I will admit… Right now, I am exhausted. It’s past 1am and I’ve been going like mad all day to finish everything going on at work before the long weekend and my month long trip to Singapore/Japan. One of my jobs at work is to prepare events for the teachers who work in our Conference and I made the slightly tiny error of planning my holiday (clearly, waaay too early in advance!) to realise that I would literally be away for a whole month prior to the big event and come back on the actual day of the event – meaning that everything had to be completely organised one month in advance. Well, crunch time came today and I managed to pretty much finish everything but I am completely zonked out (mentally AND physically!) and SO ready for this holiday, bring it on! While I’m gone, I (hope) to have a few posts ready for you while I’m gone but I must apologise that I won’t be reading my usual blogs (I will definitely be catching up on my return though!)
Fortunately for me, I am very pleased to share a recent interview I had with the newly appointed head chef of Altitude, Matthew McCool (how awesome is his name, seriously). Matthew is an incredibly talented, young chef whose passion for food is really evident in his dishes and the kinds of ingredients he sources for them. I really enjoyed learning more about his background and some of his kitchen secrets and do hope you enjoy the interview too!
I was also fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at Altitude for last week’s Earth Hour (love seeing companies getting involved with this!) so I could sample some of Matthew’s cooking. I look forward to sharing my experience with you all but thought I would get started first by posting up the interview. Enjoy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to work with food.
Well, my love for food started when I was really young and eating at an Italian restaurant in Marrickville. I started chatting with the chef and the way he was describing the roast lamb we had just eaten was absolutely amazing. I was inspired by how much preparation and thought had gone into the flavours and how it was cooked perfectly. He really encouraged me to take more of an interest in my cooking and find a job where I could develop that kind of passion.
What is your favourite simple dish to make at home?
I like to keep it pretty simple at home so my favourite dish is Italian pork sausages with chilli, tomato, homemade rigatoni pasta and black olives. My wife is Italian (born and raised in Palermo in Sicily), so we both love to eat pasta and use lots of tomatoes, cured meats and basil at home!
Would you say your personal style of cooking is influenced by any particular culture or cuisine, and if so, which one?
Modern European and a touch of Asian from my time in Beijing.
What’s your favourite cuisine?
I would have to say Italian because of my wife’s background and how much time I have spent in Italy with the family. I also really love modern French for the techniques.
As a chef, are you more interested in making complex and intricate dishes for yourself and family/friends at home, or do you prefer to leave that for the restaurant?
I definitely prefer to keep it quite simple at home. I’m at Altitude restaurant six nights a week creating new dishes and experimenting so at home, it’s all about fresh flavours and easy cooking we can do together. I just started growing some fresh herbs at my place so lots of basil, rosemary and thyme.
What is your greatest food passion?
I love to find new ingredients and produce that not many chefs are working with yet. We recently took a trip to Berridale farm in the Blue Mountains to source ingredients and found some amazing produce i.e. Salsify a root vegetable (found mostly in Europe) and borage flowers which we use for our Quail dish.
My sous chef and I also just found some sashimi grade prawns at Di Costi, a seafood brand most people are familiar with. All they need is some olive oil, lemon, salt and a touch of chilli.
Do you have a favourite kitchen gadget?
Yes! Definitely our Sous vide water bath. We use this quite a lot and just created a new Salmon dish that we poach in the bath with bronze fennel flowers.
Do you have a favourite childhood food related memory?
We used to fish a lot as a family so catching fresh fish, just near Avoca beach on the Central Coast and cooking it on the bbq with my dad!
Did you have any personal chef heroes growing up who inspired you in your journey to becoming a chef?
Yes of course, quite a few. There are so many great chefs in Australia and I met some amazing talent when I worked in London and China.
Phillipe Leban, an Australian/French chef who now works in Tasmania. I worked with him at Quay Restaurant when I first started my career. He was very professional and creative in the kitchen which I really admired. He pushed me to go overseas and try something new; I then spent six years in London and two years in Beijing working at some amazing restaurants. My work at Shangri-La actually started at our China World Hotel, Beijing property where I led the team at Aria Restaurant for almost two years. During my time there I won the title of “Chef of the Year 2011” at the TimeOut Beijing awards and “Restaurant of the Year” by City Weekend Beijing.
These were some of the best experiences of my career!
What is your favourite decadent dessert to make?
I love sweets so I have a few but one of our latest creations at Altitude Restaurant is a white chocolate and artichoke brulee. The sweetness of the white chocolate is perfectly balanced by the earthiness of the artichoke. It may sound like an odd flavour combination but it really works! (see recipe below)
Any tips or advice for all us at-home cooks?
Just to keep it simple and use fresh ingredients. Try to support local suppliers and visit your community markets for fruit and vegetables, there are always great finds there and usually fresher than you will find at your local supermarket.
If you have the time and the space, start growing some fresh herbs at home. To have a bit of basil and mint in the backyard is great and more economical than buying them every week at the supermarket. Herbs don’t take a lot of time to grow but you do need to keep monitoring them and give them plenty of sun and water.
Do you have any food safety tips that would be good for home cooks?
1. Wash your hands (basic but a good reminder)
2. Take care of your produce, especially your fresh herbs
3. Always work on a clean bench and stay organised. For home cooks, clean as you go – then you can enjoy your food as soon as it is ready with a glass of wine!
Any more advice for aspiring chefs?
Just to work hard when you are young and your time in the kitchen will pay off. It always helps to surround yourself with other great chefs that inspire you. I hand-picked quite a few of my team at Altitude and we are creating some amazing flavours and dishes together!
Matthew sourcing some (very fresh!) handpicked ingredients for his dishes in the Blue Mountains.
Artichoke and White Chocolate Brûlée by Matthew McCool
Serves: 12 people
To make the custard;
- 400g artichoke puree
- 550g egg yolks
- 700g white chocolate
- 80g sugar
- 1400g cream
Bring cream up to the boil; pour over chocolate and mix. Pour chocolate over egg and sugar mixture, strain and pour into moulds. Bake at 103, 1hr 20 minutes fan 2.
To make Artichoke Puree;
Peel and slice artichoke, place in a wide based pan, half cover with cream, bring to the boil, stir to avoid catching on pan. Once softened (shouldn’t take more than 6 minutes once it comes to boil), blitz and pass through a fine sieve.
To make the sable breton;
- 320g Egg yolk
- 640g Sugar
- 640g Butter
- 900g Flour
Beat butter and sugar until light, slowly add egg yolks. Fold through flour, bake at 150 degrees, until lightly coloured and cooked through.
To make tart base;
- 900g crushed sable breton
- 360g hazelnut powder
- 300g melted butter
Blitz in batches in the robocoupe.
To make elderflower sorbet;
- 460g Sugar
- 2500g water
- 200g lemon juice
- 30g super neutrose
- 200g tremolin
- 300g Elder Flower Syrup
Mix sugar and super neutrose, keep it on the side. All the rest into a pan (apart from elderflower), bring to the boil then remove from heat. Whisk in sugar and neutrose once mix has cooled to approx 40 degrees, add elderflower syrup and freeze.
To make apricot gel;
- 1kg apricot puree
- 23g lemon juice
- 14gm agar agar
- 2 each gelatin
- 200g water
- 200g sugar
Bring everything to the boil except gelatin, add gelatin after boiling. Set, blitz.
Have all your prep ready and make sure your biscuit is cold before you pour then mixture on. Ensure you use a baking frame rather than a dish so the bottom can pop off when you’re ready to serve.
A big thank you to Matthew from us at Cooking Crusade for the great interview – and for all those helpful hints for at home cooks, as well as his fantastic artichoke and white chocolate brûlée recipe!
I do hope you all have a fantastic Easter and stay safe on this lovely long weekend – enjoy it because it only comes around once a year 😉
Images sourced from Director of Communications, Shangri-La Hotel Sydney.