Tuning up the taste buds | South China Morning Post
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Tuning up the taste buds

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 1994, 12:00am

TERRY Durack and Jill Dupleix have tunes in their head. One of their eight cookbooks comes with a jazz compact disc, so cooks can marry Oscar Peterson's Tenderly with Hainan chicken rice.

Want an essay on olive oil or advice on where not to eat in Melbourne or Paris? Terry, the restaurant critic who favours lots of ''yum'' adjectives, is your man.

Need a recipe for poussin with Moroccan spices or a classy food shot where cake crumbs are magnified six times? Jill, take a bow.

The credo of Australia's well-known ''food couple''? Distrust all cookbooks, including theirs. Mistakes can be delicious. Don't garnish. Taste everything. Exercise heaps, and keep things in perspective. Their mantra? ''Hell, it's only food. Enjoy''.

Durack and Dupleix are in Hong Kong this week, presiding over her New Food - Australia food promotion at the Excelsior Grill. This is their 16th visit to the territory, but it's all work.

Their heads are to the grindstone, their noses to the champagne flutes. But meeting fellow food-lovers or debating the merits of balsamic vinegar can hardly be considered a sentence to hard labour.

Despite the morning's downpour and last night's sea scallops appetiser that wasn't quite right yet, life for the former advertising copywriters flows as smoothly as extra virgin olive oil in a hell-hot skillet.

Cheerleaders for New Australian Cuisine, Ms Dupleix, 38, defines it as ''the spirit of adventure as it bows to the past, sends kisses to the healthy Mediterranean diet, shakes hands with Asian flavours''.

The lyricism takes form in carrot soup with cumin and slow-roasted tomato and pesto, a pear pizza on filo pastry, char-grilled fruit with champagne froth (make that sabayon) and parmigiano gelato (a scoop of creamed cheese drizzled, sundae-style, with vinegar).

Their candour is refreshing; their sell, direct but fun. How can you not like someone who reveres a home-made samosa and the late Ella Fitzgerald? In looks and stature, they could be models for a wedding cake statuette. Her raven mane tumbles, her eyes sparkle. ''She's into health first, then flavour'', quips her 44-year old husband.

''He's into fat,'' she replies.

Both found the joys of flavours and sharpened taste-buds 11 years ago when he gave up his 100 cigarettes a day habit, cold-turkey, and she, 60. Ever since she learned how to make croissants and was aghast at the amount of fat in them, she gave up butter.

At 6 feet 3 inches and 6 feet respectively, neither can slip into a restaurant incognito. A hurdle for a restaurant critic? Nope. Other than booking tables under assumed names, they play it straight.

''By the time the waiters recognise us,'' he says, ''you can't revive a bad restaurant.'' They know the games restaurateurs play with critics. ''They see us and the portions increase, our plates look prettier than the next table's.'' They eyeball the whole dining room and she takes the circuitous route to the loo just to see what others are eating.

Freebies are a no no. Their magazines and newspapers pick up the dining tabs. But if he's going to write a rave or slam review, they dip into their wallets for a second or third visit.

Last December, Durack followed his wife's example and quit his full-time job in advertising. Gone is the security of regular pay-cheques and the hassle of rising at three in the morning in order to make a story deadline before going to the ad agency.

''Am I scared? You bet,'' he said. ''We're living on one eighth of last year's income.'' They squeeze travel opportunities like the last tube of toothpaste and live on frequent flyer miles.

While she cooks here, he works on stories.

''This is a first for me,'' says Ms Dupleix, of her debut in the world of hotel promotions. ''Handing your ideas off to strangers shaves years off your life.'' Though she lacks the credentials of a trained chef, it didn't matter to the Excelsior's food and beverage manager. When he discovered New Food ($274 William Heinemann Australia), her latest cookbook, he picked up the telephone and tracked down its author in Victoria.

She's adamant about who she is not. ''I'm a cook, a self-made foodie, a perpetual student of food. I am not a trained chef and would never want to be one.

''But I have lots to say about food. Mine is the kind people do at home. It's what's happening today in Australia.'' The New Food - Australia promotion runs to May 15. The cookbook is only available through the hotel's gift shop.


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