the truffle

Single ingredient festivals. Why not? It’s all about celebrating the season, the products that are available and those that cultivate and harvest them.
There have been coffee, chocolate and mussel festivals. So why not truffles? Now in its second year, the Truffle Festival at Prahran market this weekend is all about making accessible these little black shrivelled up nuggets of gold.
Truffles. Mysterious, highly flavoursome, highly expensive and difficult to use. That’s the perception, but as Chef Guy Grossi points out, they don’t have to be. You only need a shaving of a truffle to add volumes of flavour to a dish. Festival Director, Nigel Wood, explains, the price tag for 50 grams of black truffles may well be $135, but that would lift the profile of a whole lot of dishes, and you wouldn’t need as much as that to add that certain je ne sais quoi to your next dinner party.
What ARE truffles and why the hype? Truffles, like mushrooms, are the fruit of a fungus. They are pretty high maintenance little things as they grow underground and need trees to host them and animals to eat them and distribute their spores. They are also pretty needy because they can’t make their own food, so they form symbiotic relationships with deciduous trees. They do give a little back  to the relationship as they coat the roots of the tree and help it absorb minerals and as a kickback, they get their nutrients from the tree.
Truffles are at their best and most prolific in the winter months and like any high maintenance entity, they don’t just sit around waiting to be found. They nestle in between fallen leaves and bits of branch and mineral-rich soil. Hence the need for specially trained dogs or pigs to locate them.
There is plenty of opportunity to try these little black diamonds in all their glory at the Prahran Market this weekend (20 and 21stJune). Dispel all the myths, by watching cooking demonstrations, sampling truffle enhanced culinary delights and watching truffle dogs in action.
If, as French writer Alexandre Dumas claimed, “they can, on certain occasions, make women more tender and men more lovable,” Prahran Market will be a wonderful place to be this weekend. 


we came into this world with sealed orders

On Saturday I auditioned for a role in a French play.
The director told me to think about delivering the lines in a Liv Ullman style. To be honest, that’s not what I heard initially. In a Chilean versus New Zealand accent incident, I heard “Ingrid Bergman style”, and started getting all Casablanca on it. But what he meant was I should say the lines in a “Liv Ullman as she is in Ingmar Bergman films” style.
Hmmmm. Ok.
I can’t say that I am at all a connoisseur of Ingmar Bergman’s films or Liv Ullman and her acting style. So I looked her up. Of course.
And what I found made me think. A lot.
Liv Ullman is a Norwegian actress and film director. In her own right. I say that because she is often described in her role as one of Ingmar Bergman’s muses and lovers, and appeared in 12 of his films. And, while there’s a part of me that feels annoyed at the constant view of Ullman as some kind of extension of Bergman, she, herself, constantly refers to him in interviews and articles. Their actual liaison only lasted five years, but the impact they had on one another seemingly had long-reaching effect.
In terms of acting style, Ullmann virtually defined a nakedly emotional, natural style of acting that few since have come close to approaching in terms of the level of quality and honesty. I’m not really sure I can even begin to attempt that, but it always pays to have high standards to strive for.
Acting style aside, what interested me most about Liv Ullman is her take on life.
Men and women and love and hate are the themes of most of the projects that have dominated her life.
“What else is there?” she says. “I think the most important theme is that we don’t connect. We want it so much, but much of it has to do with missing the important moments, or watching them slip by.”
“It is so difficult for people to really open up to each other, so they choose instead to settle for lives of emptiness. Young people today don’t even have to do it with each other. They can do it with their phones.”

Liv Ullman is 75 years old. She has had, in her own words, “a wonderful marriage for 30 years” but she says that, “she still has this thing about men”. She is always looking for love and wondering what a man is, because the first man in her life left her so soon. When she was six years old, her father walked into the propeller of a plane.

While Ullman is still enthusiastically creating and contributing and loving and learning, she is also philosophically calm about her life and all the people, tragedies, elations and success she has encountered.
In many of her interviews she refers to Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophy that we came into this world with sealed orders. For Ullman, this doesn’t mean we have no choice; it means that maybe right now we are doing just what we were supposed to be doing.
I love Liv Ullman.

Two Fold

I think one of the best things about being a food writer is meeting people who are really passionate about food; those who love cooking and sharing flavours and experiences with others.
Food shouldn’t be about trends, although it invariably is, it shouldn’t be about exclusion, those in the know and those who aren’t and those who were ‘there’ and captured it on Instagram versus those who weren’t.
Food should be about creating something good, bringing people together over the goodness and just kicking back and enjoying the whole experience. And that’s exactly the feeling I got at Two Fold, the first solo venture by 2014 My Kitchen Rules’ contestants, Helena and Vikki Moursellas.
Recently I was asked to chat to the bubbly Greek twins for The Northsider and, I’m sorry to admit, I actually had no idea who they were. But a quick search on Google revealed two gorgeous young women, always smiling, exuding energy, passion and a great deal of belief in the path they have decided to carve out.  And this path has the potential to be a tricky one.
As Vikki says, “a lot of people go on these reality tv shows just to be on tv and not because they love cooking. We went on MKR because we are really really passionate about cooking. We didn’t let it get to us; we just remained ourselves. We literally went on and we were just Helena and Vikki. We wouldn’t have got this far if we weren’t ourselves.” This was obvious when I met them and had a chat with them.
Growing up in a Greek family where food was everything, the twins cooked with their grandmother and mum. Regular visits to Greece to visit family became part of their food journey and sealed the deal and tightened their vision for a future in hospitality.
Once the MKR season ended, the girls did not let the momentum go. “We’ve been self-employed now for almost two years.” said Vikki,  “It was really hard at the start but we pushed and pushed and thought, we’re not going to give up; we’ll make our own career out of this. I think the thing with these shows is that everyone thinks you’re going to get stuff handed to you afterwards and you’ll live this really cool life, but we just had to work hard and put ourselves out there. We’ve met some cool people here in Melbourne. That’s the advice we give this season’s contestants, nothing is going to come to you for free. You have to go out there and chase it.”
Having worked in restaurants, bars and nightclubs for seven years, the girls are no strangers to hospitality. Helena did the hard yards for six months in a Greek restaurant on Swan Street, Melbourne. “It’s not a glamorous job,” she says. “I’ve learnt a lot. They’ve been really good to me, but they laugh at me and say, ‘just because you’ve been on television, Helena, doesn’t mean you can’t clean the deep fryer.’ So I’ve had nights when I’ve been on my knees cleaning the deep fryer. I like doing all those crappy jobs because that’s where we all start, at the bottom.”
Two Fold has been open just over a month and is already achieving what the girls set out to do; creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere where they get to share some of their favourite meals with diners, giving them a glimpse into what its like to eat at the family table, with all its Greek goodness.
The menu is well balanced with a variety of Shared Snacks, Main Plates, smoky Greek treats from the Grill, some lighter sandwisch/toast options, salads and sides.
Cured Fish Cones were the perfect start. Crispy little wonton wrappers forming cones packed with a fresh tasting mix of salmon, pomegranate, finger lime and coriander. 

Next was the blue swimmer crab and avocado on Grumpy Baker sourdough. The light delicate crab flavour worked well with avocado and I enjoyed every mouthful.

The standout for me, though, was the taste of the marinated giant Clarence River octopus. The flesh was smoky, slightly spicy and so tender. From the first mouthful, as clichéd as it sounds, I was transported to the shores of the Mediterranean. Beautiful.

Living life like it’s golden?