Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

03
Apr
2014

Singapore Celebrity Concierge

Sambal Stingray from Adam Road Food  Centre

What do you do when you plan your trip to a new city? If you’re anything like me you spend days scouring blogs, twitter, and various travel sites on the internet trying to put together a list of the “must do” (realistically “must eat”) places to visit.

So what if instead of spending all that time, you just relaxed and put yourself in the hands of a trusted advisor. A well informed local who could put together a list of awesome things for you to do/eat? Such was the proposition I received recently as an opportunity to visit Singapore on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board was put forward.

“Impossible!” I thought, as the email came in from the PR reps. There was no way the itinerary could possibly satisfy someone with my obscure culinary obsessions… Oh how wrong I was. Whilst being led through the dried fish and spice laden halls of the dry goods section above Bugis Food Centre with our celebrity concierge Audra Morrice pointing out where her mum comes to collect ingredients for her homemade sambal and curry. I was in the midst of musty, dehydrated food heaven.

Audra was part of Masterchef in 2012, and clearly made it a lot further along the way than I did, a fact which I tried not to hold against her, because her love of food and all that goes along with it is compelling. Based in Sydney with her young family now, she’s a Singaporean through and through, as evidenced in a small alley way in the covered markets of Chinatown haggling over the price of some freshly cut durian with a crafty operator. In short, she was the perfect person to show me the sights and tastes of Singapore that I’d been missing.

Now of course the rest of this post should be read with the knowledge that I was invited to come to Singapore on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board. The flights, accommodation, and daily activities were all paid for. In fact, if I didn’t have a massive craving for Bakkwa that needed to be satisfied with frequent nightly trips to Lim Chee Guan, I’d have struggled to pay for anything. I stayed at the very trendy Dorsett Hotel in Chinatown and had a friendly mini bus driver named Steven who let us bring durian puffs on board as long as we double bagged them.

Disclaimers aside, I can’t think of many things on the itinerary that I wouldn’t have done of my own accord. The tour was designed by Audra to give us an idea of what her Singapore was all about, and it was a feast for all the senses. It was facilitated by local tour guide Wee Tee, a lady whose innate Singaporeanness is second to none, and who only got funnier as the days went on. She took great delight in introducing me to the wonders of foot reflexology, which should actually be known as foot murder.

So in no specific order here are the highlights in photo form for you to peruse:

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

Soft boiled egg at Chin Mee Chin

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An old school bakery of much repute on East Coast Rd. This was the spot Audra chose to take us to experience the joy that can only come from a sweet cup of kopi (strong coffee brewed with or without a sock and loaded with condensed milk) and some kaya toast with soft boiled eggs. Kaya is a sweet coconut jam made with eggs, and the best way to eat it is on some plain white toast with a slab of butter. Our group fortunately arrived early as a line started forming out the door not long after we arrived. I managed to eat about 4 soft boiled eggs with liberal doses of soy sauce and white pepper sprinkled over them. The kaya toast just works, I could eat it anytime of the day. Soft white bread lightly toasted and loaded up with melty butter and thick coconut jam is a superb match.

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery
204 East Coast Rd
+65 6345 0419

Tiong Bahru

Chwee Kueh from Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre

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Tiong Bahru is an old area close to the centre of Singapore. It was Singapore’s first housing estate, built in the 1930s to the west of Chinatown, and has in recent years undergone a “gentrification” of sorts. With all kinds of new coffee shops, bars, and designer stores appearing in what previously was home to kopitiams full of mahjong playing old timers.

We took a little of the old and a little of the new on this visit. First up hitting up the hugely popular Tiong Bahru Bakery for breakfast pastries and specialty coffee supplied by hip new roasters Common Man Coffee (A collaboration between Perth locals Five Senses and Singaporean coffee trail blazers Forty Hands). My Kouign-Amann was crispy on the outside, soft inside, sweet and perfect. The coffee expertly poured by one of the most eager to please baristas I’ve ever met.

We took a short stroll down the road and Audra pointed out some pandan growing in a street front garden that I encouraged her to steal. We settled for a photo in front of it. Then onwards to the Tiong Bahru Food Centre and a little breakfast treat called Chwee Kueh. I discovered this on my last trip to Singapore, and was super happy when we made a bee line for the Jian Bo Chwee Kueh stall with aunty dutifully scooping steamed rice cakes out of their moulds onto a sheet of wax paper and lathering over a healthy dose of preserved radish and sambal. I played it cool for a while but when it was obvious that the rest of the party were lacking in the power eating department I stepped up and finished most of them. I can envision a future in which I eat this for breakfast everyday and am totally happy.

Tiong Bahru Bakery
#01-07, 56 Eng Hoon St
+65 6220 3430

Tiong Bahru Food Market & Hawker Centre
30 Seng Poh road

Lolla

Chargrilled octopous with chorizo and calamansi

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Now a slight divergence from the hawker stalls and local food as we headed to a little restaurant in Chinatown called Lolla. I was all ready to not like this place with its Spanish this, tapas that, and this is our version of what. Plus the distinctly not-hawker-customer-friendly price tags on the dishes… but damn if the food wasn’t good. Chef Ming is a young guy who is clearly keen to impress. We arrived for a lateish lunch and he was prepping pork skin for dinner service which was slow cooked overnight, then dried, before being deep fried into perfect crackling. The dishes I tried could not be faulted… a sublime seafood custard (think Chawanmushi with squid ink) topped with sea urchin. Then a slow cooked tripe that fellow offal fiend Rebecca and I could not go past, crispy gelatinous honeycomb. Then octopus, clams, smoked cheese. Washed down with a Spanish Albariño I could have quite easily forgotten I was still in the heart of Chinatown with ducks hanging in windows all around me.

Lolla
22 Ann Siang Road, Chinatown
+65 64231228

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To get us back on the local track, after lunch at Lolla we took a stroll around Chinatown, checking out the Buddhist temple (home to part of Buddha’s tooth), and the wet markets where old and young guys used very large cleavers to take the heads off very large fish. Small cages of frogs who had lost all hope of escape sat complacently awaiting their fate, and all manner of person haggled with vendors for the best prices. Outside the market old men played Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) and we wandered through streets of covered markets til that all too familiar smell of Durian filled our noses and Asian food novice Aleisha was given the baptism of fire into that most special of fruits. It didn’t go well.

Bugis

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Another day another market and this time it was Bugis. An area previously famous for lady boys during the second world war, we had no Adam’s Apples to be wary of unfortunately, just more great street food from the hawker centre and market stalls. Wee Tee our guide happily procured rojak for a snack and ice kachang and ice cendol for a snack dessert. I’m pretty sure it was mostly for her, but she let us have a taste as well. The hawker centre doesn’t just stop at the food level, head upstairs and you find yourself in the aforementioned dry goods section. Audra pointed out dried persimmon, all manner of dried mushrooms and fungi, giant bags of dried scallops and ikan bilis and a whole stall dedicated to dried sea cucumber, a food that must surely be close to the top of the list of ugly things that are crazy expensive.

Little India

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant

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Little India is an area like no other in Singapore. I have yet to reach India, but I have a pretty good idea of how it would feel from spending a few nights in Little India Singapore. The streets are heady with the smell of incense and dried flowers, and spices. Road rules and the regular orderliness of Singapore goes out the window and in the evenings an otherworldly noise envelopes you as the sound of thousands of voices speaking a hundred sub-continental dialects fills the night air.

On this trip Audra took us to a favourite restaurant of hers, the Madras New Woodlands Restaurant, which I was somewhat shocked to find was totally vegetarian. Of course the health conscious need not get too excited about that as plate after plate of fried breads like poori, dosai, and vadai rolled out onto the table. I mopped all of them up with coconut sambal and chickpea curry and washed it down with mango lassi. Meatless what?

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant
14 Upper Dickson Rd
+65 6297 1594

Adam Road Food Centre

Sambal pipis

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Back to the hawker centre for dinner, and one I’d never been to before. Adam Road has a wide selection of classic hawker dishes. We started with some excellent sambal stingray, and sambal pipis, dabbled with some hokkien mee, satay, and a little black carrot cake (not actually made from white carrots, but with radish and sweet soy). I may also have downed a few of bottles of frosty cold Tiger beer with the help of Rebecca. Singapore is so far the only place where I will reach for a beer before anything else. The humidity in Singapore can feel like walking around in a warm bath sometimes, and who doesn’t like drinking beer in the bath? Am i right? Anyone…

Adam Road Food Centre
2 Adam Road
Singapore 289876

Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice

Boon Tong Kee chicken rice

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You know what has been conspicuously absent during this post so far? Mentions of chicken rice. You only need to go to Singapore once to realise what a phenomenon chicken rice is, and how hotly debated the “best” version is. Don’t know how to break the ice with that cute girl at the hawker centre? Ask her where the best chicken rice is. It is undeniably Singapore’s national dish and for good reason. The perfect chicken rice is a transcendent experience. Perfectly steamed chicken bursting with succulent juices and umami packed rice that’s been cooked in chicken stock with some fat mixed in for good measure. Paired with the right chilli sauce, and some sweet sticky soy (and a little broth if you’re lucky), this is about as good as food gets for $3-$5 on average per serve.

Audra chose to take us to the River Valley outlet of Boon Tong Kee chicken rice, a chain that features in mostly all the “best chicken rice in Singapore” lists. Despite having been eating constantly for 3 days at this point, I had no issue in partaking in lusciously plump steamed chicken and flavourful rice, the chilli could have gone up a notch for me, which I guess means I’m becoming Singaporean because splitting hairs over amazing/cheap food is pretty much a national pass time.

Boon Tong Kee
425 River Valley Road
Singapore 248324

Singapore skyline from the Super Tree grove

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On the non edible side of the country, we also visited the S.E.A Aquarium (which was amazing, but made Audra hungry for seafood), and the alien landscape that is the Super tree grove in the Gardens by the Bay. The one certain thing about Singapore is that it is constantly reinventing itself. For an island state that turned itself from a collection of sleepy fishing villages to a global financial power player inside of one generation is astounding. That it continues to morph and grow and adapt is certainly no surprise.

That does make it pretty tricky at times to find the real Singapore, which for me is tucked away in the back streets and hawker stalls, on the ground floor of the not so trendy shopping centres, and anywhere the smell of durian and charcoal mix together and linger in the humid night air.

In case it wasn’t obvious at the top of the post, here it is again at the bottom. This trip and tour was made possible by the Singapore Tourism Board and was a part of their Celebrity Concierge program where you can take part of a unique service that pairs you with a celebrity with local knowledge of Singapore to help plan your trip. Go check out the site and see if you too can be a winner.

Thanks again to Audra and her excellent advice, and to the lovely people at Singapore Tourism Board (and the fearless Larissa) for giving this glutton another 50 reasons to love this country. If you haven’t been yet, I’m not sure how much I can stress this… go.

05
Oct
2013

Singapore

How to sum up a country in a single blog post ? It’d be fairly audacious of me to even attempt such a thing, especially after a single visit, but this is a blog, and if you can’t be self important and all knowing on a blog then where can you be ?

So I received an email last year that piqued my interest. It was from a girl called Venetia and she was inviting me to come to Singapore and visit the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Now I’m not sure if my stance on accepting freebies is particularly well known, but I generally decline most of the emails I get sent due to lack of interest or lack of time.

As of now however, I have discovered my breaking point. International travel. If you as a marketing/pr person are willing to fly me to another country and show me all the good things there are to do there, I will more than likely accept, whilst still writing what I genuinely think about the place… slowly, perhaps a year or so later.

What made the decision a little easier was that Singapore has been a destination on my radar for a long time. I have an uncle and aunt there who were recently married in Perth, and so it’s almost a shameful secret that I hadn’t been already. The Marina Bay Sands invited me for a culinary tour of the restaurants within the complex, along with a group of other Australian bloggers who were a lot more diligent than I am about writing about it. (Hey Helen, Jen, and Lizzie), as well as groups from Malaysia and Indonesia. The tour started on Monday and so Marcela and I arrived on the Friday beforehand to acquaint ourselves with this most curious of cities, and eat as much dodgy hawker food as possible.

So on the plane we jumped and a quick 5 hour flight red eye from PER -> SIN landed at us at Changi Airport at 6am, where even so early in the morning the humidity welcoming party was waiting for us the second the electronic doors slid open. Like a big hug from a sweaty Aunty you don’t really remember, but are sure you’ll end up liking. Then straight into a taxi and back to my uncles place on the East Coast where my plans for hitting the hawkers for breakfast faded as quickly as my head hit the pillow for a “quick nap”.

Of course it didn’t take us long to get into the swing of things. An MRT ride into Orchard Road and then a visit to Newton Circus for Oyster Omelet and Black Carrot Cake (actually rice cake fried with sweet black soy sauce), and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with lemon. Perfect.

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Later that evening we were taken to the East Coast Park outpost of the famous Jumbo Seafood chain for chilli and black pepper crab and plenty of cold Tiger beer to wash it down.
I have never been a big beer drinker, but sitting outside, dripping with sweat, my lips slightly stinging from sucking all the flesh out of perfectly cooked crab drenched in a spicy tomato sauce… beer has never made more sense.

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The next day for lunch we did some covert surveillance of the Marina Bay Sands and visited the dumpling empire that is Din Tai Fung for as many dumplings as we could manage. What’s not to like about an army of face mask clad dumpling ninjas rolling and stuffing every dumpling with military precision inside a glass cage ?

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We then decided to head out of the touristy zones and explore an area called Tiong Bahru. This is a suburb that has traditionally been very local, but is undergoing something of a gentrification of late, with trendy cafes and bars popping up in formerly nondescript shopping centres. We tried that much loved “King of Fruit” the durian at a small market near the MRT stop. After watching a safety gloved young man deftly hack his way through a large pile of them, he eventually noticed the curious looking tourists and asked if we’d like to try. I’ve had durian before, but first time for Marcela. We’re both in the “interesting, but not for me” camp it would seem. My theory is that you have to have grown up with the stuff to really get a taste for it, but then the signs on the MRT saying “No Durian allowed” would seem to indicate that not everyone is a fan in Singapore either.

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From Tiong Bahru MRT station we wandered around in circles for a while before eventually finding a little cafe getting a decent rep of late Fourty Hands. I had heard the specialty coffee scene in Singapore was a little dire up until a few years ago, but that is all changing. Micro roasters, and committed espresso lovers seem to be flocking in droves and setting up interesting and thoughtful places that break the mold of the typical Starbucks style chains.

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Forty Hands felt like being in Fremantle, Surry Hills, or Fitzroy… Funky lighting, graffiti, Synesso espresso machine, latte art, and importantly quality coffee flown in by Five Senses from Perth roasted fresh each week… And Australian cider in the fridge. Definitely worth checking out when you need a little taste of home.

The next day we hit up Chinatown. Strolling down the laneways packed with vendors selling every conceivable crappy nick nack and tshirt you could imagine, we found solace and refreshment in the form of whole coconuts cut open for us, and the awesomeness that is Bak Kwa. If you’re uninitiated Bak Kwa is thin slices of pork mixed with a sweet spicy marinated, cooked, cut into squares, then basted with more sauce and fried. It is the stuff of legend and I could die happy with a giant pile of it as my last meal.

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Not done eating, we then made the short walk to the Maxwell Hawker Centre for the famous Tian, Tian chicken rice. As popularised by Anthony Bourdain and every other blogger under the sun. Now I’m sure how much better the Tian, Tian chicken rice is than the other 3 or 4 chicken rice places in Maxwells, but it was good. For $3.50 you get a plate of supremely succelent steamed chicken, intensely flavoured rice, and a trio of sauces – chilli, ginger, sweet soy, as well as bowl of the chicken broth and a few veges to make things look respectable. Chicken rice is (one of) Singapore’s national dishes and rightly so, this was fantastic.

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More photos of eating around Singapore and the actual Marina Bay Sands hotel to come…

29
Jun
2012

Colombian Sancocho

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I recently traveled to Colombia with my beautiful wife for the first time. It was a journey of discovery and adventure, great food, cheap rum, and quite a lot of time spent riding horses. In short, it was amazing.

I’ve been married for almost 2 years now, and with Marcela’s patient teaching, my Spanish is slowly getting better. But it’s safe to say that I was as out of my depth in Colombia as a cruise ship giving a drive by to a Mediterranean island (ie: run aground on a frequent basis).

Nonetheless I did my best to persevere and communicate with my mother in law, sister & brother in laws, and my niece as best I could. Which was entertaining for them if nothing else. But after a while the ¿Cómo amaneciste? and ¿Esta cansada? started to come as easily as “tengo hambre” (I’m hungry) and fragments of words and ideas slowly started to meld themselves into something that could vaguely be called communication.

I was introduced to many of the great things that make Colombians love their country. The food, the music, the dancing, the drinking, the family, the football, the landscapes and the zest for life that people have despite a vast majority of them being very poor.

If there is one dish that perhaps can sum up my experience in Colombia, it would have to be Sancocho. Sancocho is somewhere between a soup and a stew (depending on how you make it). But what is perhaps more important about Sancocho than what goes into it, is where you make it.

Sancocho’s home is the street. When Christmas time and holidays come around, Colombians take to the street with a bottle of aguardiente (the local spirit of choice), a blackened old pot, a bucket of water, and as many ingredients as they can get their hands on. A makeshift fire is lit on the sidewalk, and the pot lowered onto it, propped up by bricks, rocks, or whatever spare car parts can be found lying around. Then someone takes on the all important job of fanning the flames while the water starts to boil and the soup is built.

Into the soup goes pork (cerdo), chicken (pollo), oxtail (cola de res), potato (papas), green plantain (platano), cassava (yuca)
onions, garlic, mazorca (big corn that isn’t sweet), coriander (cilantro), and spices like cumin (comino), and paprika (pimenton).

Then the long slow process of the cooking begins. Each vegetable or meat being added at just the right time so that the end result is a deep rich stock (caldo), falling off the bone soft meat, and veges with just the right level of give. It should all hopefully coincide with the point where everyone is drunk enough from aguardiente and tired enough from dancing, and just before someone starts a fight over who gets to choose the next song blasted out into the street via the speakers that have been dragged outside. This is when the soul and body restoring qualities that only a great sancocho made on the street can provide are needed most.

I got to make sancocho twice in Colombia. Once on the street in San Antonio de Prado, Medellin, with my brother in law Hamilton (that’s him fanning the flames in the video), his friends, and all the family. And once just outside the small town of Andes, Antioquia in the heart of a coffee growing region, next to a river, after walking down a hill for a kilometre to get there. Some local kids managed to goad me into jumping off a bridge 3m above the river, and though I thought I was going to at one point, I didn’t die, and there’s nothing like escaping death to bring about a hunger. Sure as hell made the walk back up that hill more bearable anyway.

You can, of course, order this dish in many restaurants in Colombia (or make it yourself at home), but it will never be quite the same as this one.

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22
Aug
2011

Sri Lankan High Country

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This is high country Sri Lanka, Nurawa Eliya more specifically. It’s the heart of the tea growing regions of Sri Lanka, and the place where the best tea comes from. Lipton, Dilmah, Bushells, they all own plantations here, and nearly every available piece of ground that can grow a tea plant, does grow a tea plant.

We drove from Kandy to Nurawa Eliya along winding roads of dubious quality and sweeping views of the valley floor below. We were shown hidden cave temples and trudged through leech infested waters for the privilege of seeing reclining Buddha’s carved out of a cave wall. We visited a tea factory at Bluefields and were shown the tea drying, roasting, and filtering process and tasted their teas. The smell inside the drying room was intense. A thick heady tea aroma hung in the air like someone with something to hide and happy trigger finger on a bottle of eau de toilette.

We did it again at Mackwoods Estate and were given a piece of chocolate cake.

We stopped and spoke to the tiny Tamil ladies who form the vast majority of the tea picking work force. They’d smile wide with gap filled mouths and simultaneously put out their hands for money. Don’t believe any of the things you see on tea commercials, the people growing and tending the tea plantations and doing the picking get paid next to nothing. An average income for a tea picker is around 400 rupees a day, the equivalent of $4 AUD. So any tourist is seen as an instant bonus and smiles come easy for the chance to double or triple their income in return for a cliched photo.

So we paid some money, we got our photos, and we hopped back into the van and continued on down the road. Lovely tea though.

31
Mar
2010

Eat Drink Blog – The Food Bloggers Conference

Negronis at The Black Pearl

And so it was that a flutter of a butterflies wings in Sydney, turned into a ripple in a pond in Melbourne, a wave swept across Bass Strait to Tasmania, and abnormal convection currents limped their way over the bite to Perth, til very shakily the word spread across the country and the seeds of the first ever Australian Food Bloggers Conference were sown.

I’ve just returned from Melbourne after what was a resounding success for a conference. It ticked all the right boxes for conference junkets (food, wine, abuse of taxi charges, dubious morality), but also managed to be extremely personal and very relevant to the majority of people who attended. Namely, the hard working and dedicated food bloggers of Australia, who day after day present you with alternative sources for information about where and what to eat and drink.

The event was championed by Ed and Reem, and ably assisted by a team of helpers including Mellie, April, Jess, and Tammi. They organised people together, contacted potential sponsors (Essential Ingredient, Prentice Wines, SBS Food, St Ali, Der Raum, Daylesford and Hepburn Springs Mineral Springs Co, Red Hill Brewery) and generally got the cogs turning that so often come unstuck when bloggers are left to their own devices.

So a time and date was set, a provisional list of topics to talk about drawn up, and the bloggers of Australia enlisted to share their knowledge with us all.

Presenting on the day and providing great insights into topics such as how and why we blog, how to deal with legal issues/defamation, How to handle public relations, search engine optimization, and perhaps how to make some money along the line were Reem, Gill, Zoe, Ellie, Nola, Claire, Ed, Penny, Michael, Brian, Jules and Phil

All the speakers did a great job, and I think we all got a lot out of it. I personally picked up some new techi tips I plan to implement soon on the blog, as well as a good deal of insight into how others approach things like advertising and promotions, which often throws me into an ethical quandary (for the record I rarely accept freebies or promotions, will disclose anything I’ve been given, and won’t pass opinion on anything when I feel I can’t be objective).

You can find a bunch of information about the conference, and slides from some of the other presenters on the conference blog .

Ed gets things rollingEm and MaddyJess & EllieNeil - taken during my talkThe lovely LindaJackie shows how boozing is done right.JulesJackie - master of the wry smileYou can take the girl out of Thomastown...SBS Photography ExhibitionSBS RepresentMy Rorschach cocktail testGlowing ReemPolaroid man knows no boundsGin something sorbetBoozeskiPisco Control ReservadoLiquid nitrogen cocktail prepSt Ali dinnerSt Ali dinnerEllie & Anh at St AliSuzanneNeilBrianLisaCindyMagnum SteveSteve CumperNathan of Somage Fine FoodsFood Bloggers Banquet menuZoeGillHenry chimpingSoon to be bride AnnaTammiPenny's favourite poseKat & AprilJess contemplates #momofukurageNolaA rather excitable TammiOxtail won ton soup.Fear my rosey cheeks.Jules et moi.Tresna the waif saysTresnaMellieAngelic glowing waitress at St AliPrentice 'Ramato' Pinot GrisEmmaPatKateEm gets seriousEllie, Tammi, Claire, ZoeJackieCeriRoasted Kingfish headsLamb... somethingPim !Jackie gets all silver service on usMatt Cumper ?Radiant KateEd the gypsy kingMellie mid thank youFruit platterPim mid chokeReem looking deviousJo wondering about her second helpingThis photo looks how Michael probably feltChef Ben chats to EllieLittle did he know...Claire in the secret gardenPhil Lees, lone man on lounge, 3am, Fitzroy.NegroniNegronis at The Black Pearl

So at some point in the organisational process, I was asked if I’d like to speak about photography and bring some of my “wisdom” to the discussion in the guise of practical steps to improve your photos. Always happy to be given a platform to espouse my view on how things should be (and keen to do more Melbourne dining), I gladly accepted the offer.

I didn’t want to prepare too much content because I think basically anything that I could put together you could find on the web. Flickr, Google, camera review websites, and photography forums are where I found most of what I know in the first place. So my talk was mostly an off the cuff discussion about how I take the photos I do and why.

So to make this post useful, and not just another “what I did on my holiday” gloatfest, I’ll hopefully encapsulate for you here what I had to say at the conference. I’m recollecting it as best I can because sadly the few notes I did manage to scrawl down onto paper were lost along with my SBS goodie bag, somewhere in a bar in Melbourne between 11pm and 4am. If you found them, please make sure my Gabriel Gate DVD doesn’t go to waste. I love that man.


What Matt thinks about how to take nice photos: A list

1) Light is your friend. If the lighting conditions inside a restaurant or house simply aren’t good, your shots will always struggle. I’ve taken photos in terrible restaurants that make the food look amazing because there’s a nice lamp overhead, and have horrible shots taken in the near darkness of some of the best. You can try and improve the lighting by rearranging candles or using the light from a mobile phone to provide a focus point, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle.

2) Gear matters (a little bit). Whilst it’d be nice to detach yourself from technology, the creative process I employ is based fairly closely around the camera and lens I use and what they offer me. Surprisingly perhaps, I’m still using a rather old dSLR, the Canon 350D. This has been my stalwart shot maker for a few years now, and as many times as I think about upgrading I always come back to the idea that if I just improved my technique my existing camera would be fine. The lens I use primarily plays a big part in that too. It’s a Sigma 30mm f1.4. This lens on my camera lets me take photos of tables in front of me at a nice range that suits my style, and the f1.4 part of the name means it lets a lot of light in with each shutter flip. Meaning low light situations can still be captured well. This doesn’t mean that these are what you *need* to buy or use. But it’s a combination that works for me, and the more comfortable you get with your equipment, the less you need to think about it when taking your shots. Buying an expensive camera and lenses will not make every shot you take look awesome, but eventually it’ll help.

The Pour @ Coda Post roast : Market Lane

3) Do what you need to get the shot. This is mostly about shooting in restaurants where you don’t have the luxury of changing lighting, rearranging things on a plate, or really messing too much with what’s there. I set my camera to aperture priority because I know there is little available light, and I choose the lowest f-stop (1.4). I then bump my ISO up to it’s maximum (1600), which is a cardinal sin to a lot of photographers. The reason I do this is because if I didn’t I wouldn’t get the shot, period. I could try messing with tripods and remote triggers, but really, if you’re trying to capture any kind of dynamic process or action, you just don’t have time to mess around. The only rules you should have are making sure you do what you need to take photos you’re happy with. This combination of low aperture and high ISO (reactivity to light) means that I can obtain faster shutter speeds, in turn leads to the shallow depth of friend blurry goodness that you see above you.

4) Post Process. This doesn’t mean spending 3 hours in Photoshop trying to remove smudges from plates or superimposing the best elements of one photo into another. Of course if you’re good at that kind of thing, go for it. But for me post processing is basically bringing the photo back to how I saw the scene when I pushed the button. Sure if my white balance and exposure levels had all been calibrated at the time, I likely wouldn’t need to do much, but they never are. If you think post processing is cheating somehow then consider this: If you’re shooting in JPG mode on your camera, the moment you take a shot your camera has already applied it’s own processing settings to the shot, and compressed the image down from it’s original, losing quality and resolution. Why let your camera decide how things should be ? Take charge of your photographic destiny by shooting in RAW and using a program like Lightroom (my tool of choice), Aperture, or even Picasa to process your shots the way you want them. I generally adjust exposure levels, fill light, black levels, and colour balance, and apply a healthy dose of noise reduction to get the style I like.

5) Don’t be scared to take photos. Yes it can be intimidating sitting in a fancy restaurant surrounded by people and waiters with a camera in your hand, but if you’re respectful to your dining companions (or have trained them well), and to the rest of the restaurant (turn off the flash!) then you shouldn’t be scared about taking out the camera. I take my same setup with me mostly everywhere, and will leave it up to anyone who’s had the pleasure (?) of dining with me to tell you if it’s annoying or not. If I were a chef / restaurateur, I’d be a lot happier about someone with an SLR taking shots of my food than someone with an iphone…

That’s basically all I have to say for now. Hopefully you’ll take something general out of it, rather than anything prescriptive.
All the shots in the gallery above were composed, shot, and processed using the methods I just described. Photography is a creative art, and as such ultimately a personal thing. I guarantee 8 out 10 people reading this will completely disagree with most of what I have to say :) But choose your tools wisely and apply your skills as best you can.


So to the food bloggers of Australia (esp those lucky enough to be at the conference) it was great to meet you and I hope I didn’t managed to offend too many of you over the course of the day / night. To the organisers, fantastic job, and congratulations. I’m already looking forward to next years event, which I’m sure will be bigger and better.