Last night was the launch of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival and I listened with absolute pleasure to René Redzepi talking through his inspirations founding and building Noma.
I was more than a little proud when Redzepi asked the very same question I had proposed when I reviewed his book: why don’t more Australian chefs become locavores and use native Australian ingredients?
Chefs Ben Shewry (Attica) and Mark Best (Marque) joined food critics Joanna Savill and Terry Durack to discuss the concept of Australian cuisine and the applications of native produce.
From his Victorian property, Shewry had foraged some amazing wild produce including red salt berries; butterfly-leafed wild sorrel; verdant, crunchy sea succulents; and glistening strips of seaweed.
It was impossible not to be inspired by all the amazing and interesting herbs and I was restless watching them from my seat as they tasted each one on the stage. I wanted to taste them too! I already had my own recipe ideas bubbling away!
But we weren’t left out! At each seat was a small packet of leaves which we were encouraged to crush and smell, one by one. It was the first time I had smelt lemon myrtle, anisata or mountain pepper leaf in their fresh state. Normally I see them dried and, while they smell similar, the dried versions take on a stronger yet staler scent. The essential oils in the fresh leaves were simply marvellous.
As Redzepi pointed out, the wild food opportunities in Australia are endless given we have equatorial, tropical, subtropical, desert, grassland and temperate climates!
Redzepi challenged Australians to invent their own cuisine from the amazing array of cooking techniques, cultures and wild foods that we have at our disposal.
I hope some brave young Aussie chef takes up the challenge.
As we filed out of the auditorium, small tables of fresh vegetables and native leaves were a surprise extra gift from Redzepi. Seemingly civilised old women were knocking down children to grab what were really just good quality vegetables, and I almost didn’t bother throwing myself into the fray.
But I’m glad I did because this afternoon, when I sat down on my sofa to read the Noma newsletter and crunched into a small misshapen radish, I was instantly transported back in time to my maternal grandfather’s garden in Coffs Harbour. I would pull up radishes from his vegetable patch, dash into the house to wash off the dirt then bite into the red, crunchy root curling my toes in anticipation of the peppery hit I was about to get.
These days when I eat radish I feel like those memories must have been inaccurate because radishes never taste like much, especially not anything akin to the peppery-spice of my Grandpa's radishes. But when I tasted the radish Redzepi had given me it had an intensity of flavour and, finally, the elusive peppery heat I had been missing all these years.
Noma’s newsletter is predominantly about the early food memories of the restaurant staff, and I found it ironic that this radish had done the same trick for me.
It made me consider my own early food memories, in addition to the radishes:
• Riding my paternal grandfather’s back like a horse as he tended the vegetable patch and handed me exquisitely sweet tomatoes straight from the vine. I have only ever tasted a few tomatoes as good as these ever since.
• Hiding in the back garden when I was sulking and popping peas straight from their pods into my mouth. No wonder when we sold our home and moved closer to the city that I refused to eat the frozen peas my mum started serving me.
• My brothers bringing home trays of stone fruit from their summer jobs in a nearby orchard and my mother asking me to peel the peaches, her favourite fruit, because the fuzzy texture literally gave her shivers of repulsion.
• The smell of lamb chops under the grill and my parents begging me to eat the meat from the lamb chops, whereas I only wanted to eat the fat.
• Sucking overripe blood plums through the gaps of my missing front teeth and dripping deep red juices all over my clothes.
Now that I have a few fresh samples of wonderful Aussie herbs, I think I'll forge some new memories.
Now brace yourself as Crave Sydney International Food Festival begins!
And if you're a food bloggers, send the links to your posts this way!!!