31 March 2008

PekoPeko. South Melbourne

"The fitout is much more classically "modern cafe", with a communal table, low-voltage downlights, a front wall of bifold doors, and chairs and tables that match the brown walls. This all serves to declare Peko Peko as the sort of cheap homely place that the owners want it to be. Somewhere for those who live and work in this precinct of South Melbourne to treat as their local in the absence of much else."

The Age Epicure, Matt Preston

In a drab strip of shops ducking for cover behind the St.Kilda Road Skyscrapers, is a small jewel. It's like diving into your ancient auntie’s jewellery box full of plastic tat and finding a proper gem. That's PekoPeko.

It looks like nothing from the exterior - just one of a group of down at the heel, cheap eighties style single storey shops, festooned with a bright sign of a funky Asian caricature - and yet when you step in through the door it is as though you have entered the Tardis. Suddenly you are in a big modern style café with funky down lights, some banquettes and a communal table. The vibe is warm and busy. The clientele is predominantly Asian.

The fare is simple but sustaining, cheap and delicious. At lunchtime, worker bees descend from their open plan offices and dive in for a quick plate of rice, a deep bowl of noodles or some takeaway. At night the local apartment dwellers hit.

The menu has 74 items listed but ordering is straightforward. Most will choose either a Peko Box (Bento Box) $10.50, a Peko Plate (rice and topping) $8.90 - $11 or a Peko Noodle Bowl of noodle soup $9.50 and share an entrée $5.50-$8.40, between two people with all dishes arriving together. The drink list has a handful of Beers and wines, along with quirky Asian drinks like Calpis Soda and Green Tea Lattes.

The food here is a fusion of Taiwanese and Japanese. The entrees range from Wasabi Mayo Prawns and Taiwanese sausages to crispy chicken wings. Deep wide Noodle bowls have fried pork, beef, curry and dumplings amongst the offerings, and the soup and noodles have a great slurp factor. You find fried noodles and fried rice amongst the light meals $8-$9.50.

The Peko Boxes are great value. You get a good wodge of sticky short grain rice, a serve of vegetable, sometimes cabbage or snake beans or whatever’s handy, plus a deep fried wedge of tofu and whichever main you choose. Names like Pop Chicken, Pork Addiction roll off the tongue along with Ma Po Tofu and Hot Chicken Dance. We’ve sampled quite a few now and all come straight from the wok, scorching hot and bursting with delicious flavours. The meat is melt in the mouth and the fish always fresh.

You can finish with coffee and hot chocolates, I can’t recall any desserts as we are usually too stuffed to put another thing in anyway. By the way, this is fast turnover dining. Don’t linger – they need to turn the tables, and by the time they don’t, the staff are busting to get home.

Get in, chow down and waddle out. You won’t regret it.

PekoPeko Modern Asian Café Restaurant
190 Wells Street, South Melbourne. Ph. 9686 1109

This review is cross-posted at Very Cheap Eats

28 March 2008

York Cafe Wine Bar

Foreign bodies in your Kleenex
You've got no taste at all
While your system is dyin'
The bugs are havin' a ball
You've got a beauty, a bad ass
The mother of them all
You've got a cold
You've got a cold



On the corner of York and Cecil Streets in South Melbourne is the remains of an old pub, which like many an old, possibly heritage listed buildings in the area, has grown a modern multi-storey building like a hump upon its back. This is where the York Cafe Wine Bar is housed.

Nearby is the revamped George Hotel, which having purged its old dirty raincoat brigade of regulars, is now getting a name for a casual dining offering and The Southern Cross, undergoing refurbishment, is hoping to do likewise. Across the way a new Tapas venture at South Melbourne Market is gradually building a following and a cluster of more established venues are full of regulars along Coventry Street.

In an area where Demographers recognise the potential for testing - as one of the few areas of Melbourne where the rich, the middle income and the poor rub shoulders, a new lease of life is being spurred on by two brand spanking new shopping centres, each with a major supermarket at its heart. The Clarendon Centre, where Max Brenner has recently opened a chocolate emporium, and diagonally opposite the market, the South Melbourne Lifestyle Centre is forming a hub for casual eateries, takeaway food and providores. This is the hump that has emerged from behind The York.

The excitement building here reminds me of the days leading up to the recession in the eighties. It is only a matter of time until this area becomes to South Melbourne, what the Park Street strip was when Ian Hewitson held court at The Last Aussie Fishcaf, Donlevy Fitzpatrick had a foothold in Middle Park and the Red Eagle was aflame with shoulder pads and ponytails who had cash to splash.

It's 2pm on a friday and a few ruddy faced, pot bellied men in their fifties are finishing their steaks when Chardon-Ange and I enter the York Street Bar and Cafe. Over the road, the South Melbourne Market is bustling, but the queue for Dim Sims is short. After the heavy rains, no one is choosing to sit outside in the mock rattan seating under chocolate brown umbrellas.

Some of the staff here look familiar to me. One - I found out later - is a refugee from the curt service culture of Rockpool, which we discuss as seeming anti Melbourne in ethos. The owner of this week old venue - taking shipment of some large lampshades and an antique style Indian screen - looks familiar. I could be wrong, but I place him as being once the owner of The Red Eagle in its heyday, and perhaps later the man who took The Albion in Port Melbourne from down at the heel to a thriving local hotspot. It would make sense, as only a canny, seasoned hospitality business professional would have had the foresight to choose this location.

If I'm right, then this venue is set to become another popular hangout for those with an interest in decent wine and quality food alongside good service in a casual environment. The precinct in which it stands, surrounding the South Melbourne market is emerging as an entertainment and shopping hot spot for the new affluence and empty nesters arriving in Port Melbourne, Albert Park and Middle Park, not to mention the sudden influx of a bachelor population inhabiting the newest sea side to city high rise apartment developments.

Decorated in Brasserie style with Thonet Bentwood Chairs and bare dark wood bistro tables, that are to be transformed by linen at night, the bar is the centre of focus here. A red leather Chesterfield, looking like a refugee from a St.Vincent's Place garage sale, sits oddly against a wall near the door. Newly opened, things are still taking shape. The wine list is odd and disappointingly short for a wine bar, but with a sigh of relief I spot a Hugel Riesling marked on a small wall painted black board, available by the glass at $9 or $36 a bottle.

For lunch, a light menu has be assigned for the time being, featuring oysters, focaccia's, pasta and risotto, side salads, but no obvious restaurant style main courses. I remind myself that lunch has only been available for a week. Behind me on another blackboard, a special of Minestrone is displayed alongside a vegetarian risotto, a steak at $34 and Bream at $31. We choose to share two entree sized pastas and a garden salad.

I trust that the food will be palatable, in spite of the lack of customers, for with chef Neale White at the helm, the provenance of the ingredients ought to be good. Prior to coming here, he left Pure South at Southgate - Tasmania's Gastro-Palace in Melbourne - for the eccentric French Bistro, Madame Sousou in Fitzroy. Before that I recall that he did a spell at Olivo in Byron Bay. His resume reads as being Indian born and having worked in London, Sydney, Malaysia and Brisbane.

The chef is not around this afternoon, but his Second is - formerly of Maris in Kew - and the dishes are executed well. Luke Morris is supposedly Michelin trained and is noted by management as having developed the menu alongside Neale. Their intention is to broaden the offering to service diners from breakfast to dinner, including Tapas and from April 9, a seven course $100 degustation, inclusive of wine, held every second Wednesday.

But enough of the waffle and back to our order; we enjoyed a perfect hand made gnocchi with goat and olives, rendered down in a rich braise. Unfortunately, afflicted with the remains of a crappy head cold, my Supertaster's palate was hampered and I am unable to give you my usual breakdown of the composition of the dish's seasonings. What I can tell you that there is evidence of a mirepoix and the peas dotted in amongst the other ingredients added both texture and colour.

We also ate a risoni coated in a sugo of perfect texture and taste, amongst which nestled mussels, pipis and wilted spinach. The two entrees and a generous garden salad with vinaigrette were a perfectly portioned lunch for two women. Had I been with Mr Stickyfingers however, we probably would have rounded out the experience with a starter of oysters. The coffee to finish the meal was flawless, as was the service.

I intend to return there soon. Less ostentatious in style than Hotel Nest, this place has great potential as a regular local haunt for me. Next week from Monday to Friday, the following set menu will be on offer, with 2 courses, a glass of wine & coffee offered at $30, or three courses for an additional $5:

Roasted pumpkin soup, goats curd & sage
Char-grilled calamari, chick pea, preserved lemon and green olive
Free-range chicken liver parfait, red onion jam

Blue Cheese, celery and walnut risotto
Seafood brodetto, saffron rouille
Char-grilled St Arnaud angus rump, mash, rocket and radish salad

Almond milk pannacotta, poached peach
Strawberry, basil and balsamic salad, vanilla ice cream
Cheese plate, quince paste and pear chutney

I think I ought to dive in before the masses discover it and the prices rise. Next time I hope to actually have a clear head and be able to taste more in the dishes.

York Cafe Wine Bar
Cnr York & Cecil Streets, South Melbourne, Vic. Australia
ph. +613 9690 3262

23 March 2008

Bitter Heart. Sweet Chutney.

e·piph·a·ny (ĭ-pĭf'ə-nē) Pronunciation Key

  1. Epiphany

    1. A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.

    2. January 6, on which this feast is traditionally observed.

    3. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.

    4. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization: "I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself" (Frank Maier).

  2. A revelatory manifestation of a divine being.

    1. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.

    2. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization: "I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself" (Frank Maier).

[Middle English epiphanie, from Old French, from Late Latin epiphania, from Greek epiphaneia, manifestation, from epiphainesthai, to appear : epi-, forth; see epi- + phainein, phan-, to show; see bhā-1 in Indo-European roots.]

The tomato felt slippery as I lifted it from the water. As I shed its skin the flesh felt as warm and soft as a child’s. I dug my fingers into the fruit, squeezing out the seeds and tossing it into a pot with the others, landing atop diced apples and onions.

I thought of my maternal grandmother - Nana. In the time I knew her she had a sharp, nasty tongue. She never failed to slice me to the quick with her mean contempt. Grandpa and I had spent our days hiding from her in the garden and the shed.

Of Scottish descent, she was raised first in Robinvale in the north west of Victoria, then in Australia's Wimmera district. She referred to it as ‘Da Wim-RA!’. A head strong and recalcitrant child surrounded by doting brothers, her father had tired of her wilfulness and sent her to work on his brother’s farm. Her mother was - according to my mum - a big, buxom, scary brute of a woman with a light cool hand for pastry making. I heard nothing of my great grandfather.

In her lifetime Nana had worked in a factory, on a farm, been a Baker, a Hairdresser and a Podiatrist. She was a hard working and enterprising woman with a harshness, brought on by God knows what. I wondered how we could be related.

Her cooking was atrocious and she had an eating disorder that exacerbated her cantankerousness. But she could bake. Her traditional Australian cakes and biscuits that were trundled out with pride at the local Bowling Club, moved people to massage her ego, until eventually her relentless incivility had her black listed.

For me however, it was her tomato chutney that I loved best.

In her bulimic moments she would gorge herself on pastries and cakes and when she finally lost her marbles and was confined to a high care nursing home, I would bring her French pastries and sweets, watching her smear cream on her face as she devoured them. One day when I arrived on a visit, she was dressing her hair with candy as though they were jewels.

I never learnt the chutney recipe. When it came time for her to make it I was always scuttled from the house to harvest and deliver the tomatoes to the kitchen. Then herded out again from under her feet.

She never shared her secrets. Whenever anyone asked for a recipe for a cake, a biscuit or her chutney, she would cheerfully oblige, deliberately leaving things out. No one was ever going to steal her thunder.

Her recipe for Chutney died with her. At her funeral I cried my heart out with relief and for the sadness welling in her younger brother, who gently stroked her casket. He was the last of his generation. Now, all his siblings had gone to God.

We ate cakes at her wake and tiny sandwiches. Juggling a cup of tea and finger food, my pockets stuffed with wet tissues, I could just hear her besmirching the quality of the catering as not being up to her exacting standards.

Sugar, dry mustard, curry powder, mixed spice, allspice. A generous slosh of Jerez Sherry vinegar follows. Some plain white vinegar too. I throw in cardamom seeds, cloves and some ground coriander. On a roll I add fresh Bay leaves to the chutney in progress.

The lid of the pressure cooker locks into place and I leave it alone to do its work. My head is full of bees. I want to scratch my eyes out. I have no sense of smell or taste. An upper respiratory infection clouds my mind and I curl up on the couch under an Alpaca blanket. The hiss of the valve on the saucepan is like my endlessly streaming nose and crackling ears. In my dreams Nana mocks me.

Later, when I release the pressure valve on the pot and remove the lid, my face fills with dewy moisture. The chutney is shaping up. After a stir, I leave it to cook away on a gentle flame while I return to the comfort of my fluffy blanket.

Disturbing me from my reverie Mr Stickyfingers asks what spice is it that he can smell? I rattle off ingredients, read from various recipes in books and gleaned online. I tell him that I am trying to recreate a flavour but then stop dead in my tracks. If he could smell it, then I must have over seasoned it. Shit! Unconsciously Nana had got her way again.

To Nana, nothing I ever did was right. I was useless. The laziest person she’d ever met. Fat, ugly and just plain useless. She was a racist and eventually renounced me one Christmas, saying that I ‘wasn’t her grandchild’ on the grounds that I wasn't white. We weren’t to see my maternal grandparents again for years. Skinned and squeezed dry, I too was cast to my fate.

The scar she left on my psyche helped forge a path to my becoming an over achiever. I always go too hard. I put myself on the line for my convictions and stoically face the resentment it brings from others. I am tenacious to the point of ridiculousness and I put unnecessary pressure on myself. Then I burn out.

As I left the house to get more tomatoes to correct the flavour of the chutney, the planets must have changed position. Enroute to the market, my own valve suddenly released. A dial turned in my head and I abruptly stopped myself.

The chutney could wait until I was over the bug and my palate was back to normal. If I couldn't fix it, that was ok too. No problem, I could try again. The pressure was off and it would stay that way from now on.

Sweet. Sour. Spicy. But not bitter.

17 March 2008

Bloggers Banquet 2. April 5

BB#2 logo

The "Mock 10" Signs of Blog Addiction

At Bloggers Anonymous—we normally frown upon spreading propaganda that minimizes the serious nature of our cause. However, in the name of education and awareness, we would like to point to the this juvenile “Top 10” list of “symptoms” which indicate you may be a addicted to blogging. We will not reveal the authors as to not credit them in any way. Please be aware that this ignorance is out there—and defeating the spirit of our cause.

10. You check your blog stats a LOT. You occasionally get up in the middle of the night and sneak a peak.

9. Your significant other suspects you are having an affair with your blog. Even when you’re alone with your special person, you do find yourself thinking what your blog might be doing right then…

8. You “mental blog” while driving or on the train, and sometimes even when you are alone in the shower.

7. You filter everything through your post-writing. You can’t watch a movie, see a play, read an article, or share a sweet moment with your child without thinking of whether it’s blog-worthy.

6. You suffer from “blog envy” when another blogger posts something juicy before you do. You suffer “comment envy” when said post gets 40-something comments – the jerk!

5. You “binge blog” 3 or 4 posts at once—only to feel guilty and empty afterward.

4. You ditched all your real friends for blog friends, because, well, “they understand.” You bypass Bowling Alone at the bookstore (who really cares?) while you reach for Naked Conversations.

3. You think, “I can stop at any time.”

2. Your lunch hour has become your “blog hour.” You keep a few posts tucked in your desk in case you need them during the day.

1. After 5 minutes of meeting someone really interesting you ask, “So - do you blog?”

It's time for another group hug.
After the battering some of us copped about blogging at The Melbourne Food and wine Festival's
Out of the Frying Pan, we could all do with another catch up and reaffirmation of why it's good to blog. In particular why it's good to write about food and wine.

Food Bloggers naturally are a passionate and boisterous bunch of Bon Viveurs. We know how to enjoy life to the fullest and we are not PC or shameful of it. Our last gathering began with butterflies to the stomach of most, but resulted in the building of bonds between like minded people. In a world where we increasingly find ourselves in a society lacking community spirit, our blogging bond has built the bridge to a new community of like minded people.

So Melbourne food and wine bloggers, regular readers/commenters, partners and friends, come on down to the next Bloggers Banquet on April 5 at Chez Fur de Mer, in Dromana under the auspices of the delectable Purple Goddess & the explosive Furry.

It's BYO everything as per the last event. A woodfired oven is again available to cook dishes to be shared. My last effort was
Porcini Risotto with Roasted Garfield Barramundi and tomatoes. I'm leaning towards a goat tagine this time - or there's an outside chance of paella.

More information is at PG's Blog, please let her know if you have half an inclination to show up so she can give you the address or you can email me here via my profile.

Feel free to use the comments section here for an exchange on car pooling for the event - there's some talk going on at Cindy & Michael's Blog too.

Photo's from the last gig are on Flickr and you'll find some of the last round's post prandial posts on Google. There's also an event listing on facebook for those who roam around that piece of the Web 2.0 world - you can even match faces to blogs there.

I can't wait to see you all and to meet the people who missed out last time.

16 March 2008

Locavore je t'adore

These are eaten with your fingers during cocktails, but with a knife and fork when served in a salad or another course at the table. Try to select one that's small enough to put in your mouth whole, because they squirt. Close your lips tightly before chewing.

Arthur Inch & Arlene Hirst.
Dinner is Served. A Butler's Guide to The Art of The Table

There is a political debate going on at my local farmers markets. The discussion seems to revolve around which producers may come in and which of the established ones now have to leave.

It breaks my heart to say goodbye to some of my favourite farmers. I miss their banter early on a Saturday morning. I miss their produce. I feel irked that they haven't been replaced by new farmers with a similar product, but by more cheese, relish and pasta vendors that I mostly do not buy from, but serve the curious day tripper style shopper who is scared to buy much else.

I see monopolies happening and I feel sad that something as healthy and good for the community as bringing the farm gate to the city is baring petty jealousies, without considering the desires of the shoppers.

I hear of harsh treatment of vendors by the person who runs this particular group of markets. There is schoolyard bitchiness between certain vendors, the bolder and more intelligent are said to hold more sway with the organisers than others. Their supporters whisper snidely that some of the more 'salt of the earth' types have now got too cocky. I feel the gush of the tomato squirting in their diatribe.

I have closed my mouth firmly and bitten my tongue, even though I was sent an email from one farmer who was sent into liquidation from being told that his family could no longer be vendors at the markets I attend. A more boutique set up was to be pushed up in the ranks instead. I don't like the pretentious boutique vendor. I don't like their much more expensive product. Their affectations irk me.

I chew it over with my mouth firmly shut. A farmer sets up a stall at a Farmers Market. They offer samples of their produce to the city folk milling around cautiously. The shoppers like what they try. Demand grows quickly, more product lines are developed, bank loans are taken and investments are made to service the demand. Over time a loyal core of about 1000 customers develops - who order in advance and collect their supplies at the designated markets.

Then the organisers of the market decide that the vendor has grown too big for the circuit and tell them that they are not to return. What does that farmer do when removed from their customers? In one case they have gone bust, have had to liquidate their assets and lay off staff at the farm. They have no other outlet for their product.

Perhaps I'm a soft touch, but once again I find myself questioning the qualifications of the people who make the decisions pertaining to the running of the markets. I like to think of myself as a person who tends towards being an Ethical Locavore - and perhaps that makes me a sap - but I personally renounce the supermarkets for the rough grist that they lay upon our farmers. Now, I see a similar ruthlessness emerging at my principal source of fresh produce and it breaks my heart. Truly.

If a Farmer provides good produce and builds a large following, does that substantiate removal from a market, or does it in fact bring more people in, to the benefit of all the other stall holders?

What quantifies 'too big', if the local demand for farmer direct produce is growing at a rapid pace? Why is a Farmer with solely a big following at the farmers markets considered bigger than another producer at the markets who also sells their product to shops and can be found in IGA supermarkets?

Are organisers and vendors aware of the long term trends? Or are they perhaps inflexibly focussed on their original smaller aims?

Pictured above: Purchased direct from local producers.

Mt Belleview Jack Horner Sausage, King Valley.

Murchison capsicum and tomatoes.

Sorrel, Basil, beetroot leaves and Dill from Glenloth

Bocconcini from Riverina Cheese, Albury.

Local doesn't mean boring.
Local means uncomplicated dishes that enhance the robust flavours of the produce:

1. North East Venison Girello, mango salsa (not local), local asparagus, Nicola potatoes, brassicas

2. Garfield Barramundi wings in 5 spice crust, Chinese Broccoli, Tofu with Szechuan sauce

3. Gipsy Pig Mandarin pork fillets, Wat Daan Chinese cabbage, rice cakes (not local)

4. Mt Bellevue Scotch fillet, chargrilled heirloom vegetables, Bison potato salad with homemade Mayonnaise & Bearnaise made with local eggs, homegrown herbs

15 March 2008

Comfort Food 2. Chocolate Mousse

"If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of amber-flavored chocolate....and marvels will be performed."
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

In the seventies, Fondue parties were big. My parents had two fondue sets that were purchased in Switzerland, one for the cheese - served with lashings of schnapps - and one for the chocolate. They were popular dinner party hosts.

The hair was big, the textiles bold and the music cheesy, but I was intrigued by the whole process. My emotionally delicate mother would usually end up with a passive agressive pout and would retire early with a migraine, while dad - the raconteur - entertained the guests until exhausted. I would watch TV quietly in another room and clean up after them when the guests had left.

My mother was also well known for her classic Cantonese dishes and her Fusion food which pre-dated any restaurant fads. My father was venerated as a trained Patissier who only pottered with it for fun. When the Fondue craze passed and its kitsch sets were relegated to an unreachable cupboard, he invariably kept returning to two chocolate desserts by popular demand.

One was a mountain of Profiteroles - custard filled choux pastry balls drizzled with chocolate. The other was Chocolate Mousse. Neither stretched him creatively so after a time they became my domain - along with mixing and serving the pre-dinner drinks. Having licked many bowls and spatula's in the process, I feel as though I can make them blindfolded.

So, with another hot evening to be spent with the Custard Crusaders eating dishes made from Greg & Lucy Malouf's Turquoise, I resisted the temptation to turn on the oven to bake, as I had on New Year's Eve. Looking at a stash of Lindt Milk Chocolate - which doesn't turn me on - and some Bittersweet Lindt couverture - actually my cup of tea - languishing in the cupboard, I invoked my childhood memories to make what my father called in Ching-lish, 'Jiggle-it-Mousie'.

(Cantonese speakers tend to break words down phonetically in to monsyllabic phrases and add '-ie' to the ends of English words. The first word sounds like the Cantonese word for Chocolate.)

This recipe is also similar to my family's chocolate & cognac ice cream recipe, and is an excellent way to use up any Easter Eggs approaching their use-by-date. It is also Coeliac friendly - yes my friend, Gluten Free Gourmet, you can make this too.

Chocolate Mousse
(Serves eight shameless chocoholics)

350g Chocolate - the best you have

4 eggs Separated (if you're using fresh farmers eggs which are small, add in a duck egg or 2 more hen eggs)

2.5 tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau

1 tbsp Caster Sugar

250mls Thickened cream

In a bain-marie or a medium sized mixing bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, melt chocolate until viscous. Remove from heat and add egg yolks, stirring with a spatula. Add Grand Marnier. Stir in.

In another bowl whisk egg whites until soft peaks form then add sugar, whisking until the thick and glossy, but not stiff in the manner of a meringue. Fold a large spoonful of the egg whites into the chocolate until well blended, then fold in the rest until combined.

Whisk cream until thickly whipped and then fold into the chocolate mixture. Spoon evenly into chilled vessels and cover with Glad Wrap. Chill for two hours in the fridge and garnish prior to serving with grated chocolate.

In my childhood it was doled out in ramekins and served with more whipped cream and in the eighties, cointreau drenched berries. Times change, I keep it simple now and use cone shaped bowls or martini glasses with a garnish of bitter chocolate or orange flavoured Iranian fairy Floss. If you want to go 'Molecular', add a white chocolate foam to the top and serve in Duralex glasses with a little Biscotti on the side.

10 March 2008

Food For Trees

Restaurant luminaries unite
to fight climate change

Some of the biggest names in Melbourne’s restaurant business have joined forces to help reduce the environmental damage being done by carbon emissions.

Restaurant luminaries today gathered on Wednesday at the Bourke Street icon, Grossi Florentino Restaurant, to launch Food for TreesTM – a carbon capture scheme that commits the restaurants to tree plantings in and around Melbourne.

The set-up of Food for TreesTM has been funded by five of the most successful businesses in Victoria’s food and wine industry:

Food for Trees founding members:

Grossi Florentino Restaurant, City

De Bortoli Wines, Yarra Valley

Soul Mamas Restaurant, St Kilda

100 Mile Café, City

All Nations Hotel, Richmond

At Wednesday’s launch, the restaurateurs said they were motivated by a desire to do the right thing by the environment and by their customers.

Leanne De Bortoli – De Bortoli Wines:

“Consumers want and should be able to choose to minimise the environmental impact of everything they do, including eating and drinking. Food for TreesTM gives customers the choice of environmentally-conscious dining.”

Guy Grossi – Grossi Florentino:

“Most of us in the restaurant industry like to get our hands dirty. Food for TreesTM is a direct and practical way we can do our bit to reduce the impact of carbon emissions.”

Paul Mathis – 100 Mile Café:

“Many people in the restaurant industry are looking for a way to reduce their impact on the environment. We hope they will join Food for TreesTM and help us achieve the goal of one million new trees within ten years.”

Trees planted by Food for TreesTM will be overseen and managed by the Port Philip and Westernport Catchment Authority – a State government authority - ensuring that trees are planted where they will have the greatest environmental impact.

Food for TreesTM is aiming to plant one million trees within the next 10 years, expecting to capture in the order of 250,000 tons of carbon emissions, as well as cleaning waterways and providing habitat for native wildlife in and around Melbourne.

To kick off the scheme, the founding Food for TreesTM members are planting approximately three hectares in the Yarra Valley. As well as capturing harmful carbon emissions, the new trees will create a corridor of native habitat, providing homes for wildlife including the Helmeted Honeyeater which is on the brink of extinction. The Helmeted Honeyeater can only be found in Victoria and is the State’s bird emblem. Only 100 of the birds remain, mostly in the Yellingbo State Park near Yarra Junction.

Melbourne’s restaurant patrons will be able to identify Food for TreesTM members by the Food for TreesTM logo on restaurant doors and tables, or they can visit http://www.foodfortrees.com.au/ to find Food for TreesTM members.

Charitable Acts and Ethical Marketing are emerging trends that will proliferate through Food Media over the next ten years. Thanks to our concerns about the changing nature of diets and the integrity of the food we provide our families, the hospitality industry will in many ways lead the charge on a grass roots level and in time consumers and retailers will follow suit.

On a global level, Marketing Moguls have been seeking out local causes for some time that will offset their much criticised consumerism by allocating ethical marketing budgets to be sunk into causes that have synergy with their businesses.

For many years now, Mars & Uncle Bens have been supporting Guide Dogs for the visually impaired. Cigarette Mega brand Phillip Morris has funded Meals on Wheels in some states of the USA and one of American Express' charitable funds supports food education programs for teenagers where they are teamed with local chefs and farmers, who volunteer their time to teach and give hands on experience in the hope of garnering a more positive future.

In last week's New York Times an article entitled Friends with Benefits espoused the generosity of restaurants to charity despite themselves running on 'razor thin margins'. In the best case scenarios this is played out within the local community or with neighbourhood charities.

In the cases of celebrity chefs as much as US$8million has been raised by one US chef's foundation over six years, while less notorious chefs have enjoyed the best success in fundraising when multiple restaurants band together. It also provides a social outlet for hospitality industry personnel faced with the daily pressure cooker environment of running their businesses. Naturally this also provides restaurants with the kind of publicity that 'money can't buy', but although potentially looked upon favourably by the taxman, it isn't always enough to get bums on seats.

The Food For Trees carbon capture program, sees Melbourne restaurants banding together to invest in a cause. This particular one has been initiated by Rob Patten, a Social Worker and Ethical Business Developer. In this scheme they are seeking to enlist other restaurants to join this Not for Profit Organisation by committing an investment to contribute to the planting of a million trees over the next ten years.

They ask nothing of punters than to support the venues involved, so they are asking that you choose to dine responsibly in the venues that support the cause. In return the community will benefit by the carbon offset of emissions created by the tree planting and the restoration of nature corridors that will assist in aiding the fight against climate change by restoring large tracts of bushlands where the original ecological benefits of forestry and wetlands can be restored.

The particular benefits of the Food for Trees scheme are that the plantings are not plantation plantings. They are permanent plantings that won’t be cut down in 10-20 years’ time. They are also plantings that do more than just capture carbon emissions. They will provide native habitats, clean waterways, repair landscapes, increase biodiversity and create a healthier environment for us all to live in. And that means a more sustainable environment for us to produce healthy produce and develop a more positive outlook for future generations.

Although I was overcommited and unable to attend this particular launch, I applaud the passion of the restaurants who have sunk money into getting this program off the ground. The idea that customers will differentiate between an environmentally responsible restaurant and one that is not, is debatable in the current market. I wholeheartedly believe however that there is a segment of the younger community who will embrace this, along with old punks like myself.

For the restaurants that participate there is the opportunity for ongoing PR, Marketing kits, media exposure, events, weblinks and staff planting events which should assist with morale and camaraderie in the workplace as well as capturing a wider audience. At an investment of $4 per tree, I would say that it is worth it, especially when tax considerations are accounted for.

Lets get behind it no matter on which side of the hospitality fence we sit. Food for Trees - Make a meal out of climate change.

For further information visit http://foodfortrees.com.au
Watch the ABC's video taken at the launch here

To measure your carbon footprint, go here.

05 March 2008

The crystal ball that cracked.

Out of The Frying Pan, March 3, 2008
Session 2. Clarendon Room A. Langham Hotel.

Food Media Trends 2009-2012. What we will be reading and writing in the next five years?

From Trudi Jenkins

Editor in Chief, VOGUE (or should that be vague) Entertaining and Travel, Delicious

‘I don’t know. I wish I had a crystal ball. I really can’t tell you what we will be writing in the future.’‘

‘Readers trust our publications over things on the Internet. We are the brand custodians, which is why people trust us...

(Later) ....If they lose a magazine or give theirs to a friend, people can also get any of our recipes on our website (taste.com.au) and our readers have a funny little-thing there where they can ask each other questions, but I have no idea about the internet, I’m too old for all of that.’ (She appears to be younger than me)

‘I’m a bit sick of Coeliacs complaining that we don’t publish enough gluten free recipes. I mean really, a little bit of what’s bad won’t hurt you.’

From William Sitwell
Editor, Waitrose Food Illustrated & Editorial Director, Fresh Living.

‘Bloggers are half-wits who can’t write. I hate, hate, Bloggers.’

‘English Chefs are illiterate, can barely write, let alone talk.

From Trevor Eastment

Director of programming and production, The Lifestyle Channels.

‘The TV trend is to real recipes where the technique is fleshed out in real time because so many people don’t have basic cooking skills. TV shows will continue to have entertainment value but will be educational.’

‘Online will steal from Newspapers. Recipes are the most searched for item on the Internet after porn.’

‘Pick & Pay in South Africa are leading the way where you can click on a recipe that you download to your phone and have all the ingredients delivered to your home.’

Have you ever got so hot under the collar that your skin prickles and your heart pounds? I sat in session 2 of Monday’s Out of The Frying Pan feeling distressed and nauseous as my blood pressure rose.

I had naively thought that the panelists at this session of The Age sponsored Melbourne Food and Wine Festival food media event - who also included Julie Gibbs from the Penguin Group (Australia), Publishing Director for Lantern, Viking and Penguin – might actually have some insight into future trends. I thought they might have even prepared some relevent material for the event.

I was wrong.

I - as a Marketer and Advertising Professional - could in fact have offered significantly more insight on the subject that was not able to be discussed by anyone but Trevor Eastment; namely what we will be reading and writing in food media in the next five years.

I know that I was not the only one that was dissatisfied by the session. The lady from Sydney who sat beside me shared my symptoms and was muttering her dissent. We were not alone. Some statements drew muffled gasps from a very polite Melbourne audience of Epicureans.

I began to wonder, what exactly is the criteria for selecting speakers for panels at a Food Media conference?

Quite plainly if you are discussing trends then there should at least be one professional Trendspotter on the panel. Yes, they exist. They do mountains of research at the behest of companies developing new products and advertising. Their skill is to predict the zeitgeist. Thanks to them, I became ‘au fait’ with the current trends discussed in both sessions 1 and 2, more than ten years ago.

The trends cited at the event as new or emerging in both sessions have already been discussed at length online by Bloggers. The panelist’s 'new' was in fact old to those who live and breathe their epicurean passion in the real world, unfettered by the preconceptions brought on by jobs that target ‘Smart, affluent females who enjoy the Luxe Life’. The panelists and moderator obviously were unaware that the example of South African Web 2.0 shopping is already enjoyed in Tasmania on a smaller scale. That via YoMo you can have a discount voucher sent to your phone as you enter a shop.

The day’s events prompted me to wonder how certain people manage to hold senior positions in the media, unchecked by the kind of scrutiny that other professionals might garner within their industries? And yet, these same people have the audacity to pompously sneer at others - who write for their own entertainment online - for not checking their facts, for being ‘half-wits who can’t write’, for being self-important, ignorant and for being destructive, especially because no Editors are involved in the process.

My day job requires me to be significantly more accountable than the media representatives I witnessed - who blatantly thumbed their noses at the Internet and lifted the veil to display their own ignorance.

In instances where I manage a cross platform campaign - which inevitably includes a website and increasingly web 2.0 applications, along with print, press, radio, TV, outdoor advertising, Promotions, events and Direct Marketing – I am expected to have familiarised myself with all aspects of the media I am utilising. Obviously that is not the case at News Limited’s FPC magazines. Like some of them I also write, in addition to design, direct photographic crews, illustrators and TV crews.

My clients have become aware that even when dealing with the affluent, a pompous tone should not be taken. Increasingly these clients are turning their backs on food media publications that charge anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for a single page ad placement, on top of production costs, because their core customers have stated that they do not trust the print media to be unbiased or correct.

With media circulation of glossy food magazines and newspaper supplements being low – Trudi cited 140,000 for Delicious, Roy Morgan Research puts it at 125,266 – they actually have less hits than some established bloggers do. All too often now people flick past TV ads too using Foxtel IQ and soon, TIVO. Not a problem for me, I know where to place media messages where the right target market will actually see them.

Trevor Eastment was right. Web 2.0 applications are set to usurp food publications. Magazines and Papers along with TV stations are dependent on advertising for their income. The number of articles that appear in a publication are determined by the amount of advertising space sold in that edition.

If advertisers stop placing ads in certain publications - as in the case of The Age’s Epicure, who have a small readership and target the AB Quintile (people who earn $100k+) - because they are of little relevance to a large number of the advertiser's customers, the number of articles published diminish. Ergo Journalists lose their usual income source.

The lesson here is that those in publishing who dismiss the Internet and the kind of content the general food reading public seek out there, are cutting their own throats. To look into the crystal ball of future trends for food media, one only has to explore what is taking shape on the internet.

Meanwhile, those who stubbornly harbour the 'Let them eat cake' mentality may one day find themselves entertaining Madame La Guillotine.

Ok, I've got it out of my system now. Go ahead, hate me.

Thank you Matt Preston for inviting me to join the fray.
I very much appreciate it. Should you need assistance with future events please email me.