Food Speaker Series at the Australian Science Festival

There is a building at the edge of the Australian National University campus in Canberra that looks like an alien spacecraft, and would look more at home on a set of a sci-fi movie rather than within a place of higher learning. The Shine Dome was actually built in 1959 and is a National Heritage Listed site. I have always wanted to investigate this building, but never got around to it. Until last week, when I attended the Food Speaker Series which was an event part of this year’s Australian Science Festival.

Science pervades food whether we are aware of it or not, from growing and farming to cooking. Kitchens of chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià look more like chemistry labs, and we continue to be amazed by the way they play with textures and present food in a form we’ve never seen before. But, even in my own humble kitchen, science is at play when I whip egg whites, even though I have no clue why they change states the way they do.  I’m excited to listen to the speakers, who each are experts in their own areas of interest. But, before the talks, I wander around the stalls of the exhibitors, who are local growers and food producers.

I stop for a chat with Rhonda, from the Chameleon Ice-Creamery, who is a chef 5 days a week, and makes and sells her own ice-cream at events around the region in her free time. She creates different flavours of ice-cream according to the event she’s exhibiting at. Today, she has a Guiness flavour because there’s a talk on home brewing, Chrysanthemum, and a range of other flavours using different dairy substitutes- mulberry (goat’s milk), butterscotch (soy milk) and coconut (coconut milk). I am really interested in trying the Chrysanthemum ice-cream, which Rhonda infuses with real chrysanthemum flowers, but unfortunately it’s much too early in the day for me for ice-cream!

Rhonda shares with me a menu she created a few weeks ago for a grossology event… I loved it! Didn’t I tell you she was creative? Reading the menu evokes both feelings of disgust and mirth at how apt Rhonda’s choice of flavours and descriptions are! I don’t think I will ever be able to look at lemon sorbet again without thinking of its gross equivalent!

After Soy and I learnt all about and cooked with truffles for the first time this season and were totally mesmerised by them, I was really interested to absorb even more information, and Jim Trappe explained how truffles actually spore and how native truffles are propagated by animals in the bush. The slide behind Jim shows native Australian truffles, which look so completely different from the French black truffle.

And French black truffles are what Peter Marshall grows at Terra Preta in Braidwood. His fabulous truffles are the ones that Soy and I cooked with at Le Très Bon and also, for our truffle dinner party. Peter shared how he and his wife Kate came to acquire their property 10 years ago, and how the landscape has changed in that time, according to how they planned their land and their truffière based on natural farming ideas. No staid straight lines of trees for them!

For me though, what I took away from that day was a much deeper understanding and a thirst for even more knowledge of the philosphy of sustainable and ethical eating. Janet Jeff’s talk was titled “People have such fear of food”, which was a quote that Julia Child made around the time when Americans were turning away from butter and cream, to margarine, that was supposedly healthier. I lost count of the number of times I inwardly said “That’s so true!” throughout Janet’s talk. Food is meant to “nourish and delight us”, but more and more, people are counting calories and trying to avoid ‘bad’ food. What about all the unnecessary additives and chemicals that turn food into unrecognisable entities? I’ve been watching Jamie’s Food Revolution, and those same feelings are evoked in me when I watch it. When Janet was asked what we should then be doing, she emphasised the need to know exactly where our food comes from- meaning growing our own food, or buying food directly from farmers and growers, like at farmers markets. I left Janet’s talk feeling inspired, and making a mental note for Soy and I to go along to one of the Talk and Taste events that she holds monthly at her restaurant at the Old Parliament House.

If I was inspired after Janet’s talk, I was positively fired up after talking to Michael Croft from Mountain Creek Farm. I’m not sure when Soy and I became interested in growing our own food. We didn’t grow up experiencing the land, keeping chooks or collecting eggs. Until very recently, we didn’t even think about it! Food just kind of miraculously appeared. Michael put it very brilliantly, I think, when he said that we need to know the What, When, Why, Where and How when it comes to our food, and very few people actually stop to think and question. My chat with Michael is positively mind blowing. What started out as a hobby and a natural gravitation to fresh produce and real food for Soy and I actually has huge implications, and implications that reach far, far beyond us. Food, and how we grow, produce, distribute, and consume it, has implications on humanity as a whole. I felt like Michael had lifted a blindfold from my eyes. Michael’s farm is located on the foothills of the Brindabella Mountains and produces a range of products including Belted Galloway beef and Wessex Saddleback pork.  When I asked Michael what he hoped to do through his farm, he said “Well, I want to change the world.” And I admire him enormously for how unabashedly he says so. For I too, want to change the world, and Soy and I will be on that path, no matter how small our steps are.

So, please share with me- what is your food philosophy?

Australian Science Festival

The Australian Science Festival continues until 15th August 2010.

The Chameleon Ice-Creamery

Rhonda 0418 323 236

Terra Preta Truffles

Peter Marshall 02 4842 2677

The Kitchen Cabinet at Old Parliament House

Mountain Creek Farm

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  • Lollcakes

    It sounds wonderful Honey! I don’t have a set philosophy, but I believe in farm fresh and avoidance of chemicals. :)

  • honeyandsoy

    Thank you! And absolutely! I also think it will be much easier for us as the consumer to make decisions about what we eat if there was better labelling and information about what happens to our food before it reaches us. I had no idea that tomatoes are picked green, and ripened using a blanket of gas, because supermarkets aren’t required to disclose this kind of information.

  • Michelle Chin

    I believe in “Less is more”. :)

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    Those grossology flavours remind me of Harry Potter! :P And for my food philosophy, nothing set out formally but fresh, as unadulterated as possible, organic or free range as much as possible and definitely as much made from scratch as possible! :)

  • honeyandsoy

    Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans!!! :D And your food philosophy is definitely one we share!

  • honeyandsoy

    Absolutely. I remember hearing various versions of this idea that we should be shopping around the edges of supermarkets- ie avoiding the rows of processed food in the middle. Then again, I no longer even buy fruit and veg from the supermarket.

  • Anna Johnston

    Couldn’t agree with you more. The food chain as most know it is a dirty story and the more we understand where our food has come from the better. Its great to see Chefs like Janet speaking about this stuff (you must check out her talk & taste events, they’re great). Michael Croft is passionate about cleaning up the food chain & I agree with you, very infectious isn’t he. Great to see these fantastic Canberraites talking this stuff up.
    Cheers Anna

  • honeyandsoy

    It’s been really eye-opening, Anna. The problem is, the more we learn the more we find out what we don’t know! It’s neverending… but little steps are good :)

  • Anna Johnston

    Its the same for me, never ending story of learning.

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