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Dan Lepard – Good Food Month

Dan Lepard – Good Food Month

Dan Lepard’s 2004 book,  The Handmade Loaf, gained a cult following amongst bakers and remains the ‘go to’ guide for anyone seriously interesting in baking.

In Sydney for the SMH Good Food Month, Melbourne-born Dan regularly visits family in Australia and was a judge on Channel 9’s ‘Great Australian Bake-Off’.

Dan’s career has been extraordinary and I recommend you explore his own website and his Wikipedia listing (which contains numerous factoids I suspect Dan Lepard is far too lovely to blow his own trumpet about).

I spoke with Dan as he was preparing an exclusive dinner at Sydney’s two-hat Ester restaurant in Chippendale featuring ‘… forgotten grains and rare spices with the very best of Australia’s new season farm produce, cooked in a wood-fired oven’.

As one of the many people around the world who live by The Handmade Loaf, it was great to finally meet and chat with Dan about how the boy from suburban Melbourne left home to embark on an incredible journey.




Being a Muslim woman in Newcastle

After a recent visit to Newcastle’s Mosque I was invited to take my family to the Newcastle Eid al-Adha celebrations. I took the opportunity to try and bust a few myths about being a Muslim woman by asking a group of them to tell their own stories over vast quantities of cakes and sweets.

Diana Rah is the vice-president of the Newcastle Muslim Association and I joined her along with a small circle of Muslim women as she explained the celebrations underway at the University of Newcastle.

“We have two Eids each year; one is Eid al-Fitr and that’s the celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramandan, and we have this second celebration which is Eid al-Adha, this is a time that Muslims perform the Hajj pilgrimage, the pilgrimage to Mecca.”

“As Muslims, and you can see that we’re from so many different cultural backgrounds, our God is the God of all and we send, on this day especially, our best wishes to everyone from every race culture and religion.”

The group of women gathered to chat on this warm Saturday look like a tiny United Nations. Diana points out that there are 28 countries represented among the families busy with barbeques, conversations and children swarming over the jumping castle.

This small group of women, amongst other things, includes a dentist, a science student and a fitness instructor.

There are many questions I want to ask them, but firstly I want to know how they feel in the Newcastle community, given the broad discussion of all things Muslim at the moment – and not much of it positive.

Despeana has lived in the Hunter all of her life, and is not a Muslim by birth, or marriage.

“Newcastle has always been a lovely place to live in, I’ve noticed that some of the sisters have mentioned to me that they’re a little bit concerned about stepping out on their own.”

“I came into Islam as a choice, prior to finding out about Islam in 2002 I had no idea who Muslims were. I became involved with the Muslim community and discovered what beautiful people they are and I became one of them because of the love I felt here.”

“I don’t see what all the hype is about, I don’t understand it, but now we, and me myself are in a position that we feel threatened.”

Avelina doesn’t actually wear a veil, “I don’t normally wear a veil, my husband would like me to I’m sure but he’s happy with me to not wear a veil. It’s up to me 100 percent and he supports that decision.”

Avelina says when she has worn hijab in public she has always felt safe and hasn’t experienced any problems, but she does say she notices how people behave when she is out in public with her mother-in-law who does wear hijab, “When I walk with my mother-in-law who wears a hijab I often see people – she doesn’t notice, I notice – if anyone was to approach I would definitely say something.”

“I think people just need to realise it’s (hijab) part of who we are and whether we wear it or not it doesn’t make us any different.”

Avelina is a fitness instructor who works in women’s gyms and with children in schools and relates what is probably a common experience.

“I was actually in the gym doing my own workout and waiting for the class to start when the lady next to me commented on the stories in the news, “It’s terrible what’s happening with these terrorists around our country,” she said. I asked what she meant and she said, “These Muslims, they’re taking over and the women are wearing burqas and they’re scary and they frighten me.”

I said, “I’m a Muslim, do I frighten you?’ and she said, ‘No, I don’t mean you, I mean like those other Muslims!’ I explained to her that we’re all the same, that we might wear hijab or burqa and that I don’t but that we’re no different. She was shocked.”

There has been a prominent social media campaign over the last week or so called #WISH – Women in Solidarity with Hijabis – in which non-Muslim women are sharing photos of themselves wearing hijab.

There has also been some criticism of #WISH so I sought the opinion of the Muslim women I had in front of me – what do they think of it, is it offensive?

Unanimously the women assured me that it wasn’t seen as offensive. Indeed Diana Rah thinks women are doing an excellent job with #WISH, “No-one in our community is offended by it, we actually feel very supported by it and we love them for it.”

Dalia agrees, “I believe this is very supportive, you should try it yourself and see how the Muslim woman feels.” I assured her I did on my visit to Newcastle’s Mosque a week ago but that I got hot and sweaty.

Dalia says women at her gym often express concern about her being too hot, but she laughs, “I’m used to it! They keep telling me, ‘You must be very hot’, and I understand but when you’ve been wearing it for years you get used to it.”

Gym instructor, Avelina, “I can’t imagine (wearing it at the gym). I get so sweaty and so hot, even my hair I wish I could cut it all off let alone wear a scarf! I admire every woman who wears a scarf, their faces just glow and they look so beautiful, it’s admirable.”

Farida has come to Newcastle from Cape Town but is originally from Burundi in Central Africa, “I left my country 15 years ago because of the war but I just arrived in Newcastle two years ago.”

Generally the women I spoke with have had mostly good experiences of being Muslim women as members of a minority. Diana Rah says it’s only recently that problems have occurred.

“So far in Newcastle we’ve had a very good relationship with the wider community and we haven’t really ever had these problems that have happened in the last couple of months. I think that they’ve seen that in Newcastle and they do feel safe here but I think there are isolated instances of abuse like verbal abuse and the odd finger (gesture) here and there.”

Farida is concerned that this may change in the current environment, “I hope and we pray very hard that the government must find a solution to see how they’re going to protect the country because Australia is a peace(ful) country. We have the right to choose any religion we want and to wear what we want.”

Dalia has found the recent media discussion of what Muslim women wear to be shocking, “What I’ve known is that Australia is a free country and they support women and I know that the government usually supports women rights. So the idea of discussing what to wear is not what I expected. I wear hijab because I’m a Muslim lady and this is what I believe in. I believe that a women should cover her hair and it shouldn’t be seen by strangers.”

It is often claimed that Muslim women who wear a veil are oppressed. Despeana begs to differ, “No. We are not oppressed. It was my decision to wear the veil. Yes, I decided to become a Muslim in 2002, I wasn’t married at the time, my husband didn’t have a say (in it) – nobody’s pushing me to do this, it was my choice. Yes, it was a bit difficult becoming accustomed to it after being a non-Muslim and not wearing one, but I believe Allah gave me the strength and I just want to please my God. No-one is forcing me to do anything.”

Diana Rah agrees, “There is no compulsion in our religion and wearing a hijab is entirely a woman’s choice. There’s a huge misconception put out by the media and others to say that a women is forced to cover her head by her husband, by her son, her father, whoever, but this is entirely our choice.”

“I had an incident in Beaumont Street last week when we were stopped by two men who wanted to teach us about Christianity. He was very loud and overpowering, very tall and wanted to tell us what he thought about his religion. We accept that because we believe everybody has the right to converse and exchange ideas. But we need to respect each others opinions without becoming angry. He disagreed with something I put forward and then he refused to speak to me further. There is no need to be aggressive. But we need to converse and learn from one another. He was looking to agitate me but I walked away.”

What I have taken away from spending the morning with these women is that, for them, wearing hijab is simply an act of faith – the same as a Christian may choose to wear a crucifix or other religious icon.

If you want to know what a Muslim woman thinks – just ask one!

There is a national Mosque Open Day coming up around Australia on October 25, however the Newcastle Muslim Association will be opening their mosque to the public on Sunday 19 October so as to not clash with state government by-elections in Newcastle and Charlestown.

Fat is flavour

Jennifer McLagan says she grew up eating fat and never realised it was supposed to be bad for her, “We bought lard from the butcher’s store and I think it was through the 1970s in Australia that it started to change. In the US, people were trying to find out why heart disease was increasing and all of a sudden something we’d been eating from the beginning of time became ‘bad’ for us. If they’d been right we should now all be very healthy and fit and heart disease should have disappeared, but it’s not like that.”

Growing up in Australia, Jennifer is now based in Toronto, Canada, and says the manipulation of foods to make them ‘lite’ in itself creates a problem, “Once you take the fat out, you have to put something back in because fat carries flavour – fat is flavour. When fat is taken out it’s usually replaced with sugars, they replace the fats with carbohydrates. Replacing expensive animal fats with cheap vegetable oils only benefits industrial food manufacturers.”

Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma has said, ‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food’, and while Jennifer McLagan agrees with that statement, she says it’s not quite that simple.

“My grandmother didn’t eat starfruit, or ginger, and hardly any garlic so I think we have to be a little careful of that, but I agree with him that if we’re shopping at the supermarket we should be shopping around the outside where the fruit and vegetables are. The yam and the sweet potato doesn’t have a sign on it saying it’s fat-free or gluten-free. Science doesn’t have all the answers and when it comes to diet it’s very complex and complicated and each one of us is our own organism and what we eat will react differently with our bodies.”

Why does fat contain flavour? Jennifer says there are a lot of things that can only be carried by fat-volatile oils, “It’s also a way to deliver vitamins, a lot of our vitamins are only fat-soluble so when people buy skim milk or 0% milk – which isn’t milk at all – and it’s got added vitamins A and D, they’re fat-soluble vitamins. You need fat for your body to be able to take them in! What’s wrong with whole milk? I grew up with milk that had cream on the top of the bottle and it’s only 3.8% fat – it’s not like it’s a huge amount of fat and it’s very good for you. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Fat is wonderfully satisfying, so if you eat something with a good amount of fat in it you get pretty full and you don’t have a second or fourth piece of pork belly, but those fat-free cookies? You could eat a whole package!”

Jennifer McLagan has released several fascinating books about food – ‘Fat’ is just one, there is also ‘Odd Bits’ and ‘Bone’, so where does her fascination with the bits that are often considered waste in a Western diet come from?

“I grew up with split pea and ham bone soup, Irish stew, brains and bacon, we ate ox tail. These were the foods of my childhood and they were delicious. I worked in North America as a food stylist for a long time and everything was boneless, tasteless chicken breast and it was driving me crazy. Why aren’t we eating the bone? Why are we throwing the best part of the animal away and thinking the lean fillet is delicious when it isn’t. I went on a quest to bring that back, to try to convince people that these were the most delicious parts of the animal to eat. Organ meats are full of vitamins and minerals and people are scared of them but they’re absolutely delicious.”

“It isn’t that far back that we were eating all those things but with industrial farming meat became very cheap so we could all eat steak all the time and thought it was better, but it isn’t. It’s much more interesting to eat heart and lung and liver and ox tail and there’s lots of ways of cooking them and eating them.”

“It’s interesting how we now see them as second-rate cuts when we should see them as the prime cuts.”

Jennifer points out that fats are not equal. Pork, for example, is unsaturated fat.

“Everyone thinks animal fats are saturated fats. But there’s saturated and unsaturated – unsaturated you can break down into polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. Every fat is a mixture of those things.”

“In something like pork fat there is more unsaturated fat than saturated. Any fat that sits at room temperature and gets soft or more liquid – the more unsaturated it is. I never cook anything in vegetable oil. I cook with olive oil, which comes from a fruit, and I like to cook with animal fat because I like to cook beef in beef fat, chicken in chickent fat, and I like to carry that flavour through. I like to work with a fat that I can smell and see if it’s rancid or not, with a vegetable oil I have no idea if it’s rancid. You don’t want to put rancid fat in your body.”

Kylie Kwong on insects as food

Kylie Kwong on insects as food

Kylie Kwong

Kylie Kwong

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects are the food of the future and that Western consumers need to open their minds. Australian cook and restaurateur Kylie Kwong already serves insects in her Sydney restaurant.

“It’s just so exciting, I’ve been serving insects in my restaurant, Billy Kwong, since February (2013) and the response has been just so positive but just from a simple cook’s point of view insects are delicious!”

As well as the restaurant, Kylie also shares her love of cooking at her regular stall at Sydney’s Eveleigh Markets on Saturday mornings. Very much in the style and tradition of Chinese street food, the stall offers a few selected dishes featuring native Australian ‘bush foods’ and also a gentle introduction to eating insects.

“In my restaurant I serve the whole roasted crickets with, for example, the cricket and prawn wontons or I might serve a stir fried cricket dish with black bean and chilli where you do actually see the whole body (of the cricket), but with market stall I thought I would just gently, gently introduce the products to my clients so I’ve got the steamed sticky rice parcels with warrigal greens, macadamia nuts, goji berries, and I put crushed roasted crickets on top.”

“There are some people who would like to see the whole beast so I’ve got a little container of whole crickets underneath my table which I’m very happy to show people, but it was deliberate (to not serve them whole) as I thought it might be a bit early for the whole beast.”

In other parts of the world eating insects is completely acceptable and this is the point of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their recommendation that Western consumers should ‘open their minds’ to an environmentally friendly food source.

“There is so much to love about insects. They are super-sustainable to breed and produce very little methane gas. They’re incredibly rich in iron and protein and incredibly delicious! The roasted crickets taste like dried shrimps, roasted wood cockroaches are extraordinary in that they smell and taste like chocolate and coffee beans.”

“The wood cockroach’s natural habitat is the forest so they feed on the wood and so on, but the difference with my insects is that I have them bred to order by Skye Blackburn, an entomologist in Parramatta. I actually give Skye organic vegetables which I source from Eveleigh market and she feeds the vegetables to my insects, so it’s fantastic because I know absolutely what I’m getting, how they’ve been bred, what they’ve been eating and it’s this great story that we can tell our customers.”

“Just in my Chinese heritage we’ve been eating insects for thousands and thousands of years, just like indigenous Australians, so it’s a wonderful cultural, historical and sociological story as well. I am completely obsessed with it!”

Kylie Kwong has long been an advocate of sustainable and ethical food production and puts this into practise in her cooking.

“I’ve had the Australian native plants on the menu for two years now and I was really inspired to take them up after I listened to Rene Redzepi give the opening address at the 2010 Crave festival.”

“All of us just walked out of there feeling completely bowled over by what this remarkable chef had to say. I left there thinking I really had to offer more natives on my menu at Billy Kwong.”

“Discovering Australian natives, just the plants to begin with but now I’ve wallaby on the menu, has completely revolutionised our cooking there and it’s allowed me to give our customers a truly authentic Australian Chinese food experience. Nowhere else in the world will you have vegetables like this.”

“For example we do steamed vegetable dumplings like the Chinese have been doing for thousands of years but I fill my dumplings with warrigal greens, or we’ll make a crispy organic saltbush cake – very similar to a Chinese shallot cake that you’ll have in Chinese street food but I simply fill mine with saltbush leaves instead of spring onions.”

“I’m very inspired and driven by ethics and sustainability but the actual produce is also just so delicious, it’s so tasty and there’s so much texture.”

“Truly unique flavours, they’re very simpatico with the Chinese flavour profile. The sourness of the Davidson Plum is like an Umeboshi Plum so I serve that with my crispy skin duck. Sugarbag honey from the Australian native stingless bee is extraordinary. It’s very rare, very expensive, the bees only produce about one kilogram per hive per year so I’ve been hoarding it in my coolroom, but it has a lovely lemony acidic flavour.”

The UN acknowledges that ‘consumer disgust’ is one of the biggest barriers to the consumption of insects in Western countries.

“I guess it takes cooks like myself (to change things). I’ve got five different insects integrated into the main menu at Billy Kwong, they’re on offer every day, they are not just a special every now and then.”

“My whole goal is to make edible insects the usual hence the reason I serve them at my market stall as well, I want these creatures to be an everyday thing in our diet.”

“So I guess the more coverage we get, the more people will buy them, the lower the price will be – they’re very expensive, about $100 a kilo.”

“They’re a little bit like dried scallops in that they’re considered a delicacy in indigenous Australia and certainly the Chinese culture.”

Cricket and prawn wontons

Cricket and prawn wontons

“We must remember that most insects are actually crustaceans. When I started to think about eating insects for the first time – and you need to know that I have been a terrible arachnophobe and insect-phobic person my whole life.”

“I’m the person who used to jump and run out the door when I saw a Daddy Longlegs in the room, but now my cupboard at the restaurant is full of roasted insects. I’ve actually got some live green tree ants on offer at the moment, they’re fascinating creatures.”

“When I brought the first packet of roasted crickets into Billy Kwong, there’s me screaming and squawking, four of my five chefs are Chinese and they all looked at me as if I was crazy and like, “Yeah, we’ve been eating those all our lives in China, what are you going on about?”

“The more I read about the subject, the more obsessed I get but on a very simple note they’re very delicious. To deal with the ‘yuck factor’ if we think of insects as crustaceans and bring to our minds the image of a prawn or crayfish or yabby – we all love those beautiful seafoods.”

“If you look at a grasshopper or cicada or locust or cricket they are in fact tiny little crustaceans and that reduced my fear.”

“The Chinese call insects ‘prawns in the sky’ and insects are here to stay on my menu.”

First published on





Stephane Pois hosts the kids’ tour of the farmers market

Today I saw something wonderful. And unexpected.

My kids know about real food. Fresh food. They don’t think cakes come from packet mix because mum says if you’re going to have chocolate cake, have a real one. They know how to make dumplings. They’ve had chooks in their backyard (and will do again when I build a proper pen … long story).

They know how to make yoghurt, and therefore they know how to make labna. And they eat it. They pick herbs from the garden for including in meals or mint for pineapple slushies.

They even know how to make beef jerky and smoked salmon.

I’m very much a slacker-mum, and I could make sure they watched less television and ran around the yard a bit more, but they do know about real, fresh food. They see mum cook interesting, tasty things, and then freeze them for later. I make their school lunches nearly every day and they’re always very simple sangers & a bit of fruit. Maybe a bikkie or two. Sometimes they get a canteen lunch order or a little money to spend, but not often. They don’t mind, it’s just how it is.

Because we cook. Yes, I work full-time and they do after-school stuff like soccer and violin and we probably don’t have all that much of a social life and there’s nowhere near enough hours in the day but we love to make interesting, tasty things to eat. Real food is a priority. In case you’re wondering, we eat McDonalds and pizza. Too often.

Occasionally we visit the local farmers’ market. We have the lovely Turkish family cook spinach, fetta and mushroom gozleme for us for breakfast. And because I must reverse engineer anything tasty we now make it at home in a sandwich press.

We buy oranges from the man who grows them, lemons and lemon cordial from the woman who grows the lemons and makes the cordial, ‘Russian’ sausages from Mr Kasmaroski who was taught how to make them by his great-grandfather. We buy felafel, hommus, baba ganoush and the most amazingly garlicky garlic dip from the man who makes them and we get some of his delicious bread smothered in zaatar to eat our dips and goodies with

Trying Tim’s beef sausages with chilli

Today at the farmers’ market we met Stephane Pois.

I knew a little about Stephane as he had been on our breakfast program at the ABC station I work at to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, and he once gave me a beautiful spicy sausage to try, but I don’t know him very well. After today, however, he is my new best friend.

I didn’t know that Stephane was the very best kind of Pied Piper.

Stephane is a very French Frenchman who kisses you on both cheeks and does food and wine tours and food tastings, gourmet hampers and so on in the Hunter Valley. At the farmers’ market, however, he shares his love of fresh produce and beautiful, simple food by doing quick cooking demonstrations. Today he made, among other things, vin chaud – mulled wine, and this mother could have happily sat there all day tasting it in tiny little cups. Or mugs. OK buckets.

In between doing the demonstrations, Stephane does a children’s tour of the market. With portable microphone in hand and kids dressed in aprons and chef’s hats, they charge off at a rapid trot to visit half a dozen stall holders where Stephane tells them about the food, the people who make or grow it, and then they have a little taste and maybe collect goodies for their loot bags.

Today they learned about fresh oranges and which ones are sweeter, they tasted beautiful Angus beef and chilli (yes, chilli) sausages with Tim (in the photo), they tasted labna made by Simon (and declared it better than their mother’s – funny because Simon taught me how to make it), they tried pate and delicious pork terrine made by Stephane himself, salted caramel truffles and scored a lovely bag of fresh mushrooms from the mushroom grower.

And then they all returned to Stephane’s cooking stall to cook vichy carrots.

Ready to cook vichy carrots for the audience

End result? Incredibly happy and motivated children who had just had a rip-roaring gallop through the farmers market, met some wonderful growers and producers who obviously share a love of food and see the importance of Stephane’s quest to inspire children. And they all do this for free. Maybe the parents buy an item here or there, maybe they don’t, but no-one worries about that. Stephane’s quest is healthy kids who understand fresh produce and love good food.

I reckon this very loud and exuberant Frenchman knows just how to achieve it.