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Asian persuasion

"I really love Asian cooking. I suppose what I enjoy most about it are the great flavours, the contrasting tastes and textures, and the way that, with a wok and a bamboo steamer, you can cook just about anything. In fact, you don't even need a wok - you can usually do just as good a job with the other equipment found in Western kitchens. Asian cooking is very achievable at home: you can quite easily prepare a simple meal for the family after a day at work, or spend some time in the kitchen making a few dishes that will have your friends talking for months. Now I think of it, perhaps one of the things I love most about Asian food is that it's often designed for the shared table, and that is how I love to eat. A bowl of rice, a few dishes, friends and family and, of course, a nice glass of wine… I can't think of a better way to spend an evening or lazy weekend afternoon.

When you cook the dishes in my new book, Balance & Harmony: Asian Food, it's important to remember that, much of the time, you're dealing with intense flavours. Always remember the most important part of the cooking process: taste, to find balance between those flavours. You will hear me say 'balance, balance, balance' throughout my book, and when I'm not saying 'balance', I'll be talking about harmony. These are the cornerstones of good Asian cooking.

It all started for me when I was young. I was lucky enough to have a father who was not only a very good cook but also fascinated by all things Chinese. I have memories of going down to Sydney's then very small Chinatown (mainly Dixon and George streets in those days). Dad and I would wander through the old food stores and he would pick out exotic ingredients to cook for us that night. When we had finished shopping, I would be thrilled if I could see a tin of poached abalone in Dad's grasp; I knew that meant a fabulous steamed soup or stirfry of one of my favourite ingredients in the world. (To this day I believe the greenlip abalone from Tasmania that I serve in all my restaurants is as luxurious and delicious an ingredient as truffles, foie gras, Ibérico ham or caviar.) In January 2009, I'll be opening Spice Temple in Sydney - a place that I hope will be a wonderful reflection of all I have learned and loved about Asian food.

I'm absolutely convinced that my love of Asian cooking has made me a much better cook of Western food. It has taught me so much about the texture of food and, just as crucially, about aroma. When I bring that knowledge to my restaurant cooking, it changes how a dish turns out forever. Now, I'm not necessarily saying that you'll be affected in the same way, but I do feel confident that mastering some good basics (considering texture, balance and harmony in a dish) will enhance how you view your Western-style cooking at home."


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