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Food

Gourmet Destinations: Vietnam

Chef Jerry Mai’s start in hospitality was less than auspicious. She was fired from her first job washing dishes because she broke too many bowls. The thing was, though, being just six, she could only get them into the sink by throwing them. Thankfully, given it was her parents’ restaurant, they let her stay on as chief napkin folder, at which she excelled.

This was the 1980s and Jerry’s parents had arrived in Brisbane with their young family from Vietnam via a Thai refugee camp. Like many an immigrant before them, they opened a restaurant serving the food of their homeland.

But given Australians had only just got used to the offerings of their local Chinese take-away, Vietnamese restaurateurs played it safe. As Jerry describes, “A lot of the Vietnamese restaurants were just doing stir-fries, you know, ‘here’s 20 sauces and five meats, what would you like with it?’ and the garnish was always broccoli, carrots and capsicum.”

Today’s take

It’s a very different scene today, Jerry explains, “Fast forward 20, 30 years and nearly everybody has been to Vietnam for a holiday and Australians are eating more Vietnamese food – banh mi, pho, rice paper rolls.”

That’s the sort of street fare you’ll find at Jerry’s two Pho Nom eateries in Melbourne.

But, she says, just because you have pho every other weekend and banh mi on your lunch break, doesn’t mean you know Vietnamese food. “That’s like saying French food is just escargot and butter”, Jerry explains, “It’s just scraping the surface.”

The full repertoire of Vietnamese flavours takes in the influences of its history and surrounds, Jerry relates. “There was a thousand years of Chinese rule, from which comes all the heady spices, beautiful braises and masterstocks. Then the French were there for a hundred years, so you’ve got the baguettes, pate, butter, terrines. And from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia come the headier chillies and lemongrass.”

It’s all these influences that Jerry has taken to create the menu for her Melbourne restaurant, Annam. With its funky fitout on Little Collins Street, Annam has a massive open kitchen at its heart, where, Jerry says, “You can come up and chat to us.” You can also watch the team cooking with fire, another aspect of Vietnamese cooking that gets overlooked, she explains.

“If you’ve travelled to Vietnam, there’s not a lot of gas cooking, the streets are full of barbeques, little stoves where they grill chicken or pork and have it with some rice or pickles.”

So when you have the lemongrass chicken that’s featured here at Annam, they hang it over ironbark in the fire so it becomes, Jerry says, “Nice and smoky.”

Jerry talks recipes

Grilled lemongrass chicken

This is a take on chicken lemongrass, which is normally a little stir-fry, and the paste we use to marinate the chicken is my mum’s recipe that she uses over summer to grill chicken on one of her three different barbeques! 

Grilled pork belly, lychee, chilli jam

This has a bit of Thai influence with the chilli jam. The marinated pork belly is put over the grill to crisp up the skin and render out the fat. So it’s just this really rich and salty piece of pork through a really smoky jam dressing with refreshing herbs and cucumber, and sweetness from the lychees.

Young coconut sorbet

I had a trip to Vietnam with my parents about five years ago and my mum wanted to find this stall selling coconuts that people kept telling her about. We found it and the woman just scraped out the flesh of a young coconut, put some corn in it – in Vietnam, corn is a sweet rather than savoury ingredient – and added coconut ice-cream with heaps of crushed peanuts. I found the way it uses every part of the coconut brilliant and I thought, “I just need to have a venue to serve it in.” And now I do!

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Food
Impress: Daniel Puskas
Words by Libby Travers on 12 Sep 2018
Over the past six years, Sixpenny, found on a humble street corner in the inner-west suburb of Stanmore, has become one of Sydney’s favourite restaurants, and for good reason. The food, served as a six- or eight-course menu, is exquisite, the wine list a delight and the sunshine that streams in the windows on a Sunday afternoon is entirely ethereal. It is a beautiful place to dine. The fact it’s named after sixpenny restaurants, small diners that populated Australian cities in the gold rush era of the late 1800s, where you could get a ‘square meal’ for just sixpence, speaks volumes about its identity. The title was the perfect middle ground for co-founders and chefs, Daniel Puskas and James Parry; it was not as simple as the fourpenny restaurant, not as fancy (or expensive) as their ‘posh cousins’, the shilling restaurant.  Since James’ departure two years ago, Daniel has headed up the kitchen (and run the restaurant) alone. Moulded by many years of experiences and friendships, as most creatives are, he has carved out his own culinary niche. A very successful niche. He was awarded the 2018 Good Food Guide’s Chef of the Year, with the restaurant consistently praised for its modern simplicity. “Over the years I have learnt I want to keep it simple but elegant,” says Daniel of his cooking and plating. “I don’t think it has to look a particular way, it just has to taste delicious. Some people eat with their eyes, but people who really taste the food, will see beyond it.” Life lessons For most successful chefs, it is the time at someone else’s apron strings that creates their style. For Daniel, it was discovering what he didn’t want that taught him valuable lessons. It was an early start in hotel restaurants and function rooms that gave him the impetus to seek out something different, and so, in 2000, he bought a copy of the Good Food Guide, found the best restaurant on the list and applied for a job. The restaurant was Tetsuya’s.  At this revered hot bed of Australian talent, Daniel not only worked under the inimitable Tetsuya Wakuda, but also Martin Benn, who was head chef at the time before going off to open the amazing Sepia, Dave Pegrum as sous chef, and a veritable line-up of Australia’s best talents toiling away as chef de parties and apprentices. He had landed well.  “There was a great bunch of people in the kitchen and on the floor” recalls Dan. “Tets was always in and out of the kitchen. He brought an energy. ‘Taste, taste, taste’ was his mantra and that’s stuck with me.  “But in the end, it was about working in a fine dining restaurant. With so many people you were not doing a magnitude of jobs, rather a large quantity of small jobs.” New world views Like many chefs of his generation, Daniel chose London to expand his culinary horizons. However, the combination of  long hours and long drinking sessions, curtailed any real creative stimulation. Rather, it was time spent in Spain, Italy and Jerusalem that gave Dan food awakening moments. Living in Jerusalem for five months was a change of pace. He started to learn Hebrew and would practise while bartering in the souk and buying his groceries for dinner.  Making his way back to Sydney, he found himself in another highly acclaimed kitchen, Marque. While learning from another incredible line up of chefs, he also mastered how to cook in a tiny kitchen,  work in a smaller team and multi-task. While at Marque, he won the prestigious Josephine Pignolet Award, which provides one young chef each year the financial support to travel. Daniel took off again. This time to America, and into the kitchens of cutting-edge restaurants WD50 and Alinea. Again, an awakening. “I learnt a lot of how I didn’t want to cook,” says Dan of his journey. “I thought I needed to learn all the modern techniques. In fact, it taught me that I didn’t want too much of that in my kitchen.” An Australian identity Back home, Daniel teamed up with James Parry for the first time at Oscillate Wildly in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. It was another growth moment. “James’s training had been at Bird Cow Fish and Billy Kwong. He had a very different approach to cooking,” says Dan.  “He had the skills to make food delicious, where I was trained on how to work in a kitchen. I started to feel I had so much more to learn, again. But I think he found that balance in me, too. So we decided to create something together and Sixpenny was born.”   With this delightful suburban restaurant, Dan has carved out his own identity in the heart of Australia’s culinary landscape. It is somewhat to be expected, given his stunning pedigree. Although he calmly tempers that fact. “It’s about relationships, the people, not the resume,” he says. “We’re only a small restaurant, but we all have big dreams.”  A bit like those folk who ate at the original sixpennys all those years ago.
Wine
Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
More and more alternative wine varietals are being grown and produced here in Australia. We catch-up with Alex Russell to chat about his passion for these delicious drops and his exciting alejandro range. Your alejandro label focuses on a diverse selection of alternative varieties of European origin including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Arneis – why these varieties? Shortly after starting work for Angove in Renmark, the then chief winemaker Warrick Billings, introduced me to Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC). RVIC at the time was an importer of new varieties and they would propagate the vines and produce trial wine from them. I agreed to produce trial wine for them on a voluntary basis. I bottled their 2008 vintage and started making wine for them in 2009, in addition to my role at Angove. Before long, we were crushing far more than anticipated and the facility was filled with small winemaking equipment I had been accumulating since the early 2000s. As far as choosing different varieties, I’ve never accepted the status quo. In 2011, Fiano , Vermentino and Montepulciano were bullet-proof during the worst vintage we had had in 30 years and the latter two went on to win Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. From there I led RVIC into their own label, Cirami Estate. It was a little too entrepreneurial for RVIC and we parted ways after vintage 2014 at which point alejandro was born. I didn’t choose these varieties, they chose me. These varieties are perfectly suited to being grown in the Riverland and Mildura and produce textured, flavoursome and distinctly varietal wines. What would you say to our Members to encourage them to try more of these varieties?

If you enjoy wine enough to purchase through Wine Selectors, you know enough about wine to broaden your horizons. Have an open mind, ignore the name, even set up a blind tasting with friends, and just take the wine for what it is – it’s much easier to remember Saperavi or Bianco d’Alessano when you’ve had a great experience with them.

What makes the Riverland region so suited to growing Mediterranean-style and alternative varieties? Riverland and Mildura regions are equally suited to alternative varietal wines. If you’ve travelled to Spain or Italy during summer months, you’ll know the climates in Mildura and Renmark are very similar. The regions are hot and dry, with low disease pressure and there is so much sun. These varieties love sun and heat with Montepulciano ripening among the latest of all – late April for vintage 2017. Many of these wines, Graciano and Tempranillo , are as boozy in Spain as they are here. That said, the whites are produced with moderate alcohol to retain their fresh, distinctive flavours. Can you recall the first wine you tried? My parents always drank wine – from a cask. We had sips of wine here and there, but the best memory of my first wine was following work selling pies at the footy – the MCG. I was 14 or 15 years old and I had made my first wine by this stage, but I remember this fondly because it involved getting wine from the super boxes of the old northern stand. The foil capsule had been removed from these reds and were therefore unsalable. I took the bottles home with quite a number of Four’n’Twenty pies and my father and I sat on the couch and we ate pies and drank red wine together. Making it more memorable for me was how hot and red in the face I became having bumped consumption from a few sips to a couple of glasses. When did you fall in love with wine? I think I fell in love with making booze before I fell in love with wine. I was always close with my dad, he’s gone now, but he loved his beer. I used my pie selling income to buy a home brew kit from Kmart and produced Coopers Lager – though this was after I’d made my first mash beer using 4.5L demijohns and every item of stainless in the kitchen. Do you remember that moment? What happened? After the first mash came, Coopers, ginger beer, apple cider, elderberry wine and in Year 10, I made my first Shiraz, ironically from Shiraz juice concentrate out of a can from the Riverland ’s Berri. Another memorable moment was vintage 2002 in Mildura, working for Littore Family Wines. At the time they had a Merlot block in Gol Gol with 2000m long rows. I found a rogue vine in row 57 from the north end, 16 panels to the south. It was an off-white variety, I picked the fruit and soon realized it was Gewürztraminer. My housemates and I drank that wine before it had finished fermenting. Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it this wine? That’s like asking who your favourite child is – all wines are different and there’s an occasion for each. I do like making Montepulciano, but mainly drink Tempranillo and Durif. Now with a vineyard in Tasmania, I also produce Pinot Noir which is a very interesting wine. There’s a wine for every occasion and every appetite. There are some 15 wines in my range – gives me a lot of choice! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to compare competitors’ wines, like varieties and other obscure varieties, but the quaffers I like are Rosé wines. I’m not a fan of Cabernet Rosé or ‘drain off’ Rosé but give me a purpose produced Rosé with four days cold soak and I’m all over it. What is your ultimate food and wine match? My first experience with such food was at the 2012 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show where Stephano di Pierre cooked and we had Vermentino with freshly shucked oysters with lemon and fresh oregano. Tempura Sardines are great with Bianco d’Alessano. In Tasmania we grow Wiltshire Horn sheep for meat. They mow the vineyard down in winter and keep hard to slash areas clean during the growing season. The meat is rich, tender and moist – Lagrein is a good match for this lamb. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? My wife and I lived in China for 12 months, near the North Korean border. I used to cook a lot more but now my wife cooks anything and everything, she has a knack for it. When I cook I go Chinese and cook the dongbei cai from the north east of China, Dalian and Pulandian. These are better suited to Tsingtao and Mi Jiu and although considered qiung ren cai (poor man’s food) they are simple and delicious: Ban san ding is chopped cucumber and red onion with fresh roasted peanuts (skin on) with fish sauce and sesame oil dressing (and a dash of MSG). Tu dou zi is shredded potato with carrot, green chilli and garlic, stir fried for about 30 seconds with fish sauce and sesame oil. Xie hong shi chao ji dan is stir fried egg and tomato, again with fish and sesame, and don’t forget the garlic. It’s simple and really quick to prepare. What do you think is special about your wine region? Tasmania is now home and we are expanding our vineyard. Pinot is a great variety to grow and produce and the whites are excellent – although most visitors are left a little wanting for a big red. Riverland and Mildura (and Riverina) are the work engines for Australian wine and where I gained all my experience. They are quickly snubbed by many but do produce good wine. My greatest criticism of South Australia and the Riverland is that even many Riverland businesses dismiss their own wines when tourists ask for something local, offering Clare or Barossa instead. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? Spain. Fly into Barcelona and jump in a rental car and head up to Ainsa, Mont Serrat. We have a winemaker friend named Ara there who I worked at Zilzie with in 2008. She came back to Australia for vintage 2012 in the Riverland and might have helped a little with alejandro in 2016 when she was here on holiday. Ara lives in Hellin and produces wine from Murcia region. Spanish food, wine and beer – ahhh! What is your favourite… Movie? Gladiator. I’m a wanna be Maximus, and the sound track I used to play when I slept – my housemates were worried at the time. TV show? Dexter, everyone loves it when a baddie gets it. Big Bang Theory because I was one of those nerds – a cross between Howard and Leonard. Sport/Sporting Team? Cricket…. Beer? My taste constantly changes depending on the day or the menu, but I love hoppy beers and stouts and pilsners with saaz and hallertau hops.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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