Sunday, December 21, 2008

Southern Hemisphere Christmas and the French Connection

Hello Friends;
It's hard to imagine for many of you, but in my neck of the woods, being summer, Christmas time is hot, with not a single snow flake in sight. Yet most of us still persist in having heavy roasts, turkey, ham, with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. We are changing however, breaking away from the the shackles of the British Empire and colonialism. I will always make a Lasagna, fresh pasta of course, no cauliflower, (private joke). Pavlova is quite common, a kiwi tradition of meringue, layered with fresh cream, sliced kiwi fruit, strawberries and perhaps chocolate pieces scattered throughout. I prefer a nice tiramisu or a zuchotto for dessert on Christmas day. My brother-in-law has even attempted to use the obligatory kiwi cooking device, the barbecue, to cook a whole turkey. When finally cooked, usually the next day, it is wonderful, moist and tender.

Its hard to encapsulate Christmas, there's the frantic build up prior to, shopping malls filled with harassed parents urgently looking for that last minute gift with tired and irritable children in toe. Then traveling to ones destination, only to get stuck in traffic. And the feasting, over indulgence which we all pay for after. Lazy sunny days spent at the beach, friends and family, accommodating everyone, and putting any differences to one side. A tradition for myself is walking up and down Franklin Street, Ponsonby, Auckland and checking out the Christmas decorations/ lights festooned on every house in the street, it's quite amazing, with coffee vendors temporarily set up and everyone marveling at the effort and lengths the residents go to with their displays. I guess I'm just a kid at heart, fireworks being another one of my favourites.

Being in the hospitality industry, its a busy time. I did however manage to squeeze one restaurant review in for 2008. Its called Pastis, a french cafe/ bistro in Auckland, city central.

It's a site that has changed restaurants many times. The newest incarnation seems to be working well. Busy, vibrant and run with Gaelic flair. Blue, red and white checked table clothes and French accented artwork adorning the walls. Sitting here brings back memories of close friends, fun times and life choices made, not always right, but I digress.

I ordered Cervelles Agneau, Lambs brains sauteed and finished in a mustard cream sauce. My London City and Guilds training led me to the conclusion that in the blanching process of the brains too much lemon was used and as a consequence slightly overpowered the final product, check out the sage leaf garnish, a little over the top I thought. Having said all that it was very tasty and a generous sized portion as well. Escargots, snails served in the shell with a garlic butter, very tender and Moreish. I finished with King Prawns, which were sauteed and served on a bed of fennel and tomato compote, flambeed at the table with pastis. The compote itself was the highlight of the dish, interesting and very complimentary. Pastis , from where the restaurant gets its name is an Anise flavoured liqueur usually served as an aperitif, mixed with water at 1 to 5 at which point it changes from a transparent yellow to a milky colour. It was developed when, in 1915 Absinthe was banned due to the wormwood ingredient, more star anise, sugar and lower in alcohol content, approximately 40-50% alc by volume.

Accompanied with the meal was a bottle of French Rose, Cote du provence Domaines Houchart 2007 very pleasant drinking and wonderful colour.

Overall the dining experience was well above average, but I have to take 1 point off for a menu that lacks choice, so its 7.5 out of 10 for Pastis French restaurant.
Well that's it for the year and all the best to you and your loved ones, I'm looking forward to sharing with you in 2009. Ciao for now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The good side of Diving, Tourism and Tame Iti

Hello Friends;

I have had another dive,this time in Whakatane, a town on New Zealand's East Coast of the North Island. I was there with Paul Morris , Research Editor of  Dive Planet . We were there to check out a dive charter operator and meet with other businesses.

We headed out of port and made our way to Whale Island, a 2o minute boat ride, with a crew of 5, Paul, myself and 2 young ladies from Norway and Sweden. As you can see from the photo they're an ugly bunch so it was a real sacrifice for us. All joking aside it was a very pleasant day, beautiful scenery, unusual rock formations, one was called Elephant Rock, abundant marine and bird life, we even had seals frolicking a few metres from the boat. Its great to see visitors to our country they're usually truely amazed by what they see, the accessability and the reception they recieve, we need more of you so come on down to New Zealand and I urge residents to check out your own country. It's easy to become complacent and overlook what we have.

That night we checked out a local restaurant called " The Office " which was reasonably good, but the highlight would have to be meeting Tame Iti.

Now many of you may have never heard of him, but those living in New Zealand would have. After recognising his fully tattooed face we introduced ourselfs and had a chat. Tame Iti is a very entertaining man, never one to shy away from baring his buttocks to visiting dignatories or any official representing the crown. An agent provocateur, activist and general pain in the arse for any incumbent government . He is always willing to perform for the camera to highlight the plight of his indigineous people. A case in point was when he blew a hole in our national flag with a shotgun. Yes he has done many disruptive things, but tonight he was sitting quietly eating fish and chips with his sausage-like fingers.

On one occasion, when Paul returned to the table from a cigarette break he was just in time to hear Tame Iti say to me "We can never sleep together, but we can share a meal together". Well , Paul has recounted that line many times since, which i have to say in that context, with food and wine around was rather disturbing. It was of course quite an innocent annalogy, he was speaking on behalf of his people and the government of the day , working through issues and coming to certain arrangements, but not so close as to lose their identity.
I am impressed by his political experiences and his ability to broker deals and negotiation skills, he does indeed have a good side, as the photo below shows. More about food next time, so ciao for now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's a chef's life

Hello Friends,
I went for my first scuba dive after 23 years in a little place called Daniel's Reef, Mathesons Bay, which is approximately an hour north of Auckland, on the east coast. This scene above is what you encounter in many places on New Zealand's east coast. We were hanging around a depth of 15 meters and took a couple of 800gm crayfish, which is on the smaller side but very nice for eating. We had a nice bbq on the beach after the dive and all in all it was a great day. I always find myself gravitate towards the bbq to make sure people don't overcook or burn the food and try and work out why someone would bring a 40 centimetre thick, crumbed lamb pattie and try to cook it on a bbq. I know it sounds a bit anal but it's the curse of being Chef Jules.
I tried an Indian Restaurant on Auckland's North Shore, it's called Aroma which is quite a cool name for an Indian Restaurant I think. It is a very small, quaint cosy space. I ordered two meals, one was lamb saag gosht which is Punjabi lamb curry in a pureed spinach sauce spiced with fenugreek. The other was chicken korma which was a mild curry finished in a creamy ground cashew nut gravy. The lamb was quite tough and chewy, the sauce was okay. The chicken was the highlight, they used chicken thigh which was really moist and tender the service was pleasant and attentive and not overly intrusive.
With the meal I had a bottle of Jacobs Creek, "Three Vines" Rose, which is a combination of Shiraz, Grenache and Sangiovese. Australian wine, very new to the market and is being heavily advertised currently.Very pleasant and easy drinking.
Overall I give the restaurant a score of 6/10. Listening to the news on the way home, strangely enough Indian food was mentioned as being the most unhealthy due to the high use of saturated fat, not a comforting thought after consuming a lot of it. Oh well an extra 30 minutes at the gym should fix it.
Ciao for now.