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Book: Origin - the Food of Ben Shewry

Susan Jung

 

Origin - the Food of Ben Shewry

 

I bought this book without ever having eaten at Ben Shewry's multi-award-winning restaurant, Attica, in Melbourne, Australia. At the time, I didn't think it likely that I would ever make any of the dishes in it from beginning to end. I already have so many other cookbooks I could use for these sort of recipes - much of what I buy now is for inspiration, to learn about various cuisines and/or to appreciate the beauty of the food. This book works for all three of those categories.

Shewry is from a remote part of New Zealand, where the nearest supermarket was a two-hour drive away, and his school had seven students, including him and his two sisters. With the nearest neighbour 15 minutes away, Shewry's family was largely self-sufficient: they grew their own vegetables and fruit and preserved the excess; they killed and butchered their own meat; and the children were taught from an early age how to survive in the wild and forage for ingredients.

The chef writes about sheep farming, fishing for whitebait, his first professional kitchen job (he was only 10), and aspects of Maori culture, including hangi - the celebratory feast made by digging a pit in the ground, burning a fire in it, adding food and covering it so it cooks in the smouldering heat.

The food is gorgeous but it might prove difficult to make because of the ingredients (he's specific about which varieties of produce and seafood to use), techniques and equipment required. The innocuous-sounding dish of parsley boiled in seawater, for instance, involves making mussel floss, verjus distillation, glasswort dressing, steamed Sea Bounty mussels and the parsley boiled in seawater. For "a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown", you need to make coconut husk ash, chicken floss, smoked curd and deep-fried saltbush leaves. You also need to grow the potatoes so that you have the soil to cook them with in a process that takes seven to eight hours.

Easier dishes include smoked trout broth; raw prawn with native lime and kale; crab and artichoke leaves; and southern rock lobster with lemon balm and lemon oil.

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