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?
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.
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!?
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…
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.
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).
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.