Monthly Archives: November 2011

Say Cheese

Oh what a delicious thought.  I awoke yesterday morning, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and I was safe in the knowledge that my seemingly endless desire for cheese was definitely going to be sated.  Blue cow cheese company was the brainchild of Nick Bath, way back in 1998 he saw a gap in the market and sought to fill it.  Nick Bath’s vision was to introduce Western Australian customers to imported and local premium quality cheeses and dairy products.  And boy am I glad he did! 

Margaret River is one of the countries most important wine regions and generally with good wine, comes good food.  Cheese is a huge part of my culinary world, whether it is showcased on our menu at work or simply showcased on my kitchen counter at the end of a hard day, coupled with a glass of wine.  So we headed out to Wise Winery to enjoy some beautiful cheeses and glorious views of the ocean in the distance.  We tasted five french cheeses which have just landed on our shores, now that Nick Bath and his team are directly importing from Europe.  I always eat cheese and pay attention but yesterday I was taught how to taste cheese properly.  Apparently you should really work it around your mouth, imagine a cow chewing the cud but try to keep your mouth shut, you don’t want to offend your friends.  All the cheeses we tasted were matched with wines and all were a resounding success. 

My favourite cheese of the day was the Xavier David Epoisses AOP.  Now, my friends, this cheese has a lot of personality so try to have an open mind.  If your preference is mild generic cheddar then please leave the room now.  By personality, I mean stench.  To me it was gloriously pungent.  Yes it was smelly but in a good way, it had a sultry, funky aroma that was a little sweet but then when you put it in your mouth, a briny, salty kick assaults your senses.  This initial jab of flavour is then mellowed by a creamy, buttery richness and rounds out nicely.  Yum, bloody yum!  I could have eaten a bucket of it, I don’t advise eating such quantities but I damn well would have tried. 

It was such a pleasant, relaxing day.  It is not often that you have the chance to mingle withlike-minded people who believe that good food comes at a price and so it should.  That price reflects the quality and integrity of the producers and distributors.  Supporting the people and businesses who are seeking perfection and approaching food with respect and a sense of conscience is the only way we are going to see changes in the eating habits of a nation.  Now, go and buy yourself a cheese you’ve never tried before, life’s too short to keep eating the same supermarket cheddar.

If you want to learn more about cheese the blue cow website www.bluecow.com.au has fantastic tasting notes on various domestic and international cheeses.  Enjoy!

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And the winner is…

It seemed like a lifetime.  Those 24 hours between the competition and the awards ceremony passed so slowly, I may as well have been wading through treacle.  Darwin was hot and muggy, the humidity was oppressive, my fears clung to my skin.  As I tried to sleep that night, I lay in the dark and listened to the excited and relieved revelry which drifted up from the pool.  It was two thirty in the morning and a large group of competitors were cooling off in the small hotel pool.  Finally sleep took me away from the heat of the day and washed away the bitterest of disappoints.  Not long after, a Darwin storm took to the skies and bellowed down on me.  Being slightly afraid of thunder and lightning, I lay very, very still in my roll out bed and let the magnitude of mother nature do its thing.  It sounded like the heavens were going to fall in.  I have never heard thunder that deep and rumbling and lightning crack its whip so petulantly on the earth.  This was a truly theatrical end to a truly theatrical day.

The next morning, I woke too early again.  Four girls in one apartment does not make for many good nights sleep.  However, the storm had passed and the day felt different.  It was all over now and for the first time in about 6 weeks, I took a deep breath.  Lightened by the lack of direction, we decided to do what female chefs never get to do.  And we went to get our nails done.  Chef’s obviously don’t wear nail polish and can’t have long nails, so this was an exciting moment.  As we sat in the nail salon and had our tired feet buffed and polished, we were repeatedly chastised for having such short finger nails.  ‘You nail are very short.  Not pretty.’  We looked a whole lot prettier when we came out.  The ‘angels’ as our all female team had come to be known were looking good and trying very hard not to think about the impending medal ceremony.

Once all the  jackets were washed and ironed, we donned our chefs jackets for the last time in Darwin.  We arrived at the casino and walked up a grand staircase to the room where the medal ceremony was about to take place.  Champagne was waiting for us, the ‘angels’ strode towards the bar, we clutched our drinks in an effort to calm our nerves.  I had no expectations for myself but lots for my team members.  I knew they had all done well, it was just a question of how well… 

As the proceedings began, we sat and listened patiently to speeches, all the while the tension in the room was rising.  They called out the results for each year in order, each time we would watch and wait for our team members names to be called.  We had a medal for the international student category, we had a medal for the first year category, we had a medal for the second year category.  All was looking good for the ‘angels’, we had stood up and applauded each other as everyone’s names were called, we had hugged, we had smiled.  The only category left was my category, the final year apprentices.  For someone with no expectations of gaining a medal, my hands sure were clammy.  My heart was beating faster; every time they called a name and it wasn’t mine, my heart sank a little lower.  It felt like a dream when they called my name for a bronze medal.  Somehow, in amongst my liquid dessert, my too warm pastry and the searing heat of the kitchen, I had done enough to get a medal.  As I walked up to the stage to accept my medal, I was relieved to be going home with something around my neck.  It was not the colour that I wanted but I knew in my heart that I did the best that I could do on the day.

I learnt a lot in the competition.  I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt that I am stronger than I thought and also that passion is not a weakness.  Passion made me cry when things did not go to plan but passion also got me that bronze medal.  All that I can do now is look forward; knowing that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

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Competion update coming soon…

My crazy internet connection has been playing tricks on me, hence the lack of blog yesterday.  You will have to hold tight for a few hours longer as I have to go to work now.  But check back in later today for the big reveal…

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If you can’t stand the heat…

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  Standing in the hottest kitchen on the planet, or so it felt, wondering briefly what I had got myself into, they called the start time.  And we were off and running.  Chef’s were everywhere, a sea of white, all with the same pale pallor, filled with fear and already weary from the heat.  Omelette’s were first up, it sounds simple but making the best omelette of your life whilst three judges watch you, is an intimidating prospect.  The smell of melting butter filled the kitchen, I was quietly happy when I heard the hiss of eggs hitting a pan, the sound of a pan too hot for a good omelette.  Thank god it wasn’t my pan.  I quietly tended to  my eggs, trying not to be scared, not to pull it off too soon or too late.  The omelette slid out of the pan and onto a plate, I called for service, the judge took it away and I knew I was on my way.

                                                                                                                    View NAC Darwi...jpg in slide show

Next up was my main course; I silently cursed myself as I attempted to make crisp pastry in a kitchen that must have been breaking temperature records.  The butter in the pastry was unhappy, I was unhappy but somehow my old friend butter did its thing and the tarts were rolled.  Time was passing faster than I liked and everything was a blur, the hands on the clock seemed to be moving quicker now.  They called 10 minutes until main course and fear filled my body, my broad beans were still in their pods, my asparagus was still not sliced but something keeps pushing you.  My team manager walked up and asked me how I was feeling and I told him that some sick part of me loved the thrill.  Adrenaline is pumping through your body, you’re moving more briskly now, somehow you’re doing four things at once and by some small miracle, it’s coming together.  I plated my main course with seconds to spare and I felt like I was home free.  I was two thirds of the way there and I was relatively happy with what I had achieved, it was far from perfect but it was ok.

                                                                                                                         View NAC Darwi...jpg in slide show

And then I opened the blast chiller and my world came crashing down around me, everything that I had worked for was fading away.  I could almost see my dream slipping away.  Nothing was set, the blast chiller was not working and everyone’s food was far from frozen.   My panna cotta’s were thick liquid instead of quivering creamy rectangles, my honey jelly was fragile and vulnerable and my iced chocolate ganache looked like it belonged in a chocolate fountain instead of an ice cream scoop.  It was and this is no exaggeration, a disaster.  I had 15 minutes to plate and nothing to plate.  As I so profoundly put it later in the day, it was a plate with five different flavoured puddles.  After it was all over, after I quietly cried my way through the washing up, I walked over to the viewing room to see my work and the work of my peers.  I walked along the line of plates, attractive desserts were in  abundance and I was confronted by my plate.  A sad, murky pool of liquid.  I strode out into the tropical heat of the campus and hid myself away, I wanted to scream and cry.  The month of training, putting my life on hold, was all suddenly a waste of time, not because of me but because a piece of equipment was faulty.  If it was my fault, I could accept it but it was all so horribly beyond my control.  

I woke up this morning with my hopes of having a medal of any colour, a distant memory.  Tonight we are off to the casino for a fancy dinner and medal presentation; at least I can cheer and scream when my amazing team mates no doubt collect medals.  And I can fly home tomorrow knowing that I have made new friends, knowing that I had the opportunity to visit Darwin and most importantly, knowing that you can never trust a  blasted blast chiller!

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