Wednesday, February 29, 2012

6 Degrees of Preparation: Goat

A friend of mine told me about 6 Degrees of Preparation. I joined the group on Meetup and Facebook and the rest is history. Already I feel like a part of the family. There's no turning back, I'm hooked.

6 Degrees of Preparation is a social experiment. It's an artistic expression. It's a culinary delight. It's a social event, a dining experience, a great night out, an excuse to do three of my favourite things: eat, drink and socialise.

There's been four events since it's inception:
  1. Fennel
  2. Hazelnut
  3. Chilli
  4. Goat
Each event focuses on one key ingredient. I was interstate for chilli (boo) and didn't even know about it at the fennel and hazelnut stages. So I lose my 6 Degrees of Preparation virginity to goat.

It's a three hour cocktail dining experience and the menu includes:
  1. Goat mince bisteeya, brik pastry with cinnamon, corriander and almonds
  2. Goat's cheese and zucchini tart with pear and rocket salad
  3. Goat cutlets crusted in dukkah with cous cous
  4. Preserved fig and sweet onion tart tatin with goat labne and watercress
  5. Slow braised goat shoulder with eggplant and soft polenta
  6. Saffron goats milk panna cotta with stone fruits
Sally tells us the first two were run out of her mother's tin shed at the back of her house, using the small residential kitchen available at the premises. Since their humble beginnings they've moved up in the world, securing a commercial kitchen and space.

I understand what Sally and Utku are trying to do. It's what I've been trying to do yet somehow feel I've failed to in this blog. It's to combine culture and food. They incorporate sustainability, experimentation and inspiration. The concept encompasses what gastronomy is all about.

It's tangible yet fleeting at the same time. It transports you to a different time and place.

It's not about stiff upper lip michelin starness or what the fuck you want to call it. It's about making "it" accessible to the every day person. It's about getting together with your mates or like minded people and enjoying the good things in life.

For me goat takes me to my core, my childhood, where it all began. Having grown up on a dairy farm in Greece and then later a hobby farm where my dad would hunt (and gather) wild goat, goat was a staple food. I've seen the whole lifecycle from inception to birth to growth to death and table. I've herded, nurtured, played with, befriended, sacrificed and fed on goat.

I couldn't wait to see what Sally, Utku and their Chef Evan had come up with!

First course was goat mince bisteeya, brik pastry with cinnamon, corriander and almonds. Delicious in its Moroccan origins, I loved the icing sugar on top which added an unreal dimension to the spices and meat inside, as well as the crispy pastry which incased it all. We were off to a great start!

Second course was goat's cheese and zucchini tart with pear and rocket salad. This was our favourite. Light yet satisfying, a great yet simple combination in flavours. You can't go wrong with goat's cheese!

Third course was goat cutlets crusted in dukkah with cous cous. Goat's meat is by nature very lean, yet this cutlet was surprisingly tender and juicy. The dukkah tasty, yet I felt it was not strong enough to give the goat that kick. On second thought, maybe it was meant to be a more subdued flavour? I enjoyed the cutlet alone, it really surprised me.

Fourth course was preserved fig and sweet onion tart tatin with goat labne and watercress. My companion, a hardcore Leb, was all about the labne. She thought the sauce should not have been poured over the labne as it overpowered it. She was right, I could only appreciate the "goatiness" of the labne when I tasted it on its own. Overall though, it was a fucking tasty dish! The tart tatin was soft yet crispy, yummo!

Fifth course was slow braised goat shoulder with eggplant and soft polenta. I realise now the key to awesome polenta is lots of butter. I could taste the butter in the polenta and it was oh-so-comforting. The pureed eggplant surprised and excited me. You have to try that at home kids! So soft, egpplanty clouds of goodness. The goat shoulder was tougher than what I thought it should be for slow cooked, but it reminded me of the Sunday goat roast my mum would make.

Sixth course was saffron goats milk panna cotta with stone fruits. This was my least favourite dish as the "goatiness" of the panna cotta was clearly evident. Flash backs of my mum trying to force feed me fresh goats milk. Rank. Stone fruits good though and in season.

It was a fucking awesome night with delicious food, copious drinks and great company. 6 Degrees of Preparation succeeded in igniting long forgotten goat memories in this groupie anyway.

I can't wait until the next one! Sally and Utku are taking a well deserved break in NZ so we're set to rock again in mid-end April sometime.

Bring it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

St Jude

East Redfern is all the buzz.'s not Redfern, it's "East" Redfern. Like the other side of the world where hobos don't wander or cause any trouble. Not since the horrific occurrence a few years back where some students were held at knife point in their third story apartment and tortured until one of them plunged to their demise off the balcony.

The locals don't talk about that freak occurence. I've said too much already. Anywho, on to happy things now.

St Jude opened its doors to the public on the third of January this year, it's the new kid on the block.

It has great things going for it, which this article covers here.

I love all those things plus it's leafy location, cool subdued yet bustling vibe, great coffee AND the pièce de rèsistance: they keep and serve their pastries warm. Simply crispy and delicious!! Again it's the simple things that bring me so much joy.

Latte and spiced apple pastry.

 Eco-friendly menu.

Funky place in a really pleasant location. Don't mind the creepy dolls. They were lost and just found their way here to rest their weary heads.

They have pastries, an extensive brekkie selection, sandwiches and salads for lunch. But remember: you don't make friends with salad. I hear their sandwiches are good, I'll be sure to hit them up for lunch one of these days.

St Jude
Corner Thurlow St & Bourke St
East Redfern
T: 02 9310 3523

St Jude on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 27, 2012

Duke Bistro

I ate here nearly a week ago and the thought of documenting the experience bored me. A direct reflection of the food I guess.

So I'll start by focusing on two great things.
  1. Convenient location next to Flinders Hotel; only a short bus ride from my house. 
  2. I finally got my catch up with my girlfriend JW for dinner.
The ambiance was romantic: dark with mood lighting.

The menu is varied and not too long. Note: check out their website for most updated menu, the one outside (below) is missing some dishes.

Fregola, corn and cornbread $16 is delicious. Three servings of that please!

If I had been to the deep American south, this dish would remind me of that. There's nothing better than mopping that goodness up with the cornbread, it's so comforting!

Now taste going forward on the dishes that follow...meh.

Roast Carrot, Smoked Yoghurt, Pistachio $12. We expected more in the taste department. Disappointed. I liked the presentation. The texture was interesting. Gotta give them points for trying to dress up badly roasted carrot.

A special on the night - szechuan fish with zucchini and brown butter $18. No heat whatsoever. Very buttery. A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Not worth it.

Pork pancake with pineapple and curry mayo $28. There wasn't much pork in there, just a lot of dribbly chewy fat. Not happy Jan.

Drinks we consumed: peach champagne cocktails followed by white and red vino. Total bill $128, I was unimpressed and felt slighly jipped.

Staff are very friendly and extremely helpful. Drinks are good. I think this is a cool place to knock back the drinks and (maybe) get a few tapas plates to soak up the alcohol. By that stage you won't be able to taste the food anyway!

I'd go back for the Fregola alone. Simple shit is the best.

Duke Bistro
T: 02 9332 3180

Duke Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Café Sopra

"It's nice to have good Italian for a change" says my hubby. It's a bold statement by someone who rarely gets impressed by eating out.

Café Sopra is an old faithful like Mecca Espresso. You know what you're going to get and you go back for more. Consistency, simplicity, good quality.

The highlight was being able to taste and smell the freshness of the ingredients used.

We hit up Café Sopra on Danks St located above Fratelli Fresh at 1pm today. Although there were three groups in front of us, we waited no longer than 10 minutes to get a table; we barely had time to order a drink.

Straight to business: secure the table and peruse the floor to ceiling menu blackboard.

Review extensive wine list. Place food and drink order. Enjoy.

Frittata with goats curd and fresh basil $14.50

The goats curd melts over the soft frittata. This seems like a nice breakfast dish, a light main or a great side to share. It was filling yet light.

Meatballs with fresh tomato sauce, I think approx. $24.

I love how Fratelli Fresh share recipes, check out Italian Meatballs with Tomato Sauce. Considering how much my hubby enjoyed this dish, I'm planning on making it this week!

Fettucine with duck pancetta and sage ragu $24. If you like the gaminess of duck then you'll enjoy this dish.

I've been to the Danks St and Walsh Bay restaurants a handful of times and will keep coming back. If you enjoy the food and ambiance you can check out the other Café Sopra restaurants also located at Potts Point and Bridge St in the CBD. With so many trendy locations, how can you resist?

Bookings available only for the private rooms. For small groups and casual dining, works on a rock up and cross your fingers basis.

Café Sopra
T: 02 9699 3174

Café Sopra at Fratelli Fresh on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open Chicken Sandwich

This is a quick and casual Saturday lunch. Even serves well as a tasty snack!

Open Chicken Sandwich
5 mins prep, 5 mins cooking

Sourdough bread slices
Chicken fillet, sliced
Tomato slices
Avocado, mashed
¼ Spanish onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
  1. Heat some olive oil in a pan, then on one corner add chicken fillet to reheat and onion slices on the other corner to cook.
  2. Toast the sourdough slices. Then spread with avocado.
  3.  Then layer the remainder of the ingredients as follows: tomato, splash of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, cooked onion, reheated chicken, mayonnaise (injected sparingly in small pockets between the ingredients).
  4. Serve or eat immediately. 
  • Feel free to add more condiments: I added Tabasco sauce to some slices. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who is Picasso?

Art After Hours is my favourite time to visit the Art Gallery of NSW. You can go during the day time and come out after the sun has set. It's like a time warp, like teleporting into a different period of time and being spat out again.

On Wednesday I went early to enjoy walking up Art Gallery Road in the midday sunshine. It's one of my favourite walks in Sydney. The tall palm trees, the sweaty joggers running past (all the while I'm enjoying a leisurely stroll) and the well manicured grass and gardens surrounding the area.

I also went during the day to avoid the crowds and attempt to get some alone time with Picasso.

The first time I ever saw Picasso was in an exhibition in Amsterdam in 2011. Better late than never. I was fascinated by his varied styles and the extensive span of his work.

This time in Sydney I put together my exhibition pack and I was ready to roll.

I should mention it's the second time I'm seeing this Picasso exhibition. The first being when it opened in November 2011, coupled with high tea in the gallery restaurant.

The exhibition space was crammed with people and in true Sydney style, I had to line up to get a decent view of each of the paintings. There was the overpowering stench in the air of lingering being forbidden because of the ten to 20 people around you trying to get a look in.

So this time my goal was to linger, breathe in, enjoy and view my favourite pieces from this exhibition once more.

The piece below is one of my favourites. The awning-like blue and white vertical stripes and the karagiozi-like quality of the male figure are both Hellenistic in essence. The drama, passion and abandon all characteristic of any classical Greek tragedy.

The Kiss (1969) photo from exhibition pamphlet

Another one of my favourites is the piece below, I fell in love with it. The photo does not do it justice. In reality it's small at 27 x 22 cm and very vibrant in colour. The colour, mood and frivolity of it makes me feel that I can jump straight into the scene and be a part of it, sitting by the water, sun kissing my skin and enjoying the French (or Spanish) summer's day with my friends.

The Bathers (1918) photo from exhibition catalogue

Photography is not permitted in the exhibition, although it is in most of the spaces in the rest of the gallery; except the Aboriginal artwork, photographic or digital pieces.

The Acrobat (1930) photo from exhibition catalogue
There are no guided tours through this exhibition, but there is an extensive printed guide and an audio guide (I was told the audio repeats what's in the written guide).

The only tour available is "Picasso's Path" which takes approximately 45-60 minutes and goes through key artworks in the gallery which relate to Picasso - either artists/movements that influenced Picasso, or artists that were influenced or inspired by Picasso.

The use of complimentary colours and the thick expressive brush strokes especially to depict the light of the candle, are reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh. We viewed a Van Gogh piece in the tour as a point of comparison.

Death of Casagemas (1901) from Picasso's blue period, image sourced from here
It was a great idea doing the tour before seeing the exhibition as the tour guide gave us some great insights into Picasso. All I was interested in was determining how many lovers he had (there were a lot of them, plus four kids from three women) and what his inspirations were, which the guide covered well.

The Reader (1932) photo from exhibition catalogue: Marie Therese-Walter, one of Picasso's many lovers

Jacqueline Roque with her hands crossed (1954) photo from exhibition catalogue: Picasso's second wife

"When I paint I feel that all the artists of the past are behind me." Pablo Picasso

It's clearly evident that Picasso does indeed draw from artists from the past. He would spend hours at the Louvre or other museums and galleries studying the work of other artists, drawing on it for inspiration and innovating to create his own, new and unique style that pushed the boundaries further.

His iconic painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, inspired by African masks Picasso saw (for the first time) at Braque's house, was extremely controversial. At the time his contemporaries and friends thought he was crazy drawing such strange shapes and images. The flattened surfaces, elongated eyes and the mere subject matter (prostitutes in a brothel) fascinated and shocked people.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) image sourced from MoMA & Wikipedia

Picasso was on to a good thing, these were the beginnings of analytical cubism which explored 3D imagery on a 2D surface. This period naturally progressed and Braque and Picasso would paint these types of images together, to the point where their work would become indistinguishable. Then synthetic cubism followed which essentially was collage. Masters at work, they were paving the pathway to greatness, creating new movements and what we now call modern art.

What strikes me in Picasso's work is that his progress, growth and experimentation is clear. He never wanted to be an abstract painter, he wanted his audience to see exactly what he painted/sculpted so they could focus on the emotion, rather than trying to figure out what the subject matter was.

photo and excerpt from exhibition catalogue

Picasso was never afraid to try new things, to be different. He was also never afraid of pleasure and indulgence or perhaps torment too, or taboo subjects such as sexuality and sex. Other themes include his identity and Spanish heritage and things still very relevant to us today such as death and the futility of war.

Bullfight, The Death of the Torero (1933) image from exhibition catalogue

There is so much information available on Picasso. I didn't want to read about him, I wanted to feel who he was through his life's work.

He was first and foremost an innovator and a lover. A mad scientist. A son, a pupil, a father, a teacher, a husband, a friend, a rival.  Perpetually growing, developing, exploring and experimenting.

And finally he was a friend to the dwarfs. This is one of my favourite Picasso paintings which I viewed in Amsterdam. Note: it does not appear at the Art Gallery of NSW exhibition.

La Nana - The Dwarf (1901) image sourced from here
I often view exhibitions, walking away and not really thinking twice about the subject matter or artist.

Picasso got under my skin. As much as there is light in his work, there is more darkness, depicting the themes and times he lived in.

As much as he fascinates me he also disturbs me, both for all the similarities and all the differences we share. We both like dwarfs and women of the night (my tendency is towards strippers, his towards prostitutes); we both explore/d our heritage and identity; we share a shady past when it comes to relationships; we like drinking; and  finally we're both afraid of death. Then for the differences: he created artwork with abandon, generating more and more pieces, created movements, pushed boundaries and exposed himself, took unimaginable risks, was a complete visionary. And I simply haven't, not to that extent.

So what I walk away with is a life lesson. I didn't realise it then in Amsterdam, or the first time here in Sydney. I realise it now, the third time I've seen his work and thinking about my life.

Picasso taught me not to be afraid of making mistakes, he taught me to enjoy and revel in life's process. To learn from the past, to honour its masters and my predecessors, and use the past to create a more meaningful and unique present.

Come to your own meaning or lesson.

For Sydneysiders, the exhibition is only open another month until 25 March 2012. Make sure to book tickets in advance, unless you're going off peak times then you can chance it and buy them at the ticket desk.

I leave you with these parting words:

"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." Pablo Picasso