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On the Marque

Mark Best wants you to peel eight mandarins, remove all their pith and dehydrate them for 12 hours. Mark Best wants you to freeze 150 grams of foie gras terrine overnight then grate it into a small thermal container half-filled with liquid nitrogen. Mark Best wants you to clean one kilogram of duck livers and soak them in milk overnight, strain them, rinse them, dry them and then seal them in bags in olive oil under moderate pressure and cook them in a water bath at 58C for eight minutes. Mark Best, in other words, wants a lot from you, and isn't going to take any shortcuts.

Or at least that's the impression that you get reading Marque: A Culinary Adventure, the new book from the chef and owner of what's currently the Gourmet Traveller restaurant of the year and one of our most talked-about restaurants overseas. Some of the recipes require dehydrators, others combi-ovens and Pacojets, and there's no mention of substitutions. All require commitment and a fairly serious investment of time. Its glossary encompasses as much "chocolate spray gun", "Versawhip" and "xanthan gum" as "Époisses de Bourgogne" and "sabayon".

It's not, in other words, necessarily going to be a big help feeding the kids on a Tuesday night, but it does provide a very clear picture of what life is like at a restaurant on the cutting edge. Marque stand-outs such as roast marron with vadouvan spice and cos, and tuna on toast with foie gras butter, are in there, along with all the nuts and bolts, from the restaurant's sourdough starter and cultured butter to recipes for squid stock, licorice water and jamón Ibérico consommé ("cut 1 kilogram jamón Ibérico into lardon-sized pieces…").

"It's a document that chronicles 12 years of Marque and, recipe-wise, focuses on the last three to four," says Best. "I knocked back several publishers' offers because I only ever wanted to do a snapshot of the restaurant as it stands, I didn't want to do Mark Best at Home. I might want to do that now, but it wasn't the idea for this one."

One of the most striking things about the book, apart from Stuart Scott's crisp photography, is the fact that ingredients aren't listed separately in the recipes ahead of the method. Is Best concerned that the absence of ingredients lists may reduce his readers to a state of spastic fury? "You can't blame me for readers' spasticity," he deadpans. "The ingredients are accurately quantified within the recipes. I want you to read them through before you start, and I've tried to make the recipes conversational, and keep them in my voice."

Indeed, Best "has a palpable sense of pragmatism and perseverance," says Noma chef René Redzepi in his incisive foreword, and that sense comes through both in the recipes themselves and in the introduction, which takes us from Best's childhood in rural South Australia and his apprenticeship as an electrician in the mines of Norseman, Western Australia, to Sydney where he found his calling.

The book, Best says, is for "chefs, customers and anyone who's interested", but he says he doesn't want to talk too much about who's going to buy it and what they're going to do with it "because I think people will take from it what they want".

For all its complexity, however, Marque isn't short of moments of levity, and not every recipe takes days of work and a bench full of kitchen tech. Best cites the Sauternes custard - one of the few true stayers on the otherwise dynamic Marque menu - as the simplest expression of his cooking. "I think it'll become a dinner-party standard for those that are going to buy the book. If you can master a crème caramel then you can master this."

Marque: A Culinary Adventure by Mark Best and Pasi Petanen is published by Hardie Grant Books ($79.95, hbk).


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