The Sydney Food Festival lured some of the world’s best chefs and food personalities to its shores for this event. Located at Star City, a massive hotel and gambling universe I would never normally frequent. I looked at the room rates in the week before the event and they were selling rooms for $1500.00 a night, thank goodness I had made other arrangements. I am sure the organisers of the festival appreciated its sponsorship so I will say no more.
There have been many other events associated with this particular festival but I attended the World Chef Showcase specifically for the chance to immerse myself in a refresher course. My love of cooking never wains but every now and then seeing some of the behind the scenes techniques rekindles my passion for tethering myself to the kitchen and trying new things. The general programme format was that you selected a specific programme to attend on each day. I perused the chefs featured and selected ‘World’ for Saturday and ‘Creative’ for Sunday.
We were given coloured wrist bands to denote which room we were in, but later I heard that attendees, other than the ‘media’ did room hop. Silly me, I stuck to the rules. I had so wanted to attend some sessions outside my designated room for the day but thought I had no other option once I had made my choice. It is one of two quibbles I have, as over the years I have attended many of these presentations and was allowed more flexibility. I was on the Masterclass committee in Brisbane so have seen behind the scenes in more ways than one. The Brisbane Masterclasses are still going and are now held every second year at the Hilton Hotel.
Seating was at tablecloth covered round tables rather than auditorium-style seating and this led me to an expectation that we may get to eat something. I was very disappointed to find that food samples were in such limited supply; that only a couple of tables in a random fashion got to taste anything. Some people were prepared to demean themselves and yell out ‘pick me’ as they were determined to get a taste of what the chef of the moment was demonstrating.
In the past I have attended similiar events and the chef always has at least one of the recipes prepared behind the scenes and brought out in miniature form to the audience to taste.
I did not eat breakfast based on my former experience at these food events. Naturally after the morning fast I was interested in what was on for lunch. We had choices of Spanish paella and seafood, sashimi or bread rolls with ‘real’ Spanish jamon. Each food service section gave you in addition to your order, a brown paper bag that contained a plastic container of salad and a slice of cake.
The afternoon session was the same, still nothing to taste, with the exception of a couple of mini cocktails at the last session. Disappointingly it was the same lack of food samples the very next day in my Sunday session. When the chef spoke of textures and flavours it was all the more frustrating. I spoke to other people who had been in the other ‘themed’ rooms and they all seemed to have been given a taste of what the chef was making.
Now having said my piece on what I considered a flaw of my chosen sessions, its onwards and upwards to the presenters.
Many of the chefs were using high end technical equipment, some of these magical instruments like the Thermomix were present on the stage kitchen and it did leave most of us wondering how we would adapt the recipes at home. As per usual in most of these classes the written recipes are just never up to scratch and we had to ask lots of questions and write lots of notes if we planned to try any of the dishes ourselves. If you just attended to see and hear the chefs speak then you may not be concerned about this. For the featured chefs I thought it was a major PR opportunity for them to show to a dedicated crowd of food lovers just how complex restaurant food is these days and why it costs so much to eat at them.
My favourite chef was Sergi Arola. I may be biased for I have eaten in his restaurant in Madrid and I like his overall philosophy and humour. He is the perfect advocate for his country’s cuisine, letting us know in a good natured way that we should not underestimate Tapas, that they are not simply recipes. Tapas, it is a way of life. Just as a sashimi chef will take years to learn and perfect, the same applies for Spanish chefs. And that tapas should not just be for bar food, it is used in high gastronomy also.
Moderator was Matt Preston, confident but not quite as loquacious as you might expect, leaving it to the chefs to comfortably hold the stage. Some other moderators in the past have constantly second guessed and asked too many questions.
Sebastien Bras – I also have eaten at the Michel Bras restaurant in France and his son Sebastien Bras represented him here. His dish on the day required little or no cooking, just an artful assembly of lightly cooked vegetables and fresh flowers and herbs. But there is more, a small piece of lightly cooked ham – was added. I had this dish on my visit to the restaurant so at least I was not left wondering how it tasted! We saw the Bras enterprise via a projection of the excellent website.
Peter Gilmore was on the opposite side of the room representing his restaurant Quay and was not outdone in any way. His beautiful lightly cooked squid reposed on an aureole of pink radish that had everyone wanting to take its photo. No tastings of any of this dish.
Alexandre Bourdas from Normandy – he is on my A Cook’s Tour list. We learned he makes it up as he goes along, that is he visits the market every day and decides what to cook based on what is in from the fishermen’s daily catch.
Andre Chiang …was another chef who impressed me – if we continue to make superstars out of chefs here is a major contender. His French upbringing and Taiwanese heritage gives him a jump start to a reign in Finessland. He made me sorry I gave away my tiered sprouter years ago, showing us two ways to prepare and eat wheat sprouts. He cooks in Singapore so at least that is relatively easy to visit for the food travellers in us all.
I enjoyed the musings of Sebastien Demorand when he spoke on two discussion panels. He is a food presenter and writer based in France and he came administering a strong dose of confidence for Australia’s food scene and well developed palate. So often international food writers leave us all feeling as though the universe of gastronomy is not any orbit we are likely to enter. He was like the perfect charming guest, just enough self deprecation to be endearing.
Guillaume Brahimi made petit fours but it was not inspirational. His French macarons – mon dieu! they were made without preparing an Italian meringue (pouring in a hot sugar syrup) and to boot they were not made with the classic almond meal ingredient so they were not the real thing in my opinion. Anyone watching the Australian Masterclass series would have seen they had to be made with a certain amount of ‘technique’.
I have eaten at Bennelong and loved every morsel so I am not harboring some kind of grudge here, I just think he did not rise to the challenge.
Yu Bo is the chef owner of Yu’s Family Kitchen in China’s Sichuanese province. His kitchen would lead me straight back to China to taste some superb Chinese food. Amazingly it is not easy to find unless you are led to specific places by those in the know in China. His fellow presenter was the Englishwoman and chef Fushia Dunlop, a dedicated acolyte of Yu Bo and who has her own place in the world of Chinese cuisine. Her cookbooks are based on her depth of knowledge gained through extensive travels and hands on chef training in China.