Victor Churchill, Woollahra
From left: Me, Mark, Romeo, Anthony Bourdain (!), Luke (giving his best blue steel) and Anna
Have I gotten your attention? Yes indeed, that is the Anthony Bourdain! Some of you might know that I've been all atwitter about meeting him, and it definitely has been the highlight of my week.
But before I tell you about that, let me first share with you why I've been so quiet; why I've been neglecting my poor bloggie.
It all started at the Good Food and Wine Show. I had gone for the first time last year, and had the opportunity to attend a charcuterie talk by Romeo. I was (am) in awe by the sheer amount of knowledge and, before I knew it, I had somehow finagled my way into being gifted with the opportunity to do work experience at Victor Churchill.
I immediately arranged to take 4 weeks off work so that I could fully apply myself and learn as much as I can. After humorous taunts from my friends about me probably only being allowed to clean the floors, I was extremely excited to actually be able to cook.
One of the first things I learnt was how to prepare plums. Finicky, ripe, delicate, but oh so delicious blood plums. Theoretically you can just twist them apart and pit them like peaches, but in reality, some of them were so delicate that I mangled my first few. It took me a while before I managed to get little (intact) heart shaped plum halves bountifully piled into a gastronome. They were then poached in a beautiful spiced syrup and left to infuse in the fridge for a couple of days. Every time I walked into the cool room I wondered what would happen to the gorgeous plums and the gorgeously deep magenta syrup they were poached in. I finally did get my answer:
Incredibly crumbly, jammy Frangipane Plum Tarts were the result. The buttery pastry melts into your mouth before being chased by the luxuriously comforting flavour and aromas of the ripe plums and spices. The flavour fills your senses before it slowly fades, leaving you with just the memories of being transported to a rural village where you've just nicked a cooling tart off a grandma's windowsill.
But those of you who know me well know that although I love a good dessert, cured/preserved stuff is really what I get excited about. And boy, did I have a reason to get excited.
Once every so often, Romeo cures whole salmon fillets, and then cold smokes them in-house.
Wood chips get set aflame in a cast iron pan and then quickly extinguished and put into an oven where the cured salmon sits. Thick grey smoke quickly fills the cavity and the salmon magically disappears into the smoke like a cheap magician in Las Vegas. After an impatient wait, the smoke finally clears and the gorgeous, coral salmon is released, dry to the touch but moist to eat, and not at all greasy and fishy like some of the commercially available smoked salmon that you can get from the supermarkets. As someone who has developed an expensive addiction to salmon, let me tell you that after tasting that smoked salmon, I can never bring myself to buy the regular stuff. Usually I can only eat a few slices of smoked salmon before it gets a bit much, but I can honestly say that I'll quite happily sit there and devour the whole fillet with no problem at all.
Besides the food that comes out of the kitchen, there is also the delicious cured meats.
Most of the meats are sourced from people who share the same philosophy as Victor Churchill, but there are actually meats that are cured in-house! There is a spicy chorizo that cures for three weeks that is the most delicious chorizo that I've had. And I'm not saying this because I've seen it made and am hankering after the recipe. This is actually a chorizo that, when it came time to taste the first batch, I was shamelessly eyeing the final piece that was sitting on the bench. And when Romeo kindly offered it to me, I eagerly pounced on it like a hungry hyena. Not my proudest moment, but the things I will do for delicious food.
And I guess it quite sums up my experience. This is but a start to my quest for deliciousness, and what a start it has been. Even though I have so much more to learn, I feel like my heart was filled every day with the knowledge that was bestowed onto me, the patience and generosity that was shown to me by Romeo, and the friendship that was shared by everyone that I had the luck to work with. Too quickly my 4 weeks was over, and I struggled to cling to my final week, willing the days to pass as slowly as possible so that I can extend the whole experience. Truly an experience that money can't buy.
But enough about me, I know that you want to hear about how I got to meet Anthony Bourdain!
Well, in my final week there I saw that beautiful chorizo in the cool room marked Do Not Sell. Curious as to what was wrong with the chorizo - and more importantly whether I would get to eat it - I asked why it wasn't to be sold. And then I was told, in hushed voice, that Anthony Bourdain was coming to Victor Churchill to film No Reservations.
I nearly had a heart attack.
Thankfully my near coronary disaster was averted by the sheer possibility of a culinary dream come true. This is something to tick off my bucket list, and years from now I will be telling my grandchildren that I was part of the team that fed Anthony Bourdain.
A revered yet excited silence fell when he walked in the door. The air was electric.
Camera men were like silent ninjas who were every where at once, which I guess is what you have to be to work on a show like No Reservations.
It was crunch time, and Romeo carefully selected the best of what we had to offer and beautifully arranged it on a platter.
And there's Luke carefully arranging the meats.
The adrenaline was pumping, the anticipation was high, and all too suddenly, it was over. And he emerged from the back room.
For such a culinary rockstar, I really didn't know what to expect. For the most part I was just staring him like a dumbstruck fangirl trying to keep quiet the crazy screaming that was going on inside.
And he was so nice. He complimented us on the food that he had tasted, and very kindly stayed to pose for photographs even though his producers had informed us that he had to rush to the next location. He was so friendly and had a kind smile and a hand shake for every one who had worked so hard to create the experience.
Even typing this brings a slight tear to my eye. I miss everything: I miss waking up at 5:30am, I miss the aching joints, I miss the sore knees, I miss standing there pushing pastry into tin after tin, I miss the aromas of the busy kitchen...but most of all I miss the learning. The knowing that every day that I wake up to go there is another day that I will learn new, different things that will expand and impact the way I cook in future.
I'm so glad and grateful for the experience, and it's something that I will never ever forget.
132 Queen Street, Woollahra NSW 2025
(02) 9328 0402
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