Sunday, May 22, 2005

Victory Day for the Russians and one for us

Who could wish for a better time to be in Moscow than on the Victory Day weekend?

27 million Russians died in WW2 and Victory Day celebrates the end of this lunatic period in history. But Russians also love to celebrate life and so Benjamin Christie and I were in Moscow adding flavour to the Australia Week events organised by Gregory Klumov and his hard-working team at Austrade, Moscow. See Benjamin's blog for more info on the Australia Week event.

We also met and talked with one of Vladimir Putin's guests, none other than our own Governor General.

We started the week of the food promotion with a gala cocktail event which showered as many complements on us as there were fireworks which lit up the city the night before.

I'll always remember the feedback of "That food was at a very high level"; "Great flavours, really interesting food"; and "Everybody's talking about the food"; or "I loved the noodles with quandong and the seafood sausages, in fact everything was great"; then, "The desserts were incredible" and literally, a smorgasbord more.

Oz lemon monkfish cooked in paperbark

Chocolate and pepermint mousse
Belgian chocolate and Australian peppermint mousse

It's totally satisfying when over 450 people get what we worked hard to accomplish - a menu which can only be Australian cuisine because of the unique ingredients which made it so. And today, both Benjamin and myself were really chuffed when we learned that were acknowledged in Moscow in the speech by the Governor General, His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery when he said:

"I also hope you will sample some of the magnificent Australian cuisine ... available in this (The Radisson SAS) hotel’s Talavera Restaurant during the Australian Food and Wine Week. Two of Australia’s finest chefs (Vic Cherikoff and Benjamin Christie) have come to Moscow to prepare a selection of dishes using Australian ingredients that are renowned for their quality, taste and purity."

Isn't it ironic that the interest in our native foods predominantly comes from Europe, Asia and the Americas and not from our con-fusion chefs back home? Isn't it embarrassing to fly Qantas and be served food which would be more at home on Alitalia or Singapore Airlines?

The GG went on to refer to the wisdom of the Russian proverb which says “it is not the horse that draws the cart, but the oats.”

And I think that perhaps it will not be the food media personalities, the PR or celebrity chefs who create Australian cuisine but the quality, taste and purity of our once wild ingredients which are quintessentially Australian. It will come from those creative, newly trained chefs just out of college or chauvinistic cooks who do the hard yards, both groups of chefs who feel Australian, are proud to be Australian and do not pretend or feel the need to be MediterrAsian.

Victory Day in Moscow, for me at least, also reflected a victory of another kind.

It has been a battle, maybe even a war but there is a new beginning as Cherikoff Rare Spices inspire creative chefs, event guests and organisers and even the Governor General.

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Dining Downunder on Clam Chowder in Newport, RI

Dining Downunder(TM) from Australia to compete at the upcoming, 24th Annual International Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-off

NEWPORT, RI, May 22, 2005 – The 24th Annual International Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off announces that Dining Downunder(TM) from Sydney, Australia will be competing in the “Most Creative” category with its “Wildfire Chowder” at the upcoming event, to be held on Saturday, June 4, 2005 from 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. at the Newport Yachting Center in Newport, Rhode Island.

Dining Downunder(TM) is a concept by Australian wild food devotee, television host and author, Vic Cherikoff, who travels around Australia and the world with his fellow chef, Benjamin Christie, cooking native cuisine and putting a twist into dishes inspired by the special places they visit. Cherikoff, an expert in native Australian foods, has been credited with pioneering the development of a uniquely Australian cuisine through his commercialization of a selection of indigenous species. Through his Australian spice and seasonings business, Cherikoff Rare Spices, he now provides ingredients for a long list of restaurants, caterers, airlines and a growing number of manufacturers, from mainstream to boutiques, in Australia and over 16 countries.

“We love taking local recipes from different cultures and putting an Australian spin on them by incorporating indigenous flavors to add that authentic Australian taste,” said Cherikoff of Dining Downunder. “For the Great Chowder Cook we’ll be using some of our native Australian herbs and spices in combination with some Aboriginal cooking methods. We hope adding a little Australia to a traditional New England soup will be a winning combination!”

The Great Chowder Cook-Off features all-you-can-eat “chowda” made by chefs who work at leading restaurants, businesses and institutional dining facilities across the country and around the globe. Chefs serve samples to the thousands of chowder loving judges while competing for the coveted title of “Best Clam,” “Best Seafood,” and “Most Creative” chowder, as well as “Best Clam Cake”.

“We’ve had competitors from as far away as Ireland and Bermuda over the years but an entry from Australia will definitely be the longest traveled,” said Rich Hopkins, Festival Director for the Newport Yachting Center. “Having Dining Downunder participate this year is further proof that the word is truly spreading around the world about the quality of our Great Chowder Cook-Off. I have no doubt that our festival-goers will get a taste of Australia they will never forget when they sample Vic and Benjamin’s creative chowder.”

Three stages of live entertainment, an expanded children’s area, a Silent Auction and other fund raising activities for local non-profits, a Culinary Stage showcasing creative specialties and a Marketplace with a variety of crafts and specialty items add to the festive atmosphere.

After a close competition for bragging rights and over $10,000 in prizes and awards, last year's first place chowder winners were “Best Clam” - Captain Parker’s Pub, West Yarmouth, MA; “Best Seafood” - Davenport’s Bar & Grill, East Providence, RI: and “Most Creative”- Blue Mermaid Chowder House and Bar, San Francisco, CA. The “Best Clam Cake” winner was Chelo’s Restaurants at locations throughout Rhode Island.

This year, the gates will open at 11:00 a.m. and the celebration will continue until 6:00 p.m. when the winners in each major category will be announced. Ticket prices for the International Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off are $10.00 for adults in advance of the show and $15 the day of the event. Children under the age of 12 are admitted for free as long as an adult accompanies them. Tickets are available through the Newport Yachting Center Box Office at (401) 846-1600. Tickets can also be ordered on the web at:

David Hughes, Dodge Associates, Inc.
(401) 273-7310

PHOTOS: Downloadable hi-res images are available online at:

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Opportunities for building your market in Japan

Dining Downunder* is currently planning a week long Australian Cuisine Promotion at the Hilton Nagoya from the 8th to the 15th of July 2005.

The Australian food event has been triggered by our show’s broadcast into Japan via the ABC Asia Pacific and the World Expo which is being held in Nagoya till September.

We are currently seeking Australian food and wine companies to benefit from an association with the event. These partner companies would either already be exporting or be interested in developing exports to Japan.

Partners already confirmed for the event include Australian Airlines and MLA but other products to be showcased during the promotion are still sought. Companies will receive their logo on menus and promotional brochures; gain exposure in the local media and press releases; be presented to a food service market during the promotion and be included in the supply chain options we build.

Japan has been Australia’s largest export market for 35 years and accounts for $22 billion, or 19 per cent of Australia’s total exports. We hope to add more Australian foods, beverages and other produce to this significant trade through an association with our very popular Australian cuisine promotions and television cooking show. The Japanese market is a difficult one to penetrate and then to maintain as the competition for discretionary funds is very high. However, the food scene is changing rapidly and locals actively seek new food experiences, for example, Italian cuisine is growing in popularity and breakfasts are changing from hot, soft and savoury to cold, crunchy and sweet.

There is also the opportunity for companies to take a commercial position for the next broadcast of the 13 weekly episodes of Dining Downunder which will go out over 13 million homes and to a business and holiday market in over 192,000 hotel rooms. The audience is predominantly Asian locals with a significant disposable income and more than a passing interest in Australia. ABC Asia Pacific has a measured expat audience of 1.6%.

The 438-room Hilton Nagoya, located at the centre of the business, shopping and entertainment areas of the city and only 12 kilometres from Nagoya Airport, offers a wide range of leisure and business facilities as well as a ballroom which can host up to 1,200 guests.

For more information please contact me via email.

* Dining Downunder is a trade mark of the Cherikoff Family Trust and is used under licence

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Robert Maklowicz and Australian cuisine

It seems there's never enough time these days. Too much to do, too many decisions as to the highest and best use of our precious 1080 minutes each day (I deducted 6 hours for those minor irritations of eating, sleeping and other non-productive activities).

But let me look back on the last month from this vantage point:

Four weeks ago I was asked to give a celebrity chef from Poland, Robert Maklowicz, an insight into Australian cuisine and so I took him on a tour of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens (notice that's botanic as in manic not botanical or maniacal, although I have been described as botanically manic on occasion). While at the RBG, we met up with Clarence Slockee who works at the Gardens as part of the Indigenous Education program, teaching visitors and particularly schoolies all about Aboriginal concepts of the interactions of plants and people.

Clarence Slockee

It is a great shame that we do not have traditions of this relationship with our country. It would go a long way to solving many environmental challenges we have and provide a huge number of opportunities for land holders to offer locally indigenous produce and then develop a true regionally local cuisine. It may yet happen in time even if to a much lesser degree than once was possible.


The scheduled next stop was postponed as the skies opened up and it began to pour down. We high tailed it to the Fish Markets and Robert set up in front of Peters Seafood and cooked up some prawns in a Thai style chilli sauce as a reflection of the Asian fusion influence in our cuisine.

The sky cleared (no, I don't have direct links up there but I am often amazed at the luck I have with the weather during events such as these) and from the Fish Markets, we moved to that promontory at the Rocks which looks out to what was once the perfect campsite but is now occupied by the Opera House. At least it is a useful tourism icon as so few Australians actually go there for concerts etc. We also had views up to the Harbour Bridge and commented on the line of human ants constantly scaling the walkways to the top. From where we stood, you could almost hear the cash registers ringing at $100 a pop.

Robert Maklowicz and Vic Cherikoff

But back on solid ground, Robert and I cooked up some barramundi in paperbark, we re-created a windswept Sydney Salad and I rolled out one of my Wattleseed pavlovas. They were pretty standard dishes I know, but still completely new to Robert's TV audience of 4 million each week who watch his cooking show across Poland. It was obviously very effective though, as we now have already had inquiries to hold one of our Dining Downunder, Australian Cuisine Promotions in Warsaw.

Robert Maklowicz is a mega star in Poland and recognised as an authority on good food and good eating. He's actually a food historian who cooks, I suppose not unlike myself (a scientist who cooks) and he found the slow development of our amazing flavours somewhat bemusing. Certainly, the flavours themselves impressed him and his whole crew of foodies too. Ingredients which stood out for him were paparbark, Wattleseed and Oz Lemon - my intense and versatile lemon myrtle mix. I even made Robert and a few of his crew an Oz Lemon tea as they were suffering from traveler's throat, probably aggravated by the air conditioning in the hotel rooms. The citral in the lemon myrtle in Oz lemon cleared up any problems as it generally does and the other components kept them buzzing the rest of the day.

The visit to Australia to film episodes for the “Culinary Journeys of Robert Maklowicz” has been supported by Austrade, Tourism Australia, Business ACT, Tourism Western Australia and of course, Cherikoff Rare Spices.

I'll post a copy of the episode when it arrives so watch this space - or better still, subscribe here to be notified by email. Alternatively, remember you can subscribe to this newsfeed by pasting either of the following links into the appropriate RSS Reader (for more on RSS have a look at this great site or check out the simple introduction to using RSS technology here).

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More than a shrimp on the barbie

Anyone who has Google alerts for anything published on the web in food, Australian cuisine and related topics might have seen the very strange article in Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. I am stunned by the article which begs a follow up story: More than just four chefs in Sydney.

I cannot believe that Donna Hay, whose work and books I admire greatly, could recommend a glorified fish and chip shop on the harbour as somewhere to actually go and eat! Get takeaway from any corner store if you must and sit of the wharf for free, at least you will pay a tenth for the same thing all up. The seagulls will also be more entertaining than the waiters' attitudes.

Then there's no mention of the dozens of chefs who are committed to their craft and trades, chefs at Hugos, Milton Park, Banjo Patterson Cottage Restaurant, the Red Centre, Victoria Room and others who turn out great food using authentic flavours of Australia. For a good guide on these and to unlock the culinary scene which extends way past the media chefs, may I refer readers to the unparalleled website at de Groots Best restaurants of Australia?

I get the nagging suspicion that this article was written from the recycled press releases from our venerable Tourism organisation which must derive some benefit from focussing on the over-exposed media chefs of Sydney. Who can afford to go to their venues (if they are actually there) and why is it that they wipe mention of more deserving chefs in our industry. And what real benefit do these chefs deliver when all they promote is themselves.

Guam and the Pacific Hotel And Restaurant Expo

We flew into Guam courtesy of Continental Airlines and were picked up by the driver from the Hyatt Regency Guam who drove the 10 minutes around the ridge to the hotel. The promotion started badly with the rear door flung open and my laptop bag dropping the half metre to the ground. Luckily it wasn't damaged as it is my life-blood and contact with my business in Sydney.

I'm not sure if the driver expected a tip but I thought something along the lines of be good to your mother as she's the only one loving you right now. If the laptop had been damaged he'd be looking for some solid parental care about then too.

Anyway. All was well and we settled in, got the lay of the land and guided through the maze of corridors from restaurant to banquet kitchen to stores and butchery, pastry and other back of house tunnels and lifts. We got the hang of it but I still had to constantly think of where I was going and how. And the toughest part was that the pools and beach outside the hotel were inviting us from our hotel rooms yet apart from the BBQ just outside the restaurant, we didn't have the time to go anywhere.

Hyatt Regency Guam

Hyatt Regency Guam

The Hyatt promotion was in la Mirenda outlet which featured a buffet with a demonstration kitchen servicing the hot dishes, salad bars, outside barbeque for dinner and various live cooking stations. Benjamin spent a great deal of time in that production plant during lunch and dinner and churned and turned great dishes for the appreciative diners who came by.

Exec Chef, Hermann Grossbichler and Exec Sous Chef, Ian Crough really worked hard in supporting us with Hermann having kittens as we headed off to the local radio station on the morning of the first day of the promotion. They must have had some dreadful interviews in the past as they said we'd have 6-7 minutes on air. Anyway. We were sufficiently entertaining and Benjamin and I chatted with Ray and Patti, the two radio announcers for over an hour and they both came to lunch that very day. Benjamin has posted the interview on his website so go on over and check it out. In fact, Benjamin wrote up a terrific coverage of the entire event so I'll refer you to his story here.

About 7pm, Hermann grabbed me to go off to the Micronesian Chefs Association meeting and they were good enough to let me rave on a while telling them all about this new trend in food and that they should come on over to the Dining Downunder promotion and taste what Aussie food is all about. And they came. Nearly all 60 of them tried out our food over the next week and we really had some great feedback and interest. This means my ingredients should find a solid market in Guam and my new distributor, Triple J Guam is offering his services with some consolidation out of Cairns.

Two products we took over with us which were not part of the regular stable of Cherikoff Rare Spices but which I hope will grow into serious business in Guam. The first was Pastatime's Oz lemon linguini and a Rainforest herb linguini and we went through vast volumes serving them with simple cream sauces or just plain macadamia nut oil. They really complemented fish, chicken and stir-fry vege dishes Benjamin concocted for the daily changing menu.

We also had some amazing dairy free, Pistacchio heart and Oz lemon shortbread and a Wattleseed and pistacchio biscotti. These came from For Goodness Sake cookies and I will work at getting then as regular items on Guam menus. Check them out yourself.

One event which we offer as a part of our promotions is the cooking class. This had some interest so it was scheduled for Saturday lunchtime. Previous classes during promotions attracted 6-8 attendees with 12 setting the record so far.

Dining-Downunder cooking school

You can believe I was gratified when 24 starters showed up to wrap, drizzle and roll their way through my teaching menu. For a more detail lowdown on the course have a look at this.

Benjamin and I have been back a week and we are now packing for Moscow and a stint at the Radisson SAS Slavyanskaya while Dining Downunder chef, Dayle Merlo heads to Kuala Lumpur to cook at the Grand Plaza Parkroyal Kuala Lumpur. Benjamin has done a fine job in writing up both these events so I'll simply refer you to his blog on Dayle's event and ours.

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Australian food in Guam - well, getting there, anyway.

April had me and Benjamin Christie in Cairns on the way to a Dining Downunder Australian Cuisine Promotion in Guam in the tropical paradise of Micronesia.

We were in Cairns for a day and took the oppportunity to visit my Cairns distributor, Garozzo Food Distributors at Portsmith and now one of the Bidvest flagships. We are involved in a food show they are going to hold later in the year but I'll let you know more closer to the event.

There's a very well known restaurant in Cairns which uses Australian ingredients as a marketing tool (there are a few actually but I won't mention specifics and why, will become obvious) and we kept asking taxi drivers, tourist offices and other locals where we could go for something interesting to eat in town. They all recommended this place so we kept asking if they had eaten there, what they thought and generally probed for some deep seated truths. Well. If you are a restaurateur, you really need to try this anonymously. After all. Your reputation is everything, including your future.

This particular establishment was top of mind but regarded as expensive when pressed. Most commented it was good for tourists even though many hadn't eaten there themselves. Various meats were often described (with the not so subtle implication of 'if you want to eat those'). So we had to try the fare for ourselves.

I introduced myself to the chef who was too busy to come out to say hello to Benjamin and a local commercial pilot who taught Benjamin to fly and who had joined us at the table. I asked what the chef recommended and he flippantly said everything on the menu. So back I went to order at the table where the tappas plates (2 varieties) were recommended. I asked that the message be conveyed to the chef that we were looking forward to his making us something special and the two tappas plates were perfect.

Have you ever had a meal which was so underwhelming that you resented paying for it? One that then annoyed you for the next 3 days as though you had been violated? Perhaps our expectations were unreasonably high that we actually anticipated some interesting flavours from this Cairns institution. I am now left with the challenge of thinking how best to approach the chef and tell him his flavours suck. It was a fine example of the fiddle factor where the price is directly proportional to the degree the chef fiddles with your food.

The tappas had a teaspoonful of salsa, albeit with perfectly diced mango but still, only mango flavour (why not some Wild mint or Oz lemon); and towers of some grated vegetables with no discernable flavour; a wonton of some dried mince you'd normally find in a chew and spew at the back of some fry shop right on clean up time. It was meant to be crocodile but even Steve (Crocodile Hunter) Irwin would have been proud of this as a way to turn anyone off eating Snappy. There were three of us but two of many of the smallest tastings I'd seen in a while and which defied cutting up. There was little to complement which disturbs me greatly for such an iconic establishment. The locals were right. You wouldn't go there again nor recommend it to your friends, only to 'tourists'. But why is it that we believe they can be ripped off and still think kindly of us?

A wild lime sauce was served next to some ponzu but should have been already mixed. How would any diner, visiting or local, know that the chef forgot to finish the lime sauce and provided the means in the neighbouring dish. I suppose it's the Cairns equivalent of those chefs who leave the pepper addition to their waiters, as the ubiquitous arm-long peppermill provides the final balance of tastes in a dish, irrespective of the intended flavour combinations. Funny thing though. The waiter never told us that we had to mix our own sauce.

I guess time will tell as to the continued success of this place. Market forces are all powerful when it comes to weeding out the businesses who do not add any real substance to the value chain. The chef may be big enough to ask for assistance and I'd be happy to give it for free. We shall wait and see. I was expecting to ask him to join our Ambassadour Chefs program as a representative of Dining Downunder but there's no way yet.

And as for Guam. It'll have to wait for my next blog. Incidentally, I wrote this blog while lunching on a home-cooked steak with crisp snow peas and a mushroom cream made heavenly with a generous sprinkling of aniseed myrtle and a nudge of my Wattleseed extract in the cream. The paperbark smoked beetroot provided colour and texture contrast and another flavour highlight on the plate. Did I mention that the steak had been marinated in Ozyaki (a trade marked sauce we are about to launch into production and full of Alpine pepper pungents, sweet soy and herb aromatics)? I just followed the tried and tested formula of a multitude of textures, all the seven tastes in balance*, concentrations of unexpected and different flavours and no fiddle factor.

* sweet, sour, bitter, salty, aromatic, pungent and Maillard or umami if you like, which are those toasted, roasted grill flavours as in Wattleseed, chocolate, coffee, toast etc

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