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Sunday, May 16, 2010

This blog has moved

Once a Waitress has a new home, www.onceawaitress.com!

I'm currently messing about with the settings, but you'll get the general idea. If you follow me through an RSS feed, please update your subscription. If I can figure it out, there should be a handy button to press.

The same goes for email.

But I'm a bit backward when it comes to technology, you'll have to bear with me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Checking out the locals

After almost three years of living in North Hobart, this weekend I became a resident of the Lenah Valley. For those of you unfamiliar with Tasmanian geography, it's roughly the equivalent to moving from Collingwood to Fitzroy.

Okay, so I haven't moved that far (about 3.5km actually), and I will probably spend most of my time in the same pubs and shops I always have, but in Tasmanian terms it's a big move.

I've  got some new locals, which I'm looking forward to checking out. I'm now within walking distance of the Lenah Valley RSL (I'm hoping it's a dirty old mans pub), Castle Zayee (a Chinese restaurant in a fake castle that serves yum cha AND fish and chips, no joke), the Lenah Valley Foodstore (brilliant local grocery, I've gone to check it out already, absolute score) and Jean Pascale Patisserie (pictured right, for morning coffee and pastry).

My new locals will be keeping me busy (expect blog posts on all of the above), but I'm also further north, and therefore closer to the Moonah restaurant strip. In my opinion, there are some restaurants in Moonah that kick ass over North Hobart - without the crazy crowds and drunken louts. So I'll be checking those out as well.

I did also see an advert on TV last night for a chicken parma ready meal in a box that I may have to purchase, photograph and ridicule - if I can manage to lower my standards enough to look the check-out chick in the eye while handing over good money for it. Not forgetting the Sri Lankan restaurant around the corner (which also sells hamburgers, bizarre), I've a lot of new material coming your way. 

Until then, I'm open to suggestions, but right now I've a Sunday roast to organise, a veggie garden to investigate, a dog to walk and a zillion books to unpack. Life is grand.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The how and why of blog photography - Eat. Drink. Blog.

Great facial expressions and coordinating your outfit 
with the venue are essential for good conference presentations

In late March I went to Melbourne for the first Australian food bloggers conference, Eat. Drink. Blog. where I gave a very nervous talk on blog photography along with Matt from Abstract Gourmet (who talked about more professional techniques than me!) and Ellie from Kitchen Wench (who poignantly demonstrated the pros of reading you camera manual - do it).

I was in great company with a lot of very talented photographers, cooks and writers both presenting and attending so therefore I was completely terrified. It didn't take long to realise that I wasn't the only nervous one, and a few coffees and a few cigarettes later (and some hand-holding with Jeroxie) it all went swimmingly.

Of course since I got back to Hobart I have not only lost my notes, but I have also deleted the Powerpoint presentation I used on the day. So bear with me while I try and remember exactly what it is that I said, as I have promised a few people who couldn't come on the day that I would put my words of wisdom up (ha ha) on this blog.

Long before I started Once a Waitress, in my former life, I studied commercial photography at RMIT in Melbourne. It was, as I said before, a largely soul destroying experience but amongst it all I did learn a thing or two about being a better photographer. These days I don't shoot for money (although drop me a line if you'd like to pay me to do so) I just shoot for myself. I don't even own a DSLR at the moment, I take most of the shots for this blog on a little Canon IXUS 8015 which is perfect for what I need at the moment.

As it says on the slide above, there are three elements to a great food blog, and great photography certainly can be one of them. This isn't to say that there aren't great food blogs out there that don't use images, Steve Cumper is one such blogger who's story telling ability surpasses the need for imagery. But if you have the time and the inclination, photography is a great story-telling tool.

You won't need a $10,000 camera or expensive props, just an eye for detail

Great photography involves time and thought. In a digital age, it's easy to keep shooting mindlessly without consideration as each shot costs you nothing. When I started uni we took pictures of a tennis ball for four weeks. Every time we pressed the shutter it cost about $5 for the sheet of 5x4 film, and about $7 for processing. So that's $12 for EACH photo. This processing took two days, so we had to wait to see our results. Expensive, and no instant gratification. But if you fork out $12 every time you push the shutter, you tend to think a bit more about it a bit more.

Pretend this arancini is a tennis ball

This photo was taken in a restaurant, where I had very little control over the light. This shot was just like my tennis ball endeavor, but with out the studio lighting and expensive transparency film. I couldn't move my light source, so I moved the food. Natural light is key here. Professional photographers will spend hours using studio lights to create the effect of natural light - and it's rarely ever as good. So use the light you have at your disposal wisely. Think about where the highlights are, where the shadows are and move the plate accordingly. Never use on camera flash. Pump up your camera's ISO as high as the lighting conditions will allow without losing too much quality, but never, ever use a flash in a restaurant. It looks nasty, and it's rude to the other diners. 

It helps to have understanding friends who let you run off with their lunch, and the waiters will give you funny looks, but it works. I try and book a table near the window if I plan on taking photos, and in winter I tend to go out for more lunches to utilise the daylight.

Sometimes words are not enough

When we describe what we see with words, we often impart opinion in our descriptions. I could describe this cup as "twee," "ridiculous," "ugly," or "beautiful." With a photo, your audience will have a chance to come to their own conclusions. 


There is an old and very well known saying: "a picture tells a thousand words." The picture above tells one. RAW. This would be a boring photo (in my opinion) without the RAW, but with it, it tells the viewer what kind of cheese this is, leaving my words free for other observations.

Thinking about what to shoot is just as important as more technical aspects like ISO, shutter speed or aperture. Look around you to see what tells a story. Is it what's on your plate, the colour of the walls, the cakes in a cabinet or a stack of unusual plates on a sideboard? 

I've seen a lot of brilliant photos that aren't technically perfect, but they illustrate a scene perfectly. Sometimes this is enough. It's easy to become obsessed with expensive props, lenses and filters, but they aren't going to make you a better photographer. Keeping an open mind and being aware of your surroundings will make you a better photographer.  

In the original version of this shot the line of the counter was on an angle, but straightening it up and cropping in a bit changed the dynamics considerably

I advise making Photoshop (or similar editing software) your friend. Tiny changes like colour balance, exposure adjustments and making sure straight lines are actually straight can make a lot of difference. Photoshop can seem like a daunting program, and it is, but it's worthwhile learning a few tricks to tidy up your shots. If you're serious about having better photos on your blog, take a quick class through adult education or online, you'll quickly notice the difference. That said, Photoshop will not save a bad shot, it helps to have something decent to work with in the first place. 

I really, really like orange

All that said, photography is about passion. If you aren't a visual person, or you don't enjoy taking photos, don't. Food blogs don't NEED photos, they are just another tool in your story telling box. Some of my favorite blogs, Eating Asia for example, are a team effort with a writer and a photographer. And like I said earlier, some of my favourite food blogs have no images at all. 

You might think differently, and that's the beauty of blogging. There is something out there for everyone, so just do what you do, and do it to the best of your ability. Or take a photography class, they're fun and educational. My favourite combo.

Eat. Drink. Blog. was made possible by the hard work of many bloggers (thank you to Tomatom, Reem, Jess Ho, April, Melli, Michael and Tammi) and our lovely sponsors including the Essential Ingredient, St Ali, Der Raum and SBS Food. It was a brilliant day, and I feel honored to be included. Here's looking forward to Eat. Drink. Blog in 2011!

A full round up of presentations and a list of related blog coverage can be found here.


     

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My secret shame


Just like Tomatom, I also have a secret chocolate shame. Well, probably not such a secret now because I've just told everyone. But I've a reason for coming clean: I need your help.

These ugly little suckers are nothing like the chocolate speckles I used to buy from the corner shop, circa 1987, for 50c a bag as big as my chubby, sticky hand. They consisted of the worst compound chocolate money could buy and positively repelled saliva. They came second only to milk bottles and red skins, fabulously teeth rotting stuff.

Amazingly, I still have all my pearly whites in tact (thank goodness baby teeth fall out anyway) but possible not for long as I have recently re-discovered an adult version of this childhood favourite.

No longer 50c a bag these puppies will set you back about $7 for 200g at Haigh's Chocolates. Fortunately for my waistline there isn't a Haigh's outlet in Tasmania but I'd like someone to bring me back some from Melbourne, Sydney or Adelaide the next time they visit Tasmania (which they should, it's rather lovely here).

So, if you're headed down this way I'll take you out for coffee in exchange for a bag of these. Just one bag at a time though please - I've curbed my sweet tooth somewhat in my old age.

Although, if you happen to be the CEO of Haighs Chocolates and you are reading this, feel free to send me a freebie or two, I won't mind at all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Coffee at The Cupping Room, Hobart


There is a new café in Hobart and it has a $20,000 coffee machine. I wasn't sure the rumours were true, so this morning I went down to see for myself.

As a photographer, I always believed that given the worst camera in the world, a great photographer would still take a great photograph. And given the best camera in the world, a bad photographer would still take a bad photograph. I also apply this theory to baristas (no matter how many awards they have won). I don't care how impressive their CV is, I care about the cup of coffee I have just ordered, and nothing else, regardless of how much the coffee machine cost.

The machine in question is The Slayer, which is a proper noun. With the "third wave" of coffee well and truly underway in other, more mainstream cities, Hobart is a bit behind the times when it comes to impressive coffee making machinery. Although thanks to relative newcomer Chado, we're right up there when it comes to tea.

The Slayer lives at spanking new venue The Cupping Room, another brainchild of impressive Hobart based coffee chain Oomph. Open for three weeks now it fills an old warehouse space on Murray Street, a section of town many would think too out of the way to get to, but in reality only a stones throw from Hobart's other home of decent coffee, Criterion Street.

At 11am on a Saturday The Cupping Room was full to the brim (pardon the pun) of curious locals keen to see the new kid in town (pardon the cliché). The table set up is curious, with 30 or so seats crammed into a relatively small area of an enormous space, and one sweet little sofa area in the front window that could do well to be expanded through half the venue for lazing around with a latte or two.

There are three single origin blends available at all times that change on a weekly basis. Next to my new Slayer friend are five or so Mazzer grinders, standard (and blissfully silent) fare for a café with any sense. Another, and obviously lesser quality, coffee machine stands almost as dejected as the ugly step sister before the ball. It's for take-away only, as apparently the potential merits of an expensive coffee machine are wasted on paper cups – I wholeheartedly agree.

First up I have a latte, the beans of which were selected as I randomly pointed to a name I couldn't pronounce on the blackboard. At this stage, I am more concerned about other elements of my coffee. It was above average, but that's all. Perhaps slightly too warm, the milk a little bubbly. 


A second flat white was more impressive, and I do like the sexy black cups.

There was plenty of time on hand to ponder my surroundings, and read through the menu, as there wasn't a newspaper in sight (more newspapers, please).

The breakfast fare looked promising (although someone might want to run a spell check over tricky words like "Gruyere")*. Eggs are, of course, available ($8.50) with an arsenal of traditional sides ($2-3), and a brioche bun topped with Neufchatel and served with a side of jam ($6.5) caught my eye. A promise of "Cupping Room hollandaise" brings hope that it is made from scratch, on-site, but I shall have to wait until my next visit to find out.

The lunch menu on the other hand did not appeal to me. Safe options like Caesar or Greek salad sit with some very dull sounding wrap sandwiches and pizzas, backed up by a few hopelessly basic main meals.

I would hope that, even in a small town like Hobart, we have moved on from chicken, cheese and sweet chilli mayonnaise wraps (McDonalds made them so uncool). In the very least, many Tasmanian cheese options are far superior to King Island brie.

I watched the next table's mains come out. Like me, they had been puzzled by the lack of table service, and consequently spent their entire meal debating who should go to the counter to order this or that. His meal was a glorified lamb salad ($16.50), hers, a mammoth plate of fettuccini in a cream sauce with chicken and mushrooms ($17, and may I say…it's not 1982 anymore). A Cape Grim beef burger with chips ($18) would do well if it could stand up to the quality of the Alley Cat's $10 burger, or even Café Vue's $12 burger and fries (although this requires a trip to Melbourne). And so, we shall see.

I did not eat these meals, and so pass no judgement on how good they may (or may not) have been. Although I would like to see a more adventurous menu on offer, something to rival Melbourne's St Ali, or Proud Mary, who mix the best coffee in Melbourne with an inventive, excellent and yet affordable menu. I will, for the sake of a fair and accurate reviewing process, return shortly to sample the lunch fare, although under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t eat there based on the menu being similar to every other café in town. I will report back at a later date.

So, it was the coffee I came for, and the coffee I had was good. There are monthly cupping classes on offer, although I would like to see fun latte art demonstrations and the like, and I hear on the grapevine that there is a three group Synesso and a syphon brewing set on the way.

The Cupping Room is new, and consequently will require a period of adjustment to truly find its groove. There is promise in the air here, and it is the promise of Hobart catching up to the hospitality standards of the mainland. Baby steps perhaps, but The Cupping Room may just be the beginning of a new era in coffee for Hobart. Maybe.

*Obviously, I did proof read this document, but Murphy's Law for food writers dictates that any mention of spelling errors on a menu will ensure that the review in question will be riddled with them.
 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Rose can be my local any day

There aren't many dirty old man's pubs left these days, but if you're looking for one, best to head to The Rose in Fitzroy.

I was recently up in Melbourne for a week for (among other things) the inaugural Australian Food Blogger's Conference,  EatDrinkBlog, and after all the fine dining I really needed an old school pub meal to take the edge off all the fancy (it was getting expensive).

More on EatDrinkBlog later (and if you can't wait, click here), but for now...I'm still thinking about my parma, and a lot of football paraphernalia.

The Rose has all the things I love about real pubs. Ashtray wells beneath the bar (but no smoking of course), heavy wooden tables that don't wobble, a dart board, Nobby's nuts, a faded rotating GB sign and a clock perpetually stuck on 6.30.

It was a small shame that there was no beer garden, but not much could be done about that really. There are a few tables outside for smokers, but that is all the outdoor space on offer. The Rose is more of a winter pub, best to be cosy inside with your comfort food, and leave the sunny summer dining for other, more expensive, gastro-pubs.

There is a bit of a sporting theme here, and I can only imagine what the bar must be like on the night of a big game. I'm usually dead against TV and food in the same location, but judging by the amount of Fitzroy FC souvenirs, it would be rude to deny these locals their game.

It was a tough dinner decision from a menu that probably hasn't changed since 1970. I was initially quite taken by the corned beef with mustard sauce, mash and veg ($13/$16) but made a last minute change to an old favorite, veal parma with salad and chips ($13). Why I chose veal, I have no idea as I don't eat it as a general rule and I have my doubts about how ethically produced it might have been - I must have been quite drunk.


Although I only ordered the small size it was still enormous. I ate it all of course (as I said, drunk). I even ate the slice of white baguette that all the meals seemed to come with, which was clearly from Coles and had been spread with margarine. To be honest, I really should have skipped it.

Other menu items were fairly typical pub fare, fish and chips, steak and Guinness pie and a random Thai chicken curry, mostly served with chips and veggies. Jenna (my date) was shocked that the price of the Scotch fillet had gone up. By a whole dollar. And I didn't spot a main over $18. While we were there a few locals wandered in and out returning plates they had taken home the night before and picking up that evening's dinner, walking their plated meals down the street towards home.

The Rose offers nothing special, and that's what makes it so. The food is ridiculously inexpensive, the beer is cold and the carpets worn... and I liked it. Just try not to tell too many people, we wouldn't want them to get all uber-cool and put the prices up.

During the course of the evening, which also featured a few pints of Coopers Pale (bargain priced at $8 each), my dinner date managed to score herself a job here. I haven't touched base with her yet, but I assume her trial shift went well. So if you happen to pop in to The Rose and are served by a gorgeous, red headed, rock and roll looking lass, send her my love. 


The Rose Hotel
406 Napier Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 3626
Kitchen open Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm, Sunday 1pm-3pm

Rose Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lunch in Paris? Oui, s'il vous plaît.



I have this thing about cookbooks without photographs. I hate them. It's almost impossible for me to find cooking inspiration from plain text. Although it turns out, I can find cooking inspiration from plain text if it's prose.

Lunch in Paris is the first novel-cum-cookbook that I have ever read, and I am now open to suggestions on others please. Self described as a "delicious love story, with recipes," Lunch in Paris isn't going to win any awards (it's the literary equivalent of a low budget romantic comedy) but it is a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon.

This autobiographical novel tells of native New Yorker Elizabeth Bard's struggle to adapt with French life after marrying her dream French fellow. It's not as sharp as Sarah Turnbull's Almost French or as witty Paul West's A Year in the Merde but it does offer some lovely insight into the French food scene, painting a beautiful picture of the way French culture revolves around food and drink.

I didn't feel any particular affection for any of the characters, but I wasn't annoyed by them either. It's a fairly surface level tale and in truth I have trouble sympathising with the culture shock of a silver spoon American who's gorgeous new husband is bankrolling her to do very little while living in Paris and swanning about the markets. Although to her credit, she complains infrequently and makes a great effort to assimilate - especially through native cuisine.

The best part was reading the descriptions of decedent French dishes an then discovering the recipe for them only pages later. Sure, this book is definetly light reading, but the meals are described with such passion, and with such detail, that it is easy to feel Bard's affection for the meals she describes.

The recipes presented are conveniently indexed in the back of the novel (which was the deciding factor for me when considering this purchase). Most of the recipes have a French base such as chocolate souffle cake (that Bard eats standing at the kitchen bench in tears with a spoon from the dish - just as I am likely to do), mussels with white wine and fennel or poached cod with wilted leeks and mayonnaise. Although the recipes on offer seem overly simplistic it is their accompanying tales that make the mouth water.

Also, note to self: perfect Mother's Day gift idea.

Lunch in Paris
Elizabeth Bard (Harper Collins)
RRP $35 (but I picked it up from Angus & Robertson in early March on special for $25)
ISBN 978 0 7322 8878 5

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Happy days



Hobartians, meet Sandy Mart.

Sandy Mart is not open yet, but according to the nice young man who was drilling holes in the wall it should be open in two weeks, or, as he added "when all the work is done." That seems perfectly logical to me.

Sandy Mart is on Elizabeth Street, up the boring end. Just a couple of shops up from Island Espresso and almost exactly across the street from my office. This brings me so much joy, when I noticed the window being signed from across the street I did a happy dance.

People who live in larger cities might not get so excited about a new shop, but here in Hobart we don't have such easy access to Asian ingredients. There is Wing and Co. in Sandy Bay, and the Chinese Emporium in Moonah, but they are both a 15 minute drive from the centre of town. Having access to proper Asian ingredients in my lunch break is going to be excellent.

Now, on my 20 minute walk home from work I pass an Asian grocery, a spice shop, a fishmonger, a green grocer and a butcher, and around the corner from my house is the Italian Pantry. May I never visit another mainstream supermarket again.

Happy days.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dinner at the Hawaii 5-0

Dede Indonesian and Thai is ridiculous in every fashion. From the floral padded wicker chairs to the fake palm trees lit up like Christmas, it is not unlike dining in an episode of Hawaii 5-0 - without the criminal element.

I've always been a big fan of kitch Asian restaurants. As the only kind of Asian food I experienced until I was at least 17-years-old, this style of kitch brings back happy childhood memories of post-good reportcard celebratory family dinners.

If the laminated specials menus were  to be any indication I  was up for an interesting experience, a highly visable experience at that, as our window table was practically flood lit.

The 80s dining theme extended to the wine list which was offering West Coast Coolers for $6.50. Are West Coast Coolers were still available? Or have these ones been sitting in some dark cool-room since before I was born?

The beers were listed as being from "Tasmania" and "Else Where," which I loved, although I was  dissappointed by a complete lack of Tasmanian wines of either white or red varietals. I did however notice a bottle of red with a "Dede" logo on it upon leaving, shuddering at the idea of a small town Indonesian themed restaurant dabbling in the wine business. Although I'm hopeful that the only thing this restaurant had a hand in producing was the label.

As I am unable to go past a dumpling option at any point, the evening began with a serve of  pangsit, fried dumplings of minced pork, prawn and oriental herbs served with sweet chilli ($6.6 for 4) which were crisp, juicy and freshly flash-fried. The accompanying sweet chilli sauce was of the Masterfoods variety, and I do suspect that many a restaurant would fail to function if no pre-made sweet chilli sauce was available for bulk purchase. If the questionable photography on the menu was any indication it was a featured ingredient in almost all of the available entrees and a few mains.

Next up was calamari cooked in coriander, lemongrass, chilli and coconut milk ($20.5). The calamari was possibly, but not likely, fresh although it was a little on the cool side and not particularly spicy,  tasting mostly of coconut milk.

An accompanying bowl of tumeric-stained yellow rice was cold and dry. But at 10pm on a Saturday night it is hard to find a restaurant that is still serving, so this was a fault I could live with. I was not particularly happy about being charged $3.50 for it though - I think that any Asian restaurant pricing it's mains in the $25 range should be factoring the cost of a bowl of rice into the meal.

Look closely at the picture on the left, and tell me what you think does not belong....

Nope. You're not seeing things (apologies for the dodgy iPhone pictures by the way, it was these or nothing). On the right-hand-side of this dish is a pile of potato wedges with sweet chilli sauce drizzled over the top, a particularly unusual sighting in both Indonesian and Thai cuisine (although correct me if I am wrong).

They accompany the skinniest duck of all time - which tasted of chicken wrapped in duck fat and could have benefited greatly from a heaped spoonful of MSG, if this is any indication of how much help it required. A gomi sauce (which tasted like an Asian sweet balsamic) livened things up a bit but this dish was in no way worth it's $25 price tag.

The highlight of this evening for me was not the food, which certainly gave me no reason to return, but every other element of my dining experience. The atmosphere of a restaurant like Dede Indonesian and Thai cannot be created - it just happens. And thus is the basis of it's appeal.

I loved the gaudy wicker chairs, the elevator music, that our sweet little waitress for had probably never worked in a restaurant until very, very recently and the fact that there were banana fritters on the menu alongside fried ice-cream and pineapple. The 80s are not dead, they live on in Hobart and many another Asian restaurants in regional cities or towns. No pretention, no fuss. Not bad.

Dede Indonesian and Thai
369 Elizabeth St
North Hobart TAS 7000
(03) 6231 1068
Open Mon-Sat 5.30-10pm (and oddly enough, open Sunday on Mother's Day)

Friday, March 5, 2010

You can't eat this cheese


This cheese is made with raw milk. Raw milk, that stuff that comes out of a cow (or a sheep, or a goat). Pure, unadulterated fresh milk, natures finest from happy, well loved animals that roam free in paddocks and do as they please. Cheese made by an artisan producer with the highest level of attention to detail, made with passion and skill (in a clean, temperature controlled environment that abides by strict safety standards). Sounds perfect, and it tastes pretty darned amazing as well.

But you can't eat this cheese.

Bacteria they say, raw cheese is packed with the stuff. Bad for you. Nasty bacteria, causes all sorts of problems. Best just to eat uniform cheese that has been mass-produced – that way everyone will be safe from that nasty bacteria.

Well, here's the thing, cheese is made from bacteria, that's what makes cheese, cheese. Otherwise it would just stay in its milky form. And I'm pretty sure human beings have been drinking their milk raw for a lot longer than we've been able to homogenise and pasteurise it for mass consumption. I might be missing something here, but I've no idea what the problem is. If I want to eat this cheese, it's my choice right? Wrong.

The sale of raw milk and cheese made from raw milk is illegal in Australia – with the exception of France's Roquefort cheese, and a couple of other European Swiss varieties: gruyère, emmenthal and sbrinz - all of which are made using unpasteurised milk. But this is import only, Australian producers can't sell their own interpretations of these, or any other cheese for that matter.

Nick Haddow from Bruny Island Cheese Co. has been trying to get permission to sell his raw milk C2 cheese for over 18 months


Slow Food Australia has been calling for an end to the strict, and often politically motivated, scare campaigns and regulations concerning raw milk cheese for some time now:

"A defence of a food that has for hundreds of years inspired, given pleasure and provided sustenance but is now being insidiously undermined by the sterile hand of global hygiene controls."


If you like, you can add your voice to the Slow Food Australia campaign to enable Australian producers to make cheese from raw milk here.


For the personal consumption of the cheese maker only. 

It would be impossible to fully explore the issues surrounding the consumption of raw milk and raw milk cheeses in these few hundred words, but please, if you are interested, go and find out more. Most of us just don't know what we are missing out on, we don't know what real cheese should taste like, smell like, or feel like. Someone sitting in a fancy office is making this decision for us and that's not okay.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A look back at Launceston's Fee & Me

While I was cleaning up my computer yesterday I came across some articles I wrote a couple of years ago, including this one about Launceston culinary institution Fee & Me.  Fee & Me shut its doors for the last time in late 2009, after 20 years and countless awards. I contemplated editing this article as a retrospective, but I thought it best to run the article just as it was written originally - it's how I remember Fee and Peter. 


An old recipe for new success

It has been almost 20 years since Fiona Hoskins and Peter Crowe began their Launceston restaurant Fee & Me, a business venture that formed from a love of fine food and exceptional produce.

Over the last 20 years Fee & Me has accumulated an awards list long enough to make any restaurateur jealous. Since opening, the restaurant has been nominated for, and received many awards for the quality of its food, service, and wine list including: Best Australian Restaurant of the Year in the 2000 American Express Awards and Best Tasmanian Restaurant in the 2001, 2002 and 2003 American Express Awards. More recently, Fee & Me has received a place in Fodor's Top 100 Eating Places in the World every year since 2003.

But executive chef Hoskins and maitre d Crowe say there is no secret to their success, they just do it for the love of it – their success was just an unexpected, though inevitable, bonus.

It was a series of happy accidents that led to the pair becoming the owners and operators of the most successful restaurant in Tasmania in the '90s. Fee & Me is a restaurant that is renown worldwide and revered by locals, and is still the pride and joy of the two long-term Launceston residents.

The couple both worked in hospitality when younger to support their university studies, an industry they would keep coming back to over the years. The idea of owning their own restaurant was always on their minds, and the pair would often to go to restaurant auctions, just to keep abreast of who owned what, and what was a success or a failure.

Hoskins, a former primary school teacher, and Crowe, a former accountant, bicker playfully in disagreement, over if they came to own Fee & Me by accident. The first version of Fee & Me, on the corner of Kingsway and York streets, was "going for a song," says Crowe. They pair won the auction under the reserve price, and suddenly became responsible for their own restaurant, which for Crowe had been a lifelong dream.

Crowe insists that they never intended to run a "fine dining" restaurant, accidentally earning the label by putting tablecloths on the tables to hide their battered surfaces. "In 1989, tablecloths set you apart from causal dining," says Crowe. They still use the same tables bought with the premises at auction, along with many of the other fittings.

In the beginning, Hoskins only intended to fill in here and there while she worked out what she wanted to do in the long term. She was a jack-of-all-trades, jumping in where and when needed, from dishwashing and waiting tables, to pushing around the vacuum if the cleaner was off sick.

It wasn't long before Hoskins – who has no formal chefs training – was playing around in the kitchen, in the early days giving the professional chefs her personal recipes to adapt for the restaurant menu. A little trial and error later, Hoskins was creating many of the dishes on the menu, and had begun working her way towards a chef's position by watching and learning. "I have always loved cooking, always," says Hoskins.

Hoskins eventually began what she describes as an informal apprenticeship – under then head chef Mark Lunnon. "Once I had him (Lunnon) talking about food, you couldn't shut him up, so he told me everything, and taught me everything he knew."

One evening, with 94 people booked into the restaurant, most of the kitchen staff came down sick with a mystery virus. Hoskins had no choice but to jump in and cook for almost 100 people, and has never looked back. "We haven't been able to get her out of the kitchen since," jokes Crowe.

Much of the fame and attention for Fee & Me has stemmed from their unique degustation style menu, a system still in place today. The menu is divided into five brackets of dishes, all entrée size. The menu selection begins with lighter items – like pan fried trevalla with beetroot hummus, cumin and yoghurt salad and a pomegranate dressing – and moves to richer, more filling items – like the spring lamb loin with pumpkin puree and crisp potato garnish.

The menu is designed so the customer can put together their own dining experience without the restrictions of a traditional degustation, where the chef will choose set dishes for the meal. Hoskins and Crowe say they created their menu as a reflection of the way they like to dine. "We thought 'wait on a minute, we can't be the only people in the world who want to eat like this', that it must be possible to have small courses but choose what you want to have," says Hoskins.

Crowe is responsible for the award winning wine list, where wines by the glass are helpfully divided into sections to match the menu. He says that they intend the dining experience to be unique every time, by letting the customers design their own experience. 

Crowe and Hoskins consistently seek the freshest high quality ingredients. "If we get a great product, the cooking is easy, just don't ruin it," Crowe says. Seasonal and local produce is used in the kitchen when available, and they prefer organic or natural products when feasible.

Hoskins also recently signed the GM free chef's charter for Tasmania, opposing the use of genetically modified products in her kitchen. The charter, a Greenpeace initiative, calls for the thorough labeling of all food products containing genetically modified ingredients, and opposes the introduction of genetically modified canola in New South Wales and Victoria.

Life for Hoskins is not just restricted to life in the kitchen. With the restaurant running consistently, she is now able to step back and pursue other interests, like saving the Tasmanian Devil.

Hoskins has been working as a volunteer with the Devil Island Project, which she says is her way of giving something back to the community that has given endlessly to her.

"Tassie has been good to me. I love it here. I love Tasmania, I love the seasons, I just think it’s a beautiful place," she says. Although Crowe insists Hoskins doesn't have much love for the cold Tasmanian winters.

Last year Hoskins ran the London marathon, a yearly fundraising event for charities.
Hoskins has raised $47,500 to help save the Tasmanian Devil, and has raised almost $200,000 from other fundraising activities with the Devil Island Project.

While the couple now have time to pursue other interests, both insist that there is no end in sight for Fee & Me. "It doesn't really feel like work, because this is what we love," says Crowe.

The restaurant is still going strong today, with a full house more often than not. It is a fine example of dedication and longevity in an industry that is fickle at best, where you are only as good as your last review.

Fiona Hoskins and Peter Crowe don't care for the critics these days, most of which were instrumental to their initial success. They know that most would now consider them "old news", but they don't mind. "At the moment we don't always please the critics, but we please the customers," says Hoskins.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eat, Drink, Blog and a friendly award.



I've been invited to speak on the photography panel at Eat Drink Blog, Australia's first ever food blogger's conference, to be held in Melbourne on 21 March. In honor of this, I've made my first ever powerpoint presentation. Luckily the conference is 3 weeks away, so I've got some time to improve on it!

As part of the conference there is a photography compeition, and all Australian bloggers are invited to enter. All you have to do is upload a photo that you have the copyright for, and have blogged about sometime in 2009/10. It's that easy. You can find more information about this via Tomatom, or go straight to the Flickr page. There is already some great shots up, I'm very impressed (and feeling a little inadequate)! It's also sponsored by SBS Food, so thank's SBS, you're all kinds of awesome.

And this blog has received an award, courtesy of The Raw Noodle (aka Ranita). I'm not quite sure what this means. But I'm a pretty over the top person in general - so I graciously accept. Thanks to the Raw Noodle for thinking of me.

Here is my award:




Ranita has asked me to answer a series of questions, as well as pass on this award to six other bloggers I would like to know more about.
  1. Where is your cell phone? Charging
  2. Your hair? Unwashed
  3. Your mother? Driven
  4. Your father? Relaxed
  5. Your favourite food? Cheese
  6. Your dream last night? Forgotten
  7. Your favourite drink? Beer
  8. Your dream/goal? Newspapers
  9. What room are you in? Bedroom
  10. Your hobby? Blogging
  11. Your fear? Driving
  12. Where do you want to be in six years? Melbourne
  13. Where were you last night? Pub
  14. Something that you aren’t? Confident
  15. Muffins? Gag
  16. Wish list item? Shoes
  17. Where did you grow up? Balnarring
  18. Last thing you did? Shop
  19. What are you wearing? Glasses
  20. Your TV? Off
  21. Your pets? Imaginary
  22. Friends? Random
  23. Your life? Unusual
  24. Your mood? Content
  25. Missing someone? Indeed
  26. Vehicle? Feet
  27. Something you’re not wearing? Perfume
  28. Your favourite store? Grocery 
  29. Your favourite colour? Crimson
  30. When was the last time you laughed? Today
  31. Last time you cried? Commercials
  32. Your best friend? Generous
  33. One place that I go to over and over? Dumpling World
  34. One person who emails me regularly? Journalist
  35. Favourite place to eat? Outdoors
The bloggers I would like to pass on the Over the Top award to are:

Jeroxie
The Kitchen of Queen La La
Tummy Rumbles 
Melbourne Gastronome
Pikelet and Pie
Food Trail

Okay, that's all from me for today. Don't forget to go and check out the Eat Drink Blog webpage!



Saturday, February 20, 2010

Good dog, bad coffee

I'm dog sitting this weekend. Pip asked very nicely this morning to be taken out for a coffee and a ham and cheese croissant. Pip always gets what she wants. Lucky pooch.

We headed off to La Torta 310 (formerly Cafe Cardamom, formerly something else no one ever went to). We had coffee. We had a ham and cheese croissant. We had another coffee. I tell you, Pip was infinetly more impressed than I was.

La Torta is extremely dog friendly. Pip got not one, but two dog biscuits. The courtyard area if perfect for pooches: large, secluded and sunny.

After briefly considering the breakfast menu (that I couldn't really order off anyway because the chef was out making a wholesale delivery and wouldn't be back for half an hour) I agreed with Pip that a ham and cheese croissant was infinetly the safest option.

The menu was a typographical nightmare. Perhaps someone behind the scenes thinks using randomly placed bold type is pleasing on the eye, but they are very wrong. Together with more commas, colons and exclamation marks for a whole restaurant strip (the word Yummy!! does not belong on a menu) I was suitably frightened.

 
This is Pip. Pip likes anything people eat, walks, sleeping under the blankets and leaving white hairs on my black clothes. Pip dislikes flies, rain and guide dogs.

My first latte was lukewarm and flavorless. Distinctly below average. The second was a slight improvement. I'd put this lack of quality down to the friendly, yet largely untrained waitstaff. Okay, I don't really know how untrained they are. I'm making an assumption. But I think the likely hood of any member of staff taking on the job title of "barista" in this venue would be slight. 

 
Dirty cutlery anyone?

La Torta is a bakery, so most menu items are made on-site. The above croissant was light and fluffy, just about perfect I'd say. It's just a shame that it was cold in the middle, containing too much cheese and giving me flash-backs to the kind of mass-produced cheddar found in hospitals and high school canteens. My cutlery was also covered in smudged fingerprints, clearly having been handled by a number of people (or one very greasy person) before it reached the plate.

We decided to clear off then the live accoustic music started. It was all a bit much for me at 9am on a Saturday morning. Thank goodness I didn't have a hangover or the very noisy and offensively bold manageress would have driven me completly mental, as good as her intentions were.

La Torta 310
310 Elisabeth St
Hobart 
(03) 6234 3112
Closed Sundays

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chado - doing it the right way


 

Melbourne and Sydney are currently under the spell of the "third wave movement" of coffee making. New techniques and new standards are being embraced to evolve coffee drinking into a sensory experience. $40,000 coffee machines are the drawcard for cafés like St Ali or Proud Mary in Melbourne, where a cup of the good stuff could set you back anywhere from $4 to $14 – it's a café revolution.

In Hobart we do things a little bit differently. For 18 months now we have been quietly experiencing a tea revolution.

Chado - The Way of Tea, on the quiet part of Elizabeth Street, Hobart, is an unassuming place. Deceptive in size it offers nothing from the outside that might tempt one in other that the promise of a hot pot of tea and the sounds of the shakuhachi flute drifting from the inside onto the street.

There is an air of tranquillity, most likely feeding of the relaxed nature of the gentle waitresses and the wall to wall tea – for who ever drinks tea if not for the purposes of feeling soothed and relaxed?

 

It is owned and run by local musician and former bassist of alternative rock band the Violent Femmes, Brian Ritchie, and his wife Varuni Kulasekara. Split over two levels, but mostly using the downstairs space, Chado is a teahouse, not a restaurant. While most of us would go to a restaurant and order a drink with our meal, Chado is the place to order tea with food on the side.

In the menu, one page for lunch, with no more than eight items on offer, and 22 pages of different teas. The booklet reads more like an encyclopaedia than a menu. The tea is listed via country of origin then variety with thorough descriptions on taste, aroma and history. The words "spoilt for choice" are an understatement.

All priced according to rarity and quality, all the teas are brewed at a specific temperature for a prescribed time, then brought to you with further instructions. My companion and I were informed that our tea had been steeping for one minute and thirty seconds, therefore it would need only another 30 seconds before we should poor the whole amount into a second pot so it would not become bitter as we drank. We were also given a small thermos of water (at exactly 85 degrees I was told) to pour into the tealeaf pot when we were ready for more tea, which on this occasion was an Anji Bai Pian (Zhejiang) at $5 per pot, $7 for two people.



The small lunch menu offers two meal varieties, a bento box (a Japanese style lunch box) or donburi (rice bowl). I found the menu written with too little detail, although our waitress happily explained to us what came with our meals beyond written descriptors like Cape Grim beef, grilled salmon, natto (fermented soy beans) or organic silken tofu.

The donburi option is a smaller version of the bento box, and my choice for this particular visit to Chado. Priced at $14.50, a good sized piece of Tasmanian salmon came warm and crisp, marinated in mirin, sake, miso and soy on a bed of sticky, fluffy rice, adorned with chilled (and deliciously slippery) pickled cucumber, mushroom and what I suspect was radish.




Our meals were prepared for us by Tetsuya trained chef Luke Burgess, on the last few days of a month long guest appearance in the Chado kitchen, who was brought on board to help streamline the back of house.

In Luke's month long secondment, he stripped back the menu to eliminate long wait times for meals, training Varuni and two young staff members to fill his position after his departure. Time will tell if his kitchen legacy leaves a lasting impression.

Varuni and Brian are considering opening for two nights a week during the autumn season for dinner, and with the addition of a liquor license would serve sake with a slightly modified dinner menu. I would personally love to see shabu shabu (Japanese-style hot pot) cooked on the tables and washed down with a lot of cold Sapporo beer. But I do like to dream.

Chado is not just a lunch space, but also a retail outlet. Brian and Varuni regularly travel through Asia sourcing teas and their assorted paraphernalia. We "seat shopped" (a bit like window shopping but from your chair) for hand made tea pots from China and Japan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan while we ate, and before long had convinced ourselves that the purchase of new tea sets would be compulsory. How had we ever lived without them prior?

All of the teas are available to purchase by weight, each coming with instructions on the correct brewing temperature and time (it's enough to make you want to buy a kettle that boil water at five different temperatures). A number of local restaurants and cafes also purchase Chado tea to serve in their venues including Pigeon Hole in West Hobart, Morilla Chalets, the Islington Hotel and Chicchio in Salamanca.

After a year and a half on the Hobart scene Chado seems to be making some definite improvements. They are certainly trailblazers (in Tasmania at least), offering a truly unique experience for Hobartians and our many visitors. I'm looking forward to seeing this business expand and assimilate itself further into the Hobart lifestyle, and in the mean time I'm off to buy a very fancy kettle. What temperature does water boil at again?

Chado – The Way of Tea
134 Elizabeth St
Hobart
Phone: (03) 6231 6411

Open Tue-Fri 10am until 5pm


Friday, February 5, 2010

Ten things to do while waiting for a dinner date who is never on time

  1. Stuff around on Twitter
  2. Re-read the Mercury
  3. Smoke many cigarettes
  4. Fantasise about holiday to China
  5. Read the food secions from the NY Times and the Guardian on iPhone
  6. Chat to strangers
  7. Peel label off beer bottle
  8. Check sky for rainclouds
  9. Look at door
  10. Wish you had gone home to have a nap as well
Curses to you Turner. Lucky you are such good company.

We did eventually make it to Piccolo in North Hobart. You can see the pictures here.

Things have been a bit quiet in the last two weeks as I have been in Melbourne. You can see those pictures here. There were a couple of highlights:

  • Mezzo Bar and Grill (formerly Oyster Little Bourke) was nothing short of brilliance. Go there. Now.
  • Proud Mary in Collingwood really does make the best coffee I have had in a very long time
  • Camp Shanghai Dumpling is still as ridiculous as it ever was, and next time I will go to Hutong.
  • The Ron Mueck exhibition at the NGV International is stunning, and worth a trip from Hobart for it. It runs until April.
I know I don't usually write up recipies or cooking attempts, but shortly I will attemp to make and blog about:

  • A perfect souflee
  • Bahn-mi
  • Baked eggs
  • Salt cod croquettas
And in other news:

  • Stingray Seafoods in North Hobart is currently under renovation and will soon become Mako Seafoods. I'm rather hoping this is a dramatic improvement.
  • Tom from Piccallily is heading off to Gordon Ramsay's new venture, Maze, in Melbourne. Piccallily are looking for a suitably talented replacement, and I'm sure Tom leaves big shoes to fill.
  • Rumour has it that the old Dress Sense store in North Hobart is about to become an ice-cream shop, probably part of the Cold Rock chain. A funny time of year the start consruction on an ice-cream shop, but it's just a rumour and I can neither confirm of deny.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Italian Pantry is on the move


Nothing says Italy like a Vespa, like sex, but on wheels

When I first walked into The Italian Pantry (Federal Street, North Hobart) I expected to find a miniature oasis of Italian shopping. Shelves full to bursting with pasta, sugo, oils, canned fish and pickled vegetables.

In reality, it was a half empty shell of a shop and quite a bit dusty. But that's just because The Italian Pantry are on the move, currently in the process of relocating their wholesale warehouse and retail shopfront to the other side of the street. Literally.

While it might only be a short move in distance, it's a big move in size, with the retail and warehouse spaces set to increase by about 70 per cent in terms of floor space...and with the boys working hard to get the best Italian produce around, surely in product availability also. Rumour has it that a cafe is also planned for the new shop space...but it's still in the pipeline so don't quote me on it (just cross your fingers and hope).

Business is booming, the handsome young man manning the store tells me. In his estimation, at least 30 per cent of the customers he serves each week are new, and the majority of these return in the following weeks to their first visit. At least I think he said 30 per cent, he is so handsome I was kind of swooning and not really paying attention. Now that's quality journalism for you.


Anchovy heaven

The Italian Pantry delivers what it promises, even though the shelves are a little bare due to the impending move. This place is set up for people who love food. You could spend $10 on a bottle of olive oil, or $150 on a bottle of olive oil, but you wouldn't come here for anything you could buy at Coles.

Italian items are mixed with French, German, Swiss and other European products, with a good representation of Tasmanian wares including Bruny Island Cheese, Grandvewe Cheese, Waji and the Tasmanian Sauce Company.

You could easily spend $50 on French goose foie gras, $88 on safron threads and they have more kinds of dried mushrooms than I bothered to count. God only knows how much you could spend on meats and cheeses: Muntser, D'Argental, buffallo mozarella and parmesan, salami by region, Bresola...or snails, if they took your fancy (see left). After the move next week, the product selection is only going to grow.
 Oh, I almost forgot to mention, there's booze.

                                 

Lots of it. Prosecco, Fernet-Branca, Grappa, Chianti, Bira Moretti. Good quality Italian booze, just don't expect to pay Italian prices. I suspect some serious mark-ups going on here.

I managed to leave the Italian Pantry without spending any money (I don't have any money...I'm a writer.) But if you do... I'll be surprised.

I will pop into the new shop when it's ready to open, and write up an update. And in the mean time, I will try and find my piggy bank.

The Italian Pantry
34 Federal Street, North Hobart.

Soon to be 27 Federal Street North Hobart, potentially from Early February 2010. I'll edit this post when it changes.

Open Mon-Fri 8am until 5.30pm
Open Saturday 8.30 until 1.30 (with the potential for extended hours once the new store is up and running.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Smolt is smoking hot

I'm all grown up now - and so is this blog (the blog is one year old, and I am now 28, which collectively is a bit close to thirty). As a reflection of how grown up I am now, last Friday night we went out for dinner (instead of skipping dinner completely and drinking too many pints).

Location of choice, Smolt.

Often misconceived as being uber-expensive (it does look very Sweedish) but not so... it is a great spot to drink a nice drop, eat a nice, and mostly reasonably priced, meal while people watching through the wall to ceiling glass windows. If you are immature like us, try guessing what kind of underwear the local women are (or aren't) wearing. It's a hilarious yet childish way to pass the time for the young at heart.

There we three of us, myself, Matt and Tom and we are all hospo peeps. I can't give an objective review, as we know the waiters (it's a very small town), so they were really nice to us. Although as we think the staff are really nice people in general, I am sure they would be nice to you too.

Smolt has been on the scene for a few years now, but it hasn't aged a day. It is connected to the Tassal salmon shop next door, but not a salmon-themed restaurant (thank goodness for that), and owned by the Tassal brand.

The menu ranges from small dishes to share to larger mains, with a strong Spanish and Italian influence. Think pizza and pasta, but in a good way. We went for the sharing option, and here is a selection of what we ate:



Gorgonzola arancini with salsa rosa $3.8 each




Port terrine with apple and celery relish and ciabatta $16.40

 

Tasmanian Salmon (farmed) gravalax with horseradish cream $9.6

 


Honestly I don't remember exactly what was on this pizza, the boys ordered it when I was too busy laughing at some half dressed floozy stumbling past the window in shoes she couldn't walk in. Goats cheese and rosemary spring to mind, and it was probably $19.9

The food was lovely, but I would say that because I'd had three pints before we got there and a glass of wine while we were waiting for our table and at that point I would have eaten anything.

It was a busy night, and we were a walk-in, only waiting about 15-20 minutes for a table, which was great. The floor plan is well laid out, more formal dining in the back of the restaurant, and more relaxed seating in the front. Those stools on the left... I want one. Actually, I want three. They're lovely, I never through I would be in love with a seat..but there you go. I really am getting old.
Aesop hand soap in the bathrooms could be considered a plus or a minus depending on your love of geranium and the facilities are pretty flash. Although if seated up front you have to parade yourself past all other diners to get there - but it's a good opportunity to peep into the open kitchen and see what the chefs are plating up on the way past.

The crew at Smolt do what they do with finesse, but without pretention. It's easy going, and you get what you pay for, and then some, with the quality fittings, cutlery, crockery and glassware. Although, whatever beverage you order..same glass. And I like that. So eat here. Just don't put your elbow in the terrine like I did. That means it is time to go home.

Smolt
2 Salamance Square Hobart (next to the TasSal shop)
(03) 6224 2554
Open 7 days a week, 8.30 am with the kitchen open until 10pm. Breakfast is on offer on the weekend until 11.45.


 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kreme of the crop?


An article in The Mercury newspaper this morning has brought my attention to the plight of 2700 Tasmanians (and counting) lobbying to bring a Krispy Kreme doughnut outlet to Tasmania.


Now, I am not one to preach about what should and shouldn’t be available, freedom of choice and all that. But when fast food is the easiest, most convenient choice, how many of us will actually try harder to find a healthier snack?

As I fly back and forwards from Melbourne a fair bit, I’ve observed many passengers with bags and bags of Krispy Kreme sugar fluff doughnuts. I assume they are for sale in the airport somewhere, although I’ve no idea where. Obviously there is a demand for the product here, as the now 2879 Facebook group members demonstrate.

Just in case you were wondering, the average Krispy Kreme doughnut is a whopping 600-900 kilojoules, which would take about 1 hour of intense of exercise to burn off. That’s just for one 100g doughnut.

And what is in your average Krispy Kreme doughnut? This:

SKIM MILK,
WATER,
SUGAR,
DEXTROSE MONOHYDRATE,
COCOA (5%),
VEGETABLE FAT,
WHEY POWDER
(FROM MILK), SKIM
MILK POWDER,
GLUCOSE SYRUP
(FROM WHEAT),
DIETARY FIBRE
(OLIGOFRUCTOSE),
EMULSIFIER (471),
VEGETABLE GUMS
(410,407, 412),
FLAVOURS

A little bit of what you fancy does you good. To lobby against it would be indicative of a nanny State, in which we are all overweight lard-arses with no self control. The addition of a Krispy Kreme is probably no different than any other unhealthy snack option we have here already. But does Hobart REALLY want a Krispy Kreme outlet? Do we need more unhealthy global franchises?

I personally won’t be buying or eating any. But when I think about it, I don’t really give a toss if anyone else does. Let the masses make up their own minds? And if you are having trouble deciding, take a look at this.

Feel free to comment below.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Picture this


January 1: shopping list.

 

January 2: North on Rathdowne, not hungry.



January 2: North on Rathdowne, hungry now.



January 2: cool street name



January 2: no kidding around at Camy Shanghai Dumpling



January 3: Sunday tradition




 January 3: airport food and a little light reading.