Friday, February 5, 2010

How practical is a 100 mile diet?

The past few weeks have disappeared into a blur after 3 weeks of juggling work, study and life.

Monday, 18th January saw the start of my Dissertation preparation course. Over two weeks, we were to work through daily exercises to undertand what a Master thesis was, what research methodolgies could be used, how to scope one out and the mechanics of writing a thesis (timelines, plagarism, editing etc). At the end of the course, the goal was to have a worked up thesis outline and timeline so that the university could seek out a supervisor.

I actually did the dissertation course last year as I had intended to start mid 2009 after completing my coursework material. With six months until it all became real, it was difficult to really engage with the process and my topic idea was too big and expansive that I struggled to scope it. The unweldy topic and six months of procastination while I finished my coursework meant that by mid year I had lost momentum and the dissertation idea and outline fizzed away to nothing.

Six months of no study (and too much work) coupled with a well timed University residential and the Australian symposium of gastronomy in Adelaide provided the motivation to get re-engaged with the dissertation. Ten days in Adelaide during a mid November heat wave spawned my dreams and ideas.

The residential (the last ever such residential for the current MA (gastronomy) program) saw 14 students suffer the daily hardships of gastronomes with trips to farmers markets, the Baroosa (cheese, wine and Maggie Beer's), field trips to delis, chocolate factories and more wineries and cheese producers. With varying backgrounds and ages, everyone had different takes on the world of food and wine. There were a few serious study sessions with time with the Gastronomy department librarian and much talk of thesis topics and process as being online students the chance to get face to face time with lecturers and librarians is a rare treat.

After residential, we rolled into the 19th Australian symposium of Gastronomy being held in Adelaide on the occasion of 25th anniversary of the 1st Australian symposium. The theme was "Economy" given the year that 2009 with the doom and gloom of the global financial crisis. The theme worked perfectly for me as I have already worked out that my thesis topic had to have a commercial angle to it. The symposium held at the Australian wine centre was attended by many familar faces and so many keen foodies with interesting backgrounds. The weekend was spent listening to interesting papers (some historical, others political, lots of social critique), meeting interesting people and enjoying good food and wine. The papers provided many thesis ideas and my notebook of the weekend was filled with scribbles of ideas, leads to follow up, books I needed to read and things to research. After the 10 days in Adelaide, I was clear that my thesis was going to focus on local food but still needed to work out exactly.

Over December and the holiday season, the thesis idea has gestated and germinated into something quite tangible. How practical is a 100 mile diet to follow from Brisbane? is 100 miles the appropriate distance ? what do we need to do to encourage more people to eat locally sourced food? do producers actually want to provide food locally or is there more money elsewhere?

Over the past three weeks, I have enjoyed working through the process of scoping my thesis. I have marvelled at watching the process online as my fellow students develop their ideas. The encouragement I have received from them and the program has been great. The biggest surprise has been from workmates (mainly IT types stuck in a mining company) who originally take an interest out of politeness and then get really engaged in the topic. Some began sending me websites and articles as they see them. Others offering to read the thesis as it develops.

Tonight, I got confirmation that my thesis outline has been accepted and that my supervisor has been appointed. Fortunately they are local, have a keen interest in the topic and their background will be a good balance to my overly commercial background and skill base.

So now the fun begins. 18,000 words by end of  November. All things going well, I will finish my thesis in time for my birthday and the end of the year will be celebrated with the completion of the MA(Gastronomy).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Buffalo Club - find a special occasion and go!

Where to begin with describing our dinner here on Saturday night?

With friends home from Egypt, we had a good excuse for a special dinner this week. The Buffalo club had been on my list of places to go for some time but we wanted a good excuse and needed the ablity to get a table (we had failed on the last point on a few occasions). Thanks to getting rave reviews from press around the country (eg GT's best new talent award and Matt Preston in this month's V E&T)

The universe aligned this week and we managed to get the best table in the place for Saturday night! I think it was fortunate timing as they only re-opened on Wednesday and many people are still on leave up or down the coast.

We had a few scares prior to the night, when I rang to increase the booking numbers and they couldn't find the booking. My fears disappeared on Saturday afternoon when they rang to confirm 9 people for 8pm and reminded me that their associated bar was still closed.

We had pre-drinks at Cloudland to introduce the Brisbane returnees from Egypt to some of the Brisbane changes since their departure and to set the scene for the night ahead. Such a dreamy atmosphere, where there is great people watching and good places for a drink before moving on. (Dinner at Cloudland was a possible back up plan had a table at the Buffalo club been a no go)

The Buffalo club is a small establishment so we were a little surprised to be greeted by a burly security type at the street level entrance. The Valley must get a bit scary at times so they need to protect the place from walk ins.

Once upstairs, we were greeted by our friendly waiter, Dan and shown to our table. We had scored an amazing table. I would describe it was the kitchen table set up so you can watch the food being prepared and be served straight from the kitchen via the centre of the U shaped.

The Buffalo Club serves their meals as a degustation menu so you're only choices are whether to match with wines or to choose from their wine list. The food component is $120 per head for 12 courses and $80 for the wine matching. This restaurant is a special occasion place unless you have deeper pockets than me and the molecular gastronomy menu will not suit every type of diner.

The food is amazing. Each course introduced us to another version of molecular gastronomy.  We had purees, freeze dried meat and fruit, sorbets and minature leaves. I loved that the cooking style was so beyond anything I would cook at home. When I go out for a special occasion, I want to be dazzled with something and I don't want a disappointing meal which makes me think I could have catered something at home. The courses are not massive but the flavours are intense and you're definitely not hungry at the end of the night!

Attached is the menu. My favourites were the dried beef, the prawns and chocolate dessert.

I have an aversion of taking photos of every meal (I know many have no qualms about it but it is just not my type of foodie thing) but I did have my camera with me to capture the night with good friends so I took some photos of the kitchen as it was entertainment in itself.

My verdict on the Buffalo club is find a special occasion, plan ahead both to get a table and to justify the expense (sorry but years of being an accountant doesn't offset my foodism). I would recommend going with a group and ask for the kitchen table as part of the fun of this place is watching the chefs prepare the food. for contact details

What type of foodie are you ?

Gourmet traveller has a competition at the moment based around a quiz to determine what type of foodie are you? are you a food tragic?. 

There is two things that worry me about the quiz.

Firstly, if you were a food tragic, wouldn't the prize of a Kitchenaid stand mixer be redundant as you already had one and are now contemplating upgrading to the Thermomix!

Secondly, where do I come out on the scale of foodism according to Gourmet traveller? I actually only managed a B rating of chronic foodism (second lowest rating) which is impressive given my life which is certainly food orientated. In fact, I'm probably aspiring to their 'D' rating but the survey hadn't actually catered for my obsession level.

My friends and family would rate me at the 'D' level and let me explain why. 

While I spend my workweek doing a very non-food orientated job as an accounting manager for a global mining company, this is just a cover for my other life. My work colleagues encourage some of the foodie practices and prefer a home baked morning tea to externally catered one. I am sought out for restaurant recommendations for many and regularly get a call from the GM's PA asking for a spot to send him with visiting executives.

I am in my final year of a Master of Arts in Gastronomy through the University of Adelaide and will commence my dissertation very shortly. While most people still think that I'm studying to become a chef, I have a great bunch of friends who have indulged my study and participated in many aspects such as restaurant review assignments, recipe comparisons, studies of sparkling wine and gastronomic tourism trails. Further through my studies, I have met other students who have broadened my outlook and joined me on this journey.

Last year, I managed 3 short breaks from work and all were food orientated.

  1. Barossa for the Vintage festival where we drank (and ate) our way around the Barossa. 
  2. Melbourne for the Taste festival in Melbourne where I managed to convince a friend to give yourself weekend off by being Mum to spend Friday at the festival before then shopping and dining our way around Melbourne.  
  3. Adelaide in November: this time for my university residential and the Australian symposium of gastronomy. I had to study very hard - whether it be visiting artisan cheese makers, native food producers, eating superb food with like-minded foodies (and some of the who's who of Australian gastronomy) and listening to interesting food studies and pondering what my thesis topic should be?

I had a semi momentous birthday this year where the vast majority of gifts received were gastronomic in nature. Copies of Julia Child's Mastering the art of French cooking, Larousse Gastronomique and the gourmet in addition to several cookbooks and one cooking class gift voucher. Some people purposely avoided foodie gifts for me and told me so as if it was almost an intervention!

My beloved friends and family do enjoy the spoils of my interests. Their Christmas gifts this year varied from hampers including rocky road, biscotti, gingerbread, granola and fortified salts (all home made) to recipe journals pre-populated with some of my favourite recipes. Christmas and New Years saw me cater with terrines, porchetta and sorbets as I challenged myself to move outside my cooking comfort zone.

So I think it is fair to say that I'm a food tragic but this surveys shows that we come in various shapes and sizes. For me, food is a way to enjoy life with friends and family and I get a great kick out of the sourcing, preparation and sharing of food. While others (and maybe the type catered for in the GT survey) are obsessed with the status through food: they have to eat at the right restaurants, shop at certain shops and unless a place is recommended by a notable source why go there? Each to their own. 

Take the test yourself here.