Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chatter 36 Masterchef

Masterchef is a TV program in it's third year that runs six nights a week at prime time in Australia. Starting with 50 aspiring cooks, who have met the pre program selection criteria, it pits contestants against each other, sometimes individually and sometimes in teams, in challenges resulting in the elimination of one or two contestants each week. On Fridays two of the judges, well known chefs, demonstrate how to cook several dishes and on Tuesday each week the contestant who cooked the best meal on Monday competes head to head with a leading chef, or rarely an apprentice. If the contestant is judged to have the better dish they earn an 'immunity pin' entitling them to avoid an elimination contest if they need to.
It has a huge audience, and is full of surprises. Contestants share a house and are isolated from family and friends until they are eliminated. The winner gets a $100,000 prize and lots of opportunities for endorsements, and book and recipe writing or working in any area of gastronomy that might appeal. This is a massive prize and there is immense pressure on contestants to perform.
There are frequent interruptions to their culinary endeavours for brief interviews about how they are feeling as they struggle with unfamiliar challenges or dishes that are not going well, which don't really fit with what's happening at the kitchen but it's nice to hear their thoughts, though they are invariably predictable and mundane.
Unfortunately there are some very unpleasant aspects of the show. It is intrinsically unfair. Firstly the judging is sometimes left to an extremely untutored public and can even depend on children. Secondly the judges, two or three chefs and a food writer often with a guest chef, are forced to pick between dishes which have minor faults and cannot, in my view, be fairly separated. Thirdly the team challenges sometimes have the teams preparing totally different meals. Apples cannot be fairly compared to pears.
The nastiest part of the show comes moments before a contestant is to be eliminated. Knowing he was about to send her packing George Colombaris asked what this competition meant to a contestant. She bared her heart explaining how deeply committed she to it, and how very much it meant to her, they often break into tears at this point, whereupon George announced I'm sorry but your time in the Masterchef kitchen is over, or words to that effect.
For those who watch the show my guess as to the last four contestants Haydon, Billy, Kate and Michael and the winner Haydon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gourmet Dumpling Restaurant (Malvern) 06/2011

Regardless of the quality of the food, which is pretty good, there are some very unappetizing things about this place. The emphasis might best be placed on the Dump part of the name. It leaves an impression of grubbiness that makes me wonder. The walls and skirting boards are desperately in need of paint.
When I pointed out to our waitress that a condiment container was dirty she changed it for one from another table that was even dirtier
and when I suggested she might have to wash one she gave me a radiant smile, said "Yes" but did nothing about it. When we came back a few days later nothing had changed!
Tables are set with plastic cups, bowls and spoons, paper napkins, chopsticks and containers of vinegar, soy sauce chili sauce and a thermos of hot tea.

We started with a spring onion pancake. Very crisp and crunchy despite being oily and having almost no content it was quite nice. ($3)
Then we got on to the dumplings. Pork and prawn dumplings had a good pastry cover and were great value,
10 for $8.50. Eight or nine chicken and spinach dumplings in soup with some sea weed and a few strips of egg were also excellent both for taste and value.
The best dish we tried was the Shanghai pork dumpling.
So often disappointing, these were piping hot, full of a great tasting soup and contained in a fairly thin and soft dumpling pastry which is rarely matched. An absolute winner.
A serve of pork ribs must have come from a very small pig.

They were in a tasty sauce and it was easy to separate the meat from the tiny bones.
This is an extremely cheap restaurant hitting well above its weight in the food division but sorely lacking otherwise.
Score 12.25/20

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tao Tao House (Hawthorn) 06/2011

As with so many other restaurants Tao Tao House has had several transformations over many years before its latest metamorphosis. It is still Chinese but it's very different from Panda, the last restaurant we went to at this site. It's quite plain,
we were told this scrip translates to an offer of good food,the decor very simple and undistinguished.

The menu offers a six course 'House' set menu for $55 which can be vegetarian, or a seven course special menu for $75.
The general menu has over 30 appetizers at about $7 and over 70 main dishes from about $20 to $30.
We elected to have a range of appetizers and a main course of sweet and sour pork ribs.
Fried stuffed eggplant was well cooked and moist with a pleasing light sauce.
Enoki mushroom and duck roll, actually rolled in tofu skin is a chefs recommended dish.
There was plenty of duck and mushroom giving a nice blend of tastes and textures.
Creamed sea food combo served in a lettuce leaf, like san chao bao, was a most delicate and delicious dish.

It combined the scallops with prawns, fish and egg white in a light creamy sauce. A rare delight.
A baked scallop shell, with minced chicken, onions, mushrooms and cheese was unexceptional, which is not bad,

and this also applied to the crispy lamb rolls with garlic, mushroom and herbs deep fried in rice paper which were fairly oily.
Fried rice was a nice blend which was a nice foil for the other dishes.
Spicy quail appealed to me.
It was quite meaty for a small bird. The spice was well balanced and made this a beaut dish.
Tao Tao spare ribs braised in a sweet vinegar sauce with caramelized onions was another chefs choice.

For us this was another quite good dish. The onion was very coarsely cut but there were no outstanding attributes.
We had a too heavy mango pudding for dessert
and mini egg tarts which were about average. We were given a plate of excellent crisp little biscuits at the end of the meal.
I had a peculiar experience with a cold Gekkeikan sake.
Served in a pot belly flagon it was placed in a large wine bucket 1/4 full of ice and water. On being returned to the bucket the flagon was off centre on a piece of ice and rolled on to its side immediately filling with water! It was replaced in a smaller container.
There is one major criticism of Tao Tao House and that is the service which was very poor. Time and again we had to call a waiter for assistance of one sort or another. We had to ask for everything, water, the wine menu, to place our order, additional water or whatever.
Score 13.75/20