Category Archives: Sydney Festival

Secret Dinners Sydney International Food Festival 2011 – Guest Post

By | Secret Dinner, Sydney Festival | 11 Comments

Following a massive October, time is slowing down again and life is falling into place. I finally have a place of my own, after being displaced for close to 6 months (hence the low frequency of blogging) and it’s great having all the dinners I had been planning all behind me now. The eggplant dinners and secret dinners I’ve organised have been a huge success, but man, they were exhausting. Without the massive amount of support I’ve received, things may have turned out differently.

The post below is a guest post by Linda To, aka: cuz, Jonathan, your sister and what’s your name again?. Linda is a good friend of mine, a hugely talented cook and a blogger at Eat Show and Tell, one of my favourite Sydney blogs. Below she shares her experience of being part of the secret dinner team. Here’s a huge thank you to Linda, Justine, Darren and Thomas from Restaurant Atelier where my secret dinners were held, Somer, Anise and the boys from Efendy and Priscila, my friend from Romeu & Julieta.

Linda To, the creator of a most awesome secret dinner dessert, writes:

The last couple of weeks has been one of the most amazingly intense experiences that I have ever experienced. Thanks to Fouad, I was fortunate enough to be involved in a couple of Secret Dinners for the Crave International Food Festival. This will be a relatively long post summarising the highs and lows of my journey, so sit back, relax and enjoy.

Prepping in the kitchen

Prepping in the kitchen

It all started 5 weeks ago. Howard and I bumped in to Fouad and a friend whilst walking along George St in the city to our dinner destination one saturday night. It had nearly been a year since I’d seen Fouad, with his newborn baby Sara and months of travelling around the middle east taking up his time, the bloke was a busy man so it was quite a pleasant surprise.

Fouad proceeded to introduce us to his friend, the conversation went something like this:

Fouad: Hey Guys, this is my friend Linda. Linda, this is my friend Howard and…

All four of us must have stood there for about the longest 5 seconds ever with Fouad staring at me in confusion. Sensing this, I reminded Fouad that my name was also Linda =P. Understandably embarassed by this encounter, we both laughed it off and bid each other farewell.

An hour later, I received a message from Fouad apologising profusely for the little mishap, but more importantly asking me whether I’d like to work with him on a couple of Secret Dinners. Having worked with Fouad before, I knew this was too good an opportunity to miss, however I did vow to never let him forget about “that” incident.

The First Secret Dinner

Fast forward one week to the first Secret Dinner. At 5pm on Sunday, the guests were notified of the location of the dinner via SMS which was at Restaurant Atelier in Glebe. Fouad suggested that I come up with a Lebanese inspired dessert for the secret dinners. On such short notice I wasn’t able to come up with a dessert I was actually happy with, so we both agreed that we could serve a dessert that Fouad previously made for his chickpea dinner.

Chicken liver parfait with pomegranate molasses

Fouad divised the menu in to 4 courses; Cold Mezze plus a salad, Hot Mezze, Main and Dessert. Cold Mezze served on the first night were: deliciously smooth Chicken Liver Parfait dressed with pomegranate molasses, pieces of pomegranate seeds and watercress salad; and Hummus with pomegranate molasses.

These Cold Mezze were served with freshly baked turkish bread. I am generally not a fan of hummus finding it little bland (please don’t shoot me), however I found the addition of the pomegranate molasses added that much needed kick that I was yearning for. The salad was the only consistant factor throughout the three dinners, a refreshingly herb salad consisting of tomato, cucumber, radish, red onion, watercress, A LOT of thyme, cheese and olive oil.

Prior to serving each of the courses, Fouad would go out and describe to the diners the next dish, the history of the dish and sometimes adding anecdotes of his family’s influences. Most of the time whilst Fouad did his thing, I was busy in the kitchen plating the dishes whilst desperately trying to listen to his stories. The only thing I can derived from listening to Fouad’s gibberish (=P) is that this guy is one hell of a storyteller.

Hot Mezze for the first night were Fried Pumpkin Kibbeh stuffed with minced lamb and onion, served with a yoghurt and green chilli dip. Initially Justine (sous chef of Atelier) and I had difficulty shaping the Kibbeh in to it’s traditional oval shape. Realising the impossibility of producing 65-70 evenly shaped kibbeh, Fouad suggested we used plastic dariole moulds to help shape the kibbeh, producing what we later named the “Fez Hat” Kibbeh.

The other hot mezze served on the night was my Linda Fried Chicken Wings (LFC) served with Toum (Garlic Sauce). I absolutely adore toum, thanks to El Jannah in Granville, however after tasting Fouad’s version, I think Fouad’s could rival the holy grail.

Fouad proudly presented his Main course of Moghrabieh served on a round platter approximately 1m in diameter (I may be exaggerating a little) to a silent room. Each person stopped in their tracks as they realised the sheer monstrosity of the platter. It was definitely the talking point for the remainder of the night. The Moghrabieh was cooked in a concentrated chicken stock, topped with tender, fall off the bone roast lamb shoulder and poached chicken.

To finish off the night, we served Fouad’s trifle chickpea dessert. The bottom layer consisted of a Labneh, thickened cream and icing sugar mix, it was then covered by pieces of Mamoul-mad (a semolina and walnut cookie/cake), another layer of the Labneh mix, sprinkling of chopped candied chickpeas and finally garnishing of vibrant candied orange blossom. Each components of the dessert worked really well together, the tangy Labneh was a good balance to an otherwise too sweet dessert.

For me, our first secret dinner was the most difficult. Working in an unfamilair kitchen for 10 hours straight, slicing, dicing, chopping and frying took its toll on me and by the end of the night, I was buggered. My back and legs were aching, my arms sore, I was tired and hungry, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to handle another 2 nights like this. However, learning about all the different traditional Lebanese food that I have never ever heard of before, the franticness (is that even a word?) of getting food ready at service time, and generally having a hoot working with Fouad made all the pain worth it.

The Second Secret Dinner

The second Secret Dinner a week later was a vegetarian dinner. This time, I found working the entire day much more manageable, this could also be due to the fact that we had a couple of chefs, Greg Malouf, Darren Tempelman, chef and owner of Restaurant Atelier, Efendy’s Somer Sivroglou and Fouad’s friend Priscilla helping us in the kitchen throughout the night. Overall, it was just a relaxing and enjoyable evening.

Cold Mezze served for the Vegetarian dinner were two delicious dips, Muhammarah and Baba Ghanoush served with deep fried Lebanese bread or fresh Lebanese bread. I loved the Muhammarah so much that I smuggled a container home after the dinner. It was a great addition to my mundane sandwiches for lunch.

Hot Mezze for the vegetarians were traditional Turkish Pacanga which Somer happily taught us how to make. As Pacanga are normally filled with Pastrami or prosciutto and kashar cheese, for the vegos, Somer substituted the pastrami for mozarella cheese, creating a super cheesey Pacanga. The other Hot Mezze was Stir Fried Okra, chillies and deep fried bread with pomegranate molasses.

Vegetarians were served main course of “Fez Hat” Kibbeh, however the lamb mixture was subsituted for a caramelised onion and toasted almond and pine nut mix. These fried goodies were served in a yogurt soup.

Once again, dessert for the night was Fouad’s chickpea dessert.

The Last Secret Dinner

Fouad warned me for the last dinner there was to be no more excuses, he really wanted me to come up with a dessert, the pressure was definitely on. Throughout the month, I had so many ideas racing through my mind, deciding on what Lebanese ingredients to use, and how to incorporate these ingredients in to each components of the dessert. After weeks of experimenting and chopping and changing ideas, finally, 2 days before the dinner, I came up with something I was proud enough to serve to people.

The final dinner was held last Sunday. By this time, I knew the kitchen like the back of my hand and everything ran smoothly on the day. Each person knew their roles and responsibility, we were so efficient that we finished prepping by 4pm, which is extremely rare.

The Cold Mezze were the Muhammarah and Baba Ghanoush, you can’t go wrong with these two beauties. Hot Mezze were traditional Pacanga filled with Pastrami and Kashar cheese and Somer’s Loquat kebabs. The main was the Morabiah that we had served at the first dinner, however the Moghrabiah pasta was replaced by Basmati rice.

Ding Ding Ding. Show time! It was my turn to reveal my dessert.

The aim of my dessert was to utilise ingredients that are commonly used in traditional Lebanese desserts and incorporate it in to modern desserts that most people are familiar with e.g. chocolate cakes, caramels and ice cream. I wanted to show the versatility of these ingredients and hopefully encourage people to experiment with them.

“Johnathan” – My plated dessert

Components of my desserts consisted of:

  • Chocolate Pistachio dacquoise base – Fouad loves dacquoise so requested I somehow use it in my dessert.
  • Chocolate Labneh mousse – Chocolate mousse are usually quite rich. To cut this richness, I incorporated Labneh (strained yoghurt) into the mix.
  • Kataifi dusted with icing sugar – Kataifi is finely shredded filo pastry. I couldn’t believe that I had never used Kataifi in any of my desserts before. It’s such a light pastry that when baked in ghee provides a beautiful buttery delecate crunch.
  • Orange blossom caramel – As the name suggests, orange blossom syrup is a syrup made from the flowers of an orange tree. Prior to this dinner I had no idea this fragrant thing existed. For the orange blossom caramel, I made a standard caramel and to finish it off splashed in a couple of teaspoons of orange blossom syrup.
  • Pistachio crumble – I used the same recipe as the one I used for the Merivale’s Bistro CBD dinner, however substituted the almond for pistachio.
  • Zaatar ice cream – Fouad’s contribution to the dessert was the Zaatar (thyme) ice cream. Using Fouad’s recipe, I churned out 8L of ice cream which we found out later that night was way more than is necessary, however I was more than happy to take home the leftovers. I love the idea of using herbs in desserts so I was ecstatic by the outcome of the ice cream, it was freaking fantastic.
  • Poached spiced pears – I poached the peeled and cored pears in a syrup spiced with star anise, cloves and cinnamon.

Plating up desserts

Somer and Darren helping to plate my dessert

Looking back, the most memorable moment of the whole event for me was standing back and supervising Darren, Somer, Fouad and Justine plate up what I had conceptualise, my dessert. It was such a surreal moment, something I will remember for a long time.

A special event like this would have not happened without a couple of key people. To finish off this post, there are a few people I would like to thank. Fouad – for giving me the opportunity to work with him again, I meant it when I told him it was such an honour to work with someone that’s so passionate about their food and their culture. The chefs that helped us throughout the month, Somer, Darren and Justine – some of the most resiliant people that I have ever met. All the patrons that came along for the experience, hopefully you all enjoyed yourselves!

Finally Howard – for being my critic and advisor. If you thought Terry Durack was tough, try being criticised by Howard, toughest critic ever!

The original concept using chocolate brulee instead of Labneh chocolate mousse.

Its funny how blogging has opened up opportunities like this for me. Hopefully, I get to experience something like this again in the near future.

Thanks Linda for a great post, and a huge thanks to Howard, also from Eat Show & Tell for providing all the fantastic photos.

Master Chefs of Modern Middle Eastern

By | Sydney Festival | 3 Comments

Lovers of Middle Eastern food will be interested in attending this event, part of this year’s SIFF. It’s a great line up organised by the Khouzame group. I’m a big fan of Greg Malouf’s cooking and Chef Joe Barz, a personal friend of mine, has pioneered modern Lebanese cooking in Lebanon and was part of SIFF’s World Chef Showcase last year. Shane Delia from Melbourne’s Maha will be there too, and the sweet ending goes to Vincent Gadan from Patisse. Hope chef Gadan can translate his French patisseries to something Middle-Eastern. For those interested, here are the details:

Lebanon and the Sydney International Food Festival

By | Sydney Festival | 5 Comments

Learn more about SIFF and the World Chef Showcase here

Last year, the Sydney International Food Festival’s World Chef Showcase was one hell of a treat. Inspiring figures of the world’s culinary scene gathered in our beautiful city and spoke about the one thing that really unites the world: food. I had the opportunity to attend the World Chef Showcase and was mesmerised by what I heard and saw. The event brought in chefs from both Australia and the international scene to present their ideologies, methods and cuisines, and the focus was mainly on Asian food. This year, Joanna Savill has my heart fluttering as the World Chef Showcase 2010 is featuring luminaries from the Middle Eastern food world. Apart from Melbourne’s Greg Malouf and Abla Amad, three (well, 2.5) of my fellow Lebanese compatriots are flying in from Lebanon and England to share their experience with us. I thought I’d give you a bit of background on those who will be coming and it is my hope that anyone who is interested in Levantine food will attend the World Chef Showcase and hear what these wonderful people have to say. And hopefully, Sydney’s Middle Eastern scene would take the opportunity to learn and benefit.

Anissa Helou

Born to a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother (hence the 2.5 Lebanese presenters), Anissa Helou’s eclectic life saw her moving to London at the age of 21 where she became Sotheby’s representative to the Middle East. Later, during a stint in Kuwait, she became an arts adviser to the Kuwaiti ruling family. Anissa’s interest and knowledge in art seemed matched by her passion for food from the Levant.  In 2007, Anissa published her sixth cook book, Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, and has recently opened a cooking school where she shares her knowledge on the culinary traditions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. She is also a formidable food blogger, and on of her most recent foodie adventures took her to Al Ain, near Abu Dhabi, where she was faced with the possibility of eating camel hump. At SIFF, Anissa will be showing us some tasty desserts.

Kamal Mouzawak

The founder of Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon’s first farmer’s market, Kamal Mouzawak is simultaneously a force for change and a guardian of Lebanese tradition. Lifting the image of a farmer to be viewed as an artisanal producer is not an easy task in a classist society, but Kamal’s vision is doing just that. His passion for Lebanese farmers, Lebanese produce and Lebanese food is evident in the quality and freshness of the food sold weekly in Souk el Tayeb where farmers and producers have the opportunity to sell their fantastic produce to the Lebanese public. His work is also helping heal the wounds that the various factions have inflicted upon the Lebanese people. In his own words “in a country as divided as Lebanon, nothing can bring people together as much as the land and food.”His restaurant, Tawlet Souk el Tayeb (or the table of the Souk) is driven by an innovative concept where every day, a different producer or chef prepares typical food from their region using produce for the souk itself. Kamal is also, naturally, a strong advocate of the Slow Food movement. He will be working with Abla Amad from Melbourne’s famous restaurant Abla’s to prepare some classic Lebanese sweets.

Joe Barza

A neighbour of mine from the city of Tyre, Joe’s refined and imaginative approach to Lebanese food has marked him as one of the hottest chefs in the region. Joe has represented his country in many international events and his skill and ability have garnered widespread attention, with his food recently showcased in the New York Times (a double mention of Kamal and Joe can be found here). Joe’s food seems to show restrained yet fluent innovation in his interpretation of the region’s food, as his creations look to the future while respecting and understanding tradition. He will be joining Kamal on the second day of the festival where they will be cooking up a storm together.

Learn more about SIFF and the World Chef Showcase here:

Joanna Newsom @ The Famous Spiegeltent Sydney Festival

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What a day! Woke up this morning to have a look at my Joanna Newsom concert tickets to see what time the concert is, and behold, it was yesterday! D’Oh. I had bought tickets for the 26th and its the 27th!!!! IDIOT! I called Ticketek. Tickets are sold out, but there was a kiosk in Martin Place that sold tickets for the Sydney Festival concert. So I took the car and drove down, only to find that even the extra tickets were out. I called moshtix, office closed. I went to Fish Records only to be told once more that the tickets are sold out.

But luckily idiocy is sometimes paired with stubbornness. Elaine and I went down to try to beg someone to give us tickets. The kiosk was closed so we went to The Famous Spiegeltent to see if there is anyone at the box office. Got there at 4:30 but they were due to open at 6:30. Two people were waiting for Joanna Newsom tickets too. So we waited and waited and finally, at 6:00, the box office opened, and guess what? EXTRA TICKETS ARE ON SALE!!! woohooo!! Quickly bought two tickets and stood in the queue to get in.

As we were waiting, Joanna passed by to enter the tent. What a beautiful young girl. She had an ethereal lightness that could only by described by Tolkien. She soon went into The Famous Spiegeltent. As we were waiting the sound check started. I was so happy when i heard the tune of “Sprout and the Bean” streaming out.

We were 4th in line in a queue of 350!!! So we had any seat to choose from. Obviously we went to the front row, 4th seat right of center. Joanna would be sitting right in front of us! Man was that lucky! I would have paid twice for the ticket to be sitting there. Her harp was waiting on stage, so we sneakily took a photo of it . It was a beautiful wooden harp, light in colour and engraved with simple designs.

Now to move on to the real topic. Joanna Newsom LIVE. She walked onto the stage with a glass of red wine, smiling and wearing a cute and relaxed red dress. She seemed to be very shy and quiet. She didnt talk too much during her performance, except for mentioning that she had had too much champagne when she was on a boat they day before watching the Australia Day festivities. The room thundered with clapping. It seemed that the room was full of fans, but every single one of them seemed to be different from the next. People of all ages and looks were getting ready to be amazed! And they were amazed!

The songs were in this order if i remember correctly:

  1. Bridges and Balloons
  2. Sprout and the Bean
  3. Emily
  4. This side of the blue
  5. Only Skin
  6. The book of right on
  7. Ca’ the Yowes (Scottish song)
  8. Sawdust and Diamonds
  9. Sadie
  10. Clam Crab Cockle Cowrie

So hey, she sang every single song i badly wanted to hear. She might have read my blog 🙂

My God what a night!!! Her voice live was even more touching and encompassing than in her albums. I wish I had recorded that concert! The way she grabbed that harp that resonated so close to her body made it sound like the music was coming out of her. I can’t get over it! I think this was the best concert Elaine and I have been to! (Followed closely by Roger Waters)

When she walked out, the tent kept on clapping and stomping their feet for around 5 minutes, hoping for her to come back for an encore. Nothing would have stopped them, except the stupid announcer saying that that was all they had for us… I’m not sure why she didnt come back out for an encore. It was either that she was too tired, or because the second act was behind time and she could not have fit in another song. In any case, I am still aching for an encore.

Next time she comes, I’m going to every single concert she is performing.