Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Genius of Tom Samek

The wood relief pictured above is part of Tom Samek's current exhibition at the Handmark Gallery in Salamanca Place Hobart. The plate pictured below is also one of Tom's creations but notably - so is the food on it! Mary and I have known him for over 30 years and we have enjoyed both his food and his art for as long. In 1989 he combined his artistic and culinary genii to present the most unforgettable dinner of our lives. It was a game dinner in the Chandelier Room at Hadley's Hotel and the food attacked the guests.

We first encountered Samek food at St Andrew's Inn at Cleveland when Mary and I were living in Launceston in the late 1970's and early 1980's. We would stop the old Rover 3500 at St Andrews on the way down and on the way back on our many trips backwards and forwards between Hobart and the Northern Capital to eat such new (for us then), dishes such as jugged hare, rabbit rilletes and moules mariniere. It was such an awakening.

Tom's food was , like his art, dark, brooding, intelligent and perfectly executed. It was as though a new world had opened for us. In fact it had, as his food caused us to later travel to Europe eating with some of the great chefs of the day - Alain Chapel, Fredy Giradet (Gault Millau Chef of the Century) and the Haberlin brothers and to tour the world's foodhalls - memorably Les Halles at Lyon and fish markets - memorably London, Paris, St Malo and Venice ( not to mention the KaDeWe - then the largest foodstore in the world when Berlin was still a city divided by the Wall ).

When Tom moved to Prospect House at Richmond we were devastated. He left us no choice. We had to follow him. We would drive down to Richmond from Launceston and eat dinner with him on the Friday or Saturday night, stay at the House, eat his unbelievable separately coloured yellow and white scrambled eggs for breakfast the next morning and then drive home.

If we were devastated when he left St Andrew's Inn we were in mourning when he left Prospect House to concentrate on his art. What were we to do? The answer came in the form of him succumbing to the pressure of his followers and agreeing to cook periodic "game dinners".

These were organised as and when various of us found interesting game and seafood and Tom would cook it. They were usually held in the grand dining and ball rooms of Hadley's Hotel with him being given the run of the kitchens at a time when the Hotel did not do a dinner service.

This was bliss. Such a privilege. We would take our own wines and he would perform his food miracles.

He was a produce driven genius long before it became fashionable to focus on fresh local and seasonal ingredients.

It was (and is) his skill at simply treating these ingredients and his quirky sense of humour that made and make him such a great chef. By way of example nothing could be simpler than crow, but the notion of serving it up to Hobart's establishment at a game night at a gentleman's club is what sets Samek apart. Let them eat crow!

We have had such dishes as wild goat, hare, venison, kangaroo, native hen, ducks, geese and swan all cooked with Tom's distinctive touch. A menu he cooked at home for Mary and me and some friends to mark my 55th birthday last year will serve to illustrate.

As a birthday gift he and his partner Tracy designed and had fired 12 dinner plates embossed with my "family crest" comprising the heads of a duck, a hare and a tuna mounted on a rosemary stalk. On these plates he served 13 courses which were detailed in a "souvenir" menu book in which he had painted a water colour satirical representation of each dish.

The dinner started with whiting roulee (pictured) served with Gosset rose 2003.

It continued, still under the influence of the Gosset, with a prawn and leek roulade and successively, a quail rillette and rabbit rillete. Then a cucumber leek oyster cup and a spinach and Gorgonzola delice.

The meal then ramped up a notch with a yellow fin tuna tartare served with quail's egg (pictured above), accompanied by a 1992 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay.

Then came Tom's signature cold mushroom souffle, usually made with personally gathered local Slippery Jack mushrooms. This course washed down with Vosne Romanee "Les Chaumes" Robert Arnaux 1999.

Wild duck and bitter Damson plums "swan about" followed with an Echeraux Mungeret Gibourg 2001 before an unbelievable and totally seasonal (for March) tomato and basil sorbet intervened.

The piece de resistance was his baron of hare, a dish he had developed over 25 years, on this occasion accompanied beautifully by a 2000 Bandol, a Tardieu - Laurent.

The cheese course was a memorable collection of French and local cheeses married with an old Australian red - a 1982 - yep, a 26 year old, Henschke Hill of Grace which was just perfect.

And finally individual fresh fig tartlettes brought us all to our knees with a Fritz Haag Brauneberger-Juffer Sonnenuhr auslese - a long gold capsule from 1998.

I digress of course. The Samek game dinners during the late 1980's were truly masterpieces of food and art. People watching Heston Blumenthal's current television series could be forgiven for thinking that the Fat Duck chef cum food scientist invented the notion of food theatre but Tom was putting birds in pies and musicians in cakes years ago.

His take on the mythical Cockatrice, like Blumenthal's after him, was stitched together by a plastic surgeon in surgical gown and mask. The Samek version comprised a large salmon, a duck and quail for the wings of the monstrous flying marine creature. So terrifying was it that when baked and served some guests at the dinner could not bring themselves to eat any part of it!

At the time of the Hadley's Chandelier Room game dinner in 1989 Tom was serving us dishes such as olive within quail within duck, pheasant neck sausage and quail legs in bread pudding. On the night the main course was horse, accompanied by root vegetables and an exquisite glossy, earthy, beetroot reduction such as only Samek the master can, in my experience, produce, and which he often pairs with his Baron of Hare. (The horse was a fit young animal that was haplessly injured and euthanised - we do not advocate the killing of horses for meat but the alternative was pet food and the opportunity for interested food fanciers was not to be missed)

But it was not the main course that marks this dinner as the most memorable we have ever attended. No it was the table setting and the dessert. The print below which depicts a chef as the centrepiece for his live ingredients hangs in my kitchen and the image is used by Shannon Bennett at the Vue de Monde in Melbourne. The irony of the chef's situation was paralleled by Tom at the Hadleys dinner with the food attacking the guests.

The long table was set for 40 and was dotted along its length with 5 Matthew Bolton Sheffield Plate meat covers from 1820, lent by wine expert Greg Melick. The dinner started out unremarkably but as entree was served the waiters lifted the meat covers to reveal under each a pastry dome. Ah, we thought, the pastry is to be broken like bread and eaten as an accompaniment to the first course.

Then something very strange and to some (not Mary and me), discomforting occurred. There came a tap, tap, tapping from inside the pastry domes as though from a birds beak seeking escape. No it wasn't a bird, it was a human finger breaking through, followed by a human mouth eating the pastry from the inside! As the 5 heads broke through we were treated to 5 faces painted brightly in solid colours after the fashion of Goldfinger or Marcel Marceau. With hair slicked down, only the heads were visible as though detached like John the Baptist's presented to Queen Salome. They rotated like Linda Blair's in the Exorcist. The scene was surreal. Dali would have been proud of the effect.

These five heads were attached however to five very much alive human beings who proceeded to behave, as they ate their pastries, as though the dinner was theirs and we the guests were intruders. "What are you doing here", "What are you staring at?", "I suppose you think you are pretty clever", "Take a look at yourselves". Some of the guests foolishly fought back but the heads had been chosen by the maestro for their skill at talking underwater and they were armed with endless literary quotations aimed at the unfortunate diners.

Some, like us, thought this was hilarious, particularly as some others rose to the bait and were solidly hooked and landed. The exchanges became heated and the waiters , under instructions, replaced the meat covers as required over the heads. Finally everyone, well almost everyone, saw the joke and the actors were invited from underneath the tables and applauded for their show stealing theatre.

That was not the last act of the evening however. The Samek finale was the dessert. This comprised cakes that floated in from the kitchen suspended from balloons whose flight path was directly along the length of the table where they landed at intervals to be consumed by the now exhausted diners!

So next time you are watching Heston Blumenthal proclaiming his skill in the egregiously arrogant manner of the modern day television chef, spare a thought for the genius of Tom Samek whose food as art and art as food has modestly graced Hobart for decades. And next time you are in Melbourne keep your eye out at the best restaurants for his art which is synonymous with the food of greats such as Shannon Bennett of Vue de Monde and Guy Grossi of Grossi Florentino.

When Yachties Arrive for Dinner - Or Don't

When yachties announce an impending arrival home from their race early there is nothing else to be done but improvise. Throw open the fridge door, take out everything useable and head to the galley. This week when this happened we ended up with Gruyere gougeres and goats cheese with capers, beef Wellington with stoved vegetables, fresh cherry ice cream and almond praline. Phew, all done. Then came the call. Sorry we are becalmed off the east coast of Tasmania and won't be in for a couple of days. Thanks Bill. Ah well, Mary and I ate well.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Fare

Christmas Day again. This year Santa made pork and sage sausage rolls on Christmas Eve while Christmas morn saw Tasmanian Ocean Trout gravadlax cured with Bundaberg sugar, Murray pink salt flakes, crushed white peppercorns and dill. Lunch started with Tassie lobster tail flambeed in Pernod and joined by advocado and iceberg lettuce in a cocktail dressed with lemon juice. Main course was pickled pork with pink eye potatoes and double podded broad beans out of the garden. The salad was rocket, Roquefort and walnut dressed with walnut oil and sherry vinegar. And for dessert? Why Christmas pud of course with brandy and caramel sauce and King Island clotted cream. Oh dear. Now for a nap.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ut Si Cafe Perth Tasmania

If you've got the dough, they've got the bread. In fact, arguably the best bread in Northern Tasmania according to Food Tourist's Roger McShane and Sue Dyson on Twitter yesterday. Colette Barnes, her mysterious husband - the Prof - and the Chef, run a new cafe to die for. In fact previously you did as the cafe was a church !

Last Saturday on our way to eat with Remi Bancal at Glencoe Rural Retreat at Sheffield in Tasmania Mary and I called in to see Colette Barnes at her wonderful new cafe in the old coaching town of Perth on the Midlands Highway south of Launceston.

It is a magical place, beautifully created inside an old church. The French grey beams overarch crisp white walls adorned with Leunig like paintings by talented Launceston schoolgirl artist Alice Brickhill. The soft pastels of these whimsical paintings contrast with the darker tables and church pew inspired bench seating crafted out of Tasmanian timbers.

Outside this quaint old church is complemented by an inspired garden and a very traveller friendly car park. From the shady car park you can see (and smell) the kitchen garden with parsley and rhubarb just waiting to go into the dishes being prepared inside.

Colette's aim is simple food prepared from fresh produce and this she achieves in spades. Mary and I had bruschetta made with Ut Si's own bread and topped with curried chickpeas and black olive tapenade. Washed down with as good a coffee as you will find anywhere on the highway this was exactly what we needed to sustain us until we could take in more French cuisine at Glencoe (and that is another story altogether!).

French you say? Yes I forgot to mention that Colette's mother Marie and her father Barry themselves ran a wonderful French restaurant in Perth 30 years ago - the Leather Bottle Inn. That was a favourite haunt of mine and Mary's back in the days when Northern Tasmania ruled the cuisine of the State. Casey's, Gossips, Ruby's, Glo Glo's and St Andrews Inn were all wonderful restaurants in the area.

Colette's mother and father lend a hand at the cafe.
Marie helps out with the dough that is responsible for Ut Si's magnificent white and rye bread loaves cooked daily and Barry lights the fire in the cafe's piece de resistance - the wood fired bakers oven built directly out the back door from the kitchen.

You can sample Ut Si's bread with a charcuterie plate of Tasmanian's best - hot smoked salmon and local venison pastrami and wallaby salami or you can dip it in Annie Ashbolt's wonderful olive oil.

In fact if you are early enough you can buy a loaf or two and eat it at home as we did, with Ossau Iraty sheep's cheese from the Pyrenees, washed down with a Cornas shiraz from the Cote du Rhone.

We don't know what Colette and the Prof and the new chef (ex Stillwater in Launceston) are planning for the artisan built wood oven but I wouldn't mind betting that wood fire pizzas as good as the Barnes' bread are going to be on the menu. If they are folks, don't miss 'em - they will be good.

Hospitality will never move forward in Tasmania unless more people like Colette, with a lust for excellence, put themselves out there. And we have no right to complain unless we support them!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Egg & Chips

Last night was the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Gala Ball. The food was good. Cured Bothwell lamb loin, Woody Island oysters, Huon mushrooms, Macquarie Harbour ocean trout and NW Tasmanian grain fed beef with local asparagus. The dessert - native Blue Gum honey panna cotta and Cygnet Granny Smith apple sorbet. Tonight we felt like something simple. Any wonder! We settled on what was in the fridge because neither Mary nor I felt like going shopping. Egg and chips it was!

It was a big night out at Wrest Point. The guests of honour, Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett and his wife Larissa, and the Deputy Premier Lara Giddings and the Minister for the Arts Michelle O'Bryne graced the dance floor as the TSO played the most sublime waltz music.

It wasn't a late night nor did we drink much of the Praxis reisling and pinot noir underwritten by Ball sponsor Moorilla, but tonight we felt like something quick and easy.

My take on egg and chips revolved around some beautiful new season's pink eyes in the pantry and some good farm eggs and some local goat's fetta in the fridge. Add a few vine ripened cherry tomatoes, a crust of Gruyere and a sprig of coriander and you've got fast food fit for a Sunday night.

I have been cooking pinkeye potatoes as French fries for years. Standard fare at Mum and Dad's by the sea was a fish fry of crumbed abalone served with pinkeye chips just out of the garden, cut into rounds and flash fried in peanut oil.

Pinkeyes, like Dutch Creams cook easily without par cooking and have a beautiful flavour and texture. These days I still cook them in peanut oil or rice bran oil or a peanut and soya bean oil blend. They cook nicely in a large Scanpan wok, lifted out with a spider and drained and salted.

For the eggs I used two medium sized souffle dishes and put four cherry tomatoes in the bottom, then four cubes of Meredith's goat's fetta and a couple of leaves of coriander. I then broke two eggs into each ramekin and topped with grated Gruyere and a little black pepper. You could sprinkle sumac over if you have it.

The eggs bake in a 200 C oven in the time it takes the oil to come up to temperature and the chips to cook - about 15 to 20 minutes.

The result is very pleasing. The coriander and the tomato set each other off and the goats cheese marries with the eggs and bulks the dish up.

The Gruyere gives the baked eggs a little cheesy sharpness and I like to add to that with lashings of green Tabasco. It is not hot like it's traditional relative the red Tabasco and eggs and chips can take a good splash without offending even the most sensitive palate.

So next time you have had a big Saturday night dinner give 'em a try. Use your fingers - dunk the chips in the cheesy egg and you'll be in heaven!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rhubarb & King Alfred

Some folks are scared of rhubarb. Silly really. It is the easiest thing in the garden to cook. This week I made a rhubarb and cranberry pie. It took 5 minutes from the vegie patch to the oven. Dinkum! King Alfred? I'll explain.

We have had rhubarb growing in the garden for years but it never looked right to eat. It was a dodgy green colour with a few red stalks, some green and some speckled in between. Then someone told us that it was just the variety, that it always looked like that and was fine to eat anytime.

Even so, many home cooks tend to think that rhubarb is tricky to cook. It isn't, it's the easiest thing in the world and it stews in its own juice as the saying goes. Just add sugar and off you go.

Anyway on the Show Day holiday this week I felt the urge for a rhubarb pie. Mary was in the vegie patch so I shouted out the kitchen window and she brought me a couple of handfuls of stalks down and passed them through to me.

In 5 minutes, quite literally, I thawed two sheets of shortcrust pastry, chopped 500g of the rhubarb in a bowl and mixed it with 100g of brown sugar and a small handful of dried cranberries. I splashed a little framboise eau de vie over it but that's quite unnecessary really.

I buttered the pie dish, trimmed one sheet of pastry into the bottom and tipped the rhubarb mix in (all of it), and trimmed the lid on. I cut a vent in and brushed the top with milk, sprinkled it with a tablespoon of caster sugar and put in a 200C oven. 5 minutes flat - no water, no syrup, no eggs - nothing but rhubarb, sugar and cranberries.

Now, this is where King Alfred and his burnt cakes come in. I like to get a good brown on my pastry and so cooked the pie for about 25 minutes but when brushing with milk and crimping the pastry edge you create a burn trap for the milk. I don't care but if you do then just press seal the pastry lid and don't use a fork on it.

The shortcrust pastry cooks up a treat with the caster sugar and gives a good crisp crunchy sweet result. Mum's old Pyrex pie dish gives a good crusty base too. If you like you can brush the base with egg white to seal it but the rhubarb melts down and gives a juicy wet filling which I don't mind seeping in to the bottom a bit.

Serve with a big dollop of creme fraiche which cuts the sweet tartness of the pie and wash it down with a glass of muscat de beaumes de venice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


No doubt, on many occasions, you have seen in the freezer in the Chinese emporium packets of dumpling skins or jiaozi wrappers & you have moved on to the soy sauce - thinking they would require a technique acquired only by long years of practice. Wrong!

Chinese dumplings or jiaozi are the easiest cheffy thing you will ever do and a foolproof way to put a restaurant plate on your home table.

Here's how to do it.

Take the wrappers out of the freeze an hour before you wish to make the jiaozi and let them thaw in the packet. Meanwhile take 400g of scallops and seperate them from their roes and dice them into really small pieces. Finely chop a long red chilli and a half bunch of coriander and mix them together and stir the scallops through.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place a scant teaspoon full of the mixture in the centre. Wet your finger in a cup of water and run it around the outside 1/2cm of the wrapper wetting it and press the circle into a half moon.

That's it. No need for fancy tucking or crimping. No dextrous fingerwork required. The wet edges of the surprisingly dry and floury wrappers stick together very easily and very conclusively.

Do about 8 per person and stack them (as pictured) on to a lightly floured board as you go just to stop any wet edges sticking.

Meanwhile saute half an onion and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic in a little olive oil in a small saucepan and add the scallop roes, crushing them up with a spoon. Then add 60ml of Pernod and reduce slightly, cooking off the alcohol, before adding 150ml of thickened cream and bring to the boil then back it off.

Simmer the sauce gently and stir occasionally and then blend it with an in pot blender or push it through a chinoise with a wooden spoon (or pass it through a mouli), and then return it to a clean pan and keep it warm on a low heat.

Bring a largish pan of water to the boil just as if cooking spaghetti and then back it off to a simmer. Put the dumplings in 6 at a time and when they come to the surface move them around for a minute and lift them out with a spider.

That's it. Keep them warm in a 100C oven while you do the others and then serve the jiaozi on warm plates drizzled with the scallop roe sauce. Delicious and so delicate. The scallop is just cooked through and translucent and the coriander and chilli a perfect blend of flavours. The heady fragrance of the Pernod and scallop roe sauce is a balancing influence. 美味的

So what's keeping you?

Walking on the Wild Side

Baking on a Saturday is relaxing. Oh yeah? Try cooking this apple tart from Moulin de Mougins or these Portuguese custard tarts from Antiga Confeitaria de Belem at 300C in a domestic oven and you are walking on the wild side.

I woke up this morning, after a theatrical week, feeling like a little play in the kitchen. I was not intent on drama, just a little light hearted entertainment. For a curtain raiser I thought Portugese custard tarts and for the main act an apple tart to follow the scallop jiaozi with roe and Pernod sauce Mary demanded for dinner tonight. Well, as they say in the song, that was my first mistake.

The scrummy burnt pastry apple and Calvados tart and the beautiful black tinged custard tarts require about 300C to cook quickly and deeply dark. In the case of the tarts it is because the layered puff pastry takes about 20 minutes to cook normally and yet the custard filling will curdle after about 5. The secret therefore is flash cooking. The Moulin de Mougins apple tart on the other hand needs high heat to melt the sugar and the butter and caramelize the raw apples.

About the only way you can get 300C in a domestic kitchen oven is to crank it up to 250C or whatever your highest heat is and then bake on the very top shelf without the fan in order to get the hotspot you need.

There are other problems associated with the Portuguese pasteis de nata. When you get your oven up that high modern patty pans won't do because the non stick coating burns off at about 230C - 240C.

You really need Mums old pre non stick models if you are going to give these babies a whirl. I am fortunate to have a set of cast iron drop scone moulds which are perfect for an oven that is ticking like the cooling engine of a V12 Jag.

With the apple tart you can give the apples a blast with the fan grill for 3 - 4 minutes at about 200C if the pastry is going too dark and the apples are not cooking and going soft and dark at the same rate. You can give the tarts a spot of grill too if you want a bit more black on top but only for half a minute or so as the custard will granulate.

Now, as to basic method. The tarts require puff pastry and a trick I picked up from an Age article written some years ago by Duncan Markham is very effective. What you do is take a sheet of thawed puff pastry and fold it in thirds. Then press the edges down with a rolling pin and roll it out to lengthen the strip just slightly. Then roll the pastry strip up lengthways, tightly like a Swiss roll and cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for half an hour. Then cut the pastry roll in 1 cm discs and roll each one out slightly to the size needed to line your patty pan moulds. Your pastry will have a lovely layered effect.

For the custard filling take 22g of plain flour and 160g of sugar and sift into a bowl. Whisk 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg in a jug and heat 300ml of milk in a saucepan with a couple of strips of lemon rind.

Bring the milk to the boil and remove the rind. Mix half the milk into the bowl of sugar and flour and mix thoroughly and then pour back into the balance of the milk in the saucepan. Then put a few few spoonfuls of the flour sugar and milk mix into the eggs and combine. The egg mix then goes back into the saucepan and the whole lot stirred over a low heat for a minute or so.

When you roll out your pastry and line your tart moulds it helps to cover and put the lot back in the fridge until you have made the custard filling and let it cool.

I then transfer the custard from the saucepan to a good pouring jug and take the pastry moulds out of the fridge and fill each case to about 1/2 a centimetre from the top.

Then the scary part starts. The oven is smoking, the baking tray is starting to warp and you inevitably burn your hands as you slide the tarts into the confined space of the top shelf, pushing them right to the back. They will take 6 to 10 minutes. Check them at 6. If they are golden brown and the custard ballooning and going black in spots then that will do. If you want a bit more black pop them under a grill. If the are pale then give them another 2 to 4 minutes in the oven.

Take 'em out, sprinkle them with icing sugar and cinnamon if desired and then try to wait long enough not to burn your mouth before devouring them in a single sitting with black tea or an expresso.

The apple tart is a cinch by comparison. Take a single sheet of puff pastry, cut into a circle and top with cored sliced apple in a Tower of Pisa shape. Then sprinkle with Calvados and smother in brown sugar and large dollops of good butter. Bake at maximum heat for 10 minutes and then turn down to 200C and cook for a further 20. After that cook with the grill element on for 2 minutes at a time while you lie on the floor in front of the oven door watching for the critical moment for as long as your nerve will hold.

Take out of the oven and sprinkle with vanilla icing sugar while still hot and serve with clotted cream. Forget the ice cream. After expending that much nervous energy you can afford to use the cream in large quantities!

Relaxing?... Oh yeah!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Umami - How I love Ya

Can there be anything like the mouth watering taste of new season's asparagus in spring or ripe tomatoes in the height summer? Is there a mouth fill quite as distinctive as nori or dried wakame on your sushi rice? Ever wondered why? It's umami.

It was traditionally understood that our tongues could discern only four tastes - sweet and sour and bitter and salty. These were known as "primary" tastes, which, like primary colours, could not be replicated by mixing together any of the other primary tastes. But in 1908 a Japanese researcher, Kikunae Ikeda, working on isolating the flavor in seaweed broth, discovered a fifth primary taste.

This new taste was dubbed umami, from the Japanese word for "tasty" or "brothy" or perhaps "delicious" or "yummy".

But what was it ? In the laboratory of the Tokyo Imperial University the ingredient causing the taste was identified as an amino acid known as glutamic acid.

In 1913 another Japanese scientist discovered that a further substance was responsible for the yumminess of bonito flakes and in 1960 yet another substance was isolated in dried mushrooms. These latter two ingredients were, respectively, nucleotides known as inosinate and guanylate. The three chemicals are collectively known as umami.

Umami coats the tongue and is detected by particular taste receptors which in turn gives rise to secretion of neurotransmitters which convey taste signals to the brain.

It is thought that umami flavour is most potent when accompanied by aroma and the appearance of food. This fits with early research in the USA which found that umami compounds when tasted alone were unpalatable yet when added to food improved its taste.

So is it any wonder that we drool over ripe red fragrant tomatoes or beautiful green asparagus or pick up on the yumminess of aroma rich seaweed or bonito stock, truffles or mushrooms?

Umami taste is present in seafood, meat, vegetables and other foods such as parmesan cheese and green tea. Brillat Savarin was pretty close when he characterised osmazome - the yumminess in veal stock typifies the flavour common to savoury substances such as meat, cheese and mushrooms.

There are high quantities of umami elements in seafood such as sea weed, bonito, mackerel, tuna, prawns, squid , oysters and shellfish and in vegetables such as potatoes and carrots and soy beans.

Heston Blumenthal carried out some experiments and in conjunction with scientists at the faculty of Reading University in the UK wrote an academic paper on umami in tomatoes. The result of the research showed that the umami substance in tomatoes is clearly more abundant in the inner part so that it s important to include the pulp and seeds in soups and sauces.

The most recent paper I could find on umami was published on July 1 this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

It is clear from this study that many questions remain unanswered, chief amongst them being the reason for the unpalatability of pure umami. While several specific receptors that mediate umami taste have been recently identified research on the subject is expected to continue into the next century.

In the meantime enjoy your seaweed safe in the knowledge that all you are doing is exciting sensory fibres that convey taste signals to neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain.

God, don't let them start on sex!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sherri's Boxing Ring & Mary's Healthy Ling

In a month when the Tasmanian Deputy Premier Lara Giddings is abstaining from alcohol for charity, fitness guru Sherri Ring and my wife Mary have taken charge of my health and fitness. This week, after the boxing Ring came Mary's ling.

It is somewhat less than well known that before I involuntarily came to resemble "Cravat -A- Licious" I was, for some time, a serious amateur athlete. As the TV ad goes; "You know how it is - you settle down and let yourself go a bit ... I'm not worried..."

After, nominally, giving up smoking in the mid 1980's I took up running and swimming and, being obsessive compulsive, that soon led to open water swims and racing bikes and pretty soon I was getting up early and competing in short course triathlons.

Well, before you could say Matt Preston, I was running half marathons, then marathons and then ultra marathons and long course triathlons. Half ironmans, Ross to Richmond and Hobart to Cygnet runs, Bruny Island north to south, the Overland Track from Waldheim Chalet to Lake St Clair in 14 hours, Three Peaks and, and , and.

Even during this period of insanity I kept in touch with my inner man. On a rafting trip in individual rafts down the Franklin River in 1988 I cooked for our party of six. No dried jerky and dream stew for us. I took smoked kranskies, kassler and gnocchi and cheese for cider fondue eaten with rusks out of trangias. Overproof Bundaberg and river water completed the evening meals in place of wine.

I really don't know what happened but as I slowed down I started to beef up and when, in January 2006, I broke my ankle climbing up to the Lost World on Mt Wellington and caught a helicopter to the operating theatre, that was really the end of my extreme exercise.
And so I come to my present sad state - mesomorph, morbidly obese, ecstatically happy but, (having given up serious drinking 12 months ago), retaining enough brain cells to know that something must give if I am to live my allotted span. Thus it is that I have given myself up to Sherri's boxing Ring and Mary's healthy meals.

Last week it was a one hour workout comprising warm up, boxing, medicine ball and weights followed by steamed ling and oven baked chips and rocket and walnut salad. I felt good. This week I will don Sherri's boxing gloves again and I think I feel one of Jill Dupleix's salads Nicoise coming on, (apologies to Simon Thomsen for the spiffy photo in the link).

Ah well at least, notwithstanding the ravages of time, I have my food memories to keep me going and to provide me with the motivation to get fit - so I can do it all over again!