Inspired by the early evenings spent in the majestic town of Viana do Castela (north coast of Portugal). There, lies a bakery founded by Farnanda Natario; a bakery with patiently waiting locals, avidly waiting for pastries that were literally selling like hot cakes. The bakery produces and sells a thousand bola Berlin per day, along with other breads, pastries and tarts. Ah Portugal, you’re a gem in many ways!
Ms Edna Lewis was born in Virginia in 1916, in a settlement founded by her grandfather and other freed slaves; Freetown. As Lewis mentions in her books quite often, it was in Freetown where she learnt the value of farming, cooking and sustainable eating practices. She was one of those humans that inherently knew that true contentment comes from making/cooking/baking it yourself, by hand, for the ones you love. Reading through testimonials and reviews, it’s so clear to see why Lewis was known and praised for her strength, generosity and calming warmth; ‘rolling out pie crust with a wooden rolling pin and crimping the pastry with her long, efficient fingers. She knew that real food made by hand means more to both those who make it and those who eat it. And she poured her self into her work because she knew that all you take from this life is what you give away.’ (Alice Waters)
Her books, mentorship to young curious chefs and her journey to her regal culinary status defines her relentless spirit and her quest to demonstrate the beauty of tradition and her great lust for authenticity, accountability, and sustainability. Lewis left Freetown to take part in doing various jobs around New York City (including being a seamstress to Marilyn Monroe), to finally landing a chef position at Cafe Nicholson. The cafe rose to fame for Lewis’s Southern cooking and hospitality - at a time (late ‘40s) where female chefs were few and far between and black female chefs were a rarity.
Individuals and cooks like Edna Lewis are the continuing inspiration too all who strive to protect both biodiversity and cultural diversity (Lewis by arguably being one of the most important black culinarian in the history of American food, championing, chronicling and preserving Southern food traditions.) through cooking within season’s produce and the value of communal eating.
Dear Ms Lewis, you’re kinda a badass, and thank you for being one too.
This butter cookie recipe (I’ve wrote it short hand and simplified) is from her cookbook, ‘The Taste of Country Cooking’. Adaptations that I took (and not mentioned below are, rolling the dough into a nut-sugar mixture, adding ground cinnamon to the dough and 2 tsp of vanilla extract). One thing for sure is when I have a little more time to play around with her recipes, I’ll be sure to write about them!
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 medium sized eggs, beaten
2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp cream or milk
1 cup granulated sugar (or ‘crushed cube sugar’)
cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
add in the beaten eggs, slowly and make sure the mixture is homogenised (if it looks curdled, keep beating, add maybe 2-3 tbsp of flour if it still looks curdled over a minute)
add the flour, ginger, baking powder and salt. mix to combine
add in cream and beat until dough comes together (30 seconds)
roll dough into a log (this is where you can roll the dough in any ‘nuts/sugar mix’ you wanted.) and wrap with foil or plastic. Freeze overnight
preheat oven to 160C. line a large cookie sheet, or two.
slice cookies as 7-8mm thick coins (pictured below) and place on the lined sheets, with space between each cookie
bake for 9-12 minutes. Cookies do not colour as much (don’t be fooled by the colour not changing!) Cookies should be be soft to touch but keeping shape when done.
enjoy your afternoon with a book, five of these, and a bottomless pot of tea
dedicated to everyone who is doing a dry January but it’s slightly too hot outside for nothing that’s bubbly.
2 cups of fruit (I used pomegranate, deseeded blood plums and ginger)
2 cups of vinegar (1 cup white wine, 1 cup white)
1 1/2 - 2 cups of sugar (start low, taste, then adjust to your liking)
1 tsp salt
1 black tea bag
Sterilise a jar or a few jars (enough for around 750ml in total capacity)
Heat vinegar and bring up to boil
Add fruit and sugar, salt and the tea bag in another saucepan, turn the heat to medium heat, mix to coat.
Add boiling vinegar to the fruit mix and bring up to boil. AFTER 5 MINUTES Take the tea bag out of the shrub mix. Then, turn heat to simmer on low for 40-50 minutes. The shrub should be the consistency of maple syrup (slightly thicken but still has a ‘flow’) Taste shrub and adjust seasoning (more sweetness, or maybe a little more salt)
Place shrub in the sterilised jars, allow to cool down to room temperature and then seal and place in the fridge.
The flavour of the shrub intensifies with time. Hold the shrub for atleast one week. (This one was for 2 weeks) Then strain the shrub to remove all fruit and ginger pieces. Now you have a shrub syrup!
Use around 1tbsp of shrub to around 200-250ml tonic, sparking water …. or prosecco?
biscuits here are not what biscuits are back home. Oh no, its not a Tim Tam nor a Mint Slice, it’s more a scone… with added butter and all things glory (buttermilk, cream cheese, more butter, some flour… what more do you need in life, really?)
Southern biscuits are in between tender and flaky (thanks to the addition of buttermilk and working quickly with grated butter dotted through the dough). Similar to scones, it uses baking soda as its leavening agent instead of any yeast added (the soda reacts with the buttermilk- a form of acid, to help aerate and leaven the dough). Through reading various recipes, I’ve been digging the addition of cream cheese… giving these biscuits a sort of ‘tang’ and creaminess. Here’s a recipe.
And here are some clues with biscuit making
repetition really is key. the more you make of these doughs, the better your hands get a feel of it (I’m not even saying that as a hippy cook, I’m saying that… because it’s true!)
if it’s taking you more than 15mins-20mins to form the dough, you’re overworking the dough! you’re going to work the proteins that form gluten which will make the biscuits more ‘bready’ and ‘tough’ than tender and flaky.
grate your butter. Ideally, you want your butter to be stone cold, working it through the flour JUST enough that the dough (before adding the liquids) is sand like texture. After adding the liquids, you want everything to incorporate but JUST - meaning, you want it to be a little shaggy looking (just like my life.)
Have you biscuits baking on the top rack, closest to the heat source to help caramelise and colour.
For added fun, as you add melted butter on top, you can add spices! Here, I added Aleppo pepper and za’atar.
They freeze well, which is great ‘cause every recipe makes atleast 12. You can have them cut and frozen, ready to shove in the toaster at any moment. (did I tell you how amazing breakfasts can be? it can be. I have a dream. that you will love 6AM just as much as I do.)
One Sunday I decided to bring my ‘fuck your $35 hipster brunch’ mentality to my shoebox in Bed Stuy. Braising leftover pork shoulder with ancho chilli, making an aioli and adding grated horseradish, a herb-apple salad with a dressing made from the aioli, some ginger, chilli and some champagne vinegar. Yea! Come see me! Williamsburg! And I did it all for $10! Tccchhhhaaauuuu.
‘Grits’ originally came from the Native American Muskogee tribe, where an Indian corn, similar to hominy or maize, was stone milled, giving corn a ‘gritty’ texture. The grain is usually served as breakfast item, favoring the savoury side (butter/cheese/eggs) and has climbed history as a staple from the South.
To learn more, ‘The Meaning of True Grits’ published by the New York Times in 1982, gives an outlook to what a simple homely dish can mean to a community. It truly is a humble dish that creates a level of agreeable comfort, and to the quote the article ‘indeed, this would be a much happier world if more its millions had grits.’. Check out the article here.
Learning what grits was all about had me teasing with the idea of what it would taste like as a sweet breakfast item! It’s texture, slow cooked with coconut milk and some cream? Surely it would work out!
As much as I wanted to write a recipe, a coffee chat with a fellow cook/baker had me thinking about why we keep industry techniques to ourselves instead of sharing them. I’m talking about how we write and speak in ratios and percentages. In the kitchen, you never really here ‘its a cup of this! and a teaspoon of this!’ It’s more on the lines of ‘it’s a 2:1 ratio, brine it at 2%, double it by 150%’. It’s a little maths, but it also means you can cater exactly to your liking. Breakfast for two, or twenty five - you’ll be good.
Here are some clues and a loose game plan of how I made these coconut grits.
The ratio to grits to liquid I used was 1:4. So if you’re using 1 cup of grits, you’re adding 4 cups of liquid. Here, the liquid I used was 50% coconut milk, 25% milk (alt milk could be used) & 25% water.
You can infuse the liquids too. I did. by steeping them all together, with a cardamon pod, cinnamon stick and an orange peel. (‘character building’)
I toasted the grits in the pan over medium heat in a deep pot BEFORE I added the HOT liquids. (adding cold liquids to something that’s already hot, is just slowing down the process (I learnt this from a chef yelling behind me, slapping his spoon on the bench, so I’m telling you, in the sooofftest way possible.)
the secret in the pudding is in the salt, but also the sweetness and how it’s layered. I seasoned this with sea salt and layered it with brown sugar, honey and vanilla. (taste as you go, it’s better for all of us if you add a little at a time rather than falling into impatience and adding a shittone from the get go)
Keep whisking and simmer on LOW heat, low and slooooow. (For a cup of grits, it took me around 20-25 minutes to ‘doneness’) This gives time for the corn to absorb the liquid and go juuuust a little beyond al dente to give you the creamiest grits. (but to make it extra creamy, I poured in a little cream at the end, because fuck man, if I’m going to live in this cold hard world, give me the gluten, the dairy and the greens)
To top my coconut grits with some morning happiness, I chucked some frozen berries in a saucepan, with a drizzle of maple syrup and added just enough water so the berries were barely covered. Boiling this and then lowering it to a simmer, allows the berries break down a little and for the juices to slightly thicken.
I also added some granola, I’m not going to lie, I really just added it ‘for the ‘gram’ but it did give some texture!
Isso! Grits and some clues, may you one day realise how amazing 6AM can feel if you made love to your breakfast game.
a slice of cake , a i love you,, kinda the same thing
if you didn’t know already, I love mornings! I love that the first hour, if will be, can be so gentle and a chance to cherish quite moments before the city takes over you. (I mean look at you, being alive for another day, what’s not to be grateful for?!) I miss how Melbourne coffeeshops were opened 6.30-7am, it’s like you could easily make your day for yourself in the first hour! I’ll never let go having spots that felt ever so intimate.
My attraction to humans heighten when I hear the words ‘is 8am alright with you’. Who are you? How did you know this is all I’ve ever wanted? Should I do a Ted Mosby on your ass?
I swear as I get older, my urge to find grungy dancehalls diminishes, it’s all about social mornings for me these days, and I’m in love with them! I’ve been lucky to finally meet someone inspiring over coffee recently. Someone I’ve been trying to get a hold of for so long! And one morning it worked out, we chatted, I left them with a slice of cake, wrapped in foil; the way a mother would wrap lunch for her child.
And off I went. To hurdle over tasks for the next 15 hours. To only have a ‘THAT CAKE!’ text in the middle. Filled with joy. Long days aren’t as painful with intimate and generous mornings, I’m telling you!
CLUES TO THE ADVENTURE
1 cup (any) sweet white wine
2 pears, peeled, cored & halved
1 cardamon pod
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
170g dark chocolate, chopped
120g butter, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
30 mls of espresso or really strong instant coffee
1 tsp whiskey/bourbon or a liquer you love
1/2 cup almond meal
3 large eggs, separated
*cocoa powder (for dusting)
THE GAME PLAN
preheat oven to 180C degrees. Line a 8 inch cake pan, set aside.
Have the sugar, water, spices and wine in a medium saucepan, let it come to a boil, add pears, decrease heat. Use a cartouche to keep the pears covered. (here’s a link, friend.) You wan these to poach for 15-20 minute, until a knife can easily pierce through.
In a double boiler (I use a bowl over a saucepan with simmering water), melt chocolate, salt, vanilla, coffee, liquor, sugar and butter. Take bowl off boiler after all ingredients have meld together. Allow to cool (until blood temperature)
Whisk egg whites. Set Aside.
Add egg yolk and almond meal to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
With a wide spatula, fold in 1/2 of the eggs whites until fully incorporated (not streaks). Then fold in the second half, gently (too vigorous and you will lose aeration!). Add cake batter into the prepared pan.
Take your poached pears (you can keep the liquid and keep poaching pears in it for next time, or use it as a really nice floral simple syrup to drinks/cocktails). Slice each half into quarters. Either fan around the cake, or, randomly place them around (there’s definitely two types of humans in this world.)
Bake for 35 - 45 minutes. A fork/skewer should come out clean after piercing through the cake. Try not to overtake! You want the cake to be more on the ‘fudgey’ side, so best to test at the 35 minute mark and judge how much longer it needs.
Gift slices of cake in the mornings like your a cake elf, secretly wanting to spend unconditional joy to everyone you come across.
eating greens in the most exciting ways possible , isn’t that happiness is about?
This one isn’t a recipe, definitely more just clues on how to incorporate more greens in your diet without going on the green juice/broccoli route (though I’m sure they’re great in their own ways!)
chuck all your favourite greens (mine right now are snow peas, snap peas and brussel sprouts) in a bowl. Add oil (i used olive and sesame), salt, pepper, a blob of honey (trust me!), a minced garlic clove and if you have.. 1/2 -1 tsp of numbing but delicious grounded szechuan pepper! Toss them all until each green is seasoned.
have the pan (cast irons, if you don’t have one, $12 is all I’m saying to you … forget the brands!) slightly smoky. To have your greens charred and crispy, your motion has to be quick! If it’s charring to fast, reduce the heat to medium. Cook the greens in batches so it’s not crowded (this leads to soggy and limpy greens!) After their done, drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice, this is how our skin will stay happy and glowy (so I hope.)
You have add other things to greens at the end or beginning to make it even more or a heartier meal. Cook in mushrooms, finished it with some pickles! Or, add some brown miso and a little chicken stock to reduce down and make a sauce. With this you could add some recooked noodles. (Like what’s below! And if I could have just my 30 second ‘show and tell’… guys! I also made that plate/bowl! I know! I’m still learning, guess what you’re getting for Christmas though)
oh she cultured, man!
I once had a coffee with a friend who changed my yoghurt life forever.
’ Crish… you know you can make your own by heating milk and adding a previous active yoghurt?’
Mind. blown. Here I was thinking I needed a lab, underground leeds to grabbing cultures (‘good bacterias’).
Making these batches of yoghurt slowly becomes like your own kid, and as you keep feeding it milk (when you’re low) the batches just get better and better (and you won’t have to be fooled by the large fraction of supermarket yoghurts thats using additives and gelatins to thicken their yoghurts!)
Clues/hints as follows
use an organic natural flavoured yoghurt to begin with. You want it have active/living cultures (it will say ‘ acidophilus/bifidus’.
You can easily flavoured it after (and save yourself 20grams of sugar! supermarket are sneaky I tell you!)
you can strain it with some muslin cloth (hello labneh!)
a go to ‘culturing space’ is my oven, that I preheated at its LOWEST heat and left the door a little cracked, so its down to around 40-45 degrees celsius in there. A hot water bottle and some tea towels over it helps in the turn off oven too :) Make sure the environment is in the sweet spot of around 30-38 degrees celsius (so bacterias flourish and everything becomes magical). Too cold might not allow culturing, too hot may kill cultures.
I leave mine overnight, some people for 5 hours, some people for 2 days. You’ve got to experiment with the consistency/texture that you love.
As with anything that’s cultures, if it looks funky, tastes funky or smells funky. STOP EATING IT.
THE GAME PLAN
Sanitise Jars (boiled and dried)
In a large saucepan, over medium heat up milk to 85C. Once reached, cool it down to 45 C
With a clean stainless steel spoon/whisk, add yoghurt until fully incorporated
Pour into pre-sanitised jars. Screw on tops.
Place in culturing sport (where its around 27-35 C)
Check after 5 hours, if not desired consistency, culture for as long as 8 hours (..or up to 48 hours)
** yoghurt will get thicker in the fridge
CLUES TO THE ADVENTURE
1/2 cup (11og) plain full fat yoghurt (with live cultures)
1L raw or unhomogenized pasteurized whole or 2% milk
We’ve all heard about umami (if not, where were you when I stood in front of the nutrition/menu planning class giving a 5 minute PRAISE to umami and all forms of glutamate? your bad indeed). It’s the ‘savouriness’ of the dish. Another way I like to describe it is the ‘highest element of deliciousness’ - which how I feel about chicken stock.
And yea I know, I hate making it too. Restaurant history reminds how it feels to strain 30 litre pots of stock and being splashed with meaty goodness as you use a baking rack as your strainer.
But, you’re home, a cute 7-8 litre pot will do you well. You can have it bubbling away whilst worrying about how rodents can come attack you in your shoebox apartment (my favourite pastime hobby) What’s great about stock is how you create a large about, save what you’ll use in a week, and have the others in jars, labelled, neatly placed in your freezer (because freezers are always so organised and into place). Here are some clues, hints, and basic recipe (that you can play with/edit yourself) :)
Ways to use chicken stock:
adding it to soup base or making the stock the base and adding veggies/meat to it!
‘deglazing’ - just think of using stock as adding another layer or salty/umami delicious ness in anything. So next time you’re sautéing mushrooms… you’ve got to try this!
adding it to stews/curries/sauces
anything (most things) that ask to add water to a cooking step, you’re might be able to add stock instead. But you have to remember it is (usually) flavoursome, so beware not to overseason. (hello chicken stock in my pilaf - come on now!)
experiment! Make sure its a broth you love (so taste it! love it! add it to everything!)
If using raw chicken bones, place in cold water, allow it to reach boiling point. Turn down heat and let simmer for 15 mins. Drain, and then refill with aromats to create stock.
You can poach a whole chicken , remove the meat, place the bones back and make a stock with them (hello, killing a bird with two stones)
You can roast bones/vegetables and then make this into a stock. Though this ‘deepens’ the flavour, which might be a little too intense for some … it is AMAZING in super hearty meals. (think mushroom risotto with a very deep brown chicken stock. I. Know!) That, or when you add all ingredients to a stock pot, let it brown a little, deglaze with some white wine, and then add the water. Psst, like there’s a ‘right’ way to cook anything, hey? #youdoyou
Adding feet, necks and heads of chicken make the most gelatinous broths! But if you can’t find them (or you’re freaked…. which makes me question questions, but I won’t ask) adding wings with the carcass will help thicken as well.
Just add any vegetable you want, but if it tastes funky or looks funky… I wouldn’t (you know?) * dried porcini mushrooms are pretty great add on (if you’ve got disposable income for days)
The best stocks are done low and slow (6-8hrs). Save it for one of those ‘caving at home’ days. (though you can let it do its thing, it’ll only needs your attention for a few moments)
if 8-10 L stockpot is not something you have (Im just saying… they cost $12 at chinese supermarkets), you can halve the recipe and make it in your largest saucepan.
Fat will rise to the top after refrigerated, don’t bin it! Use it!! Use it all! (brussel sprouts cooked in chicken fat? yes!)
clues to the adventure
3 kgs of chicken bones (or a combination of carcass/wings/necks/feet)
5-7 L water (enough to fill the large pot)
2 medium onions, quarted
1 celery stalk , roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 fennel, roughly chopped - you can include the stems
5 cloves of garlic (or more…)
2cm chunk of ginger
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp red or black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs of ‘hard herbs’ (think thyme, rosemary, sage)
1 lemon, halved
2 tsp salt (and additional 2-4 tsp of salt at the end to taste/finish)
the game plan
place bones in a large 8-9L pot (the higher the walls, the better)
Add all other aromas/ingredients.
Fill pot with water.
Bring to boil,then lower heat to medium (a mild simmer)
Simmer for at least 4-5 hrs. Remove any ‘scum’ (white foamy bits) that surfaces. It should reduce atleast by a quarter of the volume you first started with. If it’s reducing too fast, add more water.
Taste and season (does it need more salt? lemon juice? vinegar? pepper?) allow stock to cool down to room temperature
Strain and transfer to individual storage compartments/jars. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight (the fat will rise to the top - which can skim off… or use!)
Enjoy the ‘secret ingredient’.
To me, there’s something much worse than getting your socks wet. It’s unsolicited advice or judgement on your life/lifestyle. It’s on the same pet peeve level as to when you’re in a somewhat stressful situation, and some monkey comes up and say ‘aw, are you stressed?’
…Well yea maybe man! But I’m running and gunning anyway, pleeeaaaase shut up!
(it’s the same group of monkeys who ask people who’ve unfortunately got caught in the storm, if it’s raining outside. I have two questions: why? & whomadeyouthisway?)
Passive aggressive Crish aside, I know a little how it feels to be in stressful situations. The hospitality industry is definitely a stressful one. Long hours, on your feet, short or no breaks, a diet of sugar/scraps/caffeine, anti social hours, dealing with dickheads whilst getting ripped off. It should be a right of passage to have every adolescent go through this industry, just so they know how annoying serving human adults it can be (stressing the *CAN - there are, fortunately, lovely customers sprinkled throughout the cupcake we call society.) I guess I could stash this under ‘first world problems’, but my heart aches for all the health issues that’s in our industry right now, that’s rarely highlighted.
I know a number of people (including myself) who go through phases of losing appetite. It SUCKS. And the worse is when you tell others about it, or they notice. Suddenly it looks like 1) eating disorder 2) you’re being emotional and not taking care of yourself 3) you’re ‘weak’ And the the most frustrating cherry on this issue? … advice on a personal matter like you DON’T know how unhealthy it is (…most of us, KNOW). I know the feeling of wanting to eat, and just something inside you does not want to pick up the fork. When you make the dish, your favourite kind, sit down for a moment, and just look at it, disappointed you can’t do it. I get it! Trust me!
Sometimes it lasts for 3 days, sometimes 3 weeks. I’ll never accuse you of ‘not trying’. I know it’s in your best interest to eat, after all, you’re in an industry that’s all about food! It takes time to heal, and I’m here to say… ‘take allllll the motherfckn time that YOU need’ You might struggle with energy, but allowing your self time, takes one worry away.
Here’s some ‘clues and hints’ thats helps me personally (I’m not doctor nor witch). I think I just wanted to write it out, so you guys know that you’re not the only ones that go through this
protein powder (i know, wtf crish, the amount of shit you give on #healthfoods) listen, weeks of not eating, becomes a ‘liquid diet’ - and this helps me sustain a little more energy. If you can, try to look for the ones with the higher %protein (business monkeys will sometimes change the portion to a smaller amount so that the % is higher - so watch out!) and lower % of sugar
which leads to the magic of a smoothie - 2-3mins to drink down. popular items = frozen bananas/blueberries, YOGHURT (oh! my love for yoghurt and its magic!) peanut butter, maca powder, almonds, walnuts… aannnd the list goes on (on every health blog)
Ashwagandha - not making you into a yogi, but step into the Ayuverdic practices, I swear your stress disolves, get's into a downward dog positions, and chills you out for a bit. (I promise to write up Ayuverdic practises soon!)
If theres food you can eat, you could try manipulating and trying to stuff as much nutrients possible. For some reason I can eat egg or rice when I’m feeling ‘fck food’! Which is great, because I manipulate the fuck out of the egg (mushroom-spinach-chili) and cook my rice with onion and garlic. I’ll only eat a 5 year olds portion. But during this time… it’s better than anything.
^ so these are some things. I know you know the rest. Physical activity! Self Awareness! Drink Water! and all the other shit people like to shove down your throat, like you don’t know (and I know you do!). But there’s one thing… KEEP TRYING! If it’s 3 bites today. 5 bites tomorrow. Nek minute, we be eating like ‘normal’ people!
Our industry is a tough one, just one thing though. Letting someone else know helps too. Just corner them in the coolroom, while their arms are full and go nuts. It helps to feel less alone, and chances are, they’ve probably gone through a similar phase! Sometimes I have to tell myself:
a shit service, was ONE night, it’s not a reflection of your WHOLE career. There’s definitely tomorrow
stress if not let out, can eat you inside. That ten minute ‘bitch’ with the other chef/waiter might actually be healthy.
sometimes it feels a little embarrassing. You’re a ‘grown up’ and can’t eat. Some people can be quite insensitive about it, I feel like the best way is just let their words and advice pass away. Pay noo attention. Listen to yourself, take your time. If it’s taking too long to heal, and maybe you don’t have a Crish in your kitchen to make you pillaf and omelettes… then a visit to a professional might be the way.
You are valid and HUMAN. It’s so easy to ‘depersonalise’ after these long hours and feel all ‘what’s the point’. Go on a date to the restaurant that inspires you, explore your passion (markets are amazing at this), or fully release yourself (hello getaways to the forests!) or even a good cry. Feel sorry for yourself for minute, then turn back to the badass warrior that you are.
I love you, and thank you for loving this industry just like I do. We’re a family, a crazy one. Sometimes we forget how magical our connections are, society sure as fck allows to feel like social outcasts! But hey, I know deep down, we all love that 1am wine chat/debrief/dirty laundry airing out.
Be YOU! Take your time. Your appetite will come back, bite by bite. I have noo doubt. And, I’m 100% rooting for you, chef! :)
They say true love's the greatest weapon,
to win the ware caused by pain,
but every diamond has imperfections,
but my love's too pure to watch it chip away,
nothing real can be threatened,
true love breathes salvation back into me,
with every tear came redemption,
and my torturer became my remedy. - Warsan Shire
Haile Gebrselassie. Am I allowed to say, 'I get you'? Though my forever winding mental spiral laps are nothing compared to how you intentionally exhaust yourself when running the ten thousand, I think I get you. I get you. I get your ever bright smile at the end of your run. Your appreciation of the finish line, your dedication to the process, only to then accomplish a goal and immediately know, you want more - and will do more.
I've always loved 'behind the scenes'. How things work, the knowledge base, the art and the science of all of it. How you're present, but not centrally located. You can be apart of the show, but rehearsing in the greenroom, peeping through the long black drapes.
This timeline is to do just that, to journal my own behind the scenes from I guess, one of my favourite side projects so far - catering my older brother's wedding for 200 people. I run dry with gratitude I was able to this! My own ideas? Having a week off from working at a restaurant? Being responsible for the flavours and problem solving so my product would be as best as it could be on the night? Guys, I really don't know how to say this, but this is like Christmas to me!!
MONDAY 9PM - The Way You Make Me Feel (Live), Michael Jackson
I sat on the flight surprisingly calm and planned, like the first twenty seconds of the intro of 'doo-ooh's' when MJ and his suave dripped dancers slowly approach the song,'The Way You Make Me Feel' on stage. Finger clicks, side sweeps and all. I was, not stressed nor scared. What the actual fuck? I had been preparing recipes and ideas for two months though, with lists for everything. E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. Ingredients list, lists for what I MUST finish each day so I don't fck myself over, and maybe ten more. I was ready for the next three days of madness.
What I had planned to make were a combination of what Thilli & Shuki like to eat, the flavours of the dessert they had on their first date (which was also the same dessert Thilli used when he proposed), things I've learnt overseas, and a shittonne of reading. It went a little like:
- Wedding cake: Chocolate cake, with different layers consisting of passionfruit curd, chocolate mousse, salted caramel filling, raspberry cheesecake filling
- Wedding favour boxes: 70% cacao, pecan & Torrontés truffles, raspberry & plum marshmallows, dark chocolate & walnut brownies, danish butter cookies with lavender sugar
Dessert Buffet (to make Shuki's dream come true): pistachio sponge w/ white chocolate mousse and Pedro Ximenez. mini meringue baskets w/ pomegranate & elderflower cream & seasonal berries. A cheesecake tart inspired by Snickers flavours (chocolate/caramel/peanuts). NYC cheesecake squares with lemon marscapone and a ginger crust. Profiteroles with earl grey chocolate mousse.
Yep. I did this. With two hands. ... but also the help of my closest friends, because behind every mad woman, there's around eight women saying 'crish you're crazy, let us help'.
TUESDAY 3PM - Master Blaster (Jammin'), Stevie Wonder
Shit son, did I get used to non existent traffic in Hobart? Why did it take 5 hours to run around Melbourne to get all the equipment, ingredients and what nots? Ah yea, coz it takes 20 mins to get onto the M1, and let's not forget the shitshow Princess Hwy is, at any time of day! But I've come home with EVERYTHING. Still not stressed, and that's a little weird. Have I grown?! So many cakes made under pressure in the last fives years, and now finally, I'm not running around like a headless chicken. Thank you, thank you universe.
TUESDAY 12.30AM - Amanhã É Sábado, Roberta Sá
All fillings are made, but listening to slow contemporary samba music? As amma would say 'ithu saari veradhu' (this will not be good, direct translation of 'this yes will not come'), tomorrow I'll have to work faster, and definitely not slow music! I'm being too relaxed and forgetting its for 200 people!
WEDNESDAY 8PM - Lose Control, Missy Elliot/Ciara
You fucked up your calculations and had to do two more batches of brownies, and redo the marshmallows because they decided not to set. But you made it! You officially hold 1100 items to be packed in for the boxes. Celebrate? Joking. You're still 2 checkpoints behind and 5 desserts need to be prepared tonight. Do. Not. Cry. But well done on drastically changing your Spotify baking playlist.
FRIDAY 2AM - 'I am your girl, you're my girl, don't you know that we love you!' Girl, Destiny's Child
Inviting the girls over to help on Thursday night to pack the boxes was the best decision ever. But it's taking way more time than needed, because it's us. Here comes the shit talk, all the roasting, Cookie having her sassy remarks, others talking about their extremely entertaining dating stories, a cocktail of deep convos and reminiscing. I'm in love with this group, but there was definitely a point of 'girls, want to get your asses off the couch and back to work hmm??' Everyone rushes back. I stand there, cake battered, slightly feeling bad I just ordered my loved ones. (You know it was out of love guys!) Slowly the girls leave, which leaves only Diksha and I to finish around 100 more boxes. Ah, and to know this day started 5am Thursday.
FRIDAY 5.30PM - Cubanismo!
Things are getting hectic at home. It's become a village with all the family over, and I was that cousin who awkwardly walked from kitchen to guest room, always holding desserts and not offering. I'd wish for invisibility just so Sri Lankan aunties wouldn't ask me to eat every other five minutes or ask why I needed to work so hard (#islandpeople #toochillfortheirowngood). I was nearly at the finish line! I was running! But more like mental Cuban rumba-ing. Haile Gebrselassie, I see you!!
SATURDAY 3AM - Gimme The Light, Sean Paul
Senthu (that one cousin that's always up to no good) asked you how much longer you had. You said 'ah, just like an hour'. But you said that, three hours ago. But congratulations! You stupidly decided to line the second tier of the wedding cake with coconut flakes being attached vertically, flake by flake. Want to test your patience? I've got coconut flakes for you man! But you're set! No big dramas, wedding in about six hours, so it's probably best to organise what you're gonna wear, and oh, probably wash your hair, 'cause there's three day old sugar crusted strands up in there.
SATURDAY 11AM - Lyk Dis, NxWorries
Chin :'Wow. you seem set'
Me: 'Isn't this crazy?! everything labelled, everything in boxes. Why hasn't it been like this before?!'
Chin (my Yang to my Grey, in other words, 'my person'), becomes my sous chef for the next four hours, including with being my personal driver.
Wanna know the secret to happiness? Having soulmate friends that shrug their shoulders and say 'it's nothing'! Being able to count on a handful of humans in my life, is everything to me and it's all I thought about whilst Chin drove me to the vineyard to set up. I am truly a very lucky human!
I broke the topper and I'm quite sure 'to the moon and Ack' would not hack it. My ass was luckily saved by the FOH staff having superglue (looks like they're used to catering for all breakdowns). Cake completed, Chin helps with the floral arrangement on the cake (radiologist by day, everything creative and great by night) and cleans up while I run to get into this saaree, fifteen minutes before the ceremony. Not sure if I'm the best or worse sister at this very moment.
Anna (big brother) and Shuki are cutting the cake as a newly wed. Since little I guess I've always seen anna as the 'cool brother'; someone who'll always be at a higher level than me. So yes, I guess I felt like I was five again, really amused that these cool kids cutting a cake I made on their wedding day. If only I was five again, I would own 'Show & Tell' this week!
Setting up the desserts at the dessert buffet trying to make sure no one can see me. Mission failed. People could see the person behind the scenes, and I could do nothing about it. And it didn't help when Shuki decided to namedrop in her speech (even after the elaborate plead of not wanting to be publicly thanked). But, I was on a flow, everything in place, I was living! I hadn't felt this alive in a while. Thoughts and dreams of wanting my own cafe/wine bar where in full stream. Or just a studio where I can intimately feed a few guests over a huge community table? Oh! This is the best get away from work ever! Can I just be a dreamer forever?!
people FLOCKED. I sat at my seat a little confused. 'Is this real?! Are people really fascinated by the food I just made?!' People slowly came over to thank me, and luckily I was drunk enough to shout 'guys!! I make the best black sheep!!' Ah, well done Crish. You may be in an industry that's not the usual in Lankan/Asian communities and sometimes, you feel a little like 'maybe I should have just been an engineer to keep the family tree proud'. But this was you at your finest! Yes, best is yet to come, but having everything licked clean (with some cheeky monkeys taking more than the 2 per person limit) was a pretty good answer to 'am I on the right track with my career dreams'.
SATURDAY, EVERYTHING ELSE - Ooh Wee , Mark Ronson
You did it. You made others happy, and you got to see it, whilst being on the other side of the counter. You're happy. Now join your giant family, the ones with the cheesy grin, the confidently delivered unco dance moves, painting drama wherever we go. Ah, the things we do for love ey? I guess so!
staff meals. This word either creates joy or some sort of ugly adversity for chefs. (Im more of the first choice, if you had not realised yet.)
I understand that it's time and money. But I also believe that scraps don't necessarily need to be combined into a souless dish and placed infront of the other resturant workers as if we don't give two fruitcakes what they're eating.
Here I am saying, we should! Shouldn't we try just a little to keep our team excited? A little inspired in the ways we can turn scraps into foods that our whole 'family' would love to eat.
I guess it does take a little more thought, and maybe takes away some of my time, but, when I put myself in others' shoes, hell yes would I be excited to have my break food to be something exciting and something I can learn from!
Todays Staff Meals was made from all scraps and foods going 'off'. Quick pickling tomatoes and cucumbers. Frying old basil and shallots. Frying fish offcuts in spiced coconut cream and crumbs.
See, I told you. Scraps can be exciting!
'There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.' - Salvador Dali
Serendipity. Ah, yes, how so romantic. But is it? Is it all really happy and fluffy, or is more of a cocktail of 'okay this is happening', 'should I be doing this?', 'I'm really going to miss my $10.90 laksa on Little Londsdale'.
Sometimes I get stuck into thinking 'what should I do next' but never take the chance to realise what the last four months have been (madness 2.0, where my appetite revolves around sugar and dairy).
Opening a restaurant, so I've been told (but now, have more of an insight) is like having a baby, a big baby, a big baby that cries and breakdowns 24.7, and a baby that gives you some sort of postpartum anxiety in the lines of 'why am I doing this? There's people who work 8 hours, only for 5 days a week and getting paid waaaay more! Oh! The sweet sweet dream!'
Anxiety and the worries that I haven't really had a proper meal in a while aside, heres what I've learnt about helping in big projects (whilst taking a ferry down to Tasmania, a week after arriving back from Melbourne, second guessing everything):
- Everyone in hospitality are somewhat superhuman. Working during the opening week of Faro, (the tapas restaurant apart of the new Pharos installation at MONA) I've seen staff go above and beyond for 12-16 hours a day, and come back the next morning to repeat (after the two shots of coffee and maybe 10 mins of solid internal crying).
- Sometimes, when opening a restaurant, shit falls apart. And when I mean shit, I mean half the kitchen, and it's best not to laugh, and you sure as heck know the team will pushed through anyways.
- Learning people's names from the FOH section, means you don't have to say 'hey! you!' (yea I know, whaaaat, who am I trying to be a chef trying to befriend the waiters, and know their names? #magic)
- Sometimes you'll have no idea what you're doing, but you're too scared to ask the clearly distressed chef about what to do next, so you'll wait to be told to do something (even if this is served with some attitude)
- You'll have the perfect 5 hours of sleep, because you'll come home, sit down, and then boom! alarms beeping, and it's 5.30am and you promised yourself to jog before work, but do you? do you really need to jog when you know how the next 15 hours are going to play out??
- It's amazing to watch the team's flow throughout the week/s as the restaurant finds its feet! I remember the yelling and noises of desperation, anxiety and frustration on day one of the opening week, to intense concentration and ballerina-esque flow on the final service for opening week! It's what proud mama's cry about guys!
- You'll be laughing, hysterically. But maybe because you've done so many double shifts, you've lost the reason to stay sane.
- You'll reach the light and will finally have days off! But be aware, when you go out in the public, you'll be overwhelmed with all the public people around you. You might even gasp 'what? humans? everywhere? walking on this pathway? This is so crazy!! Like, she's even walking a dog!'
- Slowly, the restaurant has a flow (like now, four months later). Everyone feels like family, hours have decreased... and you can finally say 'shit man. I think I was apart of something big!'
And to top of this entry of 'Amma don't worry, I am alive and I'm sorry I can't be the Sri Lankan daughter that applies for jobs that are actually related to her science degree.' This is photographic evidence to all the buddies I've made in Melbourne who've known me as the nerdy curious one (still that kid guys, and probably forever!)
Yes, leaving everything to uncertainty is crazy and sometimes it's not everything you wanted. But, you learn about yourself, what you want, and forces you to think about what you really want. I only hope that I take more time in reflecting. How can I keep thinking about growth and what's next without looking back at my progress?
'I'm one of the biggest snobs you've ever met, but I hate snobs and elitism in general. I guess what I hate is being told that I can't like something. You can't do this? Oh, well, fuck you, I'm definitely going to do this' - David Chang, Ugly Delicious
Sometimes, you'll come across hearing humans that say shit which feels a little like ' wow, I was thinking the same thing, but I was too scared to say it because who wants to be THAT person?' David fckn Chang. He's that guy. He's that guy in this hospitality circus questioning things that I've WISHED I had the courage to ask leading people in this restaurant game without sounding like the young asshole that's asking questions she has no right to be asking.
Questions like this:
- What makes food, 'fine'?
- Why do Eastern foods come across 'cheap'?
- What makes food 'authentic' and who decides on the definition?
- How can we build creative businesses that are respectful to cultures and its historic backgrounds?
- Why are we not highlighting enough the techniques, flavours, skills from Eastern cuisines as much as we celebrate Italian/French cuisines.
Chef Asha Gomez also makes an appearance in the show who has struggled with trying to change the ideas and perspectives that western American society has on Indian food and it's predisposition to the need for it to be cheap, struggling to showcase an elaborate, vastly regional and historic cuisine to have the markings of a high value 'finer' food.
Here's an excerpt from an article from NYC Times about Chef Gomez's troubles:
"Her frustration over American interpretations of the beloved coconut-scented fish curries, dosas and carefully layered beef biryanis of her homeland echoes the lament of countless cooks who have immigrated from countries like China, Mexico or Vietnam only to find their food mangled to meet the limitations of a new country’s palate and relegated to its cheap-eats guides.
“I wish I could say to every immigrant cook in America, ‘Why do you think your food should be any less than any other cuisine that comes from anywhere else in the world?’” Ms. Gomez said.
It’s not hard to see why: For one thing, unless that food is served in an upscale setting, with polished service, it doesn’t command the prices or the critical respect afforded European or American cuisines.
And even when the restaurant is fancy, the problem persists. Ms. Gomez experienced it at her first restaurant, a fine-dining place in Atlanta she named Cardamom Hill, after the spice-growing region that she was touring last month. Customers would complain that she charged $32 for a complex fish curry with smoked tamarind, even when a fish entree at a well-regarded new Southern restaurant not far away cost the same.
“That makes me see red immediately,” said David Chang, the prolific chef and restaurateur, whose parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea. “It’s the worst kind of racism, because it’s so readily accepted.” "
This has me raging with all the questions inside! Why shouldn't her curries cost just as much as a pasta dish at a casual-fine restaurant? Indian food has years of tradition, history and stories - so why shouldn't it sit alongside the halo of Italian/French cuisines? Why does this make me feel frustrated!
Maybe its in knowing from travelling and eating at local venues where you just know. You know they're not going to get the recognition in this industry as much as they deserve to. You know that it's not going to be see as 'fine, although theres definitely reasons why it should be. It's the biggest cocktail of soul crushing and disheartening feelings.
Is this the ongoing silent issue that's happening in the industry right now that validates my non existent interest in climbing the chef hierarchy, nor care about hats or stars? Is it okay if I decide to open a place one day that JUST wants to serve great tasting food? That's it. No foams, no tweezers, no ranking, no fckn stars. Just food and the acknowledgement of where food comes from, with the biggest hopes that appreciation is shown for Eastern flavours (without it needing to be a 'cheap eat'!). ... And I guess if amma wanted to just one day, say she actually enjoys my food without criticising everything about it; this would be the utmost form of winning I could ever hold.
To end my ever so random, but needed rant/ appreciation to David Chang questionings what's good, I made a tart!
When I was a kid, I remember loving strawberries and yoghurt. Tart and tangy and sweet and all it would probably need is something... hmm, something nutty and slightly crispy. Which is how this tart came to mind!
A nutty tart shell, a yoghurt cream filling, market berries ($10 for a HUGE punnet, #iseeyouHobart), a syrup infused with basil, thyme and cardamon, finished with pistachios (because where would we all be without pistachios?) Oh yes, tarts and thoughts. a. lot. of. thoughts.
Severn, K. (2017, 6 June) 'A Chef's Quest in India: Win Respect for Its Cooking', The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/dining/chef-asha-gomez-india.html
Tuesday mornings have become a somewhat a weird groundhog experience - waking up and and celebrating I have nooo obligations to work (but, will have 20 dot points to fulfil, attempting five at a time, but only finishing two completely).
Recently, I think it might be from the increasing restaurant hours, I've allowed myself to revert back to best way to relieve stress. Here is the antidote, if you will
- playing 'Gettin' Jiggy Wit It' the moment you feel stressed and you feel the spiralling (because if you could envision yourself as Will Smith, all things become just a little easier). You play it 2.5 times, it gets a little annoying the third time around
- You completely change the vibe with playing something that's of classically Indian or, in this week's case, the soundtrack of Bajirao Mastani, as it completely distracts you from the oh so delicious feelings of 'what the actual f*ck am I doing with my life, and how is it so that I've worked 78 hours last week, but my payslip says 43?' How can you not get distracted by this movie though? Let's be real (even I forgotten to cry about whether I want to chase up my payslip matters..)
And for the last dot point..
- Cook to no obligations of other peoples ideas, no time limitations, blast music! (and daydream that you were in that scene up top ^)
Lovely housemates have already noticed that I've used our kitchen as a cave, factory, studio and stress reliever. Somewhere to dream, cry and play (like no chef is watching and theres no one to please! oooft, this is what joy is made of)
This dish is a ricotta gnocchi that I've panfried in burnt butter with sage, oregano and lemon zest. With I paired with a burnt leek and pumpkin puree, served with Greek basil, pecorino cheese, walnut oil and hazelnuts. Oh yes, stress in little pockets of cheesy potato-y fluffy goodness.
p.s making your own ricotta is one link away: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-homemade-ricotta-cheese-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-23326
'I can't stand the word "fusion," no only because it is dated, but also because it implies a kind of culinary racism, suggesting that foods from Eastern cultures are so radically different that they need to be artificially introduced or "fused" with Western cuisines to give them legitimacy.'
- Edward Lee, 'Smoke & Pickles - Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen'
In the words of Edward Lee... a-freaking-men. I'm not too sure why I feel so greatly about when Eastern foods are seen as some 'exotic trend' but there's been countless of times where it's felt a little 'oh god, why? why must you do this?! I know you can do better than this you beautiful human!'. My favourite occasion being the time I accidentally (*note I said, accidentally) walked into a vegan chocolate bar in Melbourne and having one of the enthusiastic staff members trying to sell me a 'turmeric latte' like it had never been thought of before. Wrong. So wrong Melbourne front of house chick! Maybe go to talk some Indian and Sri Lankan mothers maybe? But please, I really hope you don't talk to them wide-eyed stating, 'oh your culture... oh! oh! its so exotic!'
It's a feeling I share with other hospitality staff (who come from immigrant backgrounds or brought up in different culture/s) about how ingredients/cultures are sometimes used in the hospitality industry as some sort of 'wow' factor. And it's made me feel a whole lot more driven to learn cultures, always note that these ideas are certainly not mine, and finally... they are not 'exotic'! They been on earth, right here, longer than #cleaneating, and before they did shit 'for the gram/snap/tweet'.
Thoughts of whether to be a chef for long are still in pondering stages (mainly because crish dreams of having 5 career pathways all at once, because apparently, this is doable). But, whilst I'm here, I really do want to nerd about different cultures and techniques that I guess are different to the usual French/Italian traditions of food (the two cuisines that are heavily taught in culinary school).
This dish I've played with below is a combination of inspirations and readings I've found along the way.
- Edward Lee's southern style of fried chicken, where chicken is brined over a prolonged time with dried spices/powders and buttermilk. His current work is heavily inspired by the techniques and flavours from the Southern style cuisines in USA.
- Uri Scheft's (Israeli baker who co-owns Breads Bakery (NYC) and owns Lehamin Bakery in Tel Aviv) recipe for a Green Z'hug. Z'hug is, as quoted by Chef Scheft - ' a Yemenite hot sauce that Israelis have adopted wholeheartedly. Z'hug is usually used to cut the intensity or richness of foods which can be based on red chillies (red z'hug) or green chillies (green z'hug).
- Using the ideas of chef Selin Kiazim's (Oklava) of Urfa chilli mayonnaise and sumac dressing to create my own sumac aioli (p.s this lady's cookbook is AMAZING!)
- A bottle of 'rose harissa' I found on a quick spice store grocery run before heading down to living in Tasmania. Rose Harissa is a version of harissa (a type of North African hot sauce) where rose water or rose petals are added. Personally, I feel like the addition of rose harissa 'sweetens/softens' the fiery kick harissa lets off!
So with all these readings and newly found information of different techniques and flavours, I made this dish that I feel would make my best friend Cookie proud (a lover of fried chicken and spice). It's Southern style fried chicken coated in a rose harissa and honey glaze, with a herb salad dressed in green z'hug, and some sumac aioli. Ah yes, it was zesty, spicy, crunchy and crispy! (Question for you to think about in your lunch break and drive yourself to madness: how would you differentiate 'crispy' and 'crunchy'?)
Taking ideas from cultures I learn from to create something thats inspired from their knowledge and years of traditions. Exotic? Hm, no and hope not to be tagged with that word, ever. Wanting to make sure that others know these are never soley my own ideas nor are they 'new'? absolutely-freaking-yes.
Lee, E, 2013, Smoke and pickles: recipes and stories from a new southern kitchen, Artisan, New York.
Kiazim, S,2017, Oklava: recipes from a Turkish-Cypriot kitchen, Mitchell Beazley, London.
Scheft, U, 2016, Breaking breads, Artisan, New York.
This one time at Dainty Sichuan, the waiter who scooped our Sichaun pepper from the boiling fish dish and asked if we were wanting to take the chillies and peppers home. Out of excitment I agreed but I had no idea what I was going to do. At work the next day there was basil oil that needed to be made for service... and thats when this idea came into mind! Sichaun pepper oil, heated to 75 degrees and strained through a Chux cloth twice. ... thank you wishful thinking waitress at Dainty Sichaun!
Priya. Not sure how to describe her, but she's one of those certain people who have so much light, inspire you and support your passions and goals, tenfold! This was her wedding cake, dressed with the inspiration of pastry maestros Andy Bowy and Christina Tossi. The cake was three different flavours.
- coconut and vanilla cake w/ white chocolate + coconut mousse
- red velvet w/ cheesecake filling
- 'snickers' inspired - chocolate cake w/ salted caramel mousse & peanut brittle
15kg of cake, and only a few cries before I delivered it to the wedding. oooft
Shaz, all things cheesecake all things snickers all things tart
Put together made this, which also got Guy Grossi's approval as well, which I guess is a cool fact too!
Theres this one guy at work who plays both the clown card and 'driven/knowlegable/knowshisshit' card. It's kinda inspiring. And a little comforting. To know that theres people out there that haven't let go of their personality as they grow into their careers.
For Merv's birthday (as requested) I made a black forest cake. But... because I am arrogant and stubborn and do not like traditional cakes (yea i know, look at me being annoying!). I changed it. I change it, muito. It turned into a chocolate sponge cake that was soaked in a cherry-cardamon-clove-rosewater syrup, with a marscapone mousse, a berry 'forest' and little pieces of a pomegranate jelly I made.
yep... totally the black forest cake that he asked for!