Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gourmet Goddess Awards 2009

As the year draws to a close, I thought I would look back on the last 12 months and share with you all some of the culinary highs and lows of the Gourmet Goddess year. Ladies and gentlemen, the inaugural Gourmet Goddess Awards for 2009......

 Best meal of 2009: This is a hard one because this year I have enjoyed some amazing food, including the delights of Singapore and all sorts of beautiful local produce, but I think that my evening of degustation delights at the amazing Oscillate Wildly in Newtown takes the award this year. Innovative, beautifully constructed and an education for the taste buds, this meal was as challenging as it was delicious. I was on a culinary high for days afterwards. For my full review of Oscillate Wildly, see my blog entries on 31 May 2009.

Best event of 2009: Chris and Michela's Wedding. I had the privilage of being asked to cater my friends wedding in November this year and what a wonderful event it was. Not a hint of the cliched formulaic vibe that seems to embody pretty much every wedding I have ever attended - no, this was a day of warmth, quirkiness, joy and  lots of laughter that had the personality of the bride and groom stamped all over it. Congratulations guys - it was a day we will all remember. To read more about the day, check out my blog entry for 15 November.


Best food market: Everleigh Farmer's Market. Look, it isn't the biggest market, but for us inner city dwellers it is a treasure trove of beautiful organic produce, artisan breads, locally sourced meat, wonderful cheeses and other delights - and you can browse the stalls whilst partaking of delicious coffee and the best organic bacon and egg breakfast rolls in town. You cannot help but be inspired to head to the kitchen with so much brilliant fresh produce to choose from. Visit the market at The Eveleigh Farmer's Market from 8am to 1pm on Saturdays and is located on the corner of Wilson and Codrington Streets, Eveleigh.


Cookbook of the Year: Her book, "The Cook's Companion" has become an icon, but this year Stephanie Alexander released "The Kitchen Garden Companion" - a guide not just for cooks but for gardeners too, which gives recipes, planting guides, information on sustainability and her own brand of common sense information on everthing to do with producing your own food. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this fabulous book from my friends Chris and Michela as a gift this year, and I love it. It will become another Australian classic, alongside "The Cook's Companion". It has made me decide that I will have a go at growing some of my own produce in 2010. Watch this space.



Funniest culinary moment of 2009: Now you could argue that this moment wasn't technically a culinary one, but it was certainly the most memorable and the funniest. The award goes to.........drumroll....... Copping a surreptitious feel of Gordon Ramsay's buttocks as he signed his book for me at the Sydney Food and Wine Show. Cheeky? Yes. Inappropriate? Certainly. But it had to be done :) He was absolutely delightful by the way and actually took the time to chat and share a laugh. Did it make me a better cook? No. Did I learn some new insight into food in any way? Nup. But I met GORDON RAMSAY!!!!!! I swear, I was more excited than a teenage girl at a Twilight premiere!



Best cooking show of 2009: Luke Nguyen's Vietnam (SBS).The son of Vietnamese refugees now living in Australia, award winning chef Luke Nguyen's food and his restaurant, Red Lantern are well known. But it is in this ten part series that saw Luke take us on an amazing culinary journey to the country of his ancestors, where we saw Luke in his element. Yes, he is a great chef, but he is also a natural storyteller, and this added a whole new dimension to what could could have been just another cooking show. Every episode was incredibly exciting and inspiring and the food looked amazing! I am off to Vietnam in February 2010 and I can't help but think that this program had a little something to do with that :)  You can read Luke's blog and also watch full episodes online if you head to the SBS website.
  
Purveyor of the year 2009: Based in Dulwich Hill in the Inner West of Sydney, Feather and Bone are meat suppliers who truly believe in the "paddock to plate" philosophy. They source their produce from a network of small local suppliers with the focus on sustainability and ethics as well as providing a high quality product - "We want everyone to take the step from awareness to action by choosing to eat food that improves our collective health at every step of the cycle." How it all works is that you sign up with them online and then each week you receive an email outlining what meat is available that week - the supply varies with the seasons and sometimes includes game, free range eggs and other products from the farms. You order online and it is all delivered. Easy! Feather and Bone supply some of the city's best restaurants, including Longrain, Red Lantern, Catalina, Rockpool and Sean's Panorama and it is easy to see why. They are a class act all the way. To find out more check out their website: http://www.featherandbone.com.au/delivery.html



Best kitchen gadget of 2009: The microplane. Seriously, if you don't already own one of these, get thee to a cookware shop! You may think that a microplane looks more like a woodworking tool than something that belongs in your kitchen, and you would be right. In 1994, Lorraine Lee, a housewife from Ottawa, Canada, was making an Armenian orange cake. Out of frustration with her old grater, she picked up a new tool her husband Leonard had brought home from their hardware store, Lee Valley Tools. She slid the orange across its blades and was amazed. Lacy shards of zest fell from its surface like snowflakes. The Lees marveled at the tool, ate the cake, then promptly changed the product description in their catalogue. The Microplane grater was born.


GG Man of the Year 2009: Food journalist, critic and cravat wearer, Matt Preston. He is smart, he is talented, he is funny and he is an internationally recognised autority on food. He also happens to have the best job in the world! Over the years I have always loved reading Matt's reviews and his insights into all things culinary, but this year he joined Masterchef as a judge, which meant liberal doses of Matt, several nights a week in my living room. Did I become all "Matted" out - not even close. It  just made me love him more. In 2009  Matt Preston made me understand the true importance of getting "a great lift in your puff".


GG Woman of the Year 2009: Stephanie Alexander. For decades the Melbourne restaurant that bore her name and the incredible food that she created, made her a legend in the Australian culinary landscape. She went on to become one of our best food writers, and her 1996 book "The Cook's Companion" is now considered the bible of Austrailan produce and cuisine. But it is her passionate committment to culinary diversity, sustainability and the education of a whole new generation that earns her this award. Through her Kitchen Garden Foundation, a program that is creating kitchen gardens in schools all around the country, kids not only learn about where their food comes from, but they actually grow it and then head to the kitchen to create with it. Children who are part of the program not only learn valuable life skills, but they enjoy the amazing gifts that a love of food can bring, as well as an environmental awareness. Stephanie Alexander's vision and committment is an inspiration. To find out more, or to donate to the foundation, go to:   http://www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/

But folks, 2009 was not all degustation and deliciousness here at Gourmet Goddess central. May I present the "Twhack them with a wooden spoon and not in a good way" category......

The "step AWAY from the sauce bottle" Award: This condiment wins the dubious title of being the most used and abused of any ingredient in 2009(even more than sundried tomatoes in the 80's!) It seemed that this year it was everywhere, and in places it should not be. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you.... sweet chilli sauce. Look people, it is designed to be served with certain Asian dishes, like fried chicken (in fact on some labels in my Asian grocer it is actually called "sauce for chicken") or noodles or spring rolls. It does not belong in pasta, on nachos, mixed into cabonara (no, seriously...) , or slathered over every single finger food known to humanity!!!I know it's tasty, but can we all just control ourselves and resist the urge for that touch of misplaced "Asian fusion". It isn't. It's con-fusion on a spectacular scale.


The "will the real chef please stand up" award: Was I the only person who felt utterly ripped off by the Masterchef Australia finale this year? I love a cooking show and I watched Masterchef obsessively every night. I planned my evening schedule around it and I also confess to turning down social engagements because it was on. At last! I thought - a reality show that actually had substance and about a subject that I could actually relate to. I loved the excitement of the invention tests and the challenges, the chef's masterclasses, the growing tension as contestants were eliminated and the dreaded "pressure test". I loved that households across the country were talking about food, even kids were cooking and there was a whole lot of "plating up" happening that wasn't happening before.  But alas, all of this came crashing down as we were subjected to a most underwhelming, cynical and disappointing finale.

Look, Julie Goodwin seemed like a really nice woman and her dishes looked tasty, but Australia's first Masterchef????? Bollocks. She was a slightly above average home cook, nothing more and nothing less. What Julie did have on her side and what I believe won her the title was the fact that she fitted the marketing profile to flog food products to a particular demographic. She wasn't about to challenge you or do anything too edgy. She was like a comfy pair of slippers or your nanna's lamb roast - homey, safe and familliar.  And as advertisers everywhere know, there is money to be made under the banner of homey, safe and familiar. Since winning the title, you can't turn on the TV or pick up a magazine without seeing Julie's beaming cherubic face grinning up at you, extolling the virtues of bottled marinade, selling homewares or recommending plastic wrap. The ad where she serves some pre mixed bottled crap to Margaret Fulton at a BBQ makes me want to hurl the entire contents of my pot cupboard at the television. I was so disappointed with the degree to which Masterchef descended into a cynical marketing excercise. I'm also not naive enough to think that marketing is not a huge part of the industry, but I think viewers were screwed by Channel Ten and the show lost a whole lot of credibility along the way. A big thumbs down.

The "I'm at a restaurant, not bookclub" award: I'm incredibly curious about my food. I like knowing where it has been sourced from and how it is to be served. I'm probably not alone in thinking that when I read a menu I like to at least have a bit of an idea about what I can expect from a particular dish. There is however a curious trend in restaurant menus where they seem to feel the need to describe every dish in agonising and pretentious detail. I came to eat, not to knock off a few chapters of War and Peace! I don't want my food to include any kind of description along the lines of "a melange of hand roasted, massaged and tumbled breast of squab, nestled in a cascade of baby herbs"  Nor do I care if my raspberries were gathered on the equinox by Druid priests just outside Byron. Too much information - enough already!

The "did you cart this from Lourdes?" award : We all know by now the advantages of buying locally produced food - the shorter distance it has travelled, the better for our environment. It also makes good economic sense to support local producers and our tastebuds enjoy the benefits too. Why then when we go to a restaurant, do we need to drink imported water that has travelled thousands and thousands of kilometres and also pay an exorbidant cost for the privilage when we have perfectly good water right here? It is wasteful, it is expensive and it is bad for the environment. I really don't require my drinking water to be blessed or carted from a little village in Tuscany, honest. Thankfully, a lot of switched on high end restaurants are actually starting to be more aware of this issue and offer either local bottled water or - prepare to clutch your pearls- buying their own filter and providing free, filtered tap water! Much more sensible. But a big thumbs down to those establishments still selling overpriced designer water. Booo!!!! And a thwack with the wooden spoon for them!

As we say farewell to 2009 and kiss the decade goodbye, I can't help but wonder what culinary adventures might be in store in the year ahead. What new tastes or ingredients will we discover? What new dishes will we cook? What new ingredients will inspire us? I can't wait to find out! Thank you to everyone who has read Gourmet Goddess this year and who have been so generous with their feedback. I have enjoyed hanging out in my kitchen with you all. All the very best for 2010 - may it bring plenty of delicious food, good company to share it with and lots of what we wish for. Happy New Year!!! See you in the new decade :)

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