Interview – ‘Lentil’ Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant Founder

Q&A with Lentil As Anything’s Shanaka Fernando 

By Kelly Korpesio


Within a climate of political unrest and street violence, Shanaka Fernando was educated in an elite Buddhist school rife with racism and inequality.  When he migrated from Sri Lanka to Australia in his early twenties, he arrived with an ideology of kindness embedded within.

Twenty-plus years later, Shanaka remains firm in his commitment to seeing the human race not as a competitive breed, rather as human kind. On Australia Day 2007 he was awarded Australian of the Year in Melbourne as a local hero, acknowledging him as the founder of Lentil as Anything (fondly referred to as ‘Lentil’).

Shanaka literally started off Lentil with ‘intent’ while living in a tent.  These days he has a formal roof over is head, yet Shanaka’s open door policy remains even on the home-front.

His Dad role to Grace, age 8, and Spike, 10 months, is of utmost importance, and Shanaka’s own Father in Sri Lanka considers him to be a ‘successful failure’.  Living by an Oscar Wilde creed, ‘Life is too important to be taken seriously’, Shanaka may not be married, own a car, or a house, but he laughs a lot and is constantly surrounding by family, friends and people in the community.

Beyond over a decades worth of Lentil chronology attributing to their social commitment, as further credit to their dogmatic approach, even the Australian Tax Office is on their side – they do not pay GST on donations.

With an annual turnover of over 2 million dollars, Shanaka freely confesses the fact that Lentil carries a $250,000.  Confident in their initiative, he is an open book and notes that the average restaurant enterprise is $100,000 in the hole paying off assets.  

Shanaka’s Vegetarian Lentil Restaurants in Melbourne


Some have referred to him as the ‘Jamie Oliver of Australia’ because of the active philanthropy Shanaka displays within his three Lentil As Anything restaurants:  Abbotsford Convent, Footscray and St. Kilda in Melbourne.  

For those who aren’t already familiar with Lentil, the restaurant group welcomes everyone and the payment system is a wooden box designed for donations, where customers pay what they feel is fair or can afford.

Rallying Forward with Vegetarian Meals and Vegan Food Options 


It was a weekday when we spoke to Shanaka Fernando, and he had just returned from an early morning parachute ride.  Having read his recent biography 'Lentil As anything: Everybody Deserves a Place at the Table', this seemed perfectly in character.  

A non-conformist, global-travelling, humanitarian adventurer, his portfolio of community success continues to expand as his first publication, a cookbook entitled 'Lentil As Anything:  Food, Community, Culture', continues to receive accolades.  At the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, it won the Australian ‘Best Charity & Fundraising Cookbook in the Australian/Pacific region’; and ‘FCC’ is currently shortlisted for the ‘Best in the World’ title, same category - this announcement will be released on 23 Feb, 2013. 

To the bane of his social circle at the cricket club, Shanaka Fernando does not drink alcohol and is strictly vegetarian (he’s ‘trying to give up not drinking’).  Having always been a vegetarian, Shanaka designed his Lentil restaurants on this premise; it just makes sense as it's more affordable, sustainable and healthy.  


AGFG:  You’re not a certified chef, so how much cooking are you responsible for at Lentil?

SHANAKA:  I would hasten to say that the success of Lentil rides on me not cooking.  It took a day in the kitchen at Lentil to realize my kitchen skills were shit.  There have been times when I have had to stopgap measure and jump in the kitchen.  I enjoy taking food to tables rather than the pressure of delivering 150 breakfasts in two hours.  I’m not cut out for that coordinated, hectic work.  
 

Vegetarian and Vegan Recipe Sensations


AGFG:  Favourite dishes and why?

SHANAKA:  It may seem boring here, but my favourite is the African dahl.  It’s the pride of the subcontinent, but the North Africans have taken it and changed it into something more appealing – I’m not sure the Indians would accept that.  I can eat Chef Ousmane’s version all on its own without any accompaniment, and with the heavy tomato base can be full in a really nice way.  

From the cookbook, Chef Soma’s eggplant curry is a very traditional Sri Lankan dish that takes eggplant and does magical things to it, like Ella Fitzgerald does to a song.  

In the AGFG Recipes section, you will find 3 other samples to try at home from their cookbook, ‘Lentil As Anything:  Food, Community, Culture’:  sheer khurma, shitake stir fry, and okonomiyaki.  
 

More on Vegetarian Meals and the Meaning of Lentil


AGFG:  You believe that ‘the inherent goodness in everyone is an abundant resource’; however, with a significant number of talented migrant and refugee staff, have you witnessed discouraging displays of racism even with the safety net of your Lentil As Anything restaurants?

SHANAKA:  Over 13 years in business, only a handful of racist incidents at Lentil come to mind.  We feed 2000 people a day and that shows the dominant love side of our business.

There are a lot of challenges because people tend to come from a mentality that encourages judgement and discrimination, thinking they’re being discerning.  There are times of conflict and misunderstanding and yet overall it is a wonderful thing to be a part of.  

One woman came in and didn’t want to be served by Africans.  It’s an unusual thing to say at Lentil because I’m African and so I had a chat with her.  She had never met people from Africa and had a distinctive dislike of people when many factors were different.  Since then the lady has become a volunteer at Lentil and has created a strong rapport with many staff at Lentil.  

AGFG:  As an anti-capitalist running three restaurants, what is the real end game from your point of view?

SHANAKA:  I’m not anti-anything.  I’m pro life in the pro human life sense… pro inclusion and pro diversity and pro ideals that we strive for; that we build our lifestyles in the spirit of our intentions.

I got into the restaurant business because of the food I encountered when I was travelling, especially in the third world where it is not a commodity.  In cultures that live in forests there is a sense of pride and sharing; there still remains the breaking of bread as a gesture of oneness. 

Thinking of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Endgame’… mine is to encourage human beings and every enterprise to take on theses values we are proposing.  The people are the profits, not money, because it is more immediate and more satisfying.

People can gain a sense of community in a place where they didn’t previously have that opportunity. Our focus on materialism and money has really subverted the foundation on which we build.  It is essential that we align our focus on the values that historically have shown us the way.  
 


AGFG:  Does living in Melbourne correlate to the authentic Lentil experience?

SHANAKA:  Eating in tribal situations I noticed people wanting the person sitting next to them to have the better portion.  It’s a gesture of how we are inherently as people.  I wondered… could I make that happen in Melbourne?

I think that generosity and trust are conducive anywhere where there are human beings - Melbourne is not the only fertile ground.  Every place has the capacity for a strong sense of community.

I’m sure that any place in the world would respond to food being made available without a focus on making money off of it.  The joy in my day is the diversity of people I encounter.  People who I don’t naturally expect to be generous often jump on board with such a strong social enterprise.  

Community Based Lentil As Anything

4th February, 2013

A New Vegetarian Restaurant Model

By Shanaka Fernando


Lentil as Anything began as a hangout for performers and other creative artists. Many would be broke one week, but receive contracts or sell artwork the next. Any payment was a cause for celebration, and provided a chance to pay bills and to stock up on supplies. During the less abundant weeks patrons would be welcome to eat, drink, and find support at Lentil as Anything.

What developed was a sense of ‘Lentil Unity’. In the more abundant weeks patrons would share with fellow artists by paying a little extra, and in so doing a balance and accord was created to offset the leaner times.

And so, the ‘Magic Box’ was born and soon became a symbol of the system of trust that had developed—patrons were free to choose how much they would donate. It was a system that proved to be both fair and sustainable, and one that allowed for everyone, without exclusion, to become part of a community and to share in the same ‘Lentil Credit’.

The Lentil as Anything ideology has sustained for more than a decade, and has grown to include several restaurants across Melbourne that provide fabulous food, employment for staff, education for volunteers, and support to the wider community through services and assistance such as legal advice, training, counselling, housing, fundraising for charities, and catering.

Acceptance has always been at the core of the Lentil philosophy and is what helps it flourish. Acceptance means being all-inclusive—everyone is welcome. And that’s why today anyone of any social standing can be found eating at Lentil as Anything. And the ‘Magic Box’ still finances everything, from the delicious meals made with love, to paying wages, and to funding the community projects.

Now that Lentil as Anything has come so far, it is even more important, and ever challenging, to keep sight of those early principles and endeavours. Lentil as Anything has helped shape our cultural identity as a community-based, not-for-profit organisation that relies solely on the donations of its patrons and guests. As in those very first days, guests are invited to make an agreement with their conscience,

to take a moment to reflect, taking into consideration how much they enjoyed the food and deciding the extent to which they want to support the philosophy and the work being done, and by so doing, each donation, each thought, brings us closer to the values that Lentil as Anything was founded on.

By supporting Lentil as Anything we become part of a unique social model that is based on values of trust, generosity, and respect. Lentil as Anything is an organisation that gives people the opportunity to eat and to interact regardless of their financial or social situation.
 

History and vision extract from Lentil As Anything:  Food, Culture & Community, published by Ilura Press rrp $54.00.
 

Lentil as Anything was the Australian winner for ‘Best Charity & Fundraising Cookbook in the Australian/Pacific region’ in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is shortlisted in the same category for ‘Best in the World’.

Recipe Samples from Lentil As Anything:  African dhal, okonomiyaki, and eggplant curry.
 

 

Interview - Anna Gare

February 2013

By Kelly Korpesio

Homemade Food Recipes from the Heart 


While in her twenties, Anna Gare kept busy globetrotting with her band The Jam Tarts - the name a dead giveaway of her inner foodie calling.  Becoming pregnant, she returned home to Fremantle WA where she has contentedly remained ever since, with family and long-time friends comfortably situated within a 5km radius.

Flash forward and it followed suit that local publisher, Fremantle Press, took interest in Anna’s work and Homemade came into fruition.  Cooked and photographed in her own kitchen, Anna’s first cookbook is a personal selection of naughty and nice dishes, spontaneously presented in no particular order but well indexed at the back.

You’ll find an artichoke tapenade recipe right beside her husband Luc’s baked beans - a family favourite, though as you can imagine he is rarely required to cook much at all.  “After 8 years, I’ve ruined him,” Anna confesses.  In Homemade you'll also discover chocolate, cardamom and ginger semifreddo dessert just after Gino’s prawn fettuccine; Anna’s been eating this dish at the chef’s own local restaurant since she was a young girl.

Welcome Home - Food Recipes for Love


Flying to Melbourne for TV shoots such as Junior MasterChef and her newest show, The Great Australian Bake Off, Anna’s homemade food recipes have contributed to her fame.  Though Homemade is full of food recipes for every occasion, with Valentine’s Day coming up we spoke to Anna about the pure seduction of silver spoon scallops, chocolate whimsy fully stop, and experiencing self-love with juicy mangoes.


Feel free to check out our AGFG Recipes section for a sample selection of Anna Gare’s recipes from Homemade:

 

silver spoon scallops
sang choy bow
Texan beef ribs
wok the lobster
chocolate semifreddo

 
 

Eat with your Hands & Feel Free to Get Messy
 

"It’s those little added ingredients that

make a dish naughty and ideal for romance.

 

AGFG:  You maintain that home cooking is something that responds to what’s in the market, what’s in the fridge and who walks through the door.  When the person who’s walking into your kitchen is the one you love, in your opinion what are tried and true dishes destined to impress?
 

ANNA:  A man… seafood, depending on the man of course.  You need to know the person before you cook up the potion.  A woman… chocolate.

I would serve my husband ceviche, a white fleshed fish, nicely cubed with limes, coriander, chilli and tequila served either in spoons or shot glasses.  Another way to serve seafood that would blow his mind is as sang choy bow, with the seafood wrapped in lettuce.  It’s those little added ingredients that make a dish naughty and ideal for romance.  

Eating with a knife and fork is not sexy.  My husband always tells me off at restaurants for eating with my hands.  Food is sensual and sexual; it feels good and we need to touch it.  In my home, ‘no manners Tuesday’ is definitely our favourite night.

Desserts are always nice and when you make one it’s like you’ve gone the extra mile for that finishing touch.  Tiny, little balls or light strawberry mousse, fruit with Grand Marnier, or something sweet with rosewater hints.  

If I’ve had a big day, I’ll hop in the bath and eat a mango; it’s enjoyable and messy and delightful.  A whole mango in the bath is decadent. 


AGFG:  In conclusion to Homemade you acknowledge the many levels of support your husband Luc offers, including his "endless love and willingness to taste, eat, and criticise your food when instructed". What part has food played in your romance? 
 

ANNA:  I love romance and food.  There’s nothing worse than a stodgy meal and a mini-series followed by apple pie and ice cream.  Sexy food is light, healthy, fresh and flavoursome. 

We were friends for years when I first met my husband, Luc.  He was on-site at a disorganized cooking show and my session didn't end up happening.  With scallops to spare, I asked if he’d like to try some…  When I handed him the tapas for a taste, his eyes lit up as they would in an animation.  He looked goofy and dough eyed – I knew something was there. 

Scallops have to be one of the most romantic pieces of seafood; they’re a trouser arouser, a light dish to keep the energy up.  Combine that with a glass of confidence, such as champers, and you’ll wind down for a first date or if you’re already together, relax into the mood and remember why you’re married in the first place.

Luc always gives me flowers and I don’t give him anything, but I do cook a beautiful meal - the best way to anyone’s heart.  Certain foods are aphrodisiacs and there is a science to it.  With oysters, for example, there are those aphrodisiacal aspects and then there’s the whole you are what you eat adage to be considered.

We spent a lot of time in America and picked up recipes along the way, developing dishes together as in our big Texan beef ribs.  We make that recipe in the backyard pizza oven, shutting the door to smoke it, which people go crazy for.

Our tendency is to go through phases with food based on what’s in season.  But basically I cook whatever we crave lying in bed in the morning.  When I was catering, I noticed on TV that Jamie Oliver cooks like we do with big handfuls of ingredients and using lots of fresh herbs.

I relate to food by balancing flavours; sweet, salty, acidic, and olive oil to tone things down because at times we opt for mellowness.  Maggie Beer’s verjuice is just fantastic; it synchronizes tastes for a four part harmony on the palate.

When you listen to music, a good musician knows when something’s missing in the song; the whole equation comes as second nature, and the same goes for a good cook.  We pick out the part that’s missing.  We taste something and know if it needs mids, if it’s too sharp, or requires salt to bring out the flavours. 
 

AGFG:  Your 2011 Logie Award nominated TV show, playfully entitled Quickies in the Kitchen, evokes an idea of home cooking success on a few key levels.  You’ve developed amazing rapport amongst mini foodies in your role on Junior MasterChef and you’ve returned to the screen with Channel 9’s new competition show, The Great Australian Bake Off.  Growing up with a huge fruit bowl on the table, you were forced to make your own sweets based on your parents’ no rubbish food policy and your foodie fame has spun since the early years.  What have you learned from cookery television work?
 

ANNA:  I thought I was a pretty good cook at the age of 8 but have stopped bragging since Junior MasterChef.  These kids are driven by their passion to cook and succeed and the adult MasterChef contestants seem to crack more under pressure – more to lose I guess.

I’ve learnt that kids under pressure in a healthy, fun and competitive environment put aside their fears, stretch their boundaries and produce amazing dishes beyond their normal capabilities.

I’m close to my heart in the kitchen and with The Great Australian Bake Off these people are not trying to be acclaimed chefs they’re just really into baking.  It’s about cooking from your heart, wanting to make pastry and share it.  It’s really humble; these bakers are not on the show because they want’ to win, they’re there because love feeding people and are passionate about pastries.
 

Homemade is published by Fremantle Press, rrp $49.95.  Perfect for love month, you’ll discover racy recipes such as puttancesca ‘whore’s style’ pasta, artichoke tapenade, naughty potatoes, avocado carpaccio with seared scallops, plus raspberry, rose and vodka jellies for dessert. 
 

 

Interview – Andy Allen

January 2013

 

By Kelly Korpesio

 

Lands MasterChef 2012 by

Choosing to Learn 


Electrician turned cookbook author?  Part of the MasterChef prize package is creating your own cookbook and Andy Allen released The Next Element late last year, under a publisher pressure cooker deadline to meet the 2012 Christmas rush.

Unbeknownst to Andy, there was a new form of MasterChef on the rise, which may explain the unprecedented time crunch imposed on the sparky turned writer.

On the whole MasterChef 2012 experience Andy Allen asserts that the way to winning was choosing to learn.  He took it in stride and soaked it all in along the way, proving to himself, Australia and the world that anyone can definitely learn how to cook.

Akin to his tone in The Next Element, our interview with Andy about Australia’s most famous television competition and his new book was straight forward yet relaxed.
 

AGFG:  You became MasterChef 2012 by fighting to push the limits in the kitchen.  Your new book The Next Element shows that your cooking knows no bounds, even at home.  What’s been your greatest achievement throughout the MasterChef experience?
 

ANDY:  I was fortunate to play basketball at a high level and you don’t make those teams if you’re not competitive.  On MasterChef I was competitive with myself, not so much with the other contestants.

 

One of the biggest achievements of my life is finishing The Next Element.  The publisher said “Andy you have 6 weeks to write a book…we need the recipes.”  It was maybe even more of an achievement than winning MasterChef because there was no coaching at all.

 

AGFG:  On MasterChef, under the mentorship of Mark Best (Marque Restaurant, Surry Hills), you released a 3 hatted status signature dish of confit of ocean trout.  What type of food will we find in The Next Element?


ANDY: 
The food in my book is really basic because I didn’t want to put hard dishes in.  The first chapter is midweek meals for the family and the second is for friends, barbecuing when boys come around.

The third and last chapter is a ‘New Direction’, with more advanced food and some dishes from MasterChef.  Braised beef shin with pomme puree, bone marrow & vegetables and the $20, 000 fish pies are in there – the MasterChef dish that raised money for charity.  This last chapter was by far the easiest to write.


AGFG:  How was the cookbook writing experience for you?

ANDY:  Until I had to write a cookbook, I had never measured things up and it was hard to know how much to put into my dishes.  So I took an educated guess and then tested it out.  Also, I experimented with some new stuff I hadn’t even cooked before.  

But I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and had to incorporate a few of those, so Chloe came in on that side.  We’re friends from the show and do a lot of pop up restaurants together so she was more than happy to get in there and share.
 

AGFG:  There’s rumour of you and your MasterChef mate, Benny, going into the restaurant business in Mexico. What’s the real story here?

ANDY:  One day we would like to open a restaurant and really get our hands dirty, but right now we’re nowhere near opening one.  It’s a lot of work getting into the kitchen, working out the business side of things, and running a service. 

Being a sparky, we read a few books but we don’t write them.  But with the deadline in place I wrote The Next Element in 6 or 7 weeks, which is unheard of for MasterChef - New Holland was really cracking the whip.

At one stage I was literally freaking out – I’m 24 years old and haven’t been cooking all that long.  Ben helped and we broke it down into recipes and then it came down to the writing.  I’ve given him a bit of a sum for his helping hand and you’ll find a number of his Mexican recipes in the book.

Ben and I are actually heading toMexico- it is definitely going to happen - and there’s a TV show in the works.
 

AGFG:  You maintain a basic philosophy about food - simple but not predictable.  What surprises are in store for fans within The Next Element?

Simple is my main food philosophy… and tasty.  It needs to taste like you’ve been preparing for hours on end. 

I like to be part of the party so I designed meals that you can do before the party starts.  I’m really big on barbecues and gatherings on the weekend. 

I don’t believe in fame and am still the same person no matter what’s happened over the past 20 months.  It’s all been a massive whirlwind but I don’t call it ‘fame’.  I feel like life is different and I have a lot more mates but I’m still the exact same person.
 

The Next Element is 100% Andy Allen, winner of MasterChef 2012.  Being the social kind of guy that he is, he’s also included a number of delicious recipes from his talented friends, published by New Holland, rrp $45.00.

 

Interview - Jamie Oliver

December 2012
 

By Kelly Korpesio 

 

Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals Right in Time for Christmas

 
AGFG:  Your last book became part of the Friday night cooking ritual for many readers and your response was to pare down the cooking time in Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals – these are leaner, tougher, and fitter recipes. How can weeknight cooking that’s this quick inspire us and impress our families?
 
JAMIE:  I’d like to think that it’ll impress people simply because you can put amazing food on the table in such a short space of time, and make it look great, smell great and taste great.  
 
I’ve been getting great feedback from people both in Australia and the UK – they started out trying a couple of their favourite recipes from the book, loved them and now they’re using it most nights… it’s fantastic and humbling.
 
 
AGFG:  Your precise approach to home cooked fast food has won the confidence of millions of fans and your last book broke publishing records. What’s your main hope for Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals?
 
JAMIE:  I just hope that people enjoy cooking from it because I put so much time, energy and passion into my books that it’s just wonderful to get feedback.  I never sit back and think ‘I hope this sells millions of copies’ – it’s more important to me that people treasure the books, use them, get inspired to cook more and hopefully start creating their own recipe ideas.
 
AGFG:  Since you’re Jamie Oliver, the likelihood that 15-Minute Meals will be a reader’s first attempt of one of your recipes is slim to nil. However, if it is time to pop a new bookworm’s cooking with Jamie cherry, which recipe is “the one”?
 
JAMIE:  Wow, it’s pretty impossible to choose.  If you’ve never cooked one of my recipes before, then I’d say not to try racing against the clock the first time. I had a 76 year old lady come and see me last week and she was disappointed because she’d tried one of the 15-Minute meals for the first time and it had taken her 18 minutes.  I told her that it was amazing for her first time and not to worry.
 
Loads of people have done them in 15 minutes.  The more you do them and get into the mindset, the quicker you naturally get.  If I had to choose, I would say that the ricotta fritters are hard to get wrong.
 
 
AGFG:  Bringing everyday food to the next level encourages cooking within the time crunch, allowing no excuses. You’ve heard it all before, what’s the biggest cop-out people use to avoid cooking and will you tell us why that’s pure bollocks?
 
JAMIE:  I’ve heard them all.  ‘I don’t have the time.’ ‘Cooking from scratch is more expensive.’ ‘I don’t know how.’ None of these are decent enough excuses, in my eyes.  If you’ve seen any of my live shows, you’ll know that it’s possible to make a pizza from scratch faster than ordering a takeaway pizza and having it delivered.  And, your homemade pizza will taste better and cost less – fact. 
 
In terms of cost, pretty much all of the recipes in the 15-Minute Meals book come in at just $6 AUS per head, which is not expensive.  If you don’t know how to cook, ask a friend to teach you and help you out.
 
AGFG:  Kitchen organization is key to this fast and fun cooking business and you maintain ‘there’s no mucking about’ when making food during the work week. When we do pull our finger out, can you define organized (so that we get it right).
 
 
JAMIE:  Sure.  The key to making 15-Minute Meals work for you is to have all your ingredients and kit ready before you start.  You also need the right kit.  If you don’t have the kit, you can absolutely still make the recipes and they’ll still taste brilliant, but it’ll take you longer. Good kit, these days, isn’t hard to get hold of and it isn’t expensive.
 
 
As I say, most of the feedback so far has been amazing but occasionally you get someone saying, ‘Oh, I tried it and it took me 40 minutes.’  But when you actually ask them how they did that they’ll say, ‘Well I didn’t have a food processor so I used a chopping knife and I didn’t read the instructions properly so I hadn’t boiled my kettle.’ And the list goes on. No wonder it took longer.
   
AGFG:  There’s got to be more to it than just being organized… what’s the other trick?
 
JAMIE:  No other trick.  If you’re watching the TV shows on Channel 10, you’ll see that there’s no trick to it.  There are also people uploading their 15-minute meals on YouTube – home cooks of all ages and abilities.
 
AGFG:  In 15-Minute Meals your meals average at about 560 calories and the recipes are birthed with a nutritionist present, rather than as an analyst at the end. Why do feel you feel it’s important for cookbook writers to work closely with a nutritionist and does this impede your creativity as a chef?
 
JAMIE:  It’s the first time I’ve written a book with my nutritionist on my shoulder the whole time, but I thought it was hugely important with this book – something that people could and would use any day of the week – to have a really good nutritional balance. 
 
All of the meals absolutely work nutritionally as adult’s main meal of the day.  It’s not a diet book but it’s not going to make you overweight either.  One thing it didn’t do was impede me as a chef; in fact, it made me better as a chef because if you’re having to cut back on the salt or the fat, then you’re using your creativity to add flavour in different ways.
 
 
AGFG:  What can the kids take from Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals?
 
JAMIE:  I’ve heard from quite a few kids who are really enjoying the series and are cooking from the book, so it’s clear that although this isn’t a book ‘for kids’, it’s definitely something that kids can get involved and help with.  Just follow the usual safety rules.
 
 
AGFG:  Through many outreach organizations you educate people, especially children, on making good food and eating healthfully.
 
Very close to home, what compelled you to collaborate and establish Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia, which now includes two active Food Centres in Ipswich QLD and Geelong VIC?
 
JAMIE:  First of all we started the Ministry of Food in the UK and we now have 6 centres here, funded by a mixture of local health organizations and local councils.  A few years ago we had a visit from The Good Guys and they were really blown away and wanted to do something similar in Australia. 
 
Now, I choose my business and charity partners very carefully because a lot of the time you get people just wanting to do things for their own reasons, but The Good Guys were really very different – they put their money where their mouths were.  
 
They pledged support unselfishly and they’ve been an absolute privilege to work with.  I visited the Ipswich Centre in March and it was truly inspirational.  I get regular reports from Geelong and that centre is doing amazing work, too.  It’s something that I’m hugely proud of.
 
AGFG:  It’s been 10 years since you founded Fifteen restaurants, supporting unemployed youth in need of a break. You tap into their talents with a passion for good food and promote a hard work ethic. You’ve even helped establish work experience opportunities with top-end restaurants such as Jamie’s Italian, Odette’s and The Fat Duck. Have you always been philanthropic and what fuels you to continuously align your brand with community initiatives directly related to what you believe in?
 
JAMIE:  I think I’ve always been generous with my time and resources, but in terms of being philanthropic it really all changed after the first ‘Naked Chef’ series and book.  Guilty that I had this success and money, I wanted to do something worthwhile and important with it. I wanted to help people to have the same opportunities I’d been given, and that’s where Fifteen came from.
 
Around the same time that Fifteen started, I became a father for the first time and that really changes you as a person. You automatically grow up and become more responsible and so that’s where thinking about school food came from.
 

Christmas Gift Ideas - Read It and Eat

December 2012

By Kelly Korpesio


Advent Calendar Countdown for Bibliophile Foodies


Do you love to read, admire and collect books?  Are you amassing a large and specialized collection of libacious literature or know someone who has?  One more question… do you love to cook?  

If a resounding ‘yes’ is ringing loud like Christmas bells to one or more of these queries, then look no further for Christmas gift ideas.  Akin to an advent calendar (with less calories than the chocolate kind), we’re counting down to Christmas with one book in mind per day.  

This curation is particularly focused on food, wine and culture as represented by Australian publishers.  If you’re a gourmand at heart with affinity for home cooking, the new AGFG Shop is an affordable online option selling select cookbooks and food products that will put a taste of luxury into every pantry.




Finding gift ideas on the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant rather than wine tasting at the Good Food & Wine Show.  With ease and elegance in mind, read about it, drink it up, cook, eat and be merry.

Anticipating Christmas:  Last Minute Gift Lit Consideration


1.  ‘Maggie’s Verjuice Cookbook’ by Maggie Beer, Penguin (2012)

At the Good Food & Wine Show this year, there was a distinct buzz around Maggie Beer’s cooking demonstrations ‘Verjuice – It’s Love at First Splash’.  Those who had a taste of Maggie Beer’s mouth-watering menu at GFWS Oxford Landing Estates Restaurant were swooning with the life and intensity in her food.  ‘Maggie’s Verjuice Cookbook’ lavishly highlights this natural acidulant in her recipes, giving cuisine a sharpness and bite.


2.  ‘Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals’ by Jamie Oliver, Penguin (2012)

Jamie Oliver does it again, and if you’ve been watching the tele you know the deal; ’15-Minute Meals’ is made for weekday meal preparation in mind.  If you’re already a fan or keen to be converted, read more in our recent interview with Jamie where he stomps out all excuses for kitchen laziness, calling peoples copouts pure bollocks.  When it comes to home cooking, you are not allowed to exclaim ‘I don’t know how’ ever again.  BONUS:  Cool points include the back of the book where each two course meal is displayed graphically in a small format so that it reads over five pages like a comic book.   


3.  ‘Sydney 360’, self published by photographer Con Hionis (2012)

Cylindrical panoramas that spin you around on a whirlwind visual tour of Sydney’s architecture to shores, from New Thai dining hubs in pedestrian lined streets of Chinatown to the arenaceous marine dock in Balmain.
 

 

Brought to you by a mother and daughter team who specialize in communications, this is their latest publication in the ‘Produce to Platter’ series featuring top chefs, local secrets, and regional stories alongside stunning full-colour photography from the Yarra Valley & The Dandenongs.
 

5.  ‘Australian Wine Vintages 2013’ by Robert Geddes MW

Best known as ‘The Gold Book’, this shiny, metallic, and petit book of advice comes in a white box that requires only a bow – it’s the perfect stocking stuffer.  Corporate types can order a box or two with their insignia on the front.  
 
 
6.  ‘Desserts’ by Belinda Jeffery, Penguin (2012)

Ask Belinda Jeffery and she’ll happily tell you she has the best job in the world.  Constantly writing cooking tips here, there and everywhere, with each new release she tries to incorporate bits of experiential knowledge wherever she can within its pages.  Baking Christmas biscuits… how about trying pecan and honey melt-in-the-mouths, mascarpone and ginger biscuit cake, chewy ginger and almond lace biscuits, and lime and coconut tuiles?  


7.  ‘Wild Sugar Desserts’ by Skye Craig and Lyndel Miller, New Holland (2012)

If you like to live on the wild side, there’s no reason it needs to stop with your cooking.  Bling up your holidays with Glass Balls which are awe-inspiring delicate and ornate spun sugar clusters developed by a diva cooking duo, including Skye Craig whom you may remember from the second season of 'MasterChef', that both maintain ‘We love sweeties.  We love eating them.  We love making them.  We love sharing them.’


8.  ‘The Next Element’ by Andy Allen, New Holland (2012)

Winner of ‘MasterChef 2012’, this twenty-something former sparky is now a reliable cook that lights up a room a room with his down to earth personality and electric, eclectic dishes.  Moving right along, Andy loves to cook and there’s no looking back… his ‘Next Element’ is food and his book expresses the process, from cooking basics for your family to feasts with friends – with notes on preparing as much as you can in advance so you can enjoy the festivities – to ‘MasterChef’ recipes and other new food directions.   Check out our New Year blog interviews for more from Andy on the whole writing experience.  


9. ‘Homemade’ by Anna Gare, Fremantle Press (2011)

Former Junior MasterChef judge and mentor (also a rockstar back in the day) Anna Gare has gone the length to share her recipes is a really personal way.  We know her from television and become further acquainted in ‘Homemade’. She's honest, with an impromptu way about her, and we’re looking forward to speaking with her early next year. Keep an eye on our blog in February for an interview with Anna on the book, her TV show and love – of food and life. 


10. Lantern Cookery Classics, Penguin (2012)

There’s something about the orange cover of a Penguin classic that entices readers to pick up a copy and reacquaint with a great writer; sometimes it’s a new-to-know experience, other times it’s like connecting with an old friend.  There are six books so you can pick up the entire series or chop and change the titles around for who loves what.  Lantern Cookery Classics showcase:  Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris, Kylie Kwong, Maggie Beer, Matt Moran, and Stephanie Alexander. 


11. ‘What Katie Ate’ by Katie Quinn Davies, Penguin (2012) 

Includes ‘recipes and other bits & bobs’, not to mention an inspirational artist's success story that has inspired thirty-something women throughout Australia.  A food blogger who has graduated to hard copy status, Katie Quinn Davies has gone through the highs and lows and the completion of this book is definitely a coup de grace.  An enduring record of her recipes expressed verbatim and accompanied by her original photography, this one merits a permanent place on your bookshelf – though it won’t stay there long, as your friends will all want to flip through it straight away when they pop by.  


12. ‘Love and Hunger’ by Charlotte Wood, Allen & Unwin (2012)

No photos in this one; this book is a simple antidote to food pressures in the overwhelming world of celebrity chefs.  Charlotte Wood writes ‘thoughts on the gift of food’, an amusing ode expressing how and why she learned to cook in such a way that it becomes a practical guide for you to do the same along the way.


13. ‘Janella’s Wholefood Kitchen’ by Janella Purcell, Allen & Unwin (2012)

She’s a woman who goes her own way.  We know her for many things.  Amongst authorship, she’s been the ‘good’ nutritionist counterpart on ‘Good Chef Bad Chef’ GCBC and is known for her emphasis on SLOW food:  seasonal, local, organic and whole.  Her recipes are identified as dairy free, gluten free, raw, vegetarian and vegan so ‘Wholefood Kitchen’ is a handy one to have around.  If you, errr… I mean the lucky person you’re gift shopping for, is transitioning the household for meatless Mondays or is into the good health, holistic and long term diet approach to meal planning, this is the one.  


14. ‘Meat’ by Adrian Richardson, Hardie Grant (2008)

This may be one of the older publications on our list; however, with Australia Day the next holiday we have in mind after Christmas, ‘Meat’ is a worthy companion for BBQ champs. 


15. ‘The Good Life’ by Adrian Richardson, Pan Macmillan  (2011)

A new side to the story, showing that there’s more to this man than meat.  You can’t tell a good book by its cover, but can you tell a good book by how its cover feels?  Testament to the quality of the homemade recipes within, ‘The Good Life’ is physically padded – it's soft to the touch, cushy even.  Bless, this is a year of cooking and eating with Adrian (whom we also know from GCBC amongst other shows), his family and friends.  


16. ‘Have You Eaten’ by Billy Law, Hardie Grant (2012)

A Sydney food blogger, too, some became more familiar with Billy on ‘MasterChef’.  Originally from Malaysia, the title of his book is a phrase commonly used in his home country as a greeting.  Since he moved to Australia in 1996, Billy has picked up food techniques and Western influences including, chocolate – it’s not just for desserts anymore.  


17. ‘My Feast with Peter Kuruvita’, Hardie Grant (2012)

We’ve seen him on SBS, and foodies with a love for gourmet products have tried his new product line, now to read these island recipes and incorporate them into our summer life is a feasible option.  Food influences you’ll come to know include:  The South Pacific, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines.  


18. ‘Lentil as Anything’ by Shanaka Fernando, Vivid Publishing (2012)

An author referred to as a modern revolutionary, ‘Lentil As Anything’ refers to Shanaka’s Melbourne-based community restaurants and the book is his biography that reflects his unique ‘people first’ philosophy.  His tales hint at a 1970s childhood in Sri Lanka and extend to the present where Shanaka maintains and promotes the philosophy that ‘everybody deserves a place at the table’.


19. ‘Sails Noosa Cookbook’ by Paul Leete, Independent

When you holiday and Noosa over the holidays, this is a gift to pick up when dining in Sails Restaurant.  Their story is worth telling, and like many proud restaurateurs, they’ve taken it upon themselves to tell an important local story by way of food – ‘fresh, simple food presented perfectly and professionally’.



From the chefs of Spirit House in the Sunshine Coast comes a modern Thai inspired world, full of flavour and in this case, Asian influenced BBQ recipes.  When these chefs are not busy fuelling the restaurant with extraordinary food, they’re sharing their unique style and technique with students in their cooking school.  Perfect for summer entertaining.  


21. ‘Latitude 36.50’ by Jean-Michel Gerst, New Holland (2012)

Taking us in another gastronomic direction, this collection resonates on a warming level. From a mountainous setting, these recipes are categorically designed with that alpine culture at the heart.  Hit the slopes for breakfast, refuel at lunch and opt for an afternoon sugar hit that you’ve made yourself – there’s nothing tastier.  


22. ‘Slow Cooking’ by Margaret Fulton, New Holland (2012)

When Margaret Fulton started writing in 1968, her self-titled book sold over 1.5 million copies, teaching the generations how to entertain guests with impressive staples.  A timeless goddess of cookery writing, Margaret Fulton is now ensuring we maximize our use of the ever versatile slow cooker for stews, casseroles and… breads and cakes.  There’s nothing old fashioned about a crockpot and no better way to pick up modern tips than from a legend.  


23. ‘The Cook’s Bible of Ingredients’ by Margaret Brooker, New Holland (2012)

Photos can go a long way in assisting us in preparing new dishes, at least giving us a visual idea of what we’re looking for.  Margaret Brooker’s book ensures the image speaks loudly in educating us on basic ingredients.  A picture book with helpful information that covers the dietary food pyramid; a gamut of area is covered from grains and cereals to sweeteners and flavourings. 


24. ‘Movida Cocina’ by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish, Murdoch (2011)

The king of Spanish cuisine in Australia has paired with writing colleague Richard Cornish to release Movida Cocina through Murdoch Books, which came out late last year - Frank Camorra has done it again.  Novice cooks beware... some recipes in MoVida Cocina are indeed hearty while emphasizing simple flavours, but are certainly not effortless in the making. Preparation needs to start three days in advance for their pork and pepper Catalan sausage with black beans and piquillo peppers, “Butifarra” (the name Frank originally wanted to call his first restaurant).



To complete the advent countdown, we’re offering the gift of continuity.  Check back in our blog periodically, every month or so for book reviews that will offer great ideas for gastronomes and lovers of all things food, wine and travel – with a particular emphasis on Australia.  Oftentimes we’ll interview the author where they’ll dish out some of the juicy details on their work in the kitchen and other tid bits of advice and hot topic ideas. 

Happy Christmas gift shopping readers, eaters and cooks.  Check out the new AGFG Shop for pantry items, treats, chef ranges, beverages and molecular specials.  


Healthy Foods and Christmas Fun

December 2012

By Annette Sym

Food Shopping Over the Holidays

I know Christmas only comes once a year, but how many people give up on their healthy regime at this time of year and then have trouble starting it up again?

Over the next few weeks we will be bringing food into our homes that wouldn’t normally be there and the best way to avoid overeating at Christmas time is to start where it all begins, our food shopping trolleys.
 

You’ll find a number of my healthy treats in the AGFG Recipe section.  This year fill your cart with ingredients for thematically coloured and totally tasty Mexican Dip as an appetiser and Christmas Cake for dessert. 

I believe that you can’t do much damage in one day, but if you have leftovers they are there to taunt you the next day… and the next.  Let’s be honest, how strong can you be?  This is often where the real damage can be done. A little of everything is good for you, and there is no need to be deprived, just don't overindulge. 

Those packets of sweets and Christmas delights are put into your trolley, transferred to the pantry or fridge, and remain there hard to resist.  If you make good food choices in the first place, you won't be tempted to blow all the hard work you’ve put in all year round.

My suggestion is to only buy one bag (preferably small) of the treats that are a must for Christmas day. Don’t buy the bulk packs, as you want to avoid leftovers at all cost. Small bags of treats means that you may not get the opportunity to go back time and time again as everyone else will beat you to it.

Remember also that all the Christmas food on offer such as chocolate, nuts, cashews, fruit cake and puddings, etcetera are readily available 365 days of the year.  If you want you can eat 'treat foods' all year round so don’t use the Christmas excuse that you 'don’t want to miss out on this once a year experience'.

Here are the fat counts of some Christmas foods

so you can now make the right choices:

 

100g TURKEY BREAST baked lean - 3.0g

100g PORK leg, roasted with fat - 14.0g

100g PORK leg, roasted lean - 3.5g

30g CRACKLING - 8.5g

50g LEG HAM - 3.5g

100g CHICKEN boneless with no skin - 2.0g

SMALL SERVE STUFFING - 3.0g

AVERAGE PIECE CHRISTMAS CAKE - 24.0g

CHRISTMAS PUDDING(180g) - 12.0g

1 MINCE PIE homemade - 10.0g

50g CHOCOLATE COATED NUTS - 20.0g

3 CHOCOLATE COATED ALMONDS - 11.0g

 

Moving More Than Your Fork

on the 25th

Being active on Christmas day is easy if you have the right Christmas presents to get you motivated. Be it a brand new bike, gym equipment or pool toys, everyone can enjoy some form of activity in the afternoon and work off all that Christmas fare.

These activities are fun for the whole family: 

•If bikes are under your tree then taking the kids out for a bike ride will be at the top of the list of activities. Teaching your child to ride a bike is not only a great bonding exercise but it is a great way for them to have fun and get fit at the same time. Who says that bikes are just for the kids?  If you don’t already have one, put your order in for a bike if you want to get fit in 2013.

•Grab the new cricket set and have a game after lunch to burn off all that Christmas pudding.  This is a fun group activity and a great way to spend time together, for young and old.

•Throwing the frizbee or new ball in the backyard will get your heart rate up and is a fabulous way to teach children hand-eye coordination.

•If the big pressie is a trampoline then you will have no excuse not to have a bounce around and burn some calories on the 25th.  Just jumping up and down may not seem like much but do that for 15 minutes and you will realise that it is a great workout. I would suggest that you have safety rules such as how many can be on at one time as well.

•Wii activity games are a great way to do a workout without even realising it. Do a session on boxing and you’ll quickly discover that you can have a great workout while having a lot of fun.

•Badminton, tennis or squash rackets can also be a great incentive to include more exercise into your life.  Set up a net in the backyard and get everyone involved.

•I remember buying my daughter a table tennis table one year and we played it all day long. We had round robins and loads of laughter but we also were moving our bodies, which is what being active is all about.  Every generation loves table tennis so put this on your Christmas list.

•If you are lucky enough to live near the ocean or have a pool, get the pool toys out and enjoy the outdoors.

•Instead of having a nap in the afternoon go for a walk and get some fresh air - burn off a few calories. 

Where There Is No Bad Whisky

November 30, 2012

Neeps & Tatties and Other Scottish Eats


Detective novelist Raymond Chandler once wrote, “There is no bad whiskey… there are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”  With 1 billion bottles of whisky exported from Scotland per year, there is no question of quality there.

With a million and a half of Australians of Scottish decent and migrant residents in the hundreds of thousands, whisky glasses - quite possibly containing imported Scotch - across Australia will be raised high to the sky in celebration of St Andrew’s Day on 30 November.  

Rumour has it that Scotland’s patron saint offered King Angus whisky to sedate his anxiety the night before his victorious battle on this very calendar date.  Today we’re happy to partake in parties celebrating Scottish unity but the question remains, what exactly do we eat with our whisky?


Tartan.  Bagpipes.  Sean Connery.  The Loch Ness monster.  Stereotypical though they may be, they’re all undeniably, unmistakably, iconically Scottish.  As is haggis.  Though emblematic of their homeland, there’s much more to Scotland’s culinary landscape than minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with onion, oatmeal and spices, tidily packaged in a sheep’s stomach.

Scots have an evocative foodscape, linked to the land, seasons and a history of survival.  Anyone who’s experienced the full brunt of the Scottish climate knows that a hearty bowl of porridge or smoked haddock chowder (cullen skink) offers a depthful comfort.  

Other foods lining the pages of traditional Scottish cookbooks include Arbroath smokies, neeps & tatties (turnips and potatoes), and shortbread. This unforgettable venison dish will bring close to home the essence of a land so far away, reminiscent of historical highland castles and refecting sleek Scottish city restaurants of today.

 

From seafood sourced from pristine waters - Scotland is the world’s 3rd largest salmon source – to Angus beef and quality venison from fertile glacial-carved glens, Scottish produce is world-renowned.  To top off your whisky (ahem, meal…) try cranachan dessert whipped up from wild brambles picked on winding country walks.  

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie (cheerful) face, weel are ye wordy o’ a grace?   Since everyone’s worthy of cuisine cast our way from Gaelic times, try your hand at a few Scottish dishes from our AGFG Recipes section.  If you make a mistake, simply wash it down with whisky and none will be the wiser. 


By Kelly Korpesio

 

Legendary Lebanese Cuisine

November 22nd, 2012

  

Crowned ‘Paris of the Orient’

   


Lebanese cuisine is the richest in the Middle East, a veritable feast for the senses, and this blog comes right from the heart of my upbringing.  Being of Lebanese descent, I can safely say food and family were riding high on the priority list growing up.  There were always generous gourmet spreads and eating together as an extended family - including non-related “aunties”, “uncles” and “cousins” - was typical, buzzing with the incessant offering, “Don’t be shy here, you’ll go hungry!” 

 

 

Check out our AGFG Lebanese Restaurants section, designed to direct diners to an authentic establishment.  With Lebanon’s Independence Day coming up on November 22nd, you may wish to book reservations and for those who don’t have a restaurant nearby we’ve pulled together some hearty home recipes and cultural tidbits for you to try. 


 

 

A mash up of heritage miscellany, Lebanon today is ultramodern and ancient simultaneously.  Its name is derived from the Arabic word “Lubnan”, meaning white and reflecting the colour of its snow topped mountains.  This country is also home to Byblos, one of the oldest cities in the world with unparalleled archaeological remains and famous seafood dinners at the antique-filled harbour. 

 

Lebanese cuisine is best described as being a combination of Mediterranean meets Middle Eastern, making its mark in the Western world with internationally recognized dishes of falafel, baklava and tabouli. Mostly prepared using a variety of vegetables, meats, pulses and grains, traditional Lebanese cuisine largely reflects a Mediterranean tapas style of serving, a typical mezze consisting of up to 30 hot and cold dishes.

 

 

 

 

From “hommard” (lobster) to hummus, Lebanese is delicious and diverse served in a hospitable climate that correlates fine food and a vibrant nightlife.  You can bring that warm and welcoming appeal of Lebanese culture into the comforts of your own home with a few of these family recipes.  An international favourite, baba ghanoush is made of mashed eggplant with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice - toast up some flatbread and give it a go.

   

Enjoyed in my home as a yearly winter favourite, kousa mahshi are hard to resist, best described as a whole meal stuffed into a marrow and are worthwhile culinary adventure.  Minced meat, rice and tomatoes are the key ingredients flavoured with parsley and mint. Although traditionally served hot, they are just as nice as a cold, second day leftover.

 

  

Associated with Sunday summer lunches, chunky chips and fresh salad, lahem meshwi always makes a regular appearance (in excess) at the family dining table. Also known as lamb shish kebabs, they can also be made with diced beef and marinated to your liking. Simply using garlic and olive oil marinade, these kebabs will steal the show at your next BBQ.

 

  

Delightfully sticky and often accompanied with strong, thick coffee, Lebanese sweets are made with nuts, honey and flaky filo pastry, going by names such as baklava, namoura and barma. Sfouf is a famous sweet and fragrant Lebanese cake, made with semolina and almonds, is perfect for an afternoon tea or post dinner treat.

 

 

Amble down to your market for ingredients, inspired by our AGFG Recipe section.  Even without the context of medieval souqs, lavish temples, and majestic remains, you can recreate the richness of Lebanese culture in your own home with good food and familial spirit.
   

By Brittany George 

 

Halloween Treats with Shriek Factor

31 October, 2012  

Scary Spice & Candy Sweet

 

Everyone loves to dress up for Halloween but serving spooky good foods is where the magic is.  Great news for home cooks whipping up something fierce is that you don't need a magic wand (unless you're dressing up as a fairy).

 

Let our AGFG Recipes section be your go-to book of spells for brewing up batches haunting haute cuisine in the kitchen, witches outfit optional.

 



Years ago at a rowdy Halloween party a twenty-something gent, the chef’s son and a life of the party type, drunkenly piped up, ‘Halloween is just an excuse for women to show some skin.’  ‘And for men to wear high heels,’ I recanted with a wink.  


There’s no denying that dressing up for Halloween is sexy and fun, but the scariest bit isn’t costumes gone off kilter.  The fatal distraction is when an amicable host makes one killer oversight, forgetting the importance of food with fear factor. 


Get thematic with your Halloween costume, décor and canapés.  Whilst wearing the best costume, be sure to tempt your guests with top notch Halloween themed tapas.   

 

  


Food That’ll Make You Say ‘Boo!’



Set the mood with devilish decor and begin the party by spiking this blood red punch, alleviate hunger horrors with this savoury hijiki salad, and do the monster munch with this absolutely addictive recipe featuring Reeces Pieces. 

 
Dressing up like Scary Spice toting fearfully spicy canapés?   Donning pretty in pink princess attire serving candy sweet ghost cupcakes?
 
 

Search our AGFG Recipes, bare your fangs and tempt your guests with sweet and savour Halloween treats that will ensure party guests RSVP to your ghoulish gala year after year.

 

 By Kelly Korpesio