Friday, March 08, 2013
This food blog has just turned 3 years old last month. (God, how do you all put up with me for so long?)
Along the way, as I updated my social media connections with various recipes and photos from this little playground of mine, friends and acquaintances some of whom have not spoken to me for years, would suddenly surface and ask if I now own a restaurant, runs a cafe, have a cake shop or have become a chef. The general misconstrued view of how difficult it is to sustain a food industry is still very much widespread, and on that last bit, I shudder to think how many real chefs would be insulted by such parallels drawn against their years of hardship and sacrifices.
Now, before you roll your eyes at me and say 'There she goes again...', allow me to first say I don't blame the general masses. In the wake of Food Network celebrity chefs, countless of 'cookbook writers', food journalist, Masterchef superstars (and, until two years ago, the Australian Masterchef Junior prodigies before people found out it's mostly faked), self-proclaimed blogger-cum-restaurant reviewers; it's not a surprise to see how the professionalism in the toque blanche donning arena somewhat downgraded to diminished respectfulness.
Charlotte Druckman, in her book Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen, examines in the first chapter, what is a chef.
"We're going to see more differentiation between the media start-slash-chef who maybe doesn't have the great foundation in cooking, but as that media star quality; we're going to see the chef who only wants to cook and is respected for the fact that they're in their restaurant pretty much every night; we're going to see the chef who's really good at multiple restaurants and putting together concepts.... You want your experience to be good when you go to a restaurant, but what does that mean exactly? If it's really, really good, does it matter [if the chef is the person touching every plate]?"
-Traci Des Jardins
While I advocate that anyone can cook, like Chef Gusteau said to Remy before the rat went to fix that soup, not everyone can be a chef. Even Nigella, according to herself. The best cookbook writer need not be a chef, the best chefs are usually not very good writers, with the exception of some (who in my opinion wrote some of the best books related to food). The best chefs are though, true advocates of their food, precision and creativity, while being the best captains of their ships.
"I had myself corrected by Jacques Pépin one time when I refused to consider myself a chef, and he said, 'If you're in the kitchen and you are organizing people to produce a meal, you may not be the most accomplished in terms of cooking, but you are, in fact, doing that job, which is the main one in the kitchen, and you cant think of yourself as a cook.' But, for me, a chef has always come with a lot of fanfare and a lot of authority and a lot of experience in the kitchen; and I never went to cooking school, and I've always relied on other people coming in who knew more than I did. And yes, I did dream up menus, and certainly have been a critical taster, and I'm pretty good on the grill, but we work more in a collaboration."
- Alice Waters (of the Chez Panisse fame)
Even as my hands deftly maneuver finicky pastry and whisk classic custards like crème patissière, I know I'm no chef material. Because if I'm making this in a professional kitchen, it would have to be absolutely perfect. Not to mention chances are I won't be able to eat it, or at least eat it sitting down, if I get to eat anything at all. I think it's high time we show more appreciation to those in the food industry, from bus boys to line cooks, interns to chefs, servers to purveyors. There's much more to producing a good meal and eating experience than what we all think we know.
Tarte Framboises (Raspberry Tartlets)
Adapted barely from Manu Feildel's Manu's French Kitchen
To make the crème patissière, place the milk, vanilla pod and scraped seeds in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Bring to just below the boil, then remove from heat. Set aside to cool until just warm, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl.
- 1 quantity Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (recipe follows)
- plain flour, for dusting
- 375 grams fresh raspberries
- strawberry/raspberry/red currant jam (optional, for glaze)
- icing sugar (optional, for dusting)
- 500 milliliters whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
- 6 egg yolks
- 100 grams caster sugar
- 45 grams plain flour
Place the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until thick and pale. Add the flour and mix well. Whisk in half of the warm milk until well combined, then whisk in the remaining milk. Transfer the mixture to a non-stick saucepan and stir continuously over medium-low heat until the mixture comes to the boil, about 2-3 minutes. Continue to whisk until the mixture is thick and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the crème patissière to a cold bowl, then place a piece of cling film directly on top of the cream, touching it to prevent a skin from forming. Leave it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold, about 2-3 hours.
Meanwhile, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 4mm thick, then cut to line 6 12cm tart shells with removable bases. Trim off the excess with a small, sharp knife. Prick the pastry bases with a fork, then refrigerate to rest, about 1 hour.
When ready to bake the tart base, preheat the oven to 180°C.
Line the tart shells with pieces of baking paper, then fill with dried beans/rice/pastry weights. Place the tart tins on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven, remove the weights and baking paper. Return the tart shells into the oven and bake till golden and dry, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Spoon the crème patissière into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm round nozzle, then pipe it evenly into the cooled tart shells - I actually just spooned it directly into the shells. Arrange the raspberries tightly on top. Glaze with melted berry jam and dust with icing sugar, if desired. Serve immediately.
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Yields enough to line a 30-cm tart
Note: I'm using the food processor method here to suit my hot and humid kitchen condition. Manu's recipe uses the stand mixer with the paddle attachment to cream the butter first.
Place the sugar, ground almond and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Process till fine and well combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add in the egg and cubes of cold butter. Pulse in short burst till mixture resembles find breadcrumbs. Pour onto a clean bench top and gather dough into a disc, kneading briefly.
- 90 grams icing sugar, sifted
- 30 grams ground almonds
- 250 grams plain flour, sifted
- 1 egg
- 125 grams cold unsalted butter, chopped
Wrap with cling film and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before using. (If you don't have overnight to work with, chill the dough for at least 2 hours before using.)
Life Is Great explores the incredible world of food and cooking. We hope to share with you our most delicious moments and inspirations.
“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. The you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”
Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
“Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.”
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- Sarawak Kolo Mee
- Momofuku Milk Bar's Banana Cream Pie
- Fennel Squid-Ink Pasta with Baked Cod and the Best Chocolate Pudding
- Tarte Framboises (Raspberry Tartlets)
- Salted Egg Prawns
- Kai Tan Koh/Ji Dan Gao (Steamed Egg Cake, 鸡蛋糕)
- Char Siu (Cantonese Barbecued Pork)
- Gordon Ramsay's Perfect Scrambled Eggs
- Lemon Meringue Tart (Tarte au Citron Meringuée)
- Pan-Seared Scallops with Avocado Puree, Burnt Butter and Quail Eggs
- Hong Kong Part III
- Hong Kong Part II: Zongzi/Bakchang (粽子/肉粽)
- Caffè HABITŪ (the table) at G.O.D. Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Part I
- Australia 2010 Part 1: Melbourne
- Bourke Street Bakery, Sydney
- Il Fornaio, St Kilda
- Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne