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Food

Peter Gilmore

If there was one restaurant whose identity is quintessentially Australian, Quay would have to be it. Perched over Sydney Harbour, you look across to the iconic Sydney Opera House while dining on the acclaimed contemporary cuisine of Peter Gilmore. 

For almost two decades, Peter has been in the upper echelon of the world’s best chefs, so he’s perfectly placed to define Australia’s food identity. He’s narrowed it down to one word: freedom.

“Apart from our Indigenous history, Australia doesn’t have a long standing food history compared to countries like France or Japan,” says Peter. 

“If I was a chef in France, I would have been born with a really strong French identity, but being an Australian chef, I have been exposed to so many different cuisines. So our identity is that sense of freedom and our willingness to open our palates to all different types of cuisines from around the world.

“The other thing is, we can grow all the ingredients for all those cuisines somewhere in our country from the tropics right down to the cool climate areas of Victoria and Tasmania, so we have access to incredible fresh produce, so I think that has a huge influence.”

From the earth

Diverse produce is a certainly a key component of Peter’s cuisine and a topic he explores in his recently released book, From the Earth. Throughout its beautifully photographed pages, Peter catalogues an extensive list of rare vegetables, detailing their history and flavour profiles as well as showcasing the boutique farmers who grow them for him at Quay.

“When I started growing vegetables in my own backyard 11 years ago, I realised how many unusual fruits and vegetables there are that are not in the mainstream market,” says Peter. 

“Their difference is their thing. They have different profiles, looks, colours, flavours. As a chef, that is really interesting. It gives me a bigger palette to work from.”

Key to a new Quay

These heirloom vegetables play a key role in the new identity at Quay. For the first time in 16 years, the restaurant recently underwent a multi-million dollar face lift. The kitchen is bigger, the dining spaces more intimate. Gone too is the old menu, including the dish most people identify with Peter, his snow egg dessert. 

“When we decided to renovate Quay,  I knew I had to let go of some of the signature dishes and the snow egg was one of those,” says Peter. 

“I am very proud that I created an iconic dish that people love. But you have to let go of things if you want to be creative and renew. So it wasn’t that hard for me to say goodbye.”

Of course, there is a new dessert, white coral – chocolate ganache that is aerated, put in liquid nitrogen and served on ice-cream. And while Peter admits it will probably be referred to as the new snow egg, he’s confident it will impress.

“It is very fragile and brittle and we ask the guests to tap it with a spoon and it just breaks apart. So there is a little bit of theatre, a bit of fun and that emphasises our new approach to the food at Quay.

“We are only doing a tasting menu now, so it’s allowed me a new structure – to take the diner on a holistic journey throughout the meal. It is about interaction without being too kitschy, but still maintaining the integrity of the dishes and ingredients.”

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Food
Tobie Puttock Gets Healthy
Words by Mark Hughes on 4 Aug 2016
As far as chefs go, Tobie Puttock is far from being on the list that needs to look at his health. He’s always been fairly lean and away from the kitchen is pretty active. Admittedly, over the past years he noticed a slight spreading around his middle, but it didn’t worry him too much. What did motivate him to make a change in his life was love. His wife, Georgia, wanted to get fit, not that she was overweight, but, as Tobie says, “she wanted to achieve a body image that she was happy with.” She hit the gym, was working with a trainer and getting really good results, but then she plateaued. No matter how hard she worked, she couldn’t get over this hump. A meeting with nutritionist Donna Ashton was the key to the change. “She asked Georgia what her diet was,” says Tobie. “When she replied that her husband was a chef, Donna suggested that I go in and have a chat. “I was a bit apprehensive because I thought what we were eating was healthy food. However, Donna showed me that what I thought was healthy and what was needed for weight loss, were two different things. My idea of health food – things like quinoa salad – was heath food, but it was not ‘weight loss food’.” After reading a pile of recipe books penned by dieticians, Tobie realised that while the recipes might be great for weight loss, they were pretty bland and tasteless. So he set himself a personal challenge to create healthy dishes that also taste great. It was a process that reawakened the chef inside him, found him a publishing deal and led to a whole new lifestyle. Sitting down with Donna to devise a weight-loss plan for Georgia, Tobie created three lists – foods that you can’t eat ever, foods you can eat sometimes and foods you can eat as much of as you want. “I started cooking some dishes and, as you do these days, I put a picture of them up on social media. I got a call from Julie Gibbs from Penguin who said, ‘What the hell are you cooking here? I’ve not seen you do this before because you normally do Italian food’ Then she said, ‘Let’s do a book’. Then the fun really started.” A new horizon Tobie had been a chef for almost two decades and had graduated to the point of being a restaurateur. But the hassle of running a business coupled with the pressure of managing people had quashed his creativity in the kitchen. Taking a hiatus from the restaurant game and working on this project gave him back his culinary mojo and opened up doors he’d never considered walking through. “I realised I didn’t have to cook Italian food anymore, I could do whatever I wanted,” says Tobie. “It really took a while to get my head around trying to make things taste good without using heaps of butter and olive oil and without the deep fryer. I haven’t reinvented the wheel, but for me personally, it was a huge learning curve and a big thing to happen in my cooking. “So I found writing this book to be a huge creative process and I really enjoyed it. The most satisfying part was seeing the results for Georgia. She lost 10 kilos of body fat through the writing of the book – she wasn’t big to begin with, but she managed to smash through her plateau.” Don’t mention the word diet There is a saying that dieting is like holding your breath – at some stage you have to let it out to breathe. Tobie affirms his recipes are more lifestyle than diet. “I still love eating chocolate, I still drink beer, but now I do it in moderation,” he says. “All I have done is take dishes that are familiar to us and re-jigged them by lowering the fat and carb levels. “This means that in the book, there are basically no carbs, there is not a potato in the whole book, but there are beautiful sweet potato dishes in there. I tried to make dishes that taste good to try to over-ride the desire for things like potatoes.” As well as healthy recipes that taste great, another important aspect of the book, and his change in eating, is the fact that ingredients are accessible and cheap. “I want people to be able to cook most of the recipes in this book from your local supermarket, so the ingredients are accessible and dishes are easy to make. “I am not trying to get people to give up everything, because the most important thing is to be happy, and happiness comes through balance. But if you cook from this book a few times a week, you are going to get results.” The Chef Gets Healthy by Tobie and Georgia Puttock is out now on Penguin (RRP $39.99).
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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