It’s Friiiiiiday, which means the latest instalment of Us Heins Weren’t Meant To Play Golf Weekly. I played well. Again. So well I dropped a stroke off my handicap. There is obviously something wrong with the universe…
I can’t tell you how chuffed I am to host award-winning writer and renowned freelance racing journalist Jessica Owers on Friday Feast again. Jessica’s description of the delights of a simple cheeseburger on her last visit was truly wonderful, and I can tell you she won’t fail to charm this time around either. Her post fills me with gushy joyness, and more than a little bit of hunger.
Jessica’s 2011 release, Peter Pan: The Forgotten Story Of Phar Lap’s Successor, was a huge success, reviewed across the world and winning the 2012 Bill Whittaker Award for Best Racing Book in Australia. Now, Jessica has channelled her formidable talents into new story, and what a cracker it is.
Before Black Caviar, So You Think or Takeover Target, there was…
Wartime Sydney, a small and weedy racehorse was kicking his way through the top tier of Australian racing. He was Shannon, one of the fastest horses the nation had ever seen. Between 1943 and 1947, Shannon broke record after record with his garrulous jockey Darby Munro. When they sensationally lost the Epsom Handicap by six inches, they forever were stamped by the race they should have won.
Sold in August 1947 for the then highest price ever paid at auction for an Australian thoroughbred, Shannon ended up in America. Through headline-snatching pedigree flaws, acclimatization and countless hardships, he blitzed across the ritzy, glitzy racetracks of 1948 California. Smashing track records, world records and records set by Seabiscuit, the Australian bolted into world fame with speed and courage that defied all odds.
Long before Black Caviar, So You Think and Takeover Target, Shannon was Australia’s first international racehorse. Starring Hall of Fame trainers and jockeys, Hollywood lawyers and legends Bernborough and Citation, this is his tremendous story.
Another rousing horse tale from a master biographer and storyteller, and just in time for the Melbourne Cup Carnival too! Plus think what a fantastic Christmas present this would be for the horse or sporting mad person in your life. Signed copies are available for order from Jessica’s website, or you can buy from good book stores like Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, Boomerang Books, QBD The Bookshop, Abbey’s Bookshop, Bookworld and many others. For the ebook, try Kobo, Amazon (for your Kindle), Google Play, eBooks.com, BigW eBooks, iTunes or JB Hi-Fi.
Christmas stocking filled? Most excellent. Now enjoy!
Experience The Passion
I am two things. I am an author, and I am the wife of an Italian restaurateur. The writing life is pretty well documented I’d say… long, lolling hours in isolation, the solitude and dull buzz of the computer. But the restaurant life? Well, this edition of Friday Feast has invited me to open the kitchen door to our place, to put you behind the scenes of an industry you think you know pretty well. Welcome to La Spiaggia in Sydney’s Coogee Beach.
The first rule of an Italian restaurant is the Passion. Watch my husband closely at 7.30 on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see the Passion heavily disguised as foul temper. There’ll be those moments when the ‘cazzos’ and the ‘porcos’ will pour out of his mouth like liquid honey, when he charges from the bar to the kitchen like the devil himself, the hands a-flap over calamari that was late to table eight, or the pizza that went out four minutes before the vongole. The Passion is a popular attraction with our regulars who know the spirited, tantrum-like atmosphere of senior management is all part of the package. After all, who doesn’t love a ranting Italian?
My husband has had his place for nearly 20 years, and I’ve lived and breathed it with him for a nearly a decade. In that space of time, I’ve learned more about human behavior than the average Joe. On a weekly basis, I deal with the rude, the ignorant and uneducated, the impatient and selfish and those that have watched Masterchef (don’t ask). It’s amazing what people will say to a waiter, as if somehow that person that takes your order, serves your food, isn’t quite worthy. Of course, a good floor team has a good laugh at the end of the night, spilling their nightmare customers over a glass of wine or Peroni. Our waiters are a tight bunch, and good friends.
Over the years, we’ve watched Sydney dining ebb and flow with the latest food trends. For a while back it was Thai, then it was churrasco, then it was the GFC. But we noticed that Italian food, simple Italian recipes cooked by Italians in an eatery owned and run by Italians, never went out of fashion. We hand-make all our pastas, our woodfire oven is in full view of the street, and we serve goat, maiale (piglet) and such things according to simple, southern Italian customs. Which brings me to the second rule of an Italian restaurant: simplicity.
The Italians use the minimal amount of ingredients. Tomatoes are king, in casseroles, pasta and on pizza and bruschetta. Fresh tomato sauce, a dash of olive oil, some rosemary or basil and homemade pasta… simple but beautiful. Their breads are unfussy (gluten free, what?), their pasta sauces irreplaceable (pesto, aglio olio), and they live by food rules – parmigiano does not go over seafood, and ketchup is the product of the devil. Of course, sometimes simplicity has its down side. Those nights when my husband tucks into a piglet’s face, straight out of the oven with nothing but crusty bread and a glass of Argiano to wash it down, are not such fun for me.
The restaurant business is unique, tiring on the ego and an ill-perceived industry. Those that haven’t worked in it often think it is the bottom rung of adult life, the lifeline of the uneducated or backpacking. That hasn’t been my experience. I see Italians sweep in and show us how food service is done, and done with pride. Italians know how to cook, how to eat, and their energy for it is infectious. It excuses (most of the time) the Passion that can make the working night so, er, eventful.
As a writer, customers have taught me much about human behavior. Send any author into an apron and they’ll come away a week later with rich ideas for characters. Restaurant work is one of the few perfect ‘day jobs’ for authors, a flexible working life with odd hours, sociable shifts and free food and drink. And it beats the daily squash of office life. But this is Friday Feast, not Dr Phil, so true to the spirit of this wonderful blog I will leave you with a few little lessons that I have learned from my Italians. Buon appetito!
- Keep it simple. On pizzas, less is more, and that applies to the base. Stuffed crust? You must be joking.
- Good product. Italians source out the best ingredients at all times: the freshest vegetables, the world’s best olive oils, the crispiest bread.
- Hand-make if at all possible. Nothing is too much of a chore in the kitchen.
- Spare the seasoning. A little bit of olive oil, some rosemary garnish. Don’t kill it with flavour.
- Latte, cappuccino… not with dinner, not even after dinner.
- Chicken in pasta, on pizza… go across the road.
- Celebrate everything with food, drink and family.
Thank you so much, Jessica, for that wonderful behind-the-scenes look at La Spaggia. This restaurant is now on my must-visit list! And your lessons are truly worth remembering. I was, in my silly younger days, one of those mastercheffy wanky-food wannabes, but living in Europe completely cured me of that. The best meals were always the simplest, using the finest, freshest ingredients.
Now, my well-fed Feasters, do you have a restaurant story? What aspect of human behaviour – good or bad – have you witnessed in a restaurant? I had an experience in a posh-ish restaurant in France where I accidentally ordered rare veal kidneys that leaked half-raw juice all over my plate and stank like… er… guts. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything on it. Nor, at that point, did I possess enough French language to explain that I simply hadn’t understood what I’d ordered. The waiter, when he came to clear the table, put on an awesome show of Gallic offense, complete with an angry nose-in-the-air strut back to the kitchen that was like something out of a comedy sketch or cartoon. I would have laughed except I was sliding under the table in embarrassment. Funny, we never went back to that restaurant…
So, come on, share your restaurant romp. We bet you’ve had some beauties!