They're up over Down Under chowThis month is a good time to enlighten yourself about Australian cuisine. The JW Marriott hotel in central Seoul is running an Australian food and wine festival, and flew in food and wine experts from the continent for the occasion.
The master chef Harry Callinan came all the way from Hunter Valley, near Sydney, where he works the kitchen at the restaurant Robert's at Pepper Tree. He specializes in a fusion of French, Italian and Moroccan cuisines. For the wine, the hotel brought in Dan Dineen, who heads a winery in the Upper Hunter Valley, Tower Estates.
Since opening in 1991, Robert's at Pepper Tree has won numerous awards and has been known to serve up some of the finest fare in Hunter Valley. The restaurant is named for its founder, Robert Molines. Recently, the former food and beverage director of the Marriott dined there, and decided he wanted to introduce the food to his friends he had left in Seoul a few years ago.
Mr. Callinan, a former naval officer, became a chef at 24. Before that he worked as an apprentice in famous restaurants, such as "The Edge" in Sydney, "Bistro Moncur" in Woollahra as well as Robert's. He also studied at the New Orleans School of Cooking for two years.
Mr. Callinan says the food at Robert's is influenced by the owner, who is French Italian but also lived in Algeria for a long time. So Moroccan food is a staple, such as couscous with sweet and fruity sauce.
The chef has extensive experience with the great variety of produce and meat Australia has to offer. His favorite food to work with, he says, is a large fresh tomato called a "beefsteak tomato" or "ox's heart." "A slice of a beefsteak tomato itself can be a great dish," Mr. Callinan says. "On a ripe slice, I just add a dash of sea salt, fresh basil and olive oil, and it's a great dish everyone loves."
But his style tends toward the wild and creative; after all, Australian cuisine is all about fusion cooking of all cultures. He has cooked young birds, such as pigeon and quail, in the northern Italian style,. And he has cooked ox tail soup, a traditional Australian dish.
To please the epicures in Seoul, Mr. Callinan has prepared rabbit meat braised in Hunter Valley Semillion and dijon mustard. The North African flair can be tasted in tartlet of roast garlic and cumin-scented babaghanouj. And Mr. Callinan chose to serve Tasmanian pink salmon, which is far juicier and more tender than the Japanese variety -- the cold currents off Australia's southern coast mean more fatty tissue.
Nothing goes better with the Mr. Callinan's dishes than wines produced in the same region. Mr. Dineen is proud of the wines from Tower Estates. "Producing only 10,000 cases, our boutique winery features premium wines made from Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvigon," Mr. Dineen says. White wines from Australia, such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, are characteristically rich and fruity. If you love the mature, full-body taste of Australian Shiraz wines, try Barossa Shiraz and Hunter Valley Shiraz. Barossa Shiraz 2000 is rich with plum and licorice, and matured in French and American barrels. Hunter Valley Shiraz 2001 has a taste of berries nicely integrated with the French oak. Both wines go well with beef and lamb dishes. Also good is Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, with a wild forest character owing to wild mint and wild raspberry.
At Robert's, tempura is getting popular these days. Mr. Callinan says the secret to making the perfect Japanese tempura batter is to use chilled carbonated water or beer. Right before the frying, add ice cubes to make the fritter extra crisp, extra light. From watching sushi chefs making rolls and sashimi, he learned how to prepare Japanese dishes. He uses the seasoning hondashi, mustard and soy sauce to effect an Asian flair.
Told that Koreans eat pan-fried grasshoppers, Mr. Callinan's eyes sparkled. His nickname used to be "Grasshopper," he says. "During a silly game in school to see who could eat a grasshopper, I ate one. It actually tasted good, so I kept on eating them, until my father told me to stop."
by Inēs Cho