fruit with the exception of Manago’s & I am not a freak!
Fresh Passionfruit Flavoured Food
Artisan Bread & Butter
Street Hawkers

Which of these or what other would you want to be part of? I'd love to hear

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Critical Thinking

Over my life one of the biggest changes in the Australian psyche that I can identify is our attitude towards all things culinary. Today we eat out more, watch TV shows about food and make celebrities out of those that make it. We even write online diaries about it! Our knowledge is greater than ever and seems we are eager to learn more.

Theoretically this should be a good thing; they say knowledge is power after all. Yet as a nation our health is collectively worse than ever, obesity, heart disease & diabetes are all on the rise. One positive we have been able to make from our national food obsession is that we are all more empowered as consumers. We ask questions, make choices & demands of our providores in a way we have never before. Low G, Organics, GM free, Gluten Free, No MSG, lactose intolerant, free range are just a few of the terms now prevalent in the industry.

Helped along this path by the development of the internet, the industry has to face the prospect that every customer is a potential critic in a way they never had before. My grandmother drilled into me the notion that if a customer leaves your shop with a bad experience they will tell an average of 20 people about it- a scary thought for any business. Today the prospect is a lot more concerning with emails, text messaging, Facebook, twitter & blogs, now telling ‘anyone who will listen’ can mean hundreds, thousands, even millions of people depending on their internet presence. Everyone is a critic indeed!

Critisim is not always easy to take abd we do not always react in a positive way- regardless of how sucessful we are. A few well known examples from 2009 are
and a
I know how good press can effect positively on our sales and although it can be less obvious, I have no doubt that the effect of bad publicity is at least equal. While sales are important I am guessing that the reaction of the Calombaris, Feildel and the restaurant that sued were motivated more by pride and passion. Passion is an essential element of anyone in this industry; you would not do it otherwise- early mornings, late nights, physically demanding work. Apart from a few at the very top it is not particularly financially rewarding.

So when, after all that you put in, someone comes along and rubbishes your work publically it wounds and demoralises you. It doesn’t matter that you sold out of the item the day before, that you are booked solid for the next 3 months or that your regular customers love things just the way they are. Recently we received bad reviews of our pies in the Herald Sun and our mince pies in The Age, the urge to use twitter, my blog or facebook to answer back was intense. Luckily I knew no good would come of it! If Calombaris couldn’t win, I had no chance!

What response it appropriate? When a customer calls with a complaint we listen to their comments, thank them for the feedback and consider the merits of what they had to say, often taking it on board. So why when someone does it in the public arena do we take offence? It is after all just someone’s opinion! Opinions on food are afterall just like those on art, music and literature...personal, subjective and unique.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thank you...

We are all familiar with the concept that the best careers are built on doing something that you love. I have always loved working in the family business, it would be clear that I am passionate about food. Earlier this year I considered I had gone too far when two dear friends & I spent half an hour discussing porridge - where to get it, the best way to make it and what to put on it! So from a work perspective I have been very lucky.

Despite this I have often felt that I should be doing more, that I needed to be following a career where (to use a clique) I made a difference. At university I followed another of my passions, politics and would have told you that I wanted to get a job with the Department of Foreign Affairs. International relations and law still excites me and if I was not working with the family or with food, I would love to work for a NGO, the Dept of Foreign affairs or even at the UN!!!!

It is easy in retail to become jaded to the point that you question the virtue of what you do. At its most basic level we sell cakes and if we weren’t, many others do. While years ago there were few quality cakes shops, Melbourne now has plenty. Apart from the big names like Laurent and Browns there are great little shops in most suburbs, with good quality products.

Boxing Day provided a humbling and bittersweet reminder of how even the most seemingly unimportant things that we do, impact on the lives of others, whether we realise it or not. Reading The Age A2 in an article by Stephen Cummings “Sweet Relief in a Hug” he writes of standing on Chapel Street after the death of his mother and a hug shared between him and his son.

If 2009 was not a good year for the Cummings family then 2008 was that year for my family- what you take from these times is a profound sense of what is important. I became acutely tuned to all the things that the people we lost gave me. From my grandmother I learnt the importance of family and motherhood as a career, from my Grandfather I got a strong work ethic and a desire to help and accept others without judgement.

What surprised me was the smaller, seemingly insignificant stuff. Thanks to Granny and Gramps, I have an understanding of the virtues of the handkerchief over tissues, I can’t let myself out of someone’s house (it is a superstition & I am not even superstitious) and that the best BBQ’s involve “a few snags, bread, sauce and none of those fancy salads”. These are the memories that you do not even realise you have until our loved ones are gone. In Cummings article he mentions standing outside Paterson’s “watching intently the cream cakes.....Such behaviour has been genetically gifted to me from my mother”.

What an amazing gift I have been given to know that although some days I feel like we just sell cakes, that many of our customers have actually formed strong emotional ties that get passed on. Most retail business rarely hear of the good things they do, it is in our nature to call to complain (which is perfectly reasonable) but not to compliment. Unusually, we get many calls where before the customer places their order they share their Paterson’s story-starting with “I have been a customer for 50 years” or a similar sentiment, so thank you Mr Cummings and thank you to everyone who has ever shared their personal experience and gratitude with us.