Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aussie Rules

It has been a long time (when hasn’t it) since the last blog. Bad blogger blah blah,won’t happen next time (probably will), let’s get over the excuses and get down to business. Business being Australia.

Now I must admit I was a little bit perplexed when it came to the Australia blog post. I know that Aussie food is delicious and healthy and has a whole range of influences from all over Asia, but on the whole, you know (don’t shoot me), I was beginning to think “It’s nothing we’ve not seen in England....” In fact. I was thinking of not doing an Aussie blog post so I could hide my mixed feelings from you all and pretend that I didn’t go at all and therefore didn’t need to write a blog post on it.

When I arrived, I saw how wrong and snooty I’d been. Anyone who’s watched an episode of Masterchef Down Under or whatever they’ve called it (curiously addictive) will see that Australia has a lot to teach the world about food . But I was still a little baffled about what to do for the blog. Until Tijana, saviour that she is, came up with the world’s most fantastic idea. I should go and test my skills in a commercial kitchen, namely the one at Lurleen’s – one of Brisbane’s top restaurants. She knew a friend of a friend who could get me a work experience day there...

Of course, I said yes without a moment’s thought, me! Working in a kitchen! With real chefs, in fact someone who has been named one of Australia’s top chefs (Andrew Mirosch). Get out of here. I hero-worship chefs in a way that most teenagers look up to high-pitched squeaky-clean pop stars, that is to say unashamedly and wholeheartedly.

But, as the day drew closer, I began to get a bit nervous. It was all very well and good saying I wanted to work in the country’s top kitchens, but why on earth would they want me? My talents in the kitchen so far haven’t extended to catering for over 200 at breakfast, and 400 for lunch and dinner. And I was going in on a Sunday! One of their busiest days! Truth be told, I was rather cacking it. They have ridiculously sharp knives, what if in my state of nerves I chopped a finger off? Or screwed up an important dish.

Finally, it was time to put my worries aside and do the deed. Although the restaurant is in Brisbane, it’s a good half an hour outside of the city, based on the Sirromet Winery estate. Brisbane’s not quite Australia’s Hunter Valley, but if you are looking to try something different, Sirromet is turning out some pretty impressive and tasty tipples – and the grounds are filled with wallabies hopping around and a few koalas thrown in for extra measure – perfect for a Sunday afternoon’s meandering after a wine tasting session and lunch in the restaurant.

By the time I stepped into the kitchen, I was pretty calm. Dressed up in my chef whites (if I’m honest, not the best look I’ve ever sported. I bore a disheartening resemblance to a kitchen roll), I’d barely got through the introductions before I was put through my paces. I’d worried about Mirosch being some kind of shouty tyrant who would chew me up and spit me out in pieces but he was friendly, albeit a bit distracted by the ever increasing numbers of patrons sitting at the tables (who goes for Sunday breakfast at 9am out of the city? People’s dedication to the food cause never ceases to amaze me).

After establishing that this was my first time in a commercial kitchen, Mirosch put me under the capable hands of his sous chef who set me to work..... plucking herbs.Even my enthusiasm wilted when I was faced with what I can only describe as a mountain of parsley which would require my deft fingers and undivided attention for the near future. Soon enough though, I was caught in the rhythm of the work and chatting to the other chefs about working at Lurleen’s – surprised at how all of them seem to remain calm under the constant pressure and orders flying around the kitchen.

Hanging around the dessert section...

For the next few hours, I watched as they served up breakfast after breakfast, chopping, chatting, arranging and occasionally swearing if it went a little awry, without even batting an eyelid. It was impressive. More impressive was the huge pile presented to me at the end of the rush “here’s some breakfast for you” Mirosch smiled. I’ve always been a lover of the full English fry up but delicious as it was, this one defeated me. It might have been the best English breakfast I’ve tasted though, which was very disconcerting as I’d always thought it was one of the (many) things we did rather well.

Soon after, I’d finished picking the mountain of parsley and set to work on making a salsa verde under the eagle eye of the chef next to me. It was depressing how quickly the parsley I’d spent ages preparing was gobbled up by the food processor, but the final product was well worth it – tangy and with just the right amount of kick to it.

“So, how do you feel about doing something with fire?” Err, bloody amazing. Turns out it was frying the straw potatoes for lunch until they were just the right colour but I was proud when they were declared perfect, and sent out to the diners who had ordered them. Yay.

The rest of the day passed like that; odd jobs here and there – nothing too hard. I chopped stuff and didn’t chop my finger off, made guacamole (very naaaayce), washed veg, and took some pictures when I could.

By the time it was over I was knackered, the heat was incredible and I was sweaty, dishevelled and my feet ached, but it was definitely worth it. Especially when I got out just in time for a sparkling wine on the grass, a walk around the grounds and a bit of sunbaking in the afternoon sun...