The diary-clogging confluence of the World’s 50 Best, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and Tasmania’s Great Chefs series left restaurant obsessives and chef-watchers buzzing, tired and grateful for elasticised waistbands.
But it wasn’t so much the red carpet rah-rah, the 50-to-one countdown or the steady diet of canapes and Berocca that got me excited. It was the talent on tap, the know-how pow-wow, the many hands around me who could fillet a fish as quick as look at it and – who knows? – julienne a carrot at 50 paces. With so many of the world’s great chefs in easy reach, my big question was “What can I learn from you? Can you spill the beans so my beans may be more delicious?” And so I asked them…
A tomato is not a tomato
Virgilio Martinez from Central restaurant in Lima seeks new ingredients in diverse Peruvian landscapes. His dishes are explorations and expressions of his country’s terrain as much as they are dinner. He encourages home cooks to be similarly brave when stocking their pantries. “Don’t overuse the same ingredients,” he says. “Try new things. For example, have you cooked with kuzu before? Try it in my Goma Dofu.
Also, be aware that ingredients can be different from day to day and place to place. That’s about the seasons but also about the growing conditions, where it comes from and who is behind it. Today’s tomato is not the same as tomorrow’s tomato. A carrot is not always the same carrot. The more you know about your ingredients, the tastier your food becomes.” So taste the ingredients you are working with, because the produce will change and you may need to adjust your recipes accordingly – or simply let those amazing tomatoes, or whatever’s in season, shine.
Be sceptical about recipes
Almost all chefs agreed that recipes could be interesting and inspiring but they should never be followed slavishly. “A recipe is a good place to start but the exciting bit is making it your own, going on that journey yourself,” says Jock Zonfrillo from Adelaide’s Orana. “You’re never going to be able to recreate that recipe anyway. You’re not buying the same flour or the same sugar, your raspberries might not be as sweet as they were when the chef wrote the recipe.” But it’s not a bad thing. “I think that’s what’s exciting about cooking,” he says.