Sunday, April 25, 2010

I have been at Cradle Mountain Lodge for a few weeks shy of 12 months and sadly it is time to move on. I have loved my time at the Lodge and I have been able to do some fantastic work and use some stellar ingredients. Mrs Chef and I made the decision to move back home to Tasmania early 2009 and set about making this happen. The position at the Lodge came up almost immediately and four weeks latter there I was on Cradle Mountain in the second week of May with my trusty scooter with the first real winter I had lived through in quite a few years on the way, the second Saturday we had the first snow fall for that year. Coming from Brisbane it was a bit of a shock but all part of the adventure. The plan was for me to come down and Mrs Chef to follow when a transfer to Tasmania became available. Our children were going to stay in our Brisbane home while they both finished uni. The move for Mrs Chef did not happen until September 2009 and when it did it soon became apparent that Mrs chef would have to be in Hobart due to family necessity and I would be on Cradle Mountain and come down on my days off. At the time we knew what this would entail and our plan was to do this for a few years then I would move back to Hobart or the Huon Valley where I grew up get a bit of land grow and produce some of our own food and work in Hobart. However by March 2010 we realized that this was not giving us the quality of life that we moved back to Tasmania to achieve. As much as I love the work we do at the Lodge it is time to make a move. I have had the privilege of working with some fantastic and talented chefs in my time here and we have done some fantastic events and dinners and lets not forget the road trips to meet our suppliers and producers. By far the most popular was the truffle road trip, see previous post. So a big thank you goes to Thomas, I still have the photos of you and Larry the lamb, Jimmy solid as a rock and ever dependable I hope things are going well in WA, Miss Nadia and miss Megan you are two of the best chefs I have worked with and made going to work a lot of fun I will miss being one of the girls. I wish you all the best Nadia for you on Heron Island then Canada and Megan have a great time in the UK. Brother Ferdie one of the original road trippers and also one of the best chefs I have worked with keep getting amongst it big fella, thanks for the cob I used it the first Sunday night I was in Hobart fantastic and now I am hooked. Mike almost always the first one to start I thank you for your efforts and you did very well on all sections, Stephen the most energetic young chef I have worked with keep it up and I have no doubt that you can go as far as you want, Kevin I am glad I took the chance on you as a first year apprentice you have come a long way in your time at the Lodge keep up the good work.Suzie, Gemma and all of the floor team well done it has been a pleasure working with you. Trevor the best breakfast chef you took the worry of breakfast away from me giving me one less thing to worry about, Steve B you have been great being thrown in as steward, breakfast cook and in the tavern. The stewards Simon, Jason, Shannon and Sheryl you had the worst job at times but you did it well. Leigh the GM thanks for letting me be a part of the Lodge team, Meagan in HR thanks for all your help during my stay. Also thank you to Steve, Troy, Jezza, Ossie, Beth and everyone else who works at the lodge. It has been a great year and one that will remain with me for a long time. To all chefs out there if you ever get the chance to work at Cradle Mountain Lodge take it as you will get the chance to do some fantastic work and use some fantastic product. I would recommend the Lodge as a great place to work for anyone.

Now while at the Lodge I had the pleasure of meeting some fantastic producers and use their products in my menus. So a big thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and my chefs goes out to, in no particular order, Guy and Eliza from Mount Gnomon Farm for your stunning free range Wessex Saddle Back pork, Brian and Jan Bonde for your beautiful Wild Clover Lamb one of the most popular items on our menu, Jim and Marilyn from Springfield Deer Farm your venison is superb and also one of the most popular menu items, Steve and Ellice from Tasfresh thanks for putting up with all the questions, all of the team at Petuna, PFD, Spreyton butchery, Tim Terry for your magical truffles and the best road trip we had and any one else that I may have forgotten. You have all made it a year to remember.

So I am back in Hobart after an absence of some 20 odd years and very much looking forward to the challenge of what I am taking on next - more on that in my next post - I love being in Hobart and the fact that it is so easy to get around and takes no time to get anywhere. The other day I took the scooter out for a spin as it was a very nice day and ended up having fish and chips for lunch on the banks of the Huon river in my old home town of Huonville. A trip that took only half the time it took me to get off the mountain. Saturday after a 10 minute shopping trip we had 3 kg of mussels from Mures, wine and salad for dinner and all the ingredients for another baked egg breakfast extravaganza. Love Hill Street Grocer. I am looking forward to getting out there and meeting suppliers and producers at this end of the state and going on road trips with my new team. Ok that is all for now more soon and look out for the blue scooter on the streets of Hobart.

Monday, April 19, 2010

black magic

When is a nut more than a nut ? well I am glad you asked. This is a question I asked my chefs on a recent very cold, wet and windy Monday morning as I loaded them onto a bus at the very unchef like hour of 5.30 am. Not surprisingly this was met with a chorus of moans, groans and mumbles. Ok the answer to the question is when you can use the humble little acorn to produce one of the worlds most prized and expensive ingredients the black truffle.

We were lucky enough to get a tour of Tim Terry's truffle farm at Mole Creek and it was the best road trip to a producer that I have been on. We met Tim at his property around 7.00 am, well maybe 7.15 am after I stopped stalling the bus and got it out of the hedge I had backed into, sorry boss. The tour started at the nursery where Tim explained the process to us in great detail but in a way that all of us could understand. I thought I had a good understanding of how truffles are produced, boy was I wrong, The acorns are germinated and after a while the root system is inoculated with the truffle fungus. This fungus then grows on the root system and looks like tiny little fingers branching off the roots of the plant. The truffles actually form on the ends of these fingers and not on the root system as I had thought.
The first photo on the right is of Tim showing
us the fingers of the truffle fungus
that is growing on the root system. It was too fine to show up in a photo but clearly visible to the naked eye. The second photo shows a portion of the juvenile trees that have been inoculated.
The trees will stay in
the nursery until they mature enough to be planted out. There is
a lot that goes into the soil preparation to get the right balance
for optimum growing conditions. . According to Tim it has been an ongoing process of trial and error, research and trips to Europe to work with truffle producers and then adapt the process to Tasmanian conditions. Also a matter of trial and error with what trees are best suited, whether to produce just winter or just summer truffles or both. Go just for black or try for the holy grail of truffles the white. And thousands of other things to overcome when at the start everyone told Tim that it cannot be done in Tasmania. I for one am very glad that Tim did not listen to they nay sayers and went ahead to become the pioneer of the truffle industry in Australia. Any way back to the tour. After the nursery and answering all of our questions we went into the fields to get a first hand look.
We saw the original hazelnut trees and then the oak trees, and even a grove of poplar trees that Tim is hoping to harvest his first white truffles from this winter. And at a value of around $7000 a kilo I would be hoping as well. We walked among the oak trees as Tim explained what we were looking at and how the truffles grow and are harvested. Under the trees the ground is bare with nothing growing not even weeds and this is caused by the truffle fungus and is called the brulee as in creme brulee this means burnt or scorched. As the trees grow this brulee expands as well and one benefit from this is it cuts down on weeding so saves money on labor. Within seconds Tim was pointing and saying there is a truffle and another and another. Once Tim explained what he was seeing we soon started finding them as well and they were everywhere. Tim explained that if we were to dig up these truffles now they would be bright orange and have no scent as they were just beginning to grow. This bit of news put paid to the idea of filling our pockets with truffles that some of my chefs had. These truffles are going to be this years winter truffle harvest. At this stage as the truffle is growing it actually breaks the ground above it and you can see the cracks and mounds in the ground quite clearly.

Far left you can see the brulee under the trees. Near left you can see the ground breaking over a truffle. Once we knew what to look for we found them by the hundreds so this years harvest is looking good can not wait to use them.

We have used Tim's winter black truffles at the Lodge for our Tastings At The Top event last June and for a few dinners that winter as well. All I can say is amazing if you ever get the chance to try some of Tim's truffles you will not be disappointed. The winter truffles are by far stronger in scent and flavor than the summer truffles and this is reflected in the price $2000 per kilo for winter and $800 per kilo for the summer. This is not to say the summer truffles are no good it is just that the season for the truffles is winter. And as with any produce it is always best in season.
The truffle in the second photo I brought to Hobart with me on my next days off to share with Mrs chef and it was fantastic. The first thing I did was to store the truffle in an airtight container with 1 dozen free range eggs from the Sunday farmers market and let this stand over night. Then I placed some Wessex saddle back ham from Mount Gnomon Farm into a small ceramic dish grated some of the black truffle onto this. Cracked two eggs into the dish added a splash of cream some more grated truffle a grind of pepper and a bit of sea salt and baked it in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Fried up some of the Wessex saddle back bacon, sliced up some sourdough bread and there you have a breakfast that simply defies words. The flavors were so intense the truffle coming through beautifully.
This road trip was outstanding and all of my chefs got a lot out of it and enjoyed the day immensely. I would like to thank Tim for his time and patience and say that my hat is off to him for the work he is doing and I look forward to using his truffles in the future. As a chef it is fantastic to have Tim producing his truffles here in Tasmania. Yes the price per kilo is high but there is a lot of truffle in a kilo and you can get a decent size piece for home for around $50.00 depending on season. Tim can send fresh truffles throughout Australia in 24 hours and into Europe in 24 - 48 hours. I will place a link for Tim's truffles in the link section of my blog. The packaging Tim uses is excellent and the truffles arrive to you as good as they were when dug up.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This is the shima wasabi stem on the right and a small grater on the left also supplied by shima wasabi. The wasabi is the stem and not the root of the plant as some think it is. You grate the wasabi by grinding it in a circular motion on the grater until a paste is formed. Stephen from shima wasabi explained it best to me and this is how I explain the process to our guests. The wasabi needs to ground on this board to release its full flavor and strength similar to how an epoxy glue needs to be mixed together to work, so does the wasabi. You can grate the wasabi on a grater or micro plane but you will not get the full benefit of the wasabi and the taste will be nothing like it should be. The paste when you grind it can vary from a light green to grey in color nothing like the wasabi you get in the tubes on dried in the tins. All this is is horseradish and green food color. And for years that is what most of us have known as wasabi. I discovered shima wasabi in my first week at the lodge when I found a random box of funny looking leaves in the cool room, the first two weeks in a new kitchen are always fun as you can discover some unusual things some good some not. Anyway I asked what these were and what do we use them for and was told that a previous chef had got them in for something and this is what was left. So I tasted some and was very impressed with the flavor and after a bit of digging around in the box I found a packing slip with the contact details for shima wasabi on it so I jumped on my computer and looked them up and read their story and what they were doing and was hooked. So the next day I rang them and introduced myself and made inquiries about using their product on my menus. I had a lunch for about 80 people coming up in a few weeks and wanted to have the wasabi on that menu. so two days prior to the dinner I drove to Perth just outside of Launceston, thankfully in a company car and not on my scooter, and for the first time saw the real deal fresh wasabi growing in Tasmania and if it was not love at first sight then it was love at first taste. Stephen took me on a tour of the growing area and demonstrated how to grind the wasabi correctly and explained what was happening as you ground the wasabi and the taste of the wasabi once you have ground it and it has sat for some time. When you taste the wasabi as soon as it is ground you get a bit of sugar and a bit of heat but after a few minutes it intensifies but at the same deepens and becomes more complex this continues to develop for I think it was about 20 - 30 minutes and then levels off but dissipates after a few hours. So this is why it needs to be ground to order to get maximum benefit from the wasabi. So armed with my first batch of wasabi and a nifty grater back up the mountain I went eager to show off my new found skills. All of my chefs were excited to see this and loved the taste as well and were very surprised by the changes that take place over a few minutes with the ground wasabi. The day of the lunch had arrived and the dish we served was very similar to the salmon plate we have on our menu now. We had 80 plates partially prepared all that was needed was to add the last piece of salmon as this was a cooked piece and the freshly ground wasabi. So there I was 5 minutes out from serving with my trusty new grater ready to go 80 plates all lined up in front of me waiting for the wasabi so away I went grating like a demon with a chef on each side of me to collect the wasabi as the paste formed on the grating board. I realized very quickly that to grate 80 portions of fresh wasabi sounds great but in fact was bloody hard work. So we have enough wasabi for the first 20 plates and here come the waiters time to send the meals out. Time to step the grating up a gear but by this time my arms felt like they were going to fall off so I did what any smart executive chef would do and delegated the rest of the grating to my chefs with the line, I have shown you how it is done so get in there and grind like the wind. We put the last serve of wasabi on the last plate just as the waiter was coming back into the kitchen to collect the last 4 plates, never had any doubt we could do it. When the lunch ended I went out to talk to the guests about the 3 course meal they had and the most popular thing from that lunch was the wasabi everyone loved it and wanted to know the story behind it. So I explained what it was and where it was from and the fact that it is fresh and why it is different to the tube wasabi. The guests were very impressed with the product and wanted to see it so I took a piece of wasabi and my trusty grater out into the restaurant and gave each table a demonstration on how to grind the wasabi and explained the differences in taste that occur over a few minutes. We had this same group in for the next few days for our tastings at the top event and at each dinner someone would want to see the wasabi demonstration again and have a go at grating it themselves. If you would like to try some fresh shima wasabi then just follow the link on this blog. You will see all the products that they have and how to place an order. Each order is packed in a small poly box with cool bricks to keep things cool and fresh and is sent via express post to your door. We get our wasabi 48 hours after we place an order and have never had any problems with freshness or quality. If you do place an order tell them that Simon from Cradle Mountain Lodge put you on to them as it is good for them to know how you have heard about shima wasabi.

happy grating.
This is one of our most popular entrees it is our salmon plate and is made up of salmon done three ways. From the top of the picture we have the natural, next is the tataki - this is seared in a very hot pan then marinated in soy, ginger, garlic, sesame and a touch of chili. Last but not least is the citrus cured salmon and this is cured in a mix of sugar, salt, lemon zest, orange zest and grapefruit zest only for about 4 hours. At the top of the plate we have a small shot of light soy sauce and on the tataki we have some wakami. Even though the salmon is the main attraction here the stand out items for me are the small wasabi leaf under the shot glass and the small amount of wasabi at the bottom of the plate. These two products we get from shima wasabi and have been using since june 2009. For those who like wasabi you do not know what you have been missing until you get to try some freshly grated shima wasabi, more on the wasabi in the following post. We grate the wasabi to order and on a busy night when the larder chef has a few of these plates on order I am usually not their favorite person for putting this on the menu. But the pay off is being able to use such a fantastic product that very few people get the chance to taste and believe me the taste is outstanding. The leaf is used like a salad green and has a mild wasabi taste without the heat you can find out more about shima wasabi by following the link on this blog.