FRIDAY FEAST with Jessica Owers

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…

But there is nothing at all wrong with this week’s Friday Feast guest!Author Jessica Owers

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…

 

SHANNON

 

Shannon by Jessica Owers book coverThe Extraordinary Life Of Australia’s First International Racehorse

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 interior of La Spaggia

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?

Making pizza at La SpaggiaMy 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 wood fired oven at La Spaggia

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.

Gnocchi with pesto

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!

  1. Keep it simple. On pizzas, less is more, and that applies to the base. Stuffed crust? You must be joking.
  2. Good product. Italians source out the best ingredients at all times: the freshest vegetables, the world’s best olive oils, the crispiest bread.
  3. Hand-make if at all possible. Nothing is too much of a chore in the kitchen.
  4. Spare the seasoning. A little bit of olive oil, some rosemary garnish. Don’t kill it with flavour.
  5. Latte, cappuccino… not with dinner, not even after dinner.
  6. Chicken in pasta, on pizza… go across the road.
  7. 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!

If you’d like to learn more about Jessica and her award-winning books, please visit her website. You can also connect via Twitter and Linkedin.

 

 

0 thoughts on “FRIDAY FEAST with Jessica Owers

  1. Avatarchristinestinson

    What an enjoyable post, Cathryn and Jessica. Great behind the scenes stories, Jessica, and ‘Shannon’ is now on the TBR list. Most memorable (and embarrassing) restaurant story took place in 1985, in a restaurant in Rocamadour, a little town in the Massif Central, France. I’d taken a bunch of French students to France for a month, and for once, the boys were all off exploring and I got to treat myself to a nice truffle omelette and some local cheese, in peace. Omelette was great, the waiter brought out the cheese plate and began to tell me how the cheese was made. I popped a bit in my mouth just as he got to the part, “mixed with goat’s urine to mature”. That’s the first and only time I’ve ever spat something out in a restaurant (into my napkin, not across the table, at least.) If I’d sniffed it first, I don’t think I would have tried it at all. I certainly didn’t try the soft cheese with maggots in it – but that’s another story.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      That’s such a great story, Christine. Imagine the whooff of wee! And goaty wee to boot. Such a nice way to end what was probably a gorgeous meal. I’m so glad I managed to avoid that in our travels!

  2. AvatarPaula Beavan

    Eeek, Christine’s story almost made me gag. As for restaurant stories, how long have you got? The most memorable was when my husband I were running a bistro in a local pub, a very rude customer accused us of serving inferior fish. It was Orange roughy because I am so fussy with seafood and don’t like most fish. Orange roughy or Ocean Perch is not exactly a cheap variety. The woman tried to tell me it was Nile Perch, and I offered to show her that it was not. I am standing in the dining room, as she’d been very rude to a waitress so I went out to deal with it. I offered her her an alternate meal, she had eaten all the fish and only left a small amount of salad and I refused to give her money back. After several heated back and forward remarks, my truck driving husband came out and told her to F . . . off out of the restaurant. She left in a huff, and Dave got a standing ovation from every other customer in the place. Then one woman yelled out to Dave, “This isn’t a hamburger!” and the whole place erupted. It was awful and hysterical all at once.

    1. Avatarchristinestinson

      Paula, what a great story! Good on your husband for giving her her marching orders, and how wonderful that the rest of the people there had senses of humour!

      1. AvatarPaula Beavan

        We were lucky in that she was a stranger and most of the other diners were our Friday lunchtime regulars LOL But for months after we were assailed with people claiming their food was not what they’d ordered. Good naturally thank goodness.

      2. AvatarCathryn Hein

        Oh, that’s an awesome story, Paula!!! What a hoot, but I can imagine not that much fun at the time. Amazing how rude people can be.

        I remember an American lady at an al fresco restaurant on the Cinque Terra, blaming the owner for the little midge-y like bugs that kept diving into her wine. We were on a vine-covered terrace overlooking the sea and it was BEAUTIFUL. What did she expect? Air con and bug zappers?

  3. AvatarJessica Owers

    Paula, your story is a classic! We had a young woman corner my husband recently and tell him that her tomatoes had been too big in her salad, that they weren’t ‘made with love’. When she got little satisfaction, she threatened to ‘write a review online’. He said go ahead. There is no end to the ridiculousness of what people will say in restaurants, and I love the fact that everyone has a story, or 100, in this business.

  4. AvatarAnne Gracie

    Waving madly to Jessica! (and Cathryn — great choice, Cathryn.) Congratulations on your second book, Jess! I have a copy of Peter Pan and enjoyed it immensely. Have now just ordered Shannon and will look forward to it arriving.

    I have great memories of dining at La Spiaggia in Coogee — have lost count of how often I have eaten there with friends and have always had a lovely meal and a good time. We took US author Vicki Lewis Thomson there once after a conference and she’s talked about it ever since.

    One of my best restaurant memories was of many years ago in Melbourne at a Greek restaurant. It was winter and we’d spent all day moving house. I was exhausted. We headed for this restaurant — a local favourite in Collingwood — and all the tables were taken. We were reigned to going elsewhere, but the owner who knew we came there often, said, “I could put you in front of the fire if you like.” We liked. It was like a picnic except inside, in front of the fire. We sat on the floor as the flames danced, and drank excellent red wine (d’Arenberg and Henchke Hill of Grace – it was a lonng time ago) while they brought us a series of little delicious dishes. I don’t recall ordering. We felt very spoilt and it was a memorable evening for both of us.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      That sounds such a wonderful experience, Anne. Greek food, like the people, is so warm and generous and bursts with flavour. Speaking of flavour, I’m drooling over those wines!!

      I’m also very jealous of all you ladies who’ve enjoyed the delights of La Spiagga. I can see we’re going to have to take a trip across town and visit. Feel like I’m missing out badly!

  5. AvatarTrish Morey

    Ah, Jessica, you take me back to those fabulous meals at La Spiaggia – I so wish we still had our RWA conferences at Coogee!

    Congratulations on the release of Shannon, it sounds like an awesome read and one most Aussies would love – the little battler horse from Oz taking on the best the world could throw at it. I’m going to order it for Xmas.

    I wish I could think of a restaurant anecdote worthy of sharing here, but for now I’ll leave it at this – and a wish to get back to Coogee and La Spiaggia one day soon, it’s been too long.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Hello, Trish! Thanks so much for dropping by the blog. Yet another who’s experienced the delights of this famous restaurant. I wish I’d known about it when the last RWA conference was held in Coogee. I’d have been there like a shot!

      1. AvatarAnne Gracie

        Cathryn, we go there every time we go to Coogee, and after the last RWA conference in Coogee, we took a whole mob there at the end of the conference — and you know how that is. The guys at La Spiaggia were fabulous, coped with the unexpected invasion with grace and warmth and we all had a lovely night.

  6. AvatarFiona McArthur

    Hi Jess and Cathryn
    Fi waving madly too. Fabulous news on ‘Shannon.’ Can’t wait to read it. Loved Peter Pan, and hearing about La Spiaggia, again, Jess. Wouldn’t miss a visit there if I get back to Coogee. Must work on that. I do have fab memories of the food, the guys, and meeting you there.
    Most amazing restaurant experience apart from La Spiaggia? London with a dear friend who travels with me and hopes I don’t lose stuff. The best? Have to say wandering onto a Barge on the Thames on a Sunday afternoon, we drank Veuve Clicquot because they didn’t have anything cheaper, (remembering we just got off the red tour bus 🙂 the Tower bridge was highlighted in the sun on the river, boats chugged past as we leaned on the window sill, and there was this huge, gorgeous, ebony-skinned guy drifting around the boat playing a saxophone. The food? What food?
    But anyway… where was I? Oh, yes. Nice restaurant experience. Happy Melbourne Cup day, all
    xx Fi

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      *waves madly back to Fiona* It’s a fab day, being Melbourne Cup day, to get all romantic about horses, isn’t it?

      That barge trip sounds utterly blissful and it was even topped off with a man playing a sax!! What fun. Definitely an experience to brag about.

  7. AvatarLouise Reynolds

    Gorgeous post, ladies. I need to get to La Spiaggia, pronto! Memorable meals – so many, But the best was probably in a little village near Chartres. The streets were deserted at lunchtime but that’s because everyone was in the fabulous little restaurant we wandered into. We were turned away by the woman who greeted us but luckily the patron stepped in and found us a table. No menu, just a progression of courses, all simply cooked and delicious. I have never forgotten that meal, after 30 years! All the best with “Shannon”. It sounds like a great read.

  8. AvatarJessica Owers

    Fiona, Trish, Anne… my very first fan club because it was these girls and their friends that inspired me to seek out an agent for a long manuscript about a racehorse called Peter Pan. Because of them, and Cathryn Hein, I have a marvellous respect for the romance writing girls dotted around this country!

    Hi Girls… La Spiaggia misses you!! (The Passion speaks of you often).