Category Archives: Reviews

Spinning Plates | Review

Spinning plates is a documentary following three restaurant stories told by the chefs that run them. It spans the spectrum of the restaurant world, from Chef Grant Achatz’s, three Michelin starred, modernist molecular gastronomy cuisine (voted best restaurant in America) called Alinea, to a 160 year-old family run, community-orientated (cornerstone-of-Iowa) restaurant run by the Breitbach family, to a small, struggling Mexican restaurant with a husband and wife pursuing the American dream so they can provide a living for their young daughter.

This documentary gives a look into restaurants (such as Alinea) at the top of their game, and restaurants (such as La Cocina de Gabby) struggling to make ends meat. It is a gentle rollercoaster ride, between personal triumphs and tribulations of the chefs and owners, an insight into the philosophies and style of cooking and a glimpse into the techniques employed by these restaurants. The stories themselves are enduring, charming and despite noted tragedies, feel good. I found Alinea the most fascinating, Grant Achatz’s story from his history of working in his father’s restaurant, to working with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, then to working with a tumultuous relationship with molecular gastronomist Charlie Trotter and finally his personal battles with cancer, ironically, tongue cancer. It is an inspiring story and you get the feeling that all that has happened to Achatz is what has no doubt led to the success of the restaurant today.

Despite all of their differences in style, success and operations these restaurant are all tied in by the factors that Achatz so perfectly puts it, “you feel comfortable, yet exposed” and that is the experience it seems you are intended to get at these restaurant, whether you are exposing by way of socializing in a family-style run outhouse, exposed to new cuisines in small but quaint Mexican restaurant or simply blown-away with an out-of-this-world experience at a top dining destination.

Michelin Stars: The Madness of Perfection | Review

UK food critic William Sitwell is on a quest to find out why is the famed Michelin Star so important? Why do chefs work countless hours and go through emotional and physical stress to gain or uphold their stars?

Sitwell encounters realities of the industry, insights from chefs themselves who are either pursuing this dream or chefs who have given up with stars and let the dream go and the history behind the famous stars, what is deemed ‘Michelin worthy’ and what this means for the food and restaurant industry.

Among the chefs interviewed is Marco Pierre White, the youngest chef to receive three Michelin stars and who controversially returned his stars said, (in response to the pressure chefs put on themselves) that “…the people judging them have less technical ability than they have…”Raymond Blanc mirrors this, talking about the benefits of having the Michelin stars, as it means much more business through the doors, but the added pressure can be costly, as was the case with famous French chef Bernard Loiseau who held his stars for 12 years, but the pressure to maintain the stars and rumors that he may loose the stars led him to commit suicide. Anyone interested in this mad system, watch this documentary.

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But I Could Never Go Vegan | Review

But I Could Never Go Vegan! – Kristy Turner – Experiment LLC – 320 pages, RRP $25-$35

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Content | This vegan cookbook aims to address all of the excuses Kristy Turner has heard people make in relation for not adopting a vegan lifestyle. The chapters of the book are set out  in 20 chapters, ranging from chapters about ‘meat-substitute foods’ and another chapter solely on pizzas. It should be noted that this book, although has some bonus gluten-free dishes, are not all gluten-free. Early on in the book there are handy recipes for making your own nut-butter, cooking legumes and grains as well as an essential pantry list for going vegan.

Photography/Layout/Design | This book gets a massive plus for photographs, because every recipe has one (which is important for a book like this, aiming to convert people to veganism). There are also many collaged photographs on recipe pages showing step-by-step things like: how to roll a dough for a certain recipe or how the tofu should look when cut. The text used is very clean, but there is a lot of text on the recipe pages (some unnecessarily so).

Recipes/Functionality | For non-vegans making vegan food, the recipes need to be read with a little more vigilance. This is not because they are difficult, but because, say for example, making the ‘Mushroom Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Sunflower Cheddar’ (pg 42) you need to adhere to the cheese recipe ingredients and instructions to ensure you get the same flavor and texture. Or like the ‘Chickpea Fries’ (pg 56) I would change the spices used to flavor, but wouldn’t be substituting some of the chickpea flour with other flours, unless instructed to do so, otherwise you may end up with a very soggy chip. The meat chapter is good such as the ‘Sunflower Sausage’ (pg26), because it does have a meaty flavor. The seafood chapter is a little bit of a stretch though, like the ‘Orange-Miso Mushroom Scallops with Oranges, Fennel & Forbidden Rice’ (pg 200) yes it is creative (the mushrooms cook and have a similar texture to scallops), but obviously taste nothing like a scallop. The ‘Sweet & Sour Cauliflower’ (pg243) is good and worth a go, it definitely doesn’t appear to taste like something it doesn’t. The ‘Butterscotch Bread Pudding’ (pg 267) is good, sauce is a little thin though.
What I found with But I Could Never Go Vegan, is the flavors of the dishes stand out but in some instances the recipes needed a little tweaking where they probably shouldn’t have.  But rest assured, in the recipes where texture and food-form is critical – the book is bang on.

 

Thug Kitchen | Review

Thug Kitchen (eat like you give a f*ck) – Thug Kitchen LLC – Little, Brown Book Group – 209 pages, RRP $30

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Content | Thug Kitchen is a vegan, street-food-home-food-everyday-food cookbook created from the Thugkitchen.com team to (and quote) “inspire motherf*ckers to eat some goddamn vegetables and adopt a healthier lifestyle”. Thug Kitchen’s cookbook uses a crazy multitude of swear words and this makes their introduction story kind of hilarious, although the story itself does have a very real and logical message. The chapters or so-called ‘Track List’ are as follows: Carpe F*cking Diem – Breakfast, Short Order Sh*t – Salads, Sammies & Mini Meals, Big-Ass Cup of Cozy – Soups & Stews, The Munchies – Salads, Sips & the Snack Life, The Main Event – Burritos, Bowls & other Bomb-Ass Meals, Sweet Talk – Baked Goods & Motherf*cking Dessert.

Photography/Layout/Design | This book is pretty hipster. Black and white strong typography recipe pages with elements of graphic design (including watercolour & graffiti splodges) are throughout the pages. Barcoded/typewriter typography used over some of the adjacent recipe page images. Insert photo pages contain market stalls and eat-out joints. The photographs of Thug Kitchen’s food are very laid back and not too glammed up, illustrating a ‘food at home’ vibe, with decks of cards surrounding food, a family dinner table with a ready-to-tuck-in feel and even a photo of someone drawing whilst having cookies near them.

Recipes/Functionality | Can the vegan recipes live up to the professed swag of the book. Yes, yes they can. There are notes on a few recipe pages such as ‘Making your own pancake mix’ (pg 12) and Dropping Knowledge areas throughout the book like how ‘Miso Paste’ is made (pg 88) and how to ‘Use Acids, Not Salt’ (pg 125). The recipe pages are as informative and flexible as they can be and little sub-notes are provided on every page to assist the cook which is very helpful. There is also some really funny words on the recipe photos like “try not to lick the f*cking page” featured on the mouthwatering ‘Tortilla Soup’ (pg 98). The ‘Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad’ (pg 50), ‘Potato Leek Soup’ (pg 96), ‘Peach-Mint Sun Tea’ (pg 131) are all super-easy to make, taste delicious and I recommend them. The mains in this book are pretty awesome and they can easily stand up on their own. The sweets are not as boss compared to the other chapters in this book and they let me down a little, but that said, they are still great refined-sugar-free and dairy-free recipes which fit nicely in with the books nutritious, healthy-eating emphasis.

With stand-out, recipes that everyone will enjoy such as the ‘Roasted Beer & Lime Cauliflower Tacos with Cilantro Coleslaw’ (pg 166) and ‘Chocolate Fudge Pops’ (pg 182) it’s hard not to get completely and totally addicted to veggie loaded, sugar-free, vegan cooking at home.

Whisky Ice Cubes

Whisky Ice Cube Trays

What could be better than big ice balls!

– 2 inches in diameter, to be exact, which is only about 1/10th of an inch smaller than a tennis ball. With the Ice Ball Mold Tray you can make four (or eight) at a time, then store them in your freezer until you need them. We filled the mold with water and put them in the freezer. After about 3-4 hours, all were frozen solid.

See More Like This!

Or maybe try the more conventional method of ice ball carving…. 🙂

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The Forest Feast | Review

The Forest Feast – Erin Gleeson – Pan Macmillian Aust – 197 pages, RRP $30-$40

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Content | New York photographer and artist Erin Gleeson creates food art with recipes from her forest produce similar to what is featured on her blog. The food showcased in this box is all vegetarian and features a very resourceful use of seasonal produce available. The book is broken 5 chapters appetizers, cocktails, salads, vegetable dishes and sweets.

Photography/Layout/Design | This book showcases Erin’s artistic talents – the front cover is a well designed, bright and features Erin’s eye for food styling. On the inset of the book and on nearly every page are watercolour painted fruit and vegetable illustrations. The recipe pages, are different from anything I’ve seen. The ingredients are pictorially represented, with arrows and fancy typography enhancing the recipe layout.

Recipes/Functionality | The recipes are very simple. The appetizers were hit and miss for me personally recipes like ‘Beer-battered Artichoke Hearts’ (pg 19), sound nice, but ‘Sage Chips’ (pg 53)…no thanks. There are a few fruit and cheese combinations, good for any vegetarian entrée platter.

Most of the food is super healthy and the final recipes are bright and colorful showcasing the beauty of home-grown fruits and vegetables. Some salad recipes that combine fruit and vegetables together leave a bit to be desired for me, but the vegetable mains are cheap,  simple and delicious, particularly the ‘Corn and Cauliflower Tacos’ (no page number but it is pg 157) and the ‘Polenta Portabellos’ (pg 177). The sweets chapter mainly uses fruit to sweeten in the recipes so if you’re after healthy quick desserts you will like this chapter.

The Forest Feast has simple, resourceful and relatively in-expensive vegetarian dishes.

Ample Hills Creamery | Review

Ample Hills Creamery – Brian Smith & Jackie Cuscuna – Stewart, Tabori & Chang – 222 pages, RRP $25

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Content | This book covers some of the most popular recipes from the “…hundreds of flavors made…” at Brooklyns finest creamery (including a look at Ample Hills commercial manufacturing process). The book is broken into introduction and 8 flavor chapters ranging from basic, to boozy to experimental.

At the beginning of each recipe chapter, there is a short kids story featuring 3 characters. Which ties in with the ‘kids + family-run business theme’ throughout the book.

There are some recipes like the ‘Nanatella’ (pg 58) which is the banana icecream recipe on the previous page with Nutella added it to it basically doesn’t warrant its own page, it is simply a minor variation. Duplicate recipes like this happen only a few times in the book.

Photography/Layout/Design |
Ample Hills is a family-run business and as such, this book has cartoon illustrations and games popped into pages for an added element. The colours are bright, the photography simple and the writing style easy to understand. Not all recipes have photos (about 70%) and there are a some recipes with multiple elements that did not have photos of the final product attached – which is kind of the motivation behind making a recipe with a long slew of ingredients and instructions.

Aside from that, the book is awesome. I don’t quite get the games within the book, but if it will encourage kids to  read at cookbooks – I’m all for it.

Recipes/Functionality | the recipe flavours and combinations are stock-standard but sound delicious. There are a few different icecream flavours, (‘Breakfast Trash’ pg 69, ‘Pb Fluff n’ Stuff pg 109 and ‘Daddy’s Sundae’ – a bourbon salted caramel fudge sundae) that are outside the norm, but are not too far outside you’re not game to try them. I personally love the Ooey, Goey Buttercake icecream – I made it, freaking delicious.

The concept, matches the layout, stories and recipes in the Ample Hills Creamery. Loads of recipes, just the right amount of chit-chat.


FARANG: The Story of Andy Ricker of the Pok Pok Empire | Review

Coming from the VICE documentary guys this hour-long documentary centers on chef Andy Ricker of the Pok Pok thai-food empire in the states.

About 65-70% of this movie is about his 20+-year experience with Thai food and Pok Pok beginnings to current and future projects. Just after mid-way through the documentary, Andy Ricker’s childhood and list of obsessions over the years is explored – and although I realise this documentary is about him, I was more interested in Pok Pok (as it was Portlands Restrauant of the Year 2007), so that section bored me.Old footage of Thailand in the 80’s and Portland when he was younger was cool, that broke the film up a bit.

Ricker’s risk-taking for Pok Pok (to make authentic Thai food which is un-westernised) has paid off, as he has 7 restrauants. The story also looks at his current set-up  Sen Yai Noodle. The relationship between ‘Sunny’ a long-time Thai friend and Ricker’s is explored and he is called into consult on Sen Yai Noodle.

3/5 stars

Thomas Keller Uncorked | Review

Short 30 minute documentary about Thomas Keller, the only American-born chef to receive 3 michelin stars for his restaurants Per Se, in New York and the famed The French Laundry in Napa Valley, CA.

Surprisingly Thomas did not attended culinary school (according to the documentary) but was trained by a French chef in the 70’s in Lyon, Paris. Calm, obsessed with order (stemming from his childhood) and showing a great respect to his work colleges, Keller emulates a gentleness  and modesty which is not commonly exhibited from chefs at the top of their game.

Thomas keller group runs Bouchon bars, bistros and bakery’s all over America. The film touches on Kellers organic farm operation.

To see some of Thomas Kellers’ recipe books, click Here

3/5 stars

The Blue Ducks | Review

The Blue Ducks – Mark Labrooy & Darren Robertson – Pan Macmillian Aust – 197 pages, RRP $30-$40

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Content | Mark and Darren gives us a book with recipes (possibly that  which is featured at their famous Three Blue Ducks restaurant in Byron Bay), additional knowledge on sustainability practices in growing a vegetable garden, keeping chooks and useful information for those into beekeeping.

The books introduction is short, which is good for a book like this, centered on the authors plans to own a café-like place run like a restaurant with very little money. With each chapter/area of this book there are a few pages dedicated to relevant topics (i.e: with seafood there are some pages on selecting seafood and seafood sustainability). The book is broken into Water > Land > Garden sections, classifying food groups into the environments they come from rather than what course they fall under.

Photography/Layout/Design | Not every recipe has an image (which is kind of a pet hate of mine), but I would say 70% of the recipes do have photographs and the food styling is indicative of a beach-like atmosphere, bright colour’s, stressed-wooden textures lots of aqua blue hues.

I understand food styling. I understand elements added to an image to make it look more appealing. For example ‘Our Green Chicken’ (page 67) you rub the chicken with a green marinade and as it cooks it will char and darken becoming a dark brown/black (just like chargrilling anything), they have then smeared extra un-cooked green marinade on the chicken to make the chicken have a fresh green colour. This is somewhat acceptable. However…

I’ll give you two examples of recipes that feature ingredients in the photo integral to the dish,  which add to the aesthetics of the image and  are not actually in the recipe. ‘Toasted Muesli, The Way We Like It’ (pg 93) asks for goji berries, but it looks like there are dried cranberries in the image, there are dried figs and dried apple in the image but not in the recipe. ‘Roasted Vegetable Salad’ (pg 132) has roasted zucchini in the image but not the recipe. Seems like no biggie, but if the green of the zucchini adds an appealing element, influencing you to make the salad, you may be disappointed with the visual outcome.

Recipes/functionality | The recipes are hit and miss. The meat recipes are pretty good, the ‘Kick-Arse Steak Sandwich’ (pg 41) is pretty kick-arse and has become my go-to staple for a steak sandwich. The ‘Muffins’ (pg 96), which looked amazing in the photos were a massive let down, they tasted dry and bland (as the basic batter is unsweetened and heavy) and I had to double the sweet topping for the next batch in order to get more flavor in every bite. The Bronte Fish Cakes (pg 33) are alright, a little dry, but it’s okay if you have sauce to go with them which is mentioned in the serving suggestion.

The photos and styling in this book serve the books beach atmosphere, look delicious but some reciepes have not translated to these mouth-watering images. The meat section recipes are generic but have resulted in good flavors. I would by weary some recipes in the sweet grains section.

Check out The Blue Ducks restaurant here