Monday, March 30, 2009

Sustainable Seafood at Easter

Easter is a traditional time to indulge in our ever-growing passion for seafood. We recently enjoyed this platter of salty Sydney Rock oysters, Tasmanian smoked salmon and a little of Tetsuya's coriander and lime mayo all from the wonderful Sydney Seafood Markets. But how do you know if you're buying sustainable fish varieties? You may have noticed that supermarkets now display the 'Country of Origin' of all the seafood they sell. But knowing the country the fish comes from doesn't let consumers know how the fishery has been managed and whether catch-limits are being adhered to.

Here are a few tips -

1.Look for certified sustainable seafood products with an eco-label (eg. the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label);
if an eco-label is unavailable, buy Australian!

2.Buy seafood from retailers with a knowledge of their seafood product and its sustainability.

3.Request they stock more products with an eco-label and more Australian/local seafood.
Demand that imported seafood has to meet the same sustainability criteria as Australian managed fisheries.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seeds of change at White House

History was made at the White House this week when First Lady Michelle Obama responded to a 100,000 signature petition and turned the first sod for a White House vegetable patch. Thousands of keens gardeners and foodies - including high-profile chef Alice Waters -have been lobbying the White House to use its extensive gardens to feed people and encourage more Amercians to do the same in these troubled financial times.

Michelle Obama has heeded the call and says fruit and vegetables grown in the garden will be served to White House guests or given to feed the local homeless.

Watch the full story from CNN on the link below.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What would your last meal be?

This isn't a difficult concept for me. Annoyingly - for my family and friends - I treat every meal as though it was my last. Whether it's a wagyu beef burger or grilled cheese on toast, or a new season white peach, every ingredient needs to be fresh and organic. Life's way too short to eat badly.
That said, I enjoyed this wonderful platter of melt-in-your-mouth mixed salumi in a trattoria on Lake Como last May. It may be hard to top....

Terre Madre

"We are in the midst of three major crisis: the crisis of finance, the crisis of food, the crisis of the environment including climate change, are all routed in the same causes. The globalized economy is based on fictions, it is based on greed, is failing us, is leading from crisis to crisis. Terra Madre invites us to return to the terra – earth, and madre – the earth as mother. All we have to do is once again remember how our mothers fed the world… It’s that generosity and abundance of sharing, of caring that we must rejuvenate.

We can, we are the future, let’s make it happen."

- Vandana Shiva
Slow Food International Vice President Opening Ceremony Terre Madre

On Tuesday night I attended my first meeting as the 'Terre Madre' organiser for the Sydney Slow Food Committee. The Slow Food movement is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization founded in 1989 by Italian Carlo Petrini. Its charter is to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. Today, we have over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Every two years thousand of farmers, producers and chefs from around the world meet in Torino, Italy for the Terre Madre (Mother Earth) conference to discuss the major themes of food production. Together they share and compare the diverse and complex issues that underlie what “high-quality food” means to them: issues of environmental resources and planetary equilibrium, and aspects of taste, worker dignity, and consumer safety.
The next Terre Madre will be held in Torino Italy in September 2010.

Sydney is hoping to send 12 delegates to this prestigious gathering who represent the best of our food traditions. We're looking for growers, farmers, cooks, chefs, young people, teachers, foodies who are passionate about slow food traditions and demonstrate that commitment in their day-to-day life.

We'll keep you updated on our website. And while you're there sign up as a member of Slow Food. You'll get to attend some exclusive food events, meet some of the world's leading chefs and food leaders and share your love of good food with others.It'll be the best $100 you've ever spent!

One of the greatest disciples of the Slow Food Movement is US chef and restaurateur Alice Waters who runs the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant and Cafe in Berkley California.

Alice was featured recently (mar 15th 2009) on American '60 Minutes' about her slow food philosophy - a sign that slow food is finally going mainstream! Take a look.......

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Food Mecca - Manhattan Beach, California (the other Manhattan)

Jetting into Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day is like arriving on the set of the recent Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Day the World Stood Still’.

The airport is eerily deserted. The streets are silent; shops are closed; and LA’s famously gridlocked traffic is nowhere to be seen.

Where is all the bling and noisy brassiness we’ve come to expect from this sun-kissed Mecca?

Our cab driver is one of those brooding, silent types (read: grunting Neanderthal) so our questions go unanswered.

It seems Thanksgiving is a holiday Americans genuinely spend at home with each other – not hanging out in shopping malls or at multiplexes.

OK, all the shops may be closed but a big plus to arriving in LA on a traffic-free, public holiday is being able to breathe. Gone is the occasionally oppressive pollution. Instead I suck in deep gulps of fresh, salty, sea air.

I could get use to this.

We’ve based ourselves in LA at the low-key, coastal village of Manhattan Beach. It’s the perfect pit-stop for travellers. You’ll be amazed that the shimmering Pacific Ocean and swaying palms could be only 8 kilometres (five miles) south of LAX airport.

Manhattan Beach’s remoteness has helped protect its unique old-fashioned seaside charm. The closure of its Red Car light-rail line in 1954 ended up being part blessing in disguise. With no efficient public transport system, Downtown LA day-trippers switched to closer beaches such as Santa Monica and Venice.

This left Manhattan Beach almost exclusively to local surfers and beach volley-ballers (beach volleyball was invented on Manhattan Beach) until the late 1960s when a new generation of Californians discovered its charms.

Four years ago Manhattan Beach was bestowed with its first luxury boutique hotel - SHADE - built by local restaurateur Michael Zislis. A rave recommendation in travel bible ‘Conde Nast Traveller’ soon followed and now Manhattan Beach has become chic all over again.

Shade Hotel may be just two blocks away from the beach but it’s oh, so very chilled.
Its 38 dark wooded suites with duck blue fabrics are modern, stylish and intimate. All rooms have deep two-person hydrotherapy spa baths and ‘tempur-pedic’ beds wrapped in luxurious Mascioni linens.

A light breakfast buffet of cereals, yoghurts, pastries, fresh juices, teas and coffee served in the downstairs Zinc lounge is included in the room rate.

In the evenings the lounge transforms into a hip, ever-so-cool bar populated by local shiny happy people. Later, some saunter up to the sky-deck pool and roof-top bar for a little dose of Hollywood glamour under the stars.

The hotel is surrounded by the village’s main shopping precint bordered by - Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue. You can find everything from beach-house nic-nacs to designer clothes and shoe shops (Sketchers sneakers has its headquarters here).

Eating well and cheaply isn’t difficult either. Wonderful fresh seafood including crab and lobster is served at Michael Zislis’s Rock’N Fish restaurant on the beach. For some authentic Mexican cuisine done with a deft touch a dinner at Mucho Ultimate Mexicana is a must. Among the memorable dishes we tasted was a crispy, sticky dish of grilled quail in a piquant sherry vinegar sauce with slices of waxy purple potatoes and crunchy straws of celeriac.

Great Asian offerings at Manhattan Beach are thin on the ground but if you need a sushi hit Fusion Sushi on Morningside Drive is the go.

The best view of the beach is from the appropriately named ‘Beaches’ bar where you can sip on a Long Island iced tea and watch the joggers, dog walkers and roller bladders zip along the famous 282 metre long (928 foot) cement pier.

Sunsets from here are a light show only nature could choreograph. In early winter they are slow and lingering with a mesmerising array of water-washed hues.

This is one stopover you won’t want to stop.
Getting There
Qantas flies to Los Angeles from Sydney and Melbourne daily.
Manhattan Beach is a 15 minute cab ride south from Los Angeles’ Tom Bradley International Airport.

Shade Hotel Manhattan Beach
1221 N Valley DriveManhattan Beach CA 90266
+61 1 310.546.4995 phone+61 1 310.546.4985 fax
Rock’N Fish
120 Manhattan Beach Boulevard
+61 1 (310) 379-9900

+61 1 (310) 379-9986

Mucho Ultimate Mexicana
903 Manhattan Avenue
MANHATTAN BEACH, CA 90266+61 1 (310)374-4422+61 1 (310)374-4402

Fushion Sushi
1150 Morningside Drive
Manhattan Beach
117 Manhattan Beach Boulevard
310 545 2523

A-Team Shoe Shop
1112 Manhattan Beach BoulevardMANHATTAN BEACH, CA 90266

Food lover spurned

Why do we always covet the things we cannot have?
I am contemplating this age-old human mystery after failing, yet again, to secure a booking at New York’s legendary Italian restaurant, Rao’s.
It is of little consolation that Rao’s recently knocked back Hilary Clinton as well. I’m sure she’ll get over it. Her reservation was probably a last-minute, after-thought made by one of her harried staff. I’ve been trying to get into Rao’s for five long years.
Why such persistence, you ask?
Well, Rao’s (pronounced Ray-ohz) has been a New York institution since it opened in Harlem in 1896. In the early days it was largely a mob hangout. Now it’s more like a private club for Italian community power-brokers and Hollywood heavy-hitters.
Its famous fare isn’t fancy – far from it. The good and the great flock to this unfashionably located diner for its simple Italian home-cooked dishes. The baseball-sized meatballs are legendary, and Uncle Vincent’s lemon-sauced chicken is another house speciality. Woody Allen is a regular. So is Robert De Niro. He even has his own table. Other famous diners have included Nicole Kidman and Sony Bono. It seems Rao’s is more talked about by the diners who haven’t eaten there than the lucky few who have. ''I can't get in there, and I'm the manager here,'' John Kaufman has been reported to have remarked.
A restaurant more famous for being famous is surely bound to disappoint. The New York Times thinks so and opined that the atmosphere was better than the food. Perhaps...
Sadly, it’s the years of rejection that have made me even more fixated on Rao’s, more obsessed, more pathetic with desire.
They’ve been endless phone calls, emails, even flowers. But the doors stay firmly shut to my ardent advances. Rao’s tells dejected suitors that it has a ‘no reservations’ policy because all the regulars keep coming back - regularly.
I even did a Rao’s ‘drive-by’ during a recent trip to New York and peered through its quaint red-framed windows longing to be one of the happy glowing diners tucked inside its warmth slurping up mama’s spaghetti sauce.
Why them and not me?
It’s the familiar cry of many gourmands who dream of experiencing their favourite gastronomic temples scattered across the globe.
If you wish to savour Tetsuya’s confit of Tasmanian ocean trout the waiting list is three months long.
If you believe the marketing hype, 2 million people are waiting for a table at El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s molecular food mecca near Barcelona in Spain.
One lucky Sydney foodie will get to experience the El Bulli-hype. He jumped the queue after winning an audience competition during Adria’s recent Australian tour. Lucky bugger.
To cash in on its mythical reputation, Rao’s has opened up a disneyfied version of itself in, yes, you guessed it, Las Vegas. A pale imitation or my salvation?
Everything at the Caesar’s Palace location, deep inside the bowels of the casino, has been replicated down to the scanned and framed autographed pictures of stars on the walls and Rao’s famous red facade. There are more tables at this Rao’s so getting in was absurdly straightforward. One phone call and a booking on the night I requested.
I tried the meatballs and the lemon chicken. Delicious - yet I was strangely unmoved. Sitting on the new red leather banquettes made to look old, surrounded by soft flickering light even with the real-life Vince Colosimo chowing down in the corner, I couldn’t help but feel I was dining in a theme park re-creation. It just wasn’t the same.
So how do mere mortals get into these exclusive establishments when clearly being persistent isn’t always enough?
Of course it comes down to that frustrating cliché - ‘it’s who you know’. Snaring a seat at the original Rao’s, which only has ten tables, is probably a case of ringing your friend who has a cousin who’s the dentist of the guy who does the tax for the uncle of the bloke who cooks in the kitchen.
I hope you have better luck than I did.
Rao’s (New York)
455 E 114th St between 1st and Pleasant Aves
New York NY 10029
+ 212 722 6709

Rao’s (Las Vegas)
Caesar’s Palace
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South,
Las Vegas,
+ 877 346 4642