Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Friday, 1 August 2014

Meat, meat, Malbec and oh yes - more meat

We have arrived in a country that asks for the make and model of your cell phone as part of the immigration declaration. I was afraid I would be refused entry because my iPhone is not the latest model.  The hunter-gatherer wonders if there is a set of random questions they draw from, such as "Do you have a dog? What breed?", or perhaps "How many sweaters do you own? What colours are they?"  

We are in Mendoza, a short but spectacular 50 minute flight over the Andes from Santiago.  

Flying from Chile to Argentina over the Andes
I decide against reading "Alive: the stories of the Andes Survivors" before the trip. Remember the Uruguayan rugby team members who  survived for two months after their charter plane crash in the mountains? They had to eat their dead friends.  Our flight is uneventful - so uneventful the cabin crew do not even pass through the cabin - I guess they are just there to hand out cutlery in the event of an emergency.

Speaking of cutlery, you need a good set of sharp knives in Argentina, the home of beef - and Malbec. We are consuming more than our fair share of both. Indeed, I have eaten more steak in the past two weeks than in the past two months. The hunter-gatherer has even been heard to say "I don´t feel like eating meat today".

We love Mendoza: The tree lined streets are an easy to navigate grid bounded by four avenues.  The traffic isn't too manic, however any standards for what might constitute road worthiness seem voluntary. There are some real wrecks (usually decrepit Ford pickups) but mostly late model European and Japanese cars abound.

Feeling bold, we spend a day in General San Martin Park. It is now notorious in New Zealand as the place a young New Zealander was shot dead earlier this year. Two guys on a motorbike tried a bag snatch and it went badly wrong. If this hadn't happened to a New Zealander we would probably never have heard about it it, but on a sunny winter's day in a park full of families, couples and groups of friends strolling, picnicking, cycling, jogging, I am hyper vigilant. Yet it is just like any other large city park anywhere in the world.

But really, the country is a mess. Inflation is rampant and there is a currency black market, known as the 'blue' market for reasons too obscure to mention.  We  cruise the street looking to make a transaction: the only difference between this and a drug deal is the dealers are armed with calculators not hand guns. The bank rate is 8.08 to the $US, but on the street it's 11.7. Inflation is rampant, and so you see half finished houses where people have run out of money. There is 21% goods and services tax, but businesses work around it when they can as they don´t trust the Government to pay them back any refund due.

Yet there is always meat! The country is a veritable celebration of the carcass in all its glorious forms. They can´t help themselves - we spend a couple of days visiting vineyards and wine tasting in the two main valleys south of Mendoza - Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. On both days we enjoy a multi course degustation lunch paired with wines.  All the courses are small, as befits degustation, however when it comes to the steak it is a great piece of fillet served as a full sized main course. New Zealand should be establishing beef farms here, not dairy farms.

Barbecue restaurants are everywhere, and every night they are full. I do not always recognise the cuts and it is the first time I have seen a kitchen with a band saw permanently in place. 

Standard fare - the Argentine barbecue restaurant

Not entirely sure what some of these guts and cuts are
Meatlovers everywhere, this is the place for you!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Handy hints for travel

I wish I would remember my own good advice when travelling. Treat this as a handy rule guide... I am sure you have your own handy hints - feel free to add to the list.

1. When you are packing, it helps to remember you are the only one who cares what you  wear.  Really. Other people won't notice if you have the same two outfits on high rotation for six weeks - unless you begin to smell.

2. You will end up wearing your most comfortable shoes every day, even if they are not stylish. See rule one.

3. Despite what your mother told you, lightning will not strike and nobody will die if you wear the same undies for two days.

4. No matter how good your haircut, your hair style takes its own vacation. It will look a mess. Especially if you dry it with one of those completely gutless hotel hair dryers. You know the ones, hard wired into the wall in case there is a world wide conspiracy of hair dryer thieves.

5. Don't make jokes at Immigration or Customs. Anytime.  Anywhere. 

6. It is ok to eat cake and pastries for breakfast.  Within reason.

Mmmm - cake for breakfast

7. Sir Peter Blake was right. You can wear merino for days on end and it will not smell. See rule one.

8. If you research the weather of your destination before you leave, and it strongly suggests boots, gloves and a hat would be a good idea, reconsider rule one.

9. There will always be something you wish you'd packed and something you did pack you won't wear.

10.  Pretty much wherever you go, there will be shops. See rule one.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Oh what a different world it is to go wine tasting in Chile.

Typically the experience of vineyard visits and wine tasting in Chile could not be more different from what we do in New Zealand.  However before we encounter that experience we find a slice of New Zealand in the Casablanca Valley about 45 minutes west of Santiago. 

Here we have arranged to meet Grant Phelps, a NZ winemaker who has been in Chile for 14 years and is Chief Winemaker at Vina Casa del Bosque. It´s a great visit and Grant shows us all over the property and fills us in on Chilean viticulture, vineyard management, grape varietals and winemaking.  This is one of the few places in Chile where the climate is suitable for Sauvignon Blanc, but Grant is at pains to point out he makes a Sauvignon that is not in the New Zealand style.

Viña Casas del Bosque in the Casablanca Valley
He is a friendly and colourful character and we spend some time tasting from tanks and barrels before we sit down to a delicious lunch in the vineyard restaurant.  

From Casablanca we drive three hours south to Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley, a much bigger winegrowing area than Casablanca. It is here our visits become more typical and more formal. There's no rocking up when the mood or road takes you. You make an appointment. On arrival at the vineyard you stop at the imposing gates (closed). A self important man in a uniform struggles to understand your version of Spanglish (unless you have arrived with a guide), eventually checks your name against his list and grants entry.  For this area we hire a driver and guide who arrange the appointments and smooth the way.

At each winery everything is already set up for your visit: shiny glassware at the ready, and a well schooled young man or woman to take  you through a guided tasting.  In all cases we are given personalised service - labour is cheaper here than in New Zeland!  All of the hosts we meet speak excellent English, specialise in wine tourism, and are incredibly knowledgable about their winery´s vineyard and winemaking practises. Post tasting they relieve you of anything between $10 and $40 per person (that's not a misprint) and send you on your (slightly more) merry way.  Well, we do use spitoons but some wine is bound to find its way down your throat!

The expensive tasting is at the most spectacular and interesting winery, Lapostelle, in the Colchagua Valley about two and a half hours south east of Santiago.  The owners are the French family Marnier Lapostelle, as in Grand Marnier, and while the total production is massive, their top tier label, Clos Apalta, is totally (and you might think excessively) biodynamic. This is seriously over the top. The individual grapes are hand picked off each bunch by 60 virgins.  Well maybe not virgins, but 60 local women. After this, every process is designed to minimise air contact and handling. There are no pumps - everything is moved by gravity and the winery, dug down into the hillside, is designed on seven levels to facilitate the process.

The internal staircase at Lapostelle in the Colchagua Valley

The whole winery is a beautiful piece of architecture and engineering, and the two barrel rooms are the most elegant I have ever seen. I strongly recommend checking the website and taking a virtual tour - the family wine library, which we only saw from above, looks spectacular. It gives a great look at the scale and level of detail involved.

I find biodynamics all a bit woo-woo and I don't believe many people will pay the extra cost -  the Apalta labels are well into the hundreds of dollars, but it was interesting to see how far people with strong beliefs - and the money to back them up - will go.

All of the wineries we visit seem to have money to spend both on the public buildings and on the infrastructure - equipment, tanks, barrel rooms.  The number of wineries in Chile has grown from 12 in 1995 to over 70 in 2005, so it is still relatively young.  Generally French varietals reign and for us the introduction to Carmenère was an eyeopener - an early drinking (early as in young, not so much early in the day, but suit yourself) lighter style red. If you see Chilean Carmenere on the shelf, give it a chance and see what you think.

Off over the Andes to Argentina now. Stay tuned.