Manu Feildel at Alliance Francaise Sydney

A couple of weeks ago I attended a book signing and Q&A session with Manu Feildel at the Alliance Francaise of Sydney. The 12:30pm session booked out so fast that they had to add another one mid-morning, which booked out just as fast. This man sure has a lot of fans!

Manu Feilfel

Manu, mostly famous for co-hosting popular cooking show My Kitchen Rules, was here to present his third cookbook, French for Everyone, which he hopes will show Australian readers what real French food is about: “We don’t eat confit of duck every day at home, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin or cassoulet… What we eat is what my mum cooked, which was what you guys cook but with a French accent.” “Every recipe [in the book] is easy to make, but they are very tasty, and there’s a lot of sauce,” he said.

Despite the recent closure of his Sydney restaurant L’Étoile, life seems to be smiling at Manu right now, between the success of MKR, his new food & travel show My France with Manu, his new restaurant in Melbourne Le Grand Cirque, his new cookbook, and his engagement to fiancee Clarissa.

Himself still can’t quite believe his luck: “I wake up every morning pinching myself. Ouch, I’ve got bruises everywhere!” he said to an already won-over audience. “It is incredible, I know that I worked hard to be where I am, but I still feel that I’m one of the luckiest men on this planet.”

Manu Feildel

He told the audience about the start of his career, when he left France at the age of 18 to work in London, and then his move to Melbourne in 1999 with $700 in his pocket, how he then completely fell in love with Sydney and decided to call it his home. There he worked with Tony Bilson (“a great friend”), whose restaurant ended up obtaining 3 hats, and he started making a name for himself in the industry.

The day he received a call from Channel 10 to audition for Ready, Steady, Cook! marked the start of his career in the media: “I was always interested in entertaining. Before I wanted to become a chef, I wanted to be a circus performer. [...] I thought if I can’t be in the circus, let’s do some TV, it’s pretty much the same!” he said, provoking laughter in the audience. The rest is of course history, with his appearances in Boys Weekends, Masterchef, then My Kitchen Rules, Dancing with the Stars, and the recent My France with Manu.

Manu Feildel

A few brave souls asked during the Q&A whether he was cooking at his new restaurant, to which he responded: “Never! I’ve got slaves now. I’ve got the whip!” He also joked that Louis Vuitton doesn’t sew all the handbags himself!

Manu explained that his head-chef Fabian Oliveau, who used to run L’Étoile in Sydney, has followed him all the way to Melbourne to look after the restaurant: We write the menus together, he does all the hard work, I just taste it, tell him if it’s good or not, and then start from there. And he’s very good… he’s French!”

Manu FeildelQuestion time…

Despite having quite a tight schedule, Manu was kind enough to cut his break short to answer a few of my questions…

FW: How was it to go back to France, with camera crew in tow? How did your family react?

Manu: Going back to France was very exciting because I left France a long time ago, and every time I go back was for a quick holiday, and you need to see all your family, you need to jump from someone’s house to another, and you don’t rest, you don’t really have a holiday and you come back exhausted. This time it was still work, but it was so well organised that I didn’t need to worry about anything, from a town another city to another town. I rediscovered  my own country, and seeing my family was fantastic. I think my family was a bit surprised and shocked by all the TV crew around, but I think what they said to me is I haven’t changed a bit, so regardless I’ve become what I’ve become, I haven’t changed from the Manu that they’ve met form when I was a little kid, I’m still the same Manu.

FW: Do they realise how famous you are here?

Manu: My mum comes here every two years, so she had a little episode of what’s going on in my life every time, and they knew there something that was happening to me, but the difference between telling them and seeing it, it’s very different, so seeing the TV crew following me everywhere was a bit of a surprise and a shock.

Manu FeildelTurning on the charm

FW: Are there gonna be more episodes of My France…?

Manu: I’m going back at the end of May for another 3 weeks. We go this time from the Alps, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence to Marseille. So it’s very good, another 2 episodes!

Manu Feildel

FW: What do you miss most about France?

Manu: I think what I’ve realised is, because when I left when I was just 18 years-old, I’ve done some of France, but not all of it, and the fact that I came back and did the filming from Brittany all the way down to Biarritz, I’ve rediscovered France, and what I missed I’d love to go there a bit more often, for pleasure and just spend a bit more time there. And what’s great about it is that nobody knows who I am there, so I can actually travel without being stopped here and there. But what I miss is all the little markets, the little villages, the beautiful cheeses and the charcuterie, things that we have here, but not the same quality I suppose.

FW: Would you consider going back and live there to introduce your son to his French heritage?

Manu: Yes it is part of his heritage, but I don’t think it’s possible to go back and live there, because I’ve got a busy life here, and I’ve got a couple of jobs here that I can’t replicate over there. For me to become what I am back in France, I would have to start my life all over again. It would be a silly thing to do, but maybe I’d like to retire in France, maybe when my career slows down a bit, maybe I’ll have a holiday house, and I can spend a few months at a time, that would be nice.

Manu FeildelAlways the entertainer

FW: How’s your new restaurant going?

Manu: This is week 3, so it’s only been open for 15-16 days, so it’s early to say, but so far so good. We are busy already, I hope it’s gonna stay like this, I think the food is very simple French food, which people seem to really enjoy, there’s nothing complicated and people seem to enjoy that.

FW: Would you say that this restaurant resembles you the most?

Manu: It’s pretty much a full circle: the food I got brought up with, and then it became a lot of fine dining food, and back to what I was doing when I was much younger. This is my life going back to where I was, I think that’s what I want to do, it’s all a bit of what I’ve done under one roof.

Manu FeildelBook signing

FW: Your fiancee is Malaysian (actually Malaysian, Chinese & Sri-Lankan I found out). Has she helped you discover new types of cuisine?

Manu: For sure, I love every type of cuisine, I know that French is what I do, but I eat everything, and Malaysian food, I just love it, it’s really really nice, we cook at home together, so either I help her to cook, or she helps me cook my dishes, so it’s really good.

Manu Feildel

FW: Your life seems to be pretty complete at the moment. What’s the next dream you would like to achieve?

Manu: I know, it’s ridiculous! Let’s go back to My France with Manu, I would like to do that more and more and more, and maybe do My World with Manu, and travel all around the world and eat food!

And on that note, it was already time to finish the interview and get Manu back to his publicist and fans.

Manu Feildel

All in all, despite not being quite as receptive to his Gallic charm (French accent is not that exotic to me!), I found him to be a genuinely nice guy and, yes, pretty charismatic and endearing. You go Manuuuuuuuuuuuu!    ;)

Check out the Alliance Française de Sydney‘s website for more info on the events that regularly held there.

Check out Manu’s “actualité”:
- on TV: My Kitchen Rules & My France with Manu
- his new cookbook: French For Everyone
- his new restaurant: Le Grand Cirque

La Maison de l’Eclair – Bondi

Chocolate eclair

After a Macaron frenzy fuelled by pastry wizard Adriano Zumbo, Baroque Bistro (followed by many others), and more recently the arrival of French macaron house Ladurée, get ready for a new pastry trend in Sydney town. Indeed, Eclair is the “new black” of the pastry world, according to La Maison de l’Eclair, the first store in Sydney entirely dedicated to Eclairs which has just opened.

I’m pretty excited that the classic éclair has been given a new, sexy makeover and given a spot in the limelight! In France, renowned French pastry chef Christophe Adam has led the way with his concept store, L’Eclair de génie, where he offers a full range of completely revisited éclairs, with flavours changing every season, not unlike haute-couture fashion collections. You can watch him at work in this video when he came downunder to host a workshop at Savour School in Melbourne earlier this year (check out his sweet “Burger” éclair at the end of the video, very well done!).

I knew when I saw Adam’s crazy éclair display at fine food show SIRHA in Lyon last January, that it was only a matter of time before this new craze reached our shores!

Of course, you could already find excellent éclairs in Sydney, like for example at Black Star Pastry, but the Eclair concept store had yet to be created.

LaurenceLaurence Caillon (Croquembouche & Maison de l’Eclair)

I didn’t have to wait too long… Founded by Frédéric and Laurence Caillon, who have been running Croquembouche Patisserie in Banksmeadow since 2000, La Maison de l’Eclair has just opened in the old Paris Cake Shop premises, and I had the opportunity to attend their launch party.

Savoury eclair selectionSavoury selection: Toulouse, St Malo, Paris, Arcachon etc.

Not only do they offer classics like chocolate and coffee éclairs, but they have been very creative with new and sophisticated flavours. However the real novelty are the savoury éclairs, which are all named after French cities and represent their regional specialties: for example, Bergerac ($9.50) contains foie gras, a specialty from the Southwest. They are all made with a buckwheat choux pastry (gluten-free), which should somewhat relieve the guilt of the most health-conscious among us ;)

Savoury eclairs

Even though I got to taste a fair few éclairs that night, I only scratched the surface of the large selection on offer. You could choose from Paris (ham, comté, tomatoes, mesclun leaves, mayo), Chambord (Goat’s cheese, sun dried tomatoes, pesto, basil) and many more, but one savoury eclair that I thought worked really well was the Archachon (Salmon, dill & cream cheese).

The question was raised among guests about whether the savoury ones would be filling enough for lunch. To me it probably would, but the biggest appetites might need a bit more to really feel full… maybe a sweet éclair for dessert would do the trick!

SparklesThe sparkly Eclair tower in honour of Frederic & Laurence (nice colour match!)

We were then served the sweet ones, which ranged from the classic Chocolat, Espresso, Vanilla, to the more “out there” ones, like the Mojito (Mojito ganache cream, fresh mint). Frederic and Laurence have also reinterpreted French classics, like the Tropézienne, Lemon Meringue and Paris-Sydney, a twist on the popular Paris-Brest, which I loooove. The Canadian and the Caribbean, both laden with fresh fruits, are on the pricier side at $7.50. I had a soft spot for the Pistachio and the Grand Cru Ecuador, with its intense (70%) chocolate flavour.

EclairsAn infinity of Eclairs

Guests

Even though I was able to chose any one of the éclairs on display to take home, I just couldn’t resist the classic Chocolate one – the best way to judge a good éclair I thought… it didn’t last 10 minutes from the moment I got home, which is a good sign!

Classic eclairsChocolat, Coffee and Vanilla: the Sweet Classics

I hope Australians will love Eclairs as much as they loved macarons and cupcakes. (Except Eclairs are much nicer, in my humble opinion!)

So, what do you think will be the next big trend after Eclairs? (I think it’s going to be Canelés…) ;)

Hazelnut eclairHazelnut Eclair

Passion & Peanut EclairsPeanut Butter, Pistachio and Passionfruit

Peanut & TropezienneTropézienne & Peanut Butter

Sweet eclair selectionRaspberry & Bounty

Sweet eclairs displayCarribean, Canadian and Lemon Meringue

Grand Cru EcuadorGrand Cru Ecuador (70%)

Sydney-BrestParis-Sydney

Maison de l’Eclair
91 Bondi Road
Bondi NSW 2026

Brasserie Ananas – The Rocks

Eclairs 3

Every year, my girlfriends and I organise an early Christmas catch up over a good old French fare before everything gets too crazy. We’d been talking about Brasserie Ananas for a while, and I was pretty excited to try it, as I was well aware of the chefs’ pedigree: Paul McGrath, previously from 2-hatted Bistro Ortolan in Leichhardt, and pastry chef Yves Scherrer, whom I knew from his work with Team Pastry Australia and his reputation for the best Salted Caramel Eclair in town.

And yes, people might also remember this restaurant for making the news with their infamous bright red mouth-shaped urinals! The uproar they provoked led to their removal… until the owners decided to put the urinals back again! But I think the food is what they should be known for, as it really is worth it.

TartareClassis hand-cut Steak Tartare ($24)

As a young adult, I found the idea of eating raw meat a bit repulsive, until I tasted a Steak Tartare at a “bouchon” in Lyon with all the right seasonings… from that moment, there was no coming back. I’d been craving Steak Tartare for a while, so I ordered the entree-sized option. It was still pretty generous, and I struggled to finish it. It was topped with a quail egg yolk still in half a shell and poured on the steak by the waitress. It also came with thin and crispy bread slices and sweet potato crisps, as well as fried little capers on the side. It hit the spot.

CrabCrab leg

My friend ordered 100g of King crab leg, which came with a bit of mayonnaise/aioli type of sauce and she seemed pretty delighted.

Lobster ravioliLobster ravioli, Confit tomato, bisque ($33)

I chose the Lobster Ravioli as a main, and I didn’t regret it. The waitress poured the bisque at the table on the ravioli, which were served on a bed of confit tomato. The ravioli were topped with a “salad”, consisting of diced poached lobster tail meat, diced fresh green apple, diced baby fennel blanched diced celeriac, truffle aioli, chopped chives, lemon juice. It was light, refreshing and had loads of flavour… I would order it again in a jiffy!

Lobster Ravioli mainLobster ravioli, Confit tomato, bisque ($33)

My friend had been dreaming of a Steak-Frites for weeks now, and her dream came true in the shape of the 300g Grass-fed sirloin, which she found delicious.

Steak FritesSavannah grass-fred sirloin 300g ($41)

I was a bit worried as I’d read that the restaurant could get a bit too enthusiastic with the house music. At first I didn’t find it that bad, but by the end of the meal, as the light kept on being dimmed, the music kept on getting turned up… But that was fine, as we were in the last phase of our dinner by then, the much-anticipated desserts!

SneakersSnicker’s Revolution ($18)

The girls were quite disappointed to find out that the Chocolate Fondant was no longer on the menu, being less suited to summer, so they consoled themselves by ordering the Snickers’s Revolution, a deconstructed Snicker Bar consisting of peanut ice-cream, a tube of chocolate filled with a chocolate mousse on a bed of peanuts. (Sorry if I sound wanky using the expression “on a bed of”, but… I really can’t think of a better one.) And my friends loved the dessert.

Strawberry & CreamStrawberry & Cream dessert

This beautiful dessert of Strawberry & Cream consisted in a Meringue cylinder topped with a sugar disc, on which dollops of cream and fresh strawberries were placed. The waiter then poured a strawberry coulis at the table. A very classic combination of flavours, but a winning one: fruity, light and refreshing.

Ananas eclairEclair trio: Pineapple Eclair

The moment finally came to taste the famous eclairs: I would have just ordered the salted caramel eclair if I could have, but the menu only listed the Trio of Eclairs as an option.

I started with the Pineapple (Ananas): the taste of the fruit was really distinct and intense, it didn’t taste artificial, and I liked the little marshmallow on top.

EclairsJaffa Eclair: Chocolate and Orange Blossom

The 2nd eclair, Jaffa, was made of chocolate and orange blossom. I had never tasted the eponymous lollies, so didn’t have a preconceived idea of how it should taste… I only know it tasted damn good!

Caramel eclairEclair trio: The famous Salted Caramel Eclair

But my favourite was really the Salted caramel one: the filling was very smooth, creamy and not too set, but not too runny either, a good balance of sweet and salty… parfait.

I actually heard on the grapevine that an Eclair store might soon see the light of day in the Ananas vicinity in the next few months… so stay tuned, as Eclairs are the next big thing!

Despite the 2-hour sitting policy, we didn’t feel any pressure to leave after exceeding our allotted time, which was most appreciated, as I hate feeling rushed.

Brasserie Ananas offers great food, pleasant service (mostly French), and despite not being on the cheaper side of the bistro/brasserie spectrum, is perfect to celebrate special occasions and is sure to appeal to all Francophiles and French food lovers out there.

Brasserie Ananas
18 Argyle Street
The Rocks NSW 2000

Ananas Bar & Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Interview with Alison Brien – Channel Cheese

PuzzonePuzzone di Moeana cheese, Italy (Trento province)

Saying that I like cheese would be quite an understatement: I simply love it, I grew up wolfing down slabs of Comté and Camembert, eating Cancoillotte and Mont d’Or by the spoon, and later as a young adult was quite happy to just dine on wine, baguette and Picodon (goats cheese).

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Cafe Opera, Intercontinental – Sydney

EggCafe Opera’s famous Slow-cooked Egg dish

A few weeks ago I was invited by Cafe Opera Executive Sous Chef, Julien Pouteau, to discover their new Spring Menu at the restaurant located on the 1st floor of the InterContinental Hotel, right next to Circular Quay.  

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Sydney Cove Oyster Bar – Harbourside Beach Barbie

SunsetLocation, location!

A few weeks ago I was invited to the media preview of Sydney Cove Oyster Bar‘s Harbourside Beach Barbie, taking place every Saturday at lunchtime in October for only $55/pp. during Good Food Month, Sydney Morning Herald’s food festival.

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Sydney’s Best Croissants

Croissant mashup FW

Bonjour tout le monde!

As some of you might know, I recently wrote a piece for the blog section of The Guardian Australia about croissants. I had to sacrifice myself and taste as many croissants as I could to bring you all this information… lucky you!

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Red Obsession

Chinese Billionaire and his $60m cellarChinese sex-toy billionaire and his $60-million cellar

Last week I went to see a great documentary at the Dendy Newtown about the legendary Bordeaux wines, called: “Red Obsession“, one of Sydney Festival hit films a few months ago. It was directed by Warwick Ross and David Roach, and the latter was present at the Dendy for a Q&A after the projection.

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Progressive Dinner in Surry Hills

Late last month I was invited to a “Dinner on the run”, a progressive dinner organised by social concierge Lime & Tonic.

A progressive dinner is a bit like a pub crawl, except that it involves food in addition to the booze and that the after effects are not as painful! In addition to that, Lime & Tonic selects the best dishes of the restaurants and the only thing you have to worry about is rock up there and enjoy yourself. That night we were going to Sugarcane, Bar H and Longrain, all a stone’s throw away from each other in trendy Surry Hills.

Sugarcane entreesPrawns  on rice cakes & Som Tam with crispy pork

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Souffle class at Patisse Cooking School – Chippendale

Mango Souffle square

Who doesn’t like Soufflés, those light, moist, airy as clouds cakes. Savoury or sweet, they’re bound to impress your guests at dinner parties… that is, if the soufflé doesn’t collapse before reaching the dining table, or worse, never rises. Capricious little things they are…

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