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Isn’t it amazing? Apparently approximately 3.7 million Australian viewers (that’s not even counting the regional country areas) tuned in Sunday night for the Masterchef Australia two-hour finale show – that’s nearly 20% of the country’s population and highest rated non-sports show ever!  It is so interesting to see that a food-related show was more popular than Australian Idol.  Communication of food has definitely come a long way, especially with the rise of celebrity chefs and reality shows.  Food is now viewed as entertainment and being “sold” to people of all walks of life. These are the types of topics that I have studied and written about while doing my Masters of Gastronomy course and it will be interesting to see whether this type of reality show will actually increase interest in cooking or whether it will just make everyone into a food critic.

At first, I wasn’t watching every episode of the show because I had no idea that it was on nearly every night (and it didn’t help that I just had a baby). Then when the show got down to its top 20 contestants, I started to pay more attention. As with any reality show, I started to vest some interest in certain individuals and found others bland or arrogant. But on Monday morning when I went to read the online articles about the Masterchef finale, I was amazed to see so much negativity out there.  The final two contestants were Poh and Julie who are vastly different types of cooks but equally passionate.  It astounds me that so many people who commented on various websites think that the competition was “rigged” towards favouring Julie.  Even the contestants felt that the judging was fair based on their performance that night.  No need to be so nasty people!  It is just a TV show!

Chris was my initial favourite because his dishes were unique and inventive but I can see why he didn’t win on the night that Donna Hay was the guest judge because she did say that “layers of brown” were the worst for food photography and all of Chris’ dishes were some shade of brown and not very photo-friendly.  That was the one night where looks were just as important as taste and I don’t think Chris had a chance with how his dish looked compared to two women.  On a side note, I was surprised to finally see Donna Hay’s face!  She is the queen of publishing here but never shows her face so I had always wondered if she was young or old or whatever.  She’s not what I expected and those high heels she was wearing that night were very stiletto!

When it came down to the two finalists, I didn’t care who won – I thought that they both deserved it and that they both brought their own unique style to the competition.  Poh Ling Yeow is definitely an artist and I love her meticulous ways in plating and desserts (but I wonder why she’s so messy when cooking).  Julie Goodwin is generous in her style and her food exudes comfort.  That Matt Moran signature chocolate plate was very tough (lots of skill needed) and I don’t think a lot of people at home really appreciated that unless they’ve done all of the desserts components before.  The thing that really got me on the night of the challenge was when Poh put her chocolate cigar in the fridge even though the recipe said no to!!  In culinary school when I learned my chocolate skills, it took me three months to learn how to temper chocolate properly and had to do it to the point where I used my bottom lip to test for temperature, not a thermometer…it is by no means easy.  I think perhaps no one explained the point of tempering to them and thus she thought that chilling the chocolate would make it set better (or firmer) but the whole point of tempering is so that the chocolate sets at room temperature (with a beautiful shine and good snap when broken).

Then there are the controversies of on set romances and the young ones belonging to a “Kiddie Mafia”.  The headline that makes me laugh the most is that Poh “shockingly” posed nude for Austrlaian artist David Bromley!  For god’s sake, she’s an artist – it’s no big deal!  It is not as if she posed for some porn magazine!  And really, who cares?

I saw Poh on Saturday at Adelaide’s Central Market.  She was talking to some friends outside of T-Bar and I wanted to tell her good luck but then I realised that if she is already in Adelaide, then the finale was obviously taped a while ago and that she already knew who had won and I didn’t want it to be awkward.  Besides, I’m sure she wants to be left alone.  Or perhaps I didn’t feel like being rejected, like the time when I was on the same Qantas flight as Kylie Kwong and when I asked her if I can have a photo with her while waiting for our baggage, she said no…but she wished me a happy Chinese New Year…

Oh and for those of you who don’t live in Australia, Julie was the winner.

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I haven’t even upgraded my iPod to an iTouch (I have an old iPod Mini) nor have I purchased a new laptop in many years. I have only just upgraded my mobile phone that includes a good camera, MP3 and internet capability but I can barely keep up with technology.

Twitter is, of course, the new micro-blogging site where you can tell the world every minute detail of your thoughts and doings at any given time.  I signed up for an account the other day but I’m still wondering how to incorporate it into my life.  So far, the only way that Twitter seems useful to me is if you use it on the go with your mobile phone but it’s definitely not made for stay-at-home mothers. Twitter’s usefulness in the food industry is a different story especially when restaurants update their menus and their whereabouts to all their following fans.  This is especially useful if a restaurant’s location changes nightly such as a taco truck in Los Angeles.

NPR (National Public Radio) in the U.S. did an article on Kogi, the Korean-Mexican mobile restaurant (aka Taco Truck) in L.A. In the article Tweeting Food Truck Draws L.A.’s Hungry Crowds, writer Ben Bergman talks about how Kogi’s success is owed largely from their fans following Twitter to track where Kogi will be parked on a particular night and what specials there are each evening.  Apparently, there are over 8,000 people following Kogi on Twitter and since joining Twitter over a week ago, I also became a Kogi follower even though I live nowhere NEAR L.A. and am not planning a trip there anytime soon.  I am following Kogi just in case I get to go to L.A. within the year and use my cool phone to track them down one evening.  I have to say that the combination of Mexican and Korean – two of my most favourite foods (apart from Japanese) makes me want to hop on the next plane to try their tacos.

Looks like old-fashioned food reviews in newspapers are not going to be the only influence on a food business anymore – seems like technology has caught up with networking sights such as Facebook and Twitter and to keep up with the trends and to attract future crowds, we have to keep our minds open and sharpened to the latest marketing tool.  But I have to admit, even though I’m not exactly old,  it is truly exhausting keeping up.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

byo bags

The South Australian government has done something pretty radical – it is the first state in Australia that has decided to phase out and ban lightweight plastic shopping bags to help the environment by 04 May 2009.

The one thing that I noticed when I first moved here was that reusable bags were already very commonplace at supermarkets and farmer’s markets.  What made me even more happy and surprised was that people were actually using it for environmental reasons and not just because they got $0.05 credit per bag re-used at a supermarket like they do in many U.S. supermarkets.  My childhood home of Hawaii has a long way to go before people start to get less wasteful – I’ve only recently seen reusable bags for sale at drug stores and supermarkets.

We always keep at least 6 to 8 bags in our car at all times just in case we do that “spontaneous grocery shopping”.  But I have to admit, even someone like myself who is very environmentally conscious, has forgotten my reusable bags quite a few times (especially if I shop on my lunch break at work).  Luckily I have a great reusable bag that folds up into the size of a wallet that can fit in any purse. Having worked at a produce store in my late teens, I know full well how many bags an average supermarket goes through in one day (it is astonishing) and it is so wasteful because the majority end up in landfills.  The only thing that I will admit to being sad about is not having free wastebasket liners…I like using those plastic bags for my office and bathroom bins but I’m sure I’ll get over it.

You can watch the television ads running here about this on Youtube:

Of course, we are not the first city to have a ban on plastic bags.  My former city of residence San Francisco, was the first city in the USA (yay, go SF!) to ban bags in March 2008.  http://www.sfenvironment.org/our_programs/interests.html?ssi=7&ti=6&ii=142

Although China has not banned plastic bags, they have stopped giving away free plastic bags which is great news for a country that wasted billions of bags a year.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/7443530.stm

Here are a few more places that have had a ban:

Plastic bag bans around the world

South Australia joins an increasing number of countries that already restrict plastic shopping bags or plan to do so:

AFRICA: Rwanda and Eritrea banned the bags outright, as has Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia. South Africa, Uganda and Kenya have minimum thickness rules, and Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho and Tanzania are considering similar measures.

BANGLADESH: The first large country to ban bags in 2002. Bangladesh blamed millions of discarded bags for blocking drains and contributing to floods that submerged much of the country in 1988.

BHUTAN: The isolated Himalayan country banned plastic shopping bags, street advertising and tobacco in 2007, as part of its policy to foster “Gross National Happiness”.

CHINA: The ban on ultra-thin bags that goes into force on June 1 will cut pollution and save valuable oil resources, the State Council, or cabinet, says. In May 2007 Hong Kong proposed a 50 cent “polluter pays” levy on plastic shopping bags.

ENGLAND: In May 2007 the village of Modbury in south Devon became Europe’s first plastic bag-free town, selling reuseable and biodegradable bags instead. London’s 33 councils plan to ban ultra-thin bags from 2009 and tax others.

FRANCE: In 2005, French lawmakers voted to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags by 2010. The French island of Corsica became the first to ban plastic bags in large stores in 1999.

INDIA: The western state of Maharashtra banned the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags in August 2005, after claims that they choked drains during monsoon rains. Other states banned ultra-thin bags to cut pollution and deaths of cattle, sacred to Hindus, which eat them.

IRELAND: A plastic bag tax was passed in 2002. The tax created an initial 90 percent drop in bag use, according to the Environment Ministry, though usage gradually rebounded.

ITALY: Outright ban to be introduced from 2010.

TAIWAN: A partial ban in 2003 phased out free bags in department stores and supermarkets and disposable plastic plates, cups and cutlery from fast food outlets. Most stores charge people who don’t bring their own T$1 ($0.03).

UNITED STATES: San Francisco became the first and only US city to outlaw plastic grocery bags in April 2008. The ban is limited to large supermarkets.

Source: Planet Ark, May 28, 2008

Hopefully more cities will follow suit.  Don’t forget your bags next time you go shopping!

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Thousands of people including myself have been following veteran American journalist Leroy Siever’s daily blog “My Cancer” on NPR (National Public Radio) in the U.S. and around the world.  His daily journals on his struggles and thoughts about his cancer formed a community – a community of so many people around the world who have been affected by cancer.  He brought solace and support to more people than he probably imagined it would.  Just reading comments left by readers is amazing how much of an impact he had by writing this blog.

Leroy passed away last night and I write this with a heavy heart.  Although he was told he was only going to live for 6 months, he lived for 2 1/2 years.  So many people got used to reading his daily emails and like me, probably wished for a miracle that his cancer would stop growing.

I contemplated for a few seconds on whether I should write about this on a FOOD BLOG.  But then, I thought about it and realized that this is MY blog and although food is my passion, fighting cancer is equally important to me also.  During this past year, THREE very close people to me have been fighting advanced stage cancers and it is a disease that does not discriminate and it is very sad.

This Friday, 22 August 2008 is Daffodil Day in Australia and 29 August in New Zealand.  Please buy a bunch of daffodils for $5 and/or donate to your local Cancer Council or Cancer Society.  There will be many volunteers (including myself) this week selling Daffodil Day items so look out for us please!

Links to some cancer organisations:

Canadian Cancer Society

American Cancer Society

Cancer Research UK

Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research

Cancer Society of New Zealand

Cancer Patients Aid Association (India)

and

Wiki Cancer – Stories, Support and Information

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Starbucks Rundle Mall

Starbucks Rundle Mall

I decided to have a cup of their signature hot chocolate...

I decided to have a cup of their signature hot chocolate...

The Adelaide metropolitan area only opened three Starbucks stores, with its first one opening in March 2006 and there was very little hype when they came to town, except made by the ex-pats.  In fact, I had been in there only once before yesterday, its closing day, because we have better local coffee chains such as CIBO, Bean Bar and the Italian Illy cafés.  Although being on the major shopping street in the city, it failed to do very well here.  Their prices are really overpriced for coffee that isn’t that great.  But me and my friend Jen both wanted an Adelaide mug (just because) but it was too late, the store was wiped clean.

In the mid-1990s, I worked at a café that was affiliated with Starbucks in San Francisco.  Back then, there were official Starbucks barista trainers that used to fly in from Seattle to train every barista how to make coffee drinks Starbucks style – complete with illustrations of the drinks.  I was in awe of Starbucks back then and thought that they were so cool.  Starbucks was even known as a great company to work for, treating their employees well and offering great benefits for even their part-time employees.  I knew that Starbucks were expanding too quickly when I went to Vancouver and saw a Starbucks on just about every corner!  After years of studying Chaucer’s works, the pièce de résistance was when I finally made it to Canterbury cathedral in England and was shocked when I saw a Starbucks at the entrance to the beautiful and historical cathedral!  It really ruined the facade to the entrance of the cathedral!  What ruined my experience even more was that there were a few Starbucks employees handing out samples of muffins and cakes – it just seemed wrong.  See pictures below:

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

See the Starbucks?

Fast forward to 2005 when I moved to Adelaide and was surprised that there was no Starbucks in sight.  I thought, “wow, a city that Starbucks still hadn’t penetrated.”  I got used to the coffee terms and culture here very quickly.  People in Australia take their coffee very seriously and there are plenty of places that will teach you to be a bona fide barista.  The one thing that I love about a proper coffee made in Australia is that really good baristas can foam the milk so finely that it has the texture of marshmallows floating on top of the espresso.  That type of finely made espresso drink is hard to find in the states – perhaps it’s because America is much more of a drip-coffee country.  Order a drip coffee in Australia and you will be met with a lot of confusion…don’t even ask for “cream” with your coffee, you’ll be met with even more confusion – ask for milk.

I recently went back to the states to a Starbucks and the coffee was, to plainly put it, shit.  I asked for a latte and it tasted burnt and I got barely any foam.  I went back to tell the barista that I would like some foam and he said, “oh, it’s just that a lot people here feel cheated if they get too much foam.”  That’s fine if people don’t want foam but I didn’t ask for no foam.  Sigh…  It’s sad because I used to be such a Starbucks fan but now their quality has gone down and their prices inflated.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like Starbucks as a company.  I do really hope that with all these closings, they will re-train their employees and bring back the quality of their drinks back to what it was before the mega-expansion of over 16,000 worldwide stores.

Here are a few links to news stories on the closure of hundreds of Starbucks:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24099400-5013404,00.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92151783

**Coffee language tips for people coming to Australia:

Flat White – espresso shot with hot milk and very little/no foam (like a latte w/less foam)

Short Black – one shot espresso with hot water

Long Black – double-shot espresso with hot water (like an Americano)

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I just got a news headline from Decanter.com that surprised me: “Student at Le Cordon Bleu threatens suicide” and then saw it also on the Mail online as well. What?! They reported that a 28 yr. old French-Algerian man who spent his entire savings on the course, had failed an exam and demanded to retake it. When he was refused, he grabbed one of his school knives and threatened to kill himself. Police in full riot gear were called and they closed off the tiny lane to the school and eventually Tasered and knocked him down and arrested him. What a chaotic scene that must have been in such a tiny building!

Why am I writing about it on my blog? Because I have emotional connections with that school. I am an alumni of the London school and I have very fond memories of my time there. I am wondering whether this type of publicity is negative or positive for Le Cordon Bleu. It is already one of the oldest and most recognized cooking schools in the world but does refusing to allow a student to retake the exam make le Cordon Bleu too strict or does it make the school appear to be elite? Hmm…

I do feel sorry for the student because he has poured all of his money into the courses (it is very expensive there). What puzzles me mostly is HOW and WHY did this student fail his Intermediate Cuisine exam? If he passed Basic Cuisine, he surely would have had enough experience by now not to fail any subsequent exams – unless he burnt or dropped his dish. I don’t know how it is at present but we were given THREE hours to prepare and present a dish for our exams and that should be enough time for him. What I’m trying to say is, it is actually hard to fail an exam!

What is the real story here? I wonder what really happened to cause this man to get so enraged and to threaten to kill himself? Bizarre…

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