Sydney’s Mexican scene in no way resembles the real deal, and with our geographic remoteness from Mexico, Australians will probably always struggle to get anything decent at restaurants. Luckily, our best Mexican food does not come from restaurants, but is being cooked by chef Travis Harvey at the Essential Ingredient’s Rozelle cooking school. I have been invited to two of Travis’s cooking classes, and I have been blown away every single time. Travis’ knowledge of Mexican food is encyclopaedic, and I am not one for hyperbole. I get the impression Travis knows more about Mexican food than I know about Lebanese food. Travis has been researching Mexican food for many years. He has spent much time in Mexico where he got the opportunity to learn firsthand all these traditional Mexican recipes he is teaching. And his food is so damned interesting and awesome that I want to be this guy’s best friend.
I’ve learned so much about Mexican food that go far beyond recipes and dishes simply be hearing Travis talk about how the food interplays with the culture. But I’ve also learned about the large variety of chilis used in Mexican cuisine, the variance in their uses and flavour profiles; I’ve learned how to make a real mole in a way that a book could never teach me; I’ve learned about amazing ingredients like an out of this world goat’s milk caramel; how to use a comal to bring the best flavours out of ingredients; how tortilla dough should feel like in order to turn out the good stuff; how boiled and grilled sweet corn with chili and parmesan can rock your world… However, I don’t want this post to be an account of the class itself, because that would be pointless. You have to see it to believe it. I can not encourage you enough to go visit Travis and learn from him. The food is amazing and the class is educational while also being a whole lot of fun (you finish up by eating what you cooked along with some great wine). I promise you, you will want to go back over and over again. Do it! For information on classes at The Essential Ingredient, click here.
On Friday, I leave for Lebanon. I will be there for three months visiting family and researching Lebanese food (if you know a book publisher, now’s the time to send them my way ). I’ve had a huge week preparing for this journey – let us not forget the chickpea degustation that took place on Thursday at Efendy. There will be more on that night coming later, but let me say that it was by far the most brilliant event I’ve organised (followed closely by my first event, the secret dinner at Element Bistro). The night was a huge success and I’m still buzzing. The extra adrenalin has allowed me to undertake a frenzied, mindless attempt at packing my luggage for the big trip – still not sure what I have put in that bag. One thing is for sure – I’m taking the following books which I feel I can no longer part with – ones I think would be great for a relaxed afternoon cooking session:
My first meal in Lebanon? Most probably a cheese knefe, or perhaps a man’ousheh b’ zaatar (see picture).
Travel takes its toll. Physical fatigue and mental exhaustion are tolerable but only individually. Combine the two and our state of being becomes more comatose than the usual let’s-get-by-today autopilot mode. I’ve been on the road. Many kilometres behind me, and miles more to go. Some photos below to share with you, from the things I’ve seen.
I have a bone to pick. Does anyone remember when the hospitality industry was hospitable? I believe that hospitality is as empty a word as gourmet. Both overused words signifying nothing. Gourmet deli my ass. Am I alone in this? Damn it, show some love, Mr Restaurant. Give your customer some care and attention. Look after them and make their night enjoyable. That’s why people eat out. They want to enjoy those few hours, and perhaps ignore what is mundane about the rest of their life. Sure, take their money, but don’t rob them of their time. It’s very precious.
I need some real food. Who’s with me?
Here’s a bit of a lazy weekend post for you. Hopefully something that will introduce you to something new and amazing.
I’ve put together some of my favourite songs, and paired them up with food I would feel like eating when I listen to them.
I’ve added a link to all the songs, so have a listen and enjoy. Let me know what your favourite songs are, and what you think you’d pair them up with.
EDIT: Stupid Grooveshark has lost the links I set up for the songs. If you want to listen, forget clicking the links (apart from the Al Shayyaleen link, which is on youtube) and instead go to Grooveshark.com and look the songs up.
Who: Joanna Newsom
What: No one really knows what this song is about, and it is possibly telling several stories in a lengthy 17 minutes, but the imagery it conjures is stunning. Joanna Newsom is possibly my favourite musician. I’ve seen all her Sydney concerts without fail. I’m still undecided about her latest album, but her older stuff is amazing.
Food: Mussels and white wine broth, a roast chicken with garlic roasted potatoes, peaches and cream
While the river was twisting and braiding, the bait bobbed
And the string sobbed, as it cut through the hustling breeze
And I watched how the water was kneading so neatly
Nearly slowed to a stop in this heat
Who: Nick Cave
What: A world full of life and movement, all because of the one he loves.
Food: Fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil
I listen to my juddering bones
The blood in my veins and the wind in my lungs
And I am breathless without you
Who: Jeff Buckley
What: It’s a dark winter afternoon. He is all alone in the corner of his bedroom with the window open. The rain is pouring in and he is waiting for his love who never shows up.
Food: Pedro Ximenez braised beef shin with soft, buttery polenta and a mushroom ragout
Maybe I’m too young
To keep good love from going wrong
But tonight, you’re on my mind so
You never know
Who: Rima Khocheich
What: This one is cover of an old Egyptian song. Though the words may not make sense, the oriental jazz feel along can make this one a favourite. It’s about two men who carry luggage into a train, where one is convincing the other to keep going despite the difficulty of the job and the bad pay.
Dish: Falafel. And Foul Medammas: beans and chickpeas with cumin, garlic and lemon juice garnished with loads of chopped parsley and drowned in olive oil
If what you carry on your back weighs you down, remember, free man, it is lighter than the burden of having to beg
Who: Tom Waits or if Tom Waits is too rough for you, Cibelle http://tinysong.com/lC2w
What: A dead man singing to his lover who comes to visit his grave
Food: Rosemary and sea salt flat bread
Lay your head where my heart used to be
Hold the earth above me
Lay down on the green grass
Remember that you loved me
Who: Eliott Smith or Madeleine Peyroux’s cover
What: A man consoling his loved one over a drink
Food: Bitter chocolate fondue with real vanilla ice cream
People you’ve been before
That you don’t want around anymore
They push and shove and won’t bend to your will
I’ll keep them still
Who: Simon & Garfunkle
What: A song about a dream
Food: Smoked eel with blini and horseradish cream
And when you ran to me
Your cheeks flushed with the night
We walked on frosted fields
Of juniper and lamplight
Have a good weekend everyone!