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Local Lovelies

Local Lovelies
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First Published: Sat, Jan 26 2008. 12 03 AM IST

Home grown: A salad at 100 Mile Café uses the best of locally produced ingredients.
Home grown: A salad at 100 Mile Café uses the best of locally produced ingredients.
Updated: Sat, Jan 26 2008. 12 03 AM IST
In these days of global warming, fast food, junk food, and additives, it is becoming very important for us to be aware of where our food comes from, whether you are “into” cooking or not. I believe we have a social and moral obligation to start eating responsibly, by eating natural food, produced locally and seasonally. Not only will this add to the taste experience but it also benefits local farmers and small agro businesses.
So when I was recently in Melbourne, I was delighted to find a restaurant which is going out on a limb to produce a fabulous menu based on these principles. 100 Mile Café is situated in Melbourne Central, not at all where I expected it to be. I walked in wearing Birkenstock sandals and a kurti, thinking I would be dressed appropriately for what I thought would be a politically correct, bordering on “hippie” hangout. Not at all. This is a trendy city café, with excellent service and a level of culinary skill rivalling any restaurant in the city. And this is the point. If the food isn’t great, nobody would come, even if the political message is sound.
The phrase 100-Mile Diet was coined in 2005 by James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith of Vancouver to describe their one-year local eating experiment that was chronicled on an independent news and culture website Thetyee.ca. By eating food grown or produced within 100 miles of their home, they confronted the statistic that food in North America typically travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate.
While MacKinnon and Smith are the next generation of the 1960s back-to-the-landers, the urban nature of their experiment was a crucial difference, now that 80% of people in North America live in cities. MacKinnon and Smith got up close and personal with issues ranging from the family-farm crisis to the environmental value of organic pears shipped across the globe. In the first few months, they gained thousands of members (called “100-Milers”) pledging to eat local foods (“100-Mile Meals”) across North America. 100 Mile Café seeks to bring this idea to Australia, showcasing the best of local Victorian produce, sustainable seafood and regional wines.
So what did I eat? Most ingredients are purchased from the area and others are organic or come with the fair trade stamp. I started with an outstanding Japanese first course (their executive chef is Japanese) of tossed porterhouse steak strips in a white miso dressing with sliced pear and walnut and local mizuna lettuce. Then came the duck; both the breast, served pink with a lime and ginger glaze, and the confit of leg, slow cooked until tender with a delicious crispy skin, were perfection. With this I drank a lovely fresh Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula, a wine region just outside Melbourne. What I thought would be an average, mostly vegetarian dinner turned out to be a gastronomic extravaganza of taste and creativity.
This is chef Ikuei Arakane’s recipe for Yaki Niku, the fabulous steak and salad starter I had.
Home grown: A salad at 100 Mile Café uses the best of locally produced ingredients.
Yaki Niku
Serves four
300g beef fillet, sliced
20 green asparagus spears
1 pear
½ cup mizuna leaves or salad leaves
2 tbsp crushed walnuts
Dressing for salad
2 tbsp organic white miso
1 tbsp soy sauce
2½ tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp red chilli paste
4 tbsp sugar
½ cup olive oil
Blend all ingredients together
Yaki Niku Sesame Sauce
1 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
¾ cup mirin
1/3 cup soy sauce
5 tbsp organic Miso
6 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp red chilli paste
½ apple
1 pear
Blend all these ingredients in a mixer.
Combine the Yaki Niku sauce with the slices of fillet and pan-fry for two minutes. Blanch the asparagus, lay them on a plate, followed by the cooked pieces of fillet. Slice the pear and combine with mizuna leaves and walnut, then add the dressing. Place a handful of salad upon the warm beef and serve.
Write to bonvivant@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Jan 26 2008. 12 03 AM IST
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