the hinata diaries

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tetsuya - my nominee for Australian ambassador

Tetsuya by Testsuya Wakada was another recent acquisition at the Kinokuniya sale.

I have to admit that I'd always been a bit of a Tetsuya skeptic. Having spent, at one stage, 8 childhood vacations in a row in Sydney, and having had to sit through Aussie friends and family endlessly wax lyrical on the wonders and conveniences of the continent, I had developed a determined prejudice against anything Aussie.

"Arid wasteland with no history or culture!" I'd sniff.
"Lowest common denominator wines!" Philippe would pout.

Silly us.

Maybe it's old age, maybe we've just given up fighting it, but we're now slowly warming up to various Aussie concepts.

A mid-day, mid-week beer is no longer slacking off, it's enjoying life.

Wine capped with a twist top isn't always a crime against humanity.

There are worse places to go for a vacation than Perth (e.g. Batam).

And that led me to Tetsuya.

To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect when I bought the book, shrink wrap and all. I'd heard much about him being considered Australia's top chef, and of his celebrated restaurants where reservations have to be made months in advance, but didn't actually know what type of food he served. My best guess was that it was elaborate fusion food: fancy, complicated, fussy.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

What immediately struck me was the simplicity and brevity of his recipes, some stretching their hardest to fill up even half a page. They were clean, they were classic, and almost all seem to follow the same basic principle: emphasize the natural flavours of the main ingredients with light and simple sauces, then dance around them with contrasts in flavour, texture and colour. The book was stunning, and revelatory, and at the same time appeared so intuitive and effortless. I was hooked.

A couple of e-mails later and dinner plans were made. Kit and Marc, our hapless guinea pigs from figs and zucchini flowers night, kindly volunteered to brave our kitchen once again (thanks guys!), and so began the usual mad dash to the supermarket, kitchen appliance store, etc.

The end products:

Consomme of Tomato and Tea

Quick comments: Flavourful despite its lightness. Need to make sure you strain the tea out quickly though, I left mine in too long and the tannins made it very bitter.

Sashimi of Hamachi with Blood Orange and Ginger Vinaigrette

QC: Everything about this dish is great - the flavours, the colours, the textures. I'd upsize this for a summer lunch or light supper. Used balsamic instead of sherry vinegar as I had it on hand, and similarly substituted a brief squeeze of grapefruit juice for orange oil. It works best if the hamachi slices are cut fairly thick to balance the strong citrus flavours.

Pan Seared Foie Gras on Rice with Avocado Puree

QC: Looked elaborate but tasted incredibly homey, like fried rice with a superstar makeover. Like the sashimi, this could easily be upsized to be a meal on its own.

Spaghettini with Cauliflower Sauce

QC: Pasta is tossed in Tetsuya's cold cauliflower soup, also in the book. Couldn't get shiso at the last minute so topped it with these daikon sprouts (kaiware daikon) from my neighbourhood Japanese supermarket. They look innocent but are actually incredibly peppery, great for spicing up the dish. Philippe and I had the leftover cauliflower soup for supper two days later, chilled but with piping hot cheese toast, and it was great.

Green Tea Panna Cotta with Kiwi Berries

QC: This was actually taken from Jane Lawson's Yoshoku, where it was topped with rhubarb. I couldn't resist the kiwi berries, which looked and tasted amusingly of grapes on steroids. Surprisingly, the combination of green tea, sugar and cream produced a flavour that was almost more pandan than tea.

So there you go, my little culinary traipse to Sydney. I've emerged enlightened, humbled and fully converted to the joys of Australian cuisine.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some cricket to watch and a koala to hug.


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