Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Lunch Affair: SMH Dymocks Literary Luncheon with Matt Moran

De Bortoli Willowglen Semillon Chardonnay

Good Food Month is long gone and most revellers are still rubbing their brimming bellies full of a whole month’s worth of good food. For me GFM ended with the last of the SMH Dymocks Luncheons and this one in particular was for celebrated Aussie chef, Matt Moran. I am guessing that the luncheon was held to coincide with the release of Matt's first cookbook, self-titled Matt Moran. It was held in the dimly lit ballroom (hence the yellow photographs) of the Four Season Hotel in the city.

I had heard of Moran’s short fuse and his somewhat fiery Ramsay-esque persona, however I had never watched the SBS series Heat in the Kitchen nor had I read or seen much of Matt Moran other than from his Aria Restaurant fame. So when I encountered him for the first time, I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect him to fly off the handle at such a civil luncheon in his honour but I also wasn’t expecting a saint. It’s fair to say that although his reputation preceded him, there was certainly more to this man than his hot-headed alter ego. All I can say is that on stage, he was nothing short of charming and delightful.


Helen Greenwood features writer for SMH's Good Living section, introduces Matt to the stage after a glowing account of her first impressions of Matt as a young sous chef. Cue the laughter and a round of applause, as Matt walks to the podium, his imposing stature and tough-guy appearance is affirmed by his bald head and casual blue polo shirt. A self-confessed thug, Matt begins to tell of his home economic days at school, his short stint at Parramatta RSL and his big break at La Belle Helene. This is where the infamous story takes place, where Matt unknowingly strains some duck stock over the sink and literally down the drain. Surprisingly the head chef doesn’t impale him with a mop or slash him to bits with a cleaver, which he probably deserved but rather offered him a full-time job. Gee, if only my misadventures could bring me this much luck!

Although it did seem like fate for Matt to become a chef, his beginnings were humble and his country boy upbringing in Dubbo was everything short of culinary-rich. He confesses that he never had a decent meal until he was about fifteen and jokes about how he thought he never really liked seafood, until he actually tasted it for the first time. I guess there wasn’t much in terms of seafood up in Dubbo. Luckily for us, this country boy is now far from Dubbo, seeing the big lights of city. Aside from managing the kitchen at Aria he has also landed a partnership alongside Singapore Airlines as a consultant for Business and First class dining, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gordon Ramsay, George Blanc and Alfred Portale and has also been invited to cook at the James Beard House. It’s an enviable list of qualifications for any chef.

Bread Roll

But enough about Matt and more about the food; the lunch started off with some free flowing De Bortoli Willowglen and some sourdough rolls and butter, which is always a good start if you ask me. Then came a neatly plated jewfish with mushroom crust and gremolata. Beneath the perfectly cooked jewfish, which according to Helen is extremely hard to source, were some nicely sautéed kipfler potatoes. There wasn’t much to the plate although by the last mouthful I was almost stuffed.

Jewfish with Mushroom Crust and Gremolata

I did say I was almost stuffed, but not completely. So of course there was enough room to squeeze in some dessert, which was a mango carpaccio with passionfruit and lime ice cream. The wafer thin slices of mango was as fresh as you could get, plump, juicy and sweet. Combined with the lime ice cream, it was an explosion of flavours in your mouth. Unlike some sickly sweet desserts that make you feel ill afterwards this was the contrary, it was refreshing, light and a great counterpart to the fish.

Mango Carpaccio with Lime Ice Cream

Altogether the meal was exactly what I would expect from Matt Moran. It was simple and stylish, excellent but not striving. He wasn’t about pushing flavours or pedestrian food trends; it was all about the produce and the cuisine. I now have a newfound admiration for Moran, who from humble beginnings worked tirelessly to make a name for himself. He might be a celebrity chef, but that title doesn’t come easily or at all without the toil of a tough fifteen-year slog. His ego isn’t really all about himself, it’s more about the food and making it excellent; and I suppose when you become an accomplished chef, you kind of just unwittingly grow yourself a character. I guess it comes with the territory.

Matt Moran signing autographs

After the meal, Matt proceeded into the foyer of the Four Seasons ballroom and began to sign autographs and further engage in culinary discourse with the eager crowd. We wavered between staying and going although by this time the line had multiplied to the size of an Amazonian anaconda and by then we were not in the mood for standing in a queue. So I took a few customary shots of the illustrious Matt Moran, most of them blurry and off we went to do some shopping.

Aria Restaurant
1 Macquarie St
East Circular Quay,
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9252 2555


wheresmymind said...

That fish looks so good! Mango w/ice cream...great way to finish dinner :D

Jen said...

wheresmymind- The mango was definitely a great way to finish. Sometimes I even dream about it and wish I could eat it again. I guess it wouldn't be too difficult to make.

Helen- I know what you mean. A lot of classic and traditional cooking styles/terms are being used a bit too gratuitously.

Anonymous said...

what did you think of matt's book? is it worth adding to my wish list?

Jen said...

Jules- His book has a combination of simple dishes and some that are for the more proficient cook. So he covers a large range of different recipes. I usually judge a cookbook according to the desserts and I think it is worth shelling out the $55 for it.