Call me an ignorant Melbourne cityfolk, but Bendigo wasn’t on my radar as an exciting weekend away. I was recently invited to a road trip to Bendigo which changed my point of view! After spending 36 hours in Bendigo, I ended up eating one of the top 10 meals I’ve ever experienced and developed a new found respect for a destination I would definitely label as a gourmet foodie region. Go Bendigo!

Interestingly, I discovered some other Bendigo claims to fame during the road trip, which include:

  • Francis McEncroe invented the “Chiko Roll” in Bendigo after being inspired by a Chinese chicken spring roll 
  • Bendigo has the oldest Chinese restaurant in country Victoria
  • Bendigo has a long history of winemaking, with the first vines planted in the Bendigo region over 160 years ago
  • The very first Myer department store was opened in Bendigo by Russian immigrant Sidney Myer in 1900
  • Bendigo has the oldest vintage tram fleet in Australia
  • The Hazeldene Bendigo Easter Festival is Australia’s longest running community festival (almost 150 years!)
  • The Bendigo Art Gallery is Australia’s largest regional art museum, founded in 1887. Currently the Marilyn Monroe exhibition is running until 10 July 2016.

36 hours in Bendigo, Heathcote and Marong

Despite my initial thoughts, there was actually a lot more than I expected going on in Bendigo. The weekend was so much fun, with lots of food, wine and activities to keep us busy around Bendigo, Marong and Heathcote. Here were the highlights:

Eat

Stay

Drink

Play

 

FOOD FOSSICKERS

It all started on a Saturday morning in May. Within a comfortable 2 hour drive from Melbourne, Thanh (@ieatblog), Angie (@feedmeichi), her husband Ronnie and I were standing outside the Bendigo Visitor Centre. We had gotten up early in time for the Bendigo Food Fossicking Tour. In my head, I was almost imagining foraging the forest floor for mushrooms, digging up white truffles and maybe even climbing some trees. While it wasn’t quite that adventurous, it did involve shovelling copious amounts of food in our bellies while visiting some of Bendigo’s foodie hotspots.

First stop was Bendigo Wholefoods, a gourmet one-stop food shop with a greengrocer, delicatessen, kitchen nursery and providore. If that wasn’t enough, there was a machine that turned roasted nuts into fresh peanut butter!! This was my type of place. The tasting spread at Bendigo Wholefoods was impressive – breads, cheeses, condiments, pickles, olive oils and these organic, vegan, whole grain crackers called “Mary’s Gone Crackers”. Seriously, these were like a vegan’s version of pork crackling – so incredibly crunchy and tasty. When I thought it couldn’t get better, the Wholefoods kitchen next door brought in something I didn’t expect – a sample of their vegan and gluten-free zucchini bolognese. Put a blindfold on me, and I would be hard pressed guessing this dish didn’t have meat or dairy. The bolognese was a mushroom and lentil sauce with fresh tomato, kale, cashew cheese and roasted almonds served on top of zucchini “spaghetti”. It turned out to be one of their famous “wholebowls”, and is one of those dishes that make me think becoming Vegan is certainly achievable (yes, Brando The Pig just wrote that).

Next stop was The Epicurean Delicatessen, an authentic Italian inspired delicatessen. A butcher’s display fridge with a large selection of small goods and imported cheeses greeted me as I walked in the door. After a coffee and donut, I was transported back to memories of my last holiday in Italy. The Italian style donuts served at The Epicurean are called “Zeppole”, and we were told the secret ingredient was potato! As we moved onto the next stop, I left with my eyes firmly fixated on the hams, which were local, free range and nitrate free.

A few minutes walk away, I thought I was looking at a either a funny shaped chef’s hat, or a giant helicopter landing pad. It turned out to be The Good Loaf Sourdough Bakery – the company that brought local sourdough to Bendigo. The bakery was set up in a circular shaped heritage listed site that was a former Beaurepaires Tyre building. And it was no gimmick, the baked goods here are award winning and tasted delicious! The Pumpkin Semi-Sourdough was my favourite – a fluffy corn and wheat based dough with a touch of sweetness from roasted pumpkins. Respect to The Good Loaf bakers who endure 1:30am starts to produce these baked goods for Bendigo!

On to the next stop – an artisan chocolate shop called Indulge Fine Belgian Chocolates. Having worked in a confectionary company for almost 10 years, I always get excited about local chocolate offerings. To my surprise, my picky tastebuds were very impressed! The chocolates at Indulge are made using Callebaut Belgian Couverture Chocolate and skillfully transformed into the various flavours sold in store. I fell head-over-heels in love with the Indulge Salted Milk Chocolate block and ended up eating so much my stomach started hurting. No regrets. I had to force myself to walk out before I ate the whole store.

 

The Famous Masons of Bendigo

25 Queen St, Bendigo VIC 3550

The last stop of the Food Fossicking Tour, was the recently hatted restaurant in the 2016 The Age Good Food Guide – Masons of Bendigo. Set in a former glass factory and run by husband and wife couple, chefs Nick and Sonia Anthony, I had no idea what I was just about to experience.

Warialda beef carpaccio Warialda beef carpaccio with black pepper, candy cane beets, smoked aioli, fried onions and kipfler potato chips

The first dish served was Warialda beef carpaccio with black pepper, candy cane beets, smoked aioli, fried onions and kipfler potato chips. The dish was plated beautifully, and it tasted as good, if not better, than it looked! The depth of flavour was impressive considering it was carpaccio, and the dish was well balanced, with elements of texture, smokiness and an acidic finish. I rated the dish 10/10 and honestly can say it was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten this year.

What was even more fascinating was the most of the elements of the carpaccio dish were sourced locally within 100-150kms of the restaurant. The grass-fed beef was sourced from Warialda Belted Galloways in Clonbinane, the herbs from B&B Basil in Bendigo (Victoria’s largest micro-greens grower), olive oil from Salute Oliva in Boort, eggs from 400 Acres Paddock Eggs and salt flakes from Pyramid Salt. It was beginning to dawn on me that the food here wasn’t just about the flavours or the chef. It was about sourcing the best available produce locally and bringing them to life on the plate.

Mcivor Farm Berkshire pork belly skewers Mcivor Farm Berkshire pork belly skewers, green mango, macadamia, coconut caramel and lime

Mcivor Farm Berkshire pork belly skewers were next, served with green mango, macadamia, coconut caramel and lime. The pork belly was so tender, delicious, and surprisingly not greasy, which prompted me to ask Chef Nick how he did it. The pork belly was braised in master stock and twice cooked. I quickly scribbled this tip down for future reference. Mcivor Farm is located in Tooborac, in between Melbourne and Bendigo, where the Old breed Berkshire pigs live in a free-range, chemical free environment.

This drew our Food Fossickers tour to an end, but we stayed for lunch to try and plough through the rather large menu. Approximately 70 locally grown products are showcased at Masons and I wanted to try as many as my stomach could fit!

Pheasant terrine Pheasant terrine, pate, sourdough wafers, pistachio, charcuterie garnish, raisin puree Zucchini flowers George’s Fried “Cauliflower Cheese” Zucchini Flowers with smoked paprika mayo, pickles and lemon

These stuffed zucchini flowers were just stunning. Biting into the crunchy exterior opened a whole new world, with delicious Taleggio cheese and buffalo mozzarella oozing out. It was balanced with pickles that added zing and tasted amazing. Together as a whole, the dish was delicate, flavourful and harmonious – it was so beautiful I felt like I was going to shed tears of joy even though I hardly ever cry! Incredible.

Sweet and Sour Mcivor Farm Pork Hock Sweet and Sour Mcivor Farm Pork Hock, spring onion and peanut salad, lime

This is on par with some of the best pork dishes I’ve ever tasted. It reminded me of my favourite pork belly dish in Melbourne that I liked so much I ended up hosting my wedding reception at that restaurant. After eating the reshaped Pork Hock at Mason’s, I was tingling with how good it was. The charred edges added depth and crunch, with a clever use of peanuts accentuating this. The pork surprisingly wasn’t greasy, and was kept fresh with a good amount of acidity from the lime and cabbage. A well balanced caramel just elevated the dish to Heaven. Foodgasm material. This is an absolute must order dish from the menu. Another 10/10.

Mcivor Farm Berkshire Pork Fillet Mcivor Farm Berkshire Pork Fillet, Pork Belly, milk braised breaded shoulder, morcilla and crackle pinwheel Roast Wanbi Plains Lamb Loin Roast Wanbi Plains Lamb Loin with crispy belly, rolled shoulder, beetroot, black olive caramel, fromage and beetroot crackle Dessert Tasting Plate Dessert Tasting Plate – Creme brulee, Holy Goat & lychee pannacotta, choc-hazelnut delice, macaron, strawberry ice cream sandwich, chocolate pot with coffee soil, Opera Cake with orange curd, Favourite Flavours ice cream & Persian fairy floss

The Dessert Tasting Plate closed out one of the top 10 meals I’ve ever eaten. After the meal, I wanted to stand up, start a slow clap and give the chefs a standing ovation. The depth of flavour, the textures, the presentation, the concept, Masons had it all. Additionally, I could feel the love in the food, and the whole meal paid respect to the local, seasonal produce. Truely great and a very memorable dining experience that will bring me back to Bendigo.

Bendigo Corner Store Café

305 View St, Bendigo VIC 3550

Tomato & quinoa fritters Simply Green Tomato & Quinoa fritters

The Bendigo Corner Store Cafe was a bustling little cafe situated in a former neighbourhood milk bar. Beautiful full bodied Clark street roasters coffee and a delicious sounding menu greeted us as we sat down for breakfast. I decided to take a bold risk and ordered the Simply Green Tomato and quinoa fritters. It turned out to be a great bet – they were incredible! It was unique, crunchy and flavourful, with delicious pickled onions bringing the whole dish together. I’d highly recommend ordering this dish!

Big Breakfast Big Breakfast

The Big Breakfast hit the spot with free range eggs and bacon, Otway Irish pork sausage, hash brown, balsamic roasted cherry tomatoes, spinach, sourdough and a very memorable tomato relish that took the dish to the next level.

Smoked salmon & poached eggs Ocean breakfast with free-range poached eggs with smoked Atlantic salmon, wilted spinach and hollandaise, dusted with sesame seaweed, on organic sourdough.

A modern breakfast wouldn’t be complete without a sweet element to it, and that’s exactly what Angie ordered – House made ricotta pancakes with blueberries, lemon syrup and citrus sugar, house made coconut yoghurt, lemon balm, a grilled lemon cheek and vanilla Persian fairy floss. It certainly rounded out a satisfying feed.

Heathcote Harvest

32 Tuscan Court, Heathcote VIC 3523. Open Friday to Sunday.

The stars aligned for us to have a family style Sunday lunch on the Heathcote Harvest 20 acre working farm, about 40 minutes outside of Bendigo. Boris the Berkshire boar greeted us in the carpark, along with a number of varieties of chickens as we walked into the restaurant.

Cured meats

We feasted on locally produced prosciutto, hams, salumi, local cheeses, house made terrine, spicy snags, pickles and condiments. And ofcourse a side of free range Berkshire bacon. What a spread! Then came a pork schnitzel with creamy mash and red-cabbage sauerkraut. I still remember the crunch. Turns out the batter was house made sourdough that was blitzed and used to coat the schnitzel. It was one of the highlights for me, and a dish that almost didn’t make the menu.

Overall it was a lovely paddock to plate experience, and I couldn’t leave without buying some of the fresh free range eggs. Not bad for a couple who came to Victoria to retire.

Marong Family Hotel

26 High St, Marong VIC 3515

I loved the beautiful community feel to the Marong Family Hotel. It felt like more than just a pub, so I think it is well described as a “Family Hotel”. A variety of areas cater for a broad crowd, where you can catch up with mates over a drink, keep the kids entertained in the games area, all while with a dining area serving delicious local fare.

As we scanned the menu for food, we drank some Connor Park wines, with grapes grown on the owner’s property 10km away. I could almost picture the farm-to-table lifestyle as I drank the wine, thinking I hope one day I can grow my own grapes and turn it into wine. My attention moved to the part of the menu with the signature range of dishes – specialty paddock-to-plate lamb which the owners source from their farm at Connor Park.

After much debate (sign of a good menu), we ordered the Dukkah Spiced Lamb Backstrap which came out in a generous portion – literally a mountain of food! The lamb was served with smashed potatoes, honey Dutch carrots and sauteed spinach.

We also tried the lamb shank special and couldn’t leave a country town without trying the Chicken Parma. Lovely service and experience.

STAY

BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park

We stayed at the BIG4 Holiday Park in Marong. Marong is a small township about a 15 minute drive west of Bendigo, and despite a population under 500, it has been identified as one of the next growth areas around the Bendigo region. I have to say I enjoyed my stay outside of the busy built up areas more than I thought – waking up to wide open spaces and gum trees surrounding Marong was certainly different for me and made me feel like I was on holiday.

Big 4 Caravan Park, Marong

Staying at the BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park also opened my eyes to the world of BIG4 Holiday Parks. My impression of “Big 4” prior to my stay in Bendigo was that it was budget accommodation for families. After a night at the BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park, I found the accommodation much higher quality than expected. The room I stayed in was clean, modern and comfortable. While we didn’t stay long enough to fully enjoy the facilities, we did have a quick burn on the peddle cars on a man-made go-cart track. I felt like a kid that wanted to stay and play all day, but my parents (or in this instance, travel buddies) were trying to remind me of the schedule and to get in the car.

I enjoyed my time at the BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park to the point that I have subsequently used BIG4 for accommodation for a weekend getaway and have even signed up as a BIG4 Loyalty member.

DRINK

Both Heathcote and Bendigo are two of Victoria’s 21 distinct wine regions, and while I was excited to dive into the Heathcote Shiraz tastings, I never really knew Bendigo had so many wineries until this visit. Bendigo’s Mediterranean style warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters make it well suited to producing full-bodied wines and I wished we had more time to explore more.

  • Balgownie Estate – considered one of the pioneers of Bendigo’s modern wine industry with a larger estate in the Yarra Valley
  • Sandhurst Ridge – A welcoming winery founded by an Italian family and now run by two of the brothers who live on site. There are also two luxury cottages available for guests to stay the night. Interestingly the vineyard is named after Sandhurst, the former name of Bendigo!

Heathcote is blessed with a microclimate similar to France’s Rhone Valley, combined with a distinguishing spine of Cambrian rock that runs north-south through the region. The breakdown of this rock creates the mineral rich, red soils which give Heathcote wines their unique character. Driving through the Heathcote township, I was surprised how big the town was – there were even wineries on the main street! It turns out that Heathcote has Australia’s longest country town main street, and is surrounded by the largest remaining Box-Ironbark forest in Victoria. 

  • Downing Estate (Heathcote) – A friendly cellar door in a modest garage setting. Downing Estate is a 5 star James Halliday rated winery with 100% estate grown wines. Also has hours of entertainment playing fetch with the wine dog.
  • Flynn’s Wines (Heathcote) – My favourite wine of the weekend was a Heathcote Shiraz from Flynn’s. The Flynns Multi Clone Shiraz 2012 was full bodied and I could distinctly pick out the blackberry notes. The wines are made on site, and while the winery was built from scratch in 1999, the Shiraz’s score well in the 2016 James Halliday Wine Companion.

PLAY

Bendigo was alive with the youthful film star buzz of Marilyn Monroe. The famous capture from the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch” can’t be missed as Marilyn’s giant white skirt lifts high into the trees of Rosalind Park, with the 8m high Forever Marilyn sculpture making a statement that Marilyn is in town!

Giant Marilyn Monroe in Bendigo Giant Marilyn Monroe

In collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox, Bendigo Art Gallery presents Marilyn Monroe in one of the most comprehensive Marilyn collections in the world. Even though I didn’t know that much about Marilyn, I was in awe and even a little inspired seeing this time lapse of Norma Jeane Baker’s transformation from an orphan into one of the most recognisable film stars of her time, Marilyn Monroe. There were some tempting moments where I wanted to whip out the camera to snap a quick picture but photos weren’t allowed. Marilyn’s wardrobe was pretty amazing, along with some interesting personal artefacts. There were several points in the exhibition with quotes by Marilyn, and the one that stuck with me was her quote “Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer”.

Our Marilyn themed weekend continued on the Sentimental Journey on Tram 880, one of Bendigo’s famous vintage trams which was converted into a special evening ride of sipping cocktails, munching on charcuterie boards and getting lost in the soothing tunes from Jazz legend, Ella Fitzgerald. The Sentimental Journey explored the friendship between Marilyn and Ella, and was a unique way to spend a Saturday night unwinding with friends.

For something different, away from Marilyn hysteria, we visited the calming environment of The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. A stupa is a Buddhist religious monument and The Great Stupa in Bendigo is the largest Buddhist monument in the western world (more than 6 times bigger than the Forever Marilyn sculpture!). The Great Stupa will also hold the largest gem quality Jade Buddha in the world after carving is finished by master carvers in Thailand.

CONCLUSION

I was really quite pleasantly surprised by this excursion. The weekend in Bendigo and Heathcote convinced me we have some of the best quality food, wines and experiences in our Victorian backyard. There is certainly a lot more that meets the eye in Bendigo, and it’s a place I’m keen to explore further in future trips. Good to know also that there are V/Line trains from Melbourne just in case my car breaks down and I need to sneak in another trip to Masons of Bendigo. Seriously so good. Thanks Bendigo, I’ll see you again soon.

Brando attended this trip as guests of Bendigo Tourism and BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park.

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Happy New Year to My Food Trail readers! Welcome to our first post for 2016, I’ve been incredibly busy already, but I’ve got so much to share with you. Where do I start!?

Let’s start with Christmas. I’ve always wanted to make my own bacon, and after overdosing on brisket in American BBQ Nirvana (Texas) over Summer, I was convinced Santa would bring me a Smoker. As circumstances would have it however, I ended up splurging our savings on a brand new TM5 Thermomix! Not quite a bacon maker, but known as “The World’s Smallest, Smartest Kitchen”, and it has opened my world into endless food producing possibilities.

But I have a confession to make. Until recently, I was skeptical, even anti-Thermomix. I felt this machine was taking away the “art of cooking”, where people could make anything at the press of a button, completely skipping the process of learning the fundamentals and putting love into cooking a dish.

My view changed over time, once I realised how much more you could do in the kitchen with a Thermomix. Things like:

  • Making precisely heated and smooth lemon curd (This is important because my wife LOVES lemon curd. Happy wife, happy life. I can also use lemon curd to bribe her hehe)
  • Freshly milling rice flour from rice grains or blitzing sugar into icing sugar. Instantly, I can reduce the 10 or so different sugars in my pantry by a third. Strangely, clearing the overcrowded pantry also makes wifey happy…
  • Stirring my risotto and kneading my bread while I do other more important things like checking Instagram…(wife not so happy)

Seeing the potential that a Thermomix could help me bang out a dish I’d made many times before, but in record time, I took the Thermomix leap and didn’t look back.

Thermomix Vs Man – Oliebollen Dutch Donuts

Oliebollen donuts

The first big test I put my Thermomix through was a head-to-head Iron Chef battle against my father-in-law, Rob. Rob is a proud Dutch-Australian and amongst his many talents, he has become legendary for his Dutch donuts. Dutch donuts are known as oliebollen, or translated from Dutch as “oily balls”. These balls are made from a batter consisting of flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and milk, then deep fried in hot oil. Usually they are loaded with dried fruits or apples, and even a few swigs of beer in place of the yeast.

Legend has it that a Germanic goddess called Perchta, flew around Holland during the twelve days of Christmas, looking for food. Perchta would slit open the belly of anyone she could find and steal the food in their belly. If you had eaten oliebollen however, the “oily balls” would protect your stomach, and make Perchta’s sword slide off your belly.

Not that I needed another reason to eat oliebollen. The first time I tried oliebollen was at a small food stall in Salamanca Market while holidaying in Hobart several years ago. I curiously bought one, and remember the sweet crunch followed by a fluffy centre with moist sultanas. It was a simple, yet satisfying ball of dough. I didn’t get to encounter that oliebollen feeling again (they are surprisingly hard to find in Melbourne), until I discovered my in-laws made them around New Years, a Dutch tradition they subscribe to every year.

So it was for years, I would ask (or some might say, beg) to help my father-in-law make his famous oliebollen. I never managed to hustle my way in to this secret oliebollen making ceremony. Until recently.

What I discovered in the process was how seriously the Dutch take their oliebollen. Every year around Christmas time in Holland, one of the national daily newspapers, the Algemeen Dagblad, run a competition to find Holland’s best oliebollen. The AD Oliebollentest competition is in it’s 23rd year, and holds high prestige, with the 2015 winners, Master Bakers Cees Weeda and Arnold Kabbedijk, claiming “this is a baker’s best prize.” Their winning bakery, Meesterbakker Voskamp, also won the coveted award in 2010, which quadrupled their sales. In the lead up to New Year, they were able to sell up to 12,500 oliebollen an hour, and almost half a million oliebollen in total during the Christmas/New Year season. Like I said, serious business.

In comparison, Rob and I worked our backsides off over several hours, making and selling over 400 oliebollen for a Christmas carols event. And that’s not including that one’s I ate! I ate so many oliebollen I literally lost count. We were exhausted but it was an amazing day!

The day started with helping Rob prepare the mixture. I hear some Dutch families keep their oliebollen recipe physically locked in a safe, and while Rob doesn’t, I’m sworn to secrecy. However, I can share a behind the scenes view of Rob’s secret process, and there is an oliebollen recipe I used in the Thermomix below too.

The Oliebollen Dutch Donut process

STEP 1 – Rob prepares his secret flour mix, a combination of flour, yeast, salt and sugar, mixing them together by hand in giant tub.

Oliebollen mixing dough Hand mixing the dough

STEP 2 – Rob then adds the wet ingredients, milk and eggs. He hand mixes the dough until he reaches the consistency where there are no flour clumps

STEP 3 – Rob uses raisins and currents in his standard oliebollen mix, adding them as the final step

Oliebollen adding raisins and currants Adding in the raisins and currants

STEP 4 – The oliebollen mix is transferred into a bin, covered, then left in a warm spot to rise. Over the next 1-2 hours, depending on temperature, the oliebollen mix should more than double in size

Oliebollen dough proving Transferring the dough so it can rise

STEP 5 – Deep fry the oliebollen in hot oil and remove when golden brown.

Oliebollen donuts frying Deep fried golden donuts!

STEP 6 – Dust the oliebollen with a generous serving of icing sugar and serve

After a random poll of 10 people, 80% loved Rob’s hand made oliebollen. MAN wins!

Recipe – Thermomix Oliebollen

Adapted from Devil of a cookbook by Fiona Hoskin

  • 60g sugar plus extra to dust (Mill 4 sec @speed 9)
  • 1 medium size Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and quartered (Chop 5 sec @speed 4)
  • 2 sachets dried yeast (14g)
  • 130g water
  • 450g plain flour
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 250g full cream milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g currants
  • 30g raisins
  • Vegetable oil to deep fry
  • Ground cinnamon to dust doughnuts

Method

  1. Mix yeast and water together in the Thermomix, 2 minutes, 37 degrees @speed 2
  2. Add the flour, salt, milk, eggs and sugar into the mixing bowl, then knead for 1.5 minutes
  3. Add currants, raisins and apple, stirring for 20 secs, reverse, speed 2 until combined
  4. Pour the mix into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size (approx 1-2 hours)
  5. Heat oil to approximately 150 – 160 degrees, and deep fry the oliebollen until golden
  6. Generously dust the oliebollen with cinnamon and sugar. Serve immediately

Much more to come on my new toy in future posts.

Until next time, happy eating, Brando

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Hello and welcome to my first post for My Food Trail! Not to be confused with Mr FoodTrail (yes, it happens a lot!), my name is Brandon but people online know me as Brando The Pig. I’m excited to share some of my adventures with you, and hope you enjoy them as a new addition to the My Food Trail blog!

So where does my first adventure begin?

Ms Noordam docked at Port Melbourne Ms Noordam docked at Port Melbourne for the first time

All aboard! April and I jumped on board the maiden port call of the Holland America Line ms Noordam, the cruise ship’s first trip to Melbourne. This also happened to be my first time on a cruise ship and it certainly opened my eyes to a whole other world of holidays.

Ms Noordam library The library is a great place to unwind

After checking in (like an airport!), the next four hours was spent uncovering the unique features of ms Noordam. There was a fitness centre, roof top pools, luxury shops, a library cafe, an art gallery, an endless number of bars, a cigar lounge (!!), live entertainment by the B.B. King All-Star band, theatre shows, and my personal favourite, a burger bar serving some of the best burgers at sea. Who thought you could fit all of that into a ship!?

Ms Noordam Dive in Terrace burgers Best burgers on the sea at the Dive in Terrace

Then came one of the highlights of my very short food blogging career. Meeting one of the internationally renown Australian chefs, Mark Best. Mark is a member on the Culinary Council for Holland America Line, with a signature restaurant Marque, currently a two hatted Sydney restaurant in Surry Hills, which previously hit the dizzying heights of #67 on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2010.

For me, Marque still holds the mantle of one of my favourite desserts of all time – the famed chocolate mousse “ecrase” (crushed) with eucalyptus and coconut. The mousse is frozen in liquid nitrogen, crushed, sprayed with chocolate coverture then refridgerated. I remember chomping down on the cool crisp exterior which opened up a soft, rich mousse. It was offset by a unique refreshing eucalyptus caramel (made with Fisherman’s friend lozenges for sore throats!), coconut sorbet and candied mint.

Mark now owns another one of my mantles – my favourite chef interviewees. Yes I know, it’s my first interview, but Mark was amazingly generous with his time, charismatic in his responses and didn’t hold back on his answers while being interrogated by a complete amateur (me). So without further ado, here is my maiden chef interview with the very talented Mark Best…

Chef Mark Best Chef Mark Best

Brando The Pig: First question up front, what do you think of food bloggers?
Mark Best: LOVE THEM! (laughs)
Brando: Right answer!
Mark Best: No look, the face of media is changing, the bloggers, online, digital, is where it’s at. It’s the new paradigm. Bloggers are part of that. I like to reach as broad as audience as possible, and I like to talk to your audience as intimately as I would like to talk to traditional print based media. So, yep, love them.

Brando: Now we’ve just spent the last couple of minutes looking at some amazing photos on your iphone, and there’s some beautiful shots there. In general, how do you rate the talent of chefs in the skill of photography?
Mark: Uh…pretty bad, I would say (laughs). No, it’s something I’ve always been interested in. Actually my photography pre-dates to me being a chef. I go back to film days, so it dates me a bit. It’s something I even learnt at school, it was part of the school curriculum. We did the photography module, learnt dark room skills, started off doing pinhole cameras, and taking perspective shots of the school bench and stuff like that. I got my first SLR when I was about 18 and I’ve just carried on. Photography is certainly something that informs my work, in terms of my composition on a plate. And vice versa. I have a very minimalist style. As you noticed, even my photography is a little gritty and realistic. Which doesn’t always suit everyone’s mental image of what they look like. But as I say, if you want a better photo, get a better head (laughs).

April: Is that why on your Instagram profile, you’ve got that scary face as your profile pic?
Mark: That’s Tutankhamun’s [also known as”King Tut”] father. But he’s a few thousand years old, so he’s not looking the best. I like him because he’s got this sort of wry grin and a nice bit of ginger hair still, which I don’t have, ironically.

Brando: Now obviously being very active on Instagram, you would see quite a number of food shots and food styles from many different people, what do you see as the most common fails with food photography or food styling on Instagram?
Mark: Um…taking pictures of your food after you’ve finished it. (laughs). I see that a lot.
You know, a lot of the people I follow, they tell a compelling story, no matter what they’re photographing. You want to be able to climb in that page, and you want to eat it. If they’re saying it’s delicious, you want to feel that through the photograph. So you don’t want poor lighting, or poor angle, or clutter. You just need to focus on what’s the hero of the frame, and then just cut out all the other clutter. You know, and that’s how I sort of frame myself as well. You need to say “What’s my story here, what am I trying to say” and then get out anything that is superfluous.

Brando: Brilliant. I’d love to sign up to one of your photography courses, if you do eventually branch out to that side of things.
Mark: (laughs)

Brando: We’re are on the ms Noordam, can you quickly tell us how you got involved?
Mark: I was contacted some years ago by the corporate office and evidently I had been through some extensive selection process that I didn’t know I was part of, and was told I was the winner. I said sure and so I joined the culinary panel. Pretty flattering to be amongst some of the world’s leading chefs. Jonnie Boer [of the three Michelin star Restaurant De Librije in Zwolle, Netherlands], David Burke, Elizabeth Falkner, [also Master pastry chef “Mr Chocolate” Jacques Torres] all amazing talents. We all provide recipe content to all of the ships, we put out about 10 new recipes a year. Then they send out their roving chefs to come into our kitchens and train, learn our recipes, then they come back on board and implement them across the ships. We’re just about to put on a Mark Best menu, when we’re in the local port, we will run some Mark Best nights on board, in the pinnacle grill.

Brando: If there’s a one way ticket which Mark Best takes on the Ms Noordam, where would you end up?
Mark: I would go back to Alaska, I was just there. I just did the Vancouver to Seattle trip through Alaska. It was amazing. Once I’d actually calmed down and got into the rhythms of the ship, you sit in this oily black waters, and the scenery drifts past you, then the glaciers, and hearing the birds tweeting, and thinking “where are these birds coming from?”, and realise you are completely surrounded. It was absolutely amazing. And it still has this gold rush aura about it, in terms of it is still wilderness. It’s a very, very large continent and almost untouched by people. It’s beautiful to go up there and witness that.

Brando: And how was the food on the trip Mark?
Mark: It was exceptional. (Grins). Some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Brando: (laughs) Were you in the kitchen?
Mark: Yes I was. We have a full kitchen on board with a huge auditorium, we do cooking shows on board, we teach people how to cook, we’ll give out samples and we cooked a dinner on board as well.

Brando: You’re known for loving your gadgets in the kitchen, which gadgets would you take on board the Noordam?
Mark: If I had to take my desert island device, providing there was mains electricity, it would be the Thermomix. I think a camp fire and a Thermomix, I think I would be fine, I would have all bases covered.

Brando: It’s been a great pleasure speaking to one of the acclaimed chefs of Australia…
Mark: [interrupts] …Of the world… Of the seven seas (laughs)
Brando: And potentially one of the best chef photographers in the world. (laughs).
Mark: Potentially
Brando: (laughs) Thanks for your time Mark.
Mark: Thank you

Stay tuned for more delicious content coming soon!

Until next time, happy eating, Brando

Brando and April were on board Ms Noordam for the day as guests of Holland America Line and PEPR Publicity.

{ 1 comment }

Welcome sign

My Food Trail has a new contributor!

by April@MyFoodTrail on November 20, 2015

in Miscellaneous

I am pleased to welcome my brother, Brando, as a new contributor and writer to the My Food Trail blog! He is otherwise known as @brandothepig on Instagram and loves eating and taking photos of his food as much as I do. Maybe even more 🙂

Brando is a keen home cook and I have been very lucky to have had a number of his delicious meals. He will be sharing some recipes on My Food Trail as well as writing up his restaurant visits.

So My Food Trail readers can get to know Brando a bit better, I asked him some food related questions below. You’ll notice that typical questions such as “What is your favourite food?” or “What is your favourite restaurant?” have been excluded because I know how hard it is for a foodie to answer those questions with just one response!

April: What is the most unusual item in your pantry/refrigerator?

Brando: Whenever I travel, I always have to bring local food specialities back home with me, so my pantry looks a bit like the United Nations of food. I have shrimp chilli oil from Thailand, wakame seaweed from Japan, maple butter from Canada, aceto balsamico from Italy and seaweed pork floss egg rolls from a recent trip to Macau. The most unusual item in my pantry however, would be the various Ferran Adria branded powders and agents I still have from my dabble in molecular gastronomy during the reign of the El Bulli days. It’s probably more unusual that they are expired and I can’t bring myself to throw these big, almost full tins out!

A: Unlike some men who don’t have a sweet tooth, you definitely do! What would be your dream cake?

B: It’s funny that I don’t really think I’m a sweet tooth. Nine times out of ten I would choose an entrée over a dessert, but then I look over my Instagram feed and see how much sugar I actually eat. No wonder I’m not losing weight haha. When I think of a dream cake, I think of the most memorable cake I’ve eaten – my wedding cake. It was a giant croquembouche from Adriano Zumbo Patisserie, which my amazing Mother-in-law then pimped up with Persian fairy floss, dried figs and candied flower petals. It definitely needs texture. I’m a texture junkie…

A: Do you have a food hero/chef crush?

B:I have too many to mention! If I could only pick one, I would have to choose Massimo Bottura. He is a legend in my eyes. I went to a couple of his masterclasses at the Melbourne Food and Wine show, and I ate at his 3 Michelin restaurant in Moderna, Italy. The way he crafts his ideas, the way he bends food concepts into emotion and nostalgia is just awe inspiring. Honourable mentions to Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal too.

A: What is your favourite snack food?

B: Like I said, I’m a texture junkie. Give me anything with a crunch. Crackling. Corn nuts. Chips.

A: What is your guilty food pleasure?

B: Bacon. And lots of it. Even worse I think would be my bacon jam because it is also loaded with sugar. And don’t get me started on icecream and donuts!!!

A: What would be your last meal?

B: It would be the ultimate degustation. Dan Hunter’s eel bone marrow dish, Grant Achatz’s hot potato cold potato, plus his Basque cake for dessert, Martin Berasategui’s gin apple cucumber celery dessert, Mark Best’s Chocolate Ecrasse, a couple of courses from Vue Du Monde, actually, this question was a bad idea haha.

A: What won’t you eat?

B: I’ll usually try everything and anything at least once. For example, I accidently ordered chicken sashimi (ie raw chicken) in Japan, and thought “I may regret this” but tried it anyway. There was one time however, I got really sick eating pork ribs from a well known chain, losing about 5kgs in five days. I’m still scarred from it so I don’t really touch pork ribs. I’m not particularly fond of durian, goats cheese or offal either, but that’s not to say I absolutely wouldn’t eat it.

A: What did you have for dinner last night?

B: Pan fried salmon with homemade basil and cashew pesto, asparagus and a raw salad of beetroot, green apple, carrots, coriander and toasted pepitas.

A: What is your most memorable food experience?

B: Such a hard question so I will answer it broadly. My most memorable food city is definitely, hands down San Sebastian in Spain. It is an absolute food mecca up there, which I have so many fond food memories. The best meal I’ve ever eaten was closeby at the eponymous 3 Michelin restaurant called Martin Berasategui in Gipuzkoa. I was absolutely floored by the balance of intensity and delicateness of the Basque flavours, along with the inventiveness of the dishes. It transported me into food heights I never imagined possible. The whole experience, including the impeccable service, was faultless.

Thanks Brando! Look out for his posts coming soon.

Over & Out, April xx

{ 2 comments }

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Golden Gaytime Slice

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Sea bass @ Saveur Restaurant, Singapore

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Chocolate dessert at Caprice Restaurant, Hong Kong

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