Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

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Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

Brae

Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

Secret Tuscany

A far cry from Tuscany’s familiar gently rolling hills, Monte Argentario’s appealing mix of mountain, ocean, island and lagoon makes it one of Italy’s hidden treasures, writes Emiko Davies.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Pea and ham soup

Sandor Ellix Katz Q&A

On the eve of his Australian tour, food fermentation 'revivalist' and guru Sandor Ellix Katz distils 20 years of brewing experience.

Sandorkraut - it's a nickname Sandor Ellix Katz wears well. The American author knows a thing or two about sauerkraut - sauerkraut, pickles, ginger beer and kombucha. He's also conversant in miso, kimchi, kefir and hoppers. He's a cultured yoghurt man, and has a black belt in tempeh. Fermentation is Katz's passion, and, to flick through the index of his most recent publication on the subject, you can see that this interest roves far and wide, taking in brewing, preserving, liquorice and West African condiments. Perhaps most fascinatingly, hot sauces (pages 117-18) and huitlacoche (page 214) are followed by "human bodies, disposal of" (pages 401, 434).

Katz, a "fermentation revivalist", has been pickling, curing and crocking for more than 20 years, penning two well-regarded books on the subject along the way, Wild Fermentation: The Flavour, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, $32.50, pbk), and the more recent The Art of Fermentation (Chelsea Green, $51.95, hbk), earning the adoration of health enthusiasts and artisan food lovers around the world along the way.

The New York Times has described him as "a charismatic, consciousness-raising thinker and advocate who wants people to see the world in a new way", while American author and food authority Michael Pollan (who wrote the foreword in The Art of Fermentation) positions him as a "confirmed pacifist" in the war on bacteria.

Katz is touring Australia this February, running a series of workshops and talks, so we caught up with him for a chat.

Gourmet Traveller: Why do you reckon restaurant chefs in the West are so interested in fermentation all of a sudden?
Sandor Ellix Katz: Chefs and eaters have always incorporated products of fermentation such as wine, vinegar, cheese, bread, soy sauce, condiments, etc. These foods have had enduring popularity. What's being revived right now in home kitchens as well as restaurants is a desire to practise fermentation. I attribute this to a broad interest in becoming more connected to our food, following a long period of people being thrilled to do less work in the kitchen and garden and outsource as much food production as possible. We now see that there are downsides to convenience and centralised production, and home cooks and restaurant chefs alike are interested in reclaiming food. Fermentation is an integral part of this process.

Which chefs and restaurants in your sphere are embracing the possibilities of fermentation to their most delicious extent?
I see lots of exciting experimentation - chefs taking ancient processes and giving them a new twist. Some restaurant chefs I've encountered who are fermenting outside the box are René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, David Chang at Momofuku in New York and Sydney, and Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of Bar Tartine in San Francisco. I look forward to seeing what Australian chefs are doing.

What about you - what is it about the field that grabbed your interest and has held it for so long?
I first started making sauerkraut 20 years ago for practical reasons to preserve my garden's harvest. Then I got obsessed with all things fermented, and that has never waned. Most of the world's greatest delicacies are products of fermentation. I don't believe any one person could have a comprehensive knowledge of fermentation and I enjoy continually learning about new foods. Also, advances in microbiology have made this a very exciting time to be interested in bacteria, the matrix for all life. Fermentation is the realm in which bacteria transform the plants and animals that sustain us, and this bacterial activity improves the food in different ways (flavour, stability, nutritional content) and has a beneficial impact on our bodies as well.

Do you think we've become distanced from fermenting in the Anglophone West?
I think in the Anglophone West, as in every culinary tradition, fermentation is quite prominent. Bread, cheese, vinegar, beer, condiments - even Vegemite is a product of fermentation. The allure of convenience foods has distanced most of us from the actual fermentation process, but the foods themselves have endured in popularity.

How can we, as home cooks, dip our toes into a little fermenting?
I generally recommend that people start with fermenting vegetables. It's incredibly easy: chop, salt, squeeze or pound, and stuff into a jar. You can enjoy results pretty quickly, beginning after just a few days (but potentially continuing for weeks or even months). No need for special starter cultures; it's all on the vegetables. No special equipment needed. Crocks are great, but a jar works fine and you've probably got plenty of those around. It's extremely safe; in fact, statistically speaking, safer than eating raw vegetables. According to the US Department of Agriculture, there have not been any documented cases of food poisoning from fermented vegetables. And they are delicious, probiotic, and nutritious. A great thing to integrate into almost any meal.

What about the more experienced fermenters among us - what do you recommend by way of a more involved project?
From there the possibilities are infinite. Mead (fermented honey) is simple and wonderful. So is wine; beer is a bit more technically demanding but faster. I love my homemade yoghurt and kefir. If you are interested in bread or pancakes, try starting and maintaining a sourdough. Try fermenting miso, or hot sauce, or a fruit vinegar. Get into a rhythm with kombucha and experiment with seasonal flavour variations. Try curing meat, making cheese, or learning pickling techniques from around the world. For ideas and resources, check out my website.

How little gear can we get away with, as would-be fermenters?
Jar, knife, cutting board - you can get started with simple gear you already have.

You mentioned Vegemite earlier - what do you know of our national food?
I know it's made from yeast extract, which I imagine means it's mostly cooked-down residual dead yeast from brewing. I've tried it once or twice. It was okay but didn't grab me. Maybe this time.

Sandor Ellix Katz will be in Brisbane 7-9 February, Byron Bay 12 February, Sydney 14-16 February, Hobart 20 February and Melbourne 21-23 February. Tickets start from $59 (most are $220 per session). For details and bookings visit the Milkwood Permaculture website.

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