My gas BBQ finally gave up last week. After endless years of abuse, selflessly flaming, grilling and broiling on my back porch it finally said enough is enough, and collapsed.
A couple of years ago whilst helping to judge the annual Camp Oven Cook Off at the Redesdale Hotel I first met Bob Hart, a food writer, broadcaster and gourmet. We got talking, and I managed to convince him to come up to Jamieson and join us at the Jamieson Wine and Cheese Evening, a fundraiser for the local Primary School. A keen angler, when Bob heard we lived next to the Jamieson River he needed no further encouragement. What I didn’t realise was that Bob was a master of the BBQ – a veritable giant of the grill. He arrived in Jamieson armed with an extensive hamper, including the most fabulous pork sausages hand made by the legendary Italian Butchers Donatis in Lygon Street, Carlton, and on the Sunday rolled up his sleeves and joined us at the fire, spit roasting lamb, camp oven roasting and grilling.
A few weeks later I joined him on a culinary adventure in Melbourne. We started with an early morning walk in the Botanical Gardens, followed by muesli at the Botanical Hotel, a whistle stop at Proud Mary, where uber-barista Nolan Hirte made us a cup of coffee from a Guatemalan blend that was so good I can still recall the taste t a year later . We drove to La Tropezienne in Glenferrie Road for macaroons as good as the best in Paris, then ate sublime Portuguese custard tarts from a nondescript bakery in Alexander Parade, before heading back to Bob’s place for his unforgettable steak sandwich with herb butter. Bob was a man who clearly appreciated good food. “Life is too short to drink bad coffee”, is one of his mottos.
When my BBQ collapsed, I put a call through to Bob. The ever ebullient voice on the other end of the phone said, “Why don’t you come round on Sunday and have a look at mine, how about 2pm”. As it was I was due to sail at Brighton on Saturday, so we would be in Melbourne. It was a date. As it turned out, it was indeed fortunate that we didn’t eat before arriving.
Outside Bob’s kitchen door is a line up of the best there is in BBQ technology. Weber kettles, Q’s, smoking kettles, Japanese Eggs, endless contraptions for flaming, smoking and the worshiping Pyro. (I don’t think there is a god of smoke…) It was a perfect day, blue sky and clear air. The endless leafy avenues of Melbourne just forfeiting their shady greens for the patina of reds, oranges and yellows of autumn.
We were greeted in the kitchen with a glass of Moscato and fresh limejuice that was delightfully light, refreshing and cleansing on the palette. The celebrated food photographer Dean Cambray extended his ample hand in introduction whilst the gardener – on his hands and knees – announced from outside through the dog hatch that he was departing. A curious chap, and I wondered what was wrong with simply using the door?
Beneath neatly topiaried trees amid the strong scent of hickory smoke, Bob’s collection of cookers were chattering away when suddenly he lifts the lid on one, and there on the grill – no kidding – is a round box of Fromager de Clarins, that magnificent complex white mould cheese from the mountains of Haute-Savoie. Forget your raclette – Bob had been barbecuing this sucker, and basting it with Stone Dwellers Strathbogie Ranges Cabernet Sauvignon. I tentatively dip a wad of crusty bread into the molten stinky glump. It is stunning. Rich, creamy, deliciously smooth with that touch of astringency. The conversation moves to the immense ugly construction rising over the back fence We peel the sheaths back from whole ears of corn. Bob’s new neighbours have a young family and have forfeited their back yard to build a mansion. Our other dinner guest Andrew wryly adds, “ I hope they like smoke”. Living behind the barbecue king, one would need an appreciation for the scent of hickory.
Using the sheaths as handles, Bob lays the corn on the grill and closes the lid, lifting it again to turn the cobs every minute or so. When they are done, he smears them in a paste made from Bests Mayonnaise, tinned Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and sour cream, then rolls them in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Wow, this is funky food, very funky food. I love it.
Check out the recipe here
Bob lifts the lid on his big green egg smoker and removes a whole organic chicken that he had previously dry rubbed and shoved an open can of beer up its arse. Sitting on its frame like a squatting sunburnt sumo wrestler, Bob slices the most delicious moist skin from its carcass.
Next, lifting the lid on a Weber and releasing a plume of smoke redolent of Mandrake the magician Bob presents medallions of New Zealand Chinook salmon on a cedar plank. Chinook salmon were enthusiastically eaten and first described by the Lewis and Clarke Expedition, and have been successfully bred in New Zealand where they have established sizable pelagic runs. Whilst the New-Zealanders sell them to us as “Chinook” Salmon, at home they are know more prosaically as Quinnat. Ocean Made in Robert Street Collingwood sell them freshly flown in from the Land of the Long White Cloud. Bob cooks them through rather than leaving them opaque. The flavour is better and the fish has plenty of subcutaneous fat to ensure it stays moist whilst cooking. Andrew has found a source of untreated cedar shingles somewhere in Melbourne that are way cheaper than the culinary variety and do the same job. The fish is marvelous, the slight scent of sauna lubricated with a nut of melting dill butter that Bob has topped each piece with.
Bob brings out a bottle of 2009 Plukett Fowles “Ladies who Shoot their Lunch” Shiraz. The 2008 had previously left an impression on me, the 2009 with its rich red fruit grown on the dry flanks of the Strathbogie Ranges and the slight hint of Viognier was just the ticket to wash down the gorgeous rib eye steak on the bone that Bob was slicing onto our plates. The sun was now well traveled across the sky, and the shadows lengthening in Bobs garden. Typical of this time of year, the afternoon shade patches become chilly, but the wine is good, the food sublime, and the company couldn’t be better. Great food is both on the menu and the topic of discussion.
We reflect on the tragedy of foam – and how so many restaurant chefs embrace fads instead of focusing on the quality of the ingredients and producing honest food. More wine please…
Bob retreats to a smoking kettle, and returns with a fat alfoil packet full of short rib racks. I comment they look like St Louis Ribs, the master says more like Chicago. Bob had rubbed them with his own dry rub and slow braised them, then coated them in his own tomato chipotle sauce, which is tangier and has more tomato tang than most American sauces, he has wrapped them and hot smoked them for 2 hours. Bob reckons they could have done with 3 hours. He’s probably right, but they are wonderful all the same. He had Donati cut them up, but removes the membrane and trims them up himself.
I think I’m pretty well stonkered when Bob lifts the lid on another of his stoves to reveal half peaches sitting neatly on the grill, held up by halos of aluminium foil. Bob turns them before finishing them with Costa Rican raw sugar, and serves them with crushed roasted almonds and Bush Honey yoghurt. The evening chill is now really settling in, so we move in to the kitchen. The Valkyries from Wagner’s Das Rheingold on the radio serenade a cup of fresh burr ground Tanzanian Coffee. It is full flavoured, nutty and complex, but light, strangely not unlike a good cup of tea. Just the ticket for the three-hour drive back to Jamieson. Bob tells us that coffee plants at altitude are not plagued with as many insect pests as coffee grown in the lowlands, and therefore do not produce as much caffeine, which the plant uses as a repellant. By now the sun has set, and we depart into the clear night air, which is clear as gin in the silver light of the approaching Easter full moon as the car speeds home through the rolling hills and valleys of the North East. The scent of hickory follows us all the way home.
I will pick up a new Weber Q in a week or so. Bob reckons it’s the one for me, and if anyone would know it would be him.
Bob Hart runs the Australian Barbecue Academy, offering regular classes in the art of smoke and coals.
His website is http://www.australianbarbecueacademy.com and he can be contacted at email@example.com
Check out Dean Cambray’s food images at his blog http://deancambray.com.au/home.aspx
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