Friday, November 23, 2012

An interview with Matt Preston, Masterchef Australia

Masterchef Australia television host and award-winning food writer Matt Preston shares his thoughts on food trends, food critiquing, and being a celebrity.

Written by Victoria Cheng for Appetite Asia, August 2011
See the full article in the printed issue.

Behind Berardo’s Restaurant in Australia, I was quietly peeking into the kitchen where seven of some of the world’s greatest chefs were preparing a one-of-a-kind degustation dinner to celebrate the last remaining hours of the Noosa Food & Wine Festival, when I noticed a looming presence behind me. It was British-born Matt Preston towering over most of us, sporting his signature cravat (cream-coloured that night). He broke into an easy smile, and I soon find out he is as warm, amicable and as engaging off-screen as he is on. His passion for food is wholly apparent as he speaks enlivened with the memories of Singapore and of food trends, global trade, marketing, people—everything, really.

Matt Preston once had childhood aspirations to be a soldier or footballer, but the day his friend rang to offer him a role as a food reviewer, he never looked back. The 50-year-old food journalist and television presenter remarks, “Food is a universal language,” with his favourite part of the job being the people he gets to meet. He has been based in Melbourne for the past 16 years, now hosting for Masterchef Australia and writing for delicious. magazine and the food section of The Age.

Biggest gripe about the TV world?
Shooting 85 episodes of a TV show takes up so much time which keeps me away from the things I love most: my job as a food writer, my family and travelling around eating when I’m not with them.

Where do you see food trending towards in the next few years?
As exemplified by Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana, high-end dining is becoming more concept-driven. Vue de Monde in Melbourne is currently developing a dish inspired by the Victorian gold rush in the 1850s with ‘nuggets’ of golden liquefied honeycomb hidden in chocolate soil.

We are also seeing the growth of true regional expression, as exemplified by Rene Redzepi’s food. Noma already has traction but I’d expect to see more wild greens and less fashionable fish on New World menus.

Is there any chef you’re dying to meet or work with—or have you met them all?
I’d love to do more with Massimo Bottura who is a fascinating and inspirational character. Rene Redzepi (Noma), Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck), Juan Mari Arzak (Arzak) and Andoni Aduriz (Mugaritz) are all great to be around, but the best fun that I have been having recently has been cooking with ‘aunty’ style home cooks from a range of different cultural backgrounds.

What advice would you impart to the thousands of aspiring food critics out there? 
Start a blog and review everywhere you eat. Write reviews to the length that they are published in your city (50 word thumbnails, 200 mini reviews, 450 word full reviews). This will help you find your own unique voice. Always try to improve your knowledge and develop special areas of expertise and interest.

Tell us about your most memorable meal.
There are so many: strips of steak cooked with butter and chives pulled from the wood-fired AGA in my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen; homemade pasta served with shaved white truffle that I had foraged for myself in the hills behind Gubbio in Umbria; my last meals at The Fat Duck, Noma, Arzak and Mugaritz; eating pork buns with George and Gary in Mongkok (Hong Kong) and at Ssäm Bar (New York)… A good burger or souvlaki almost anywhere.

Do you have a lucky cravat?
No, all cravats are lucky. I do have a cream silk scarf that I am a little fond of.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fat Duck chefs killed in Hong Kong

The tragic news is spreading across the globe about the death of two chefs from Fat Duck.  Jorge Ivan Arango Herrera, 34, and Carl Magnus Lindgren, 30, were senior staff from the Heston Blumenthal's triple Michelin-starred kitchen in Berkshire, England.

Herrera, Lindgren, and driver Wong Kim Chung were pronounced dead in Hong Kong after an oncoming double decker bus crashed into their taxi in Chai Wan.  Blumenthal was in a separate taxi and is uninjured.  The trio were in Hong Kong to promote an upcoming restaurant.

The top chefs and food writers in the social media world -- David Chang (Momofuku), Thomas Keller (French Laundry), Mugaritz restaurant, Ryan Sutton (Bloomberg) --  are tweeting their condolences.  Rene Redzepi of Noma (Copenhagen) understandingly tweets, "Unimaginable - your chefs are your family.  Condolences to the families, Heston & team Fat Duck chefs killed in crash."

For more details on the accident, read Wall Street Journal Asia's article.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Eating through Los Angeles

I guess there are worse places to be stuck in when Sandy messes up your New York plans.

Traveled to get my annual dose of home in New York, but first made a pit stop in southern California.  Plans changed when Hurricane Sandy hit New York, followed by a snowstorm that blew in a week later.  Stuck on the west coast this Autumn, Norman brought me to some of his favorite spots and we explored a good handful of restaurants that were new to both of us.  Suffice to say, we've both gotten visibly softer around the middle section.  Here's the list and the verdict below.

Eating machines.

(List in this post is still in progress.  More restaurants will be added over this week whenever I find a minute to pop it in!)

Vito's Pizza
846 N La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(310) 652-6859

Reputation:  This joint is repudiated as one of the best pizzerias in LA, and serves some of the best NY-style pizza on the west coast.  It's been reviewed among many publications and blogs as being able to stand among the best in Manhattan.

Verdict:  I disagree.  There is nothing New York about the place.  Even the service is anything but New York -- Louis, the guy handling the cashier was probably the nicest and on-the-ball pizzeria server I've come across.  Ever.  Patient, outgoing, offering utensils, extra plates before we even thought to ask, and he sports the most genuine smile I've seen on the west coast.

Unfortunately for LA, if this is the "best" NY-style pizza this city has to offer, then I dread what the pizza must be like in the rest of the area.  After being welcomed by the likes of Louis, we started with a white cheese pesto slice -- it was an exceptional start to our pizza stop. Big dollops of sweet, creamy ricotta is generously dotted across the pie, coming together into a rich bite with swirls of pesto and olive oil.  This pizza is highly recommended.

It started to go downhill when we tucked into the fresh mozzarella slice and the Garibaldi (meatball, jalapeños).  The crust was too thin and flimsy by any standard, and it lacked any flavor.  Save for the amazing ricotta, it seems LA has yet to master the NY pizza... but I guess that's why it's called a "New York style" pizza in the first place.

Carney's Restaurant
8351 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 654-8300

Reputation:  It's hard to miss Carney's.  A yellow train car sits along the Sunset Strip with an enormous crossing sign advertising burgers and hotdogs.  Mr. Hartono explained how Carney's is practically a Los Angeles landmark since its opening in the late '60s and is a must-visit for any LA-noobs such as myself.

Verdict:  Skipping the burgers, we popped by just for a quick hot dog (we still had Pink's Hot Dogs and K-Town food to do next).  Call me simple or call me a New Yorker, but I like my dogs with nothing more than mustard, ketchup and sauerkraut...  or else a chili cheese dog.  It was a chilly evening and the sight of all the tall leggy aspiring-actresses strolling along Sunset Blvd made me crave the more gluttonous option of the latter.

The dog was thin, juicy, flavorful, and the outer skin had that vital snap as my teeth broke through the top layer.  I could have done with some chopped raw onions on this baby, but the addition of fresh tomato slices was a nice touch.  Maybe it's because I live in Singapore now and haven't had a good hot dog in almost two years, or maybe the hot dog really was that good.

Slap Yo Mama Food Truck, Pigs Feet Under, Rancho A Go Go Barbeque

Reputation: I hadn't gotten the chance to try any food trucks during my stay in LA.  On the last day, my flight was postponed by 12 hours.  I was so angry at United Airlines for once again screwing up my travel, but it gave us the opportunity to scout out a food truck or two in between.  Norman found a bunch of trucks on the way back to the airport, and we were drawn to the rather unusual name, "Slap Yo Mama Truck - Soul Food".

Verdict:  The woman taking orders saw what must have seen the look of indecisiveness on our faces.  With a smile, she welcomed me to California, then listed her favorite eats from the neighboring trucks, "Have you ever had Grilled Cheese Truck?  The grilled cheese at the truck next door at Pigs Feet Under is even better, hands down.  And I love Rancho A Go Go Barbeque - I've never had pulled pork better than theirs.  See that truck across?  They do a cool fusion of Japanese and Persian cuisine..."  She listed a few more before modestly introducing one of their own truck's specialties: The Snoop Dogg Crizto.


I've never tried Roscoe's or any other chicken & waffles place before.... and now was a good time as any.  The Snoop Dogg Crizto was named as such (renamed, actually) after Snoop Dogg/Lion himself had the dish and declared it one of his favorites.  It's serious biz when you have chicken and mac n' cheese enveloped in a thick cushion of waffles and syrup.  Don't get too excited or worried about the white dusting on top.  It isn't coke.  It's icing sugar -- which in my book, is close enough.  I officially dig chicken & waffles - I crave this dish even whilst I type this now in Singapore.  I think Norman was quite literally licking the plate clean that evening, while I was polishing off Rancho A Go Go's pulled pork.

Photo by Rancho A Go Go

The Porky Fries from Rancho A Go Go is out of this world.  Slap Yo Mama was not kidding when she said their pulled pork was some of the best out there.  The juicy, soft pulled pork was served over curly fries and topped with tangy barbecue sauce.  If we hadn't already gotten the Snoop Dogg Crizto and a bacon grilled cheese, I would have gone back for seconds (next time, I'll be trying the "Rhino" - pulled pork grilled cheese stuffed with mac n' cheese).

We finished the Bacon Grilled Cheese from Pig's Feet Under last.  I've never had a grilled cheese with so much bacon before -- and we're talking perfectly cooked bacon.  The generous portions of bacon were cooked crisp, but not till burned.  It was salty, flavorful... god, I love bacon.  The fig jam was a nice touch; its natural sweet and tartness balanced the bacon.  We were least enthusiastic about the grilled cheese in this one instance, but only because the other two dishes we ordered were heavy on the caloric richness, making the bacon grilled cheese combo seem more subtle.  It still, however, is one of the better sandwiches I've had.

Spago, Beverly Hills
176 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 385-0880

Review pending.

The Spice Table
114 S. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 620-1840

Review pending.

California Fish Grill, Irvine
3988 Barranca Parkway #B
Irvine, California 92606
(949) 654-3838

Review pending.

Urth Caffe, West Hollywood
8565 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(310) 659-0628

Review pending.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Food For Thought: Fruity Art

Turkish artist and photographer, Şakir Gökçebağ, looks at fruits a little differently.

See the full works at Şakir Gökçebağ's online portfolio.


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