Is food the new extreme sport?

Posted: June 3, 2014 by kirisyko in SykOtic
Tags: , ,
We’re becoming more obsessed with gourmet food of exceptional quality.

We’re becoming more obsessed with gourmet food of exceptional quality. Source: News Limited

IT’S fast-paced, competitive and participants can’t put a foot wrong as they hurtle towards the finish line at neck-breaking speeds.

Viewers reel at mass wipe-outs and sit on the edge of their seats, scrutinising quality, sometimes even praying for disaster.

Food: it’s the new extreme sport. But for home cooks and professional chefs alike, with extreme thrills come extreme risks. No longer are chefs hidden in the back of the restaurant.

They’re perfecting stunts in open kitchens and inducing adrenalin highs on television, constantly raising the stakes on what we eat.

Filled with confidence and armed with their own cookbooks and magazine columns, they’re daring the humble home cook to “try this at home”.

“Every profession is always upping the ante,” said Matt Moran, who owns Aria in Sydney and Brisbane; Chiswick and North Bondi Fish in Sydney; plus other bars.

“Whether it’s medicine or plumbing, there’s new technology and you have to keep excelling, otherwise you fall behind and you get forgotten.”

 

Chef Matt Moran at his restaurant North Bondi Fish.

Chef Matt Moran at his restaurant North Bondi Fish. Source: News Corp Australia

 

But at the moment, it’s food that the world is fastidiously imitating, obsessively watching.

At the top level, there’s pressure to deliver something new.

“At the starred end of town, people do expect a life-changing experience rather than just dinner,” says Adam Liaw, cookbook author and television presenter.

“If you’re spending $500 on a meal, you’re not just there to fill your belly. That’s where the competition is highest.”

But chefs thrive under the weight of the reviewers, the ‘hats’, the diners, each other, says Moran. “Chefs feel the pressure in the kitchen their whole lives. A chef who has worked in that high-pressured environment can handle anything. That’s our life; we thrive on it. We love the adrenalin rush. We love the competitiveness.”

They may be playing for different teams, endlessly competing, but Moran says most Australian chefs are the “best of friends”.

“There are very few of us who don’t get on. Yeah, there’s always one that everyone hates. It’s the same in sport: there’s always one arrogant prick.”

The heat is not just coming from within the kitchen.

With its ringing bells and ticking clocks, judges, competition and cook-offs, TV has brought high-octane cooking into our homes.

While it buoys quality and arguably makes some ordinary cooks extraordinary ones, television also educates a public that has become more discerning of food — and demanding of chefs.

 

Calombaris is busy filming MasterChef season 6 with fellow judges Gary Mehigan and Matt P

Masterchef Judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston, George Calombaris Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

 

Add to that the awards and food-guide accolades, and chefs are constantly on a knife edge.

“The worst two weeks of your life are when you get that chef’s hat,” says Colin Fassnidge, chef and part-owner of Sydney restaurants Four in Hand and 4Fourteen. “New diners compare you to another hatted restaurant and think, ‘Oh, it’s not good enough.’ They’re just going to knock it the whole time; they’re not realistic. Well, I don’t want those people.”

As in any extreme sport, while experienced chefs know how to handle the constant onslaught, young chefs can find the pressure debilitating.

“When you’re older you know how to play the game,” says Fassnidge. “You need a young man’s body with an old man’s head, because the young guys don’t have the experience. Life experience is what makes good food, I think. You’ve got to have lived, you’ve got to have made mistakes.”

Standing in a hot kitchen all day, preening artichokes, perfecting a bird’s pirouette on a plate, and prepping 32 identical plates of pork belly with celeriac remoulade is gruelling work, one better suited for the young or at least the very fit.

“You just need to keep your old body in training, and that’s what most of the older guys I know do,” adds Fassnidge.

“That picture of the fat old head chef, that doesn’t happen any more. You have to go to the gym, be mentally fit.”

 

Australia's most expensive bacon and egg roll is sold at chef Colin Fassnidge’s Surry Hil

Australia’s most expensive bacon and egg roll is sold at chef Colin Fassnidge’s Surry Hills restaurant 4Fourteen. It goes for $120 a pop. Photo: Jeremy Piper Source: News Limited

Children used to grow up dreaming of futures as their sports heroes, legends on the field.

 

But a burgeoning number, perhaps eager for another type of adrenalin rush, now see their heroes in aprons; they want to be the next David Chang, the next Thomas Keller. Kids want to emulate their tricks.

“You have to feel sorry for every mother who grew up making Anzac biscuits but whose kids now want them to make macaroons,” says Liaw.

Kids used to get excited about a cake rising in the oven, but now they need Adriano Zumbo’s multi-layered white-chocolate gateau or Ben Shewry’s Plight of the Bees to be impressed.

For home cooks and chefs alike, the thrillseeking brings with it risks.

‘Oven kisses’, those purple-brown discs that appear on chefs’ arms throughout a shift and eventually form a bodily pothole effect, become a trophy, a rite of passage for aspiring professionals.

And less physical but no less injurious for the home cook, the fallen soufflés, the split custards and the kitchen disasters that become dinner-party fodder.

Just as skydivers talk of faulty parachutes and mountain bikers reveal scarred knees, so, too, we can regale with tales of the collapsed croquembouche.

 

Macarons are the cupcakes of 2014.

Macarons are the cupcakes of 2014. Source: Supplied

 

No longer can the home cook unceremoniously plop dinner on a plate, either.

“Plate up” has infiltrated the contemporary lexicon to the point where hosts feel pressured to painstakingly arrange individual ingredients with a pair of tweezers to make dinner Insta-appropriate.

Dinner-party prep extends into an elaborate week-long affair, while grocery shopping is now hardcore. In-laws and husbands are enlisted to source hard-to-find ingredients. They wrestle their way into the urban arena armed only with the flimsiest strategy:

“Momofuku-style rice cakes; fermented black beans with the dragon on the front …” They return with their bags, then stand ringside with a damp (tea) towel to pat the brow of the cook, who sweats in the corner waiting for the bell to the final round — the arrival of the guests at the front door.

“Most people 20 years ago would say ‘wow’ over an iceberg or a cos lettuce,” says Moran. “Now there are 30 varieties of lettuce. People expect more, they want more. People know more about food, they want to know how it’s grown and what it’s fed. It’s always a race to get what someone else doesn’t have — and that tends to be ingredients.”

 

Celebrity chef and 2010 Masterchef winner Adam Liaw.

Celebrity chef and 2010 Masterchef winner Adam Liaw. Source: Supplied

 

We’re facing the tyranny of haute homemade, investing thousands in machines that will allow us to present radicchio foam next to a rendered carrot.

Entertaining at home is the new going out, and with guests now so clued up about food provenance, hosts have to knead their own bread, roll their own pasta, square off their own puff.

We keep pushing the boundaries of how far we’ll go to put together a meal.

Like climbing Everest, we’ll take the gruelling journey to the top, even though it just might kill us.

While chefs in professional kitchens have a herd of Sherpas and navigational tools to help them get there, for the home cook it’s often a solo ascent.

The question is, can we acclimatise in time for dinner?

see more:http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/is-food-the-new-extreme-sport/story-fneuz8wn-1226921609955

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