CountryStyle Country chefs edited by Victoria Carey

Stories and recipes from Australia's best-loved country chefs

By Robyn Lewis
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CountryStyle Country chefs

CountryStyle Country chefs [©Penguin Books Australia]

 

Food – and exploring our culinary roots – has never been more in fashion, thanks to the inexorable rise of the celebrity chef along with mass television since the 60’s. Worldwide, we’re out of touch with what nourishes our bodies, and we want to make amends.

Whole, live, squealing pigs? You can meet the snout and tail, before witnessing the butchering – for those with the stomach for it – smoking a ham and making your own charcuterie and blood pudding. Getting hands on with just about everything from honey bees to rare-breed chickens is now fair game for the epicurious, and even the line that kept horses on the track and out of the pot is being crossed, if recent facebook invitations to a horseflesh dinner are any indication.

Toss in a dose of MasterChef, top with Heston’s Fantastical Feasts, a touch of Maggie, Nigella or Poh, sprinkle with Jamie (we’re on first name terms with many of them), and stir in the Iron Chef’s wok and it’s little wonder why cookbooks are being released in Australia alone at the rate of over two a day. We just can't seem to get enough of either the authors or their recipes, and increasingly, their food sources.

Fascination with food and with it food travel have reached new heights not seen since 1900, when tyre maker André Michelin gave birth to star ratings for French country restaurants, for the somewhat self-interested purpose of promoting car-based tourism. It’s now a worldwide phenomenon that shows no signs of abating.

So, we have guides ­– in Australia led by the Age and SMH’s Good Food Guides, which now extend beyond the urban fringes ­– and many others popping up like forest fungi after rain, both in print and on the net (you’re reading this review on one right now).

But in print, few are of the calibre of CountryStyle Country chefs. The book’s editor Victoria Carey (of Country Style magazine) clearly has ‘the eye’ and well as the nose for sniffing out and the palate for tasting the creations of the nineteen country chefs features in its 214 pages.

Combine these with the unerring style of Julie Gibbs, Publishing Director of Lantern – an imprint of Penguin Books which specializes in food, lifestyle and travel – who includes cookbooks by Maggie Beer, Christine Manfield and Stephanie Alexander in her stable, and you have a true visual feast.

To quote the book’s media release: ‘CountryStyle, Country chefs is a beautiful collection of recipes and stories from Country Style magazine which features some of Australia's most celebrated and well-loved country chefs, including Maggie Beer, Stefano Manfredi, Dietmar Sawyere and Steven Snow.

Stunning location photography captures the beauty and diversity of the Australian countryside and the recipes reflect the goodness and honesty of country cooking, especially its resonance with time and place. While the chefs' styles and cuisines are as varied as their locations, they share a common passion for seasonality, locally sourced ingredients, foraging for wild food and kitchen gardening.

There are over 90 recipes highlighting the very best of fresh, seasonal produce – from Tom Moore's Stinging Nettle Gnocchi (with artichokes, walnuts and gorgonzola) and Maggie Beer's Quince and Prune Pastry to Annie Smithers' Braised Lamb Shoulder and Steven Snow's Seafood Sambal.’

Most of the recipes have photographs showing the end product, or capturing the ambience of the place where it has been prepared, with the love and care within spilling from every page. The recipes themselves are detailed, and the chefs have been generous in sharing details so that they can be perfectly recreated at home.

Some of my seasonal favorites include Barossan Maggie Beer’s lamb shanks enlivened with cinnamon and orange; John Cross (of Solitary in the Blue Mountain)’s Jerusalem artichoke soup with forest fungi duxelles; Steve Cumper (of Red Velvet Lounge in Cygnet, southern Tasmania)’s chocolate and stout pudding and his equally delicious sounding hazelnut and leatherwood honey parfait; John Snelling (of the Outpost Retreat in Noojee, Victoria)’s rabbit pie… the mouth-watering list goes on and on and will take you well into summer.

This December I’ll be sure to make Dietmar Sawyere’s Christmas pudding and white chocolate marquise with raspberries – in fact all four Berowra Waters courses would make a fabulous Christmas feast, substituting lobster, bug or marron for the yabby-deprived in his Champagne risotto.

The recipes are enlivened by stories from each chef: their food passions, how they got into cooking, their love of their locations … move over Tuscany, we have some wonderful tales and regional roots right here. And gradually, some local specialties are emerging. The only misfortune to me is that both Western Australia and the Northern Territory have been omitted.

Several of the featured restaurants are at vineyards, including Lurleen’s at Sirromet Wines in Queensland’s Mount Cotton and Rock at Poole’s Rock in the Hunter Valley, others like Simonn Hawke’s Lolli Redini and Simone’s of Bright are in the heart of wine regions (Orange and North Eastern Victoria respectively). Good wine and good food are generally never far apart.

But wherever, and forgetting the distances of our wide, brown land ­– CountryStyle Country chefs just makes you want to forge your own Michelin trail around south and eastern Australia, or if you can't get away, then to take your own sumptuous culinary journey at home. A great food souvenir or lure for intending culinary travellers to our shores, too.

 

Special mention goes to Steve Cumper of the Red Velvet Lounge who recently received the inaugural Australian Country Chef of the Year Award, a reader-nominated award instigated by CountryStyle magazine, or as Cumper puts it ‘people voting with their feet’.

Cumper is ex Pheasant Farm and Peppermint Bay before his ultimate tree change to the village of Cygnet in Tasmania’s Huon Valley, where his own booming business features mainly local produce.

CountryStyle Country chefs edited by Victoria Carey is published by Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Australia (2010; sc, 214 pp), and retails for RRP A$39.95. VisitVineyards.com and Winepros Archive subscribers can purchase CountryStyle Country chefs from our book partners Seekbooks at a special discount of 12.5% off RRP (postage extra).

 

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July 22nd, 2010
 
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