Introduction

Introduction

By
Mark Best
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742709802
Photographer
Petrina Tinslay

As a cook and person, I have always valued authenticity over glib fashion. I guess this comes from my pragmatic Lutheran upbringing. The Lutheran church is a place of robust raw materials, wood, stone, linen, muted colour, rough hewn and real.

The Lutheran church was not a place of pomp or ceremony. Pastor Provey had many children and an Abraham Lincoln beard. Praise was faint and good works valued. I turned out basically agnostic but, while the indoctrination may not have stuck, the work ethic and aesthetic certainly have, which is to place value in the ordinary and find beauty in it.

My grandfather cultivated a large home garden. The beds had been turned over for two generations before him. He never bought seeds and never had. The loam was deep and black, nurtured by his rough hands, the shit of a thousand chickens and the compost of last year’s crop. The garden was organic before that became a thing. Garlic started as hairy threads of green under glass and finished fermenting in papery, plaited bundles in the eaves of his shed. Tiny cucumbers, submerged under the weight of a faded plate and smooth stone, slowly bubbled. The ferment tempered by salt and pungent with dried dill.

My nanna cooked with exactness and efficiency. Her mother, my ‘big nanna’, would sit at the table beside her, tailing tiny green beans. Dinner always started with ‘go and wash your hands’, then tripe and onions might be served. The tall cupboard held a stack of coloured biscuit tins and the fridge smelled of mettwurst. These collective memories perhaps reek of cliché but they are mine and perhaps inform my work in the kitchen more than anything else. Good cooking is not about luxury ingredients nor should they be expensive or rare. It is a response to what you have, not what you want.

I had no burning ambition to be a chef. It just sort of happened. In hindsight I can see that cooking had always been a large part of my life. It just seemed so normal and, while it was enjoyed – sometimes celebrated – it was also a function of the everyday. We had fruit trees and chickens and a pet ram called Barney. Surfeit of the season meant I was well aware of how to preserve an apricot, plum and peach, what to do with a quince and what a feijoa was.

We would eat preserved fruit with supermarket ice cream until the fruiting season returned. That’s what made it banal and why I think of it wistfully now. I would climb the Fig trees, legs stinging from the nettles underneath and then I would put white Fig sap on my warty thumb. I would eat almonds from when they were clear and jellied to when we would rattle the branches with bamboo canes to harvest the remainder. We had a rooster called Tom who Finished his days as broth, his seven years on earth requiring a commensurate number of hours in the pot. We were made to eat him.

Like most Gen X kids, I walked home, seemingly miles, in my memory. The route had its rewards. Pomegranate trees on the First corner were turned into improvised machine-gun fire. I knew the fruit was edible but we never actually ate them. It was much more fun to spray a mouthful of seeds at my sister. The staccato Fire and ‘blood’ splatter never got old. Neither did her screams of outrage. For some reason the burghers of my home town had lined the streets with plum trees. We would eat them from the First belly-rumbling blush of ripeness until they started to ferment on the branch under full sun. Of course this is just nostalgia, but it defined a memory of what things should taste like.

Cooking is not an art that relies on products accessible only to the professional chef. It’s not just about technique but new and old thought; changing the context. Using the self-imposed parameters of the ubiquitous and everyday as a source of creativity has allowed me to reinvent something as ordinary as honeycomb. I use the same recipe components as your mum did. Professional curiosity and focus on detail have taken it to a different level. Using honey from the blue gum forests surrounding Sydney and our créme fraîche creates a dish from ‘only’ two elements.

The art of cooking is to take any ingredient and turn it into something beautiful, to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It is minimalism at its most delicious. A good cook can compose a menu walking through a supermarket (at least with the 20 per cent of food stuffs they stock that actually are edible). Salad onions have their own beauty and in good hands can be elevated beyond the ordinary. A parsnip usually relegated to the roasting pan or soup pot can sing as dessert when transformed with common builder’s lime. Buy things in full season. When they are at their best, most abundant and their cheapest. This is the golden triangle of cooking. It’s an egalitarian approach that eschews the inherent elitism and privilege I see creeping into the dialogue surrounding ‘good food’.

This is a collection of everyday ingredients, in alphabetical order, with three recipes each. This is a selection of the basic recipes and techniques that I have developed over my 25-year career as a chef – 16 of those at Marque, and all of them as a very keen home cook. They are not your usual home recipes, but they are mine. Take them, use them, make them your own and part of your repertoire.

Happy cooking.

Mark

Kitchen notes

All eggs are free-range and 55 g

All poultry is free-range

Cooking chocolate should be best-quality couverture chocolate

Oven temperatures are given for fan-forced ovens. For conventional ovens, increase the temperature by 20°C.

Generally speaking, the better your ingredients are, the better the result of your dish. Buy the best you can afford.

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