Thursday, 28 June 2007

Wedding (it's not) Fare

I know this is an age-old complaint which began eons ago, before I was even a twinkle in my father's eye, etc, etc... but why, WHY, is it not possible for reception venues to provide wedding guests with more than just an adequately-nutritious-yet-nevertheless-totally-tasteless meal?

I attended an otherwise lovely wedding on the weekend. After the gorgeous and moving ceremony (held in the stunning treetops room at the Melbourne Museum) I was eagerly anticipating celebrating the marriage of two very good friends... with a few glasses of sparkling, some witty conversation and a decent dinner. The venue, I knew, was very highly regarded. This was no Springvale-Road-Nightmare, designed to cater for hundreds of irritated guests. This was not a tight-arsed affair. The reception was held in a beautifully restored home, located in a leafy inner-Melbourne suburb. A venue of choice, if you will. I admit, my expectations might have been a little high, but I experienced what can only be described as bitter disappointment the moment the first round of 'canapés' were circulated. Note to all Function Coordinators: prawns become soggy and cold very quickly, even when encased in a bizarre, desiccated coconut batter. The Samosas were a little lacking in flavour but definitely the best of the three options, but the third 'vegetarian' selection... well, let's just say I don't often pity herbivores (you make your own bed, etc), but in this case, my indignation on their behalf was profound. My theory is that the kitchen staff had realised too late that they had run out of the real finger food, so decided to nip out to the supermarket to purchase some capsicum dip, a jar of those sliced black olives and a several packets of pre-cooked mini quiche cases, et Voila! Canapé!

Please don't mistake me; it was by no means the worst wedding food I have ever eaten (that award goes to the Croydon venue where I was served some approximation of a chicken vol-au-vent for entrée, followed by Beef Wellington, followed by apple strudel. A puff pastry ménage à trois of nightmarish proportions). The entrée was actually very nice; a Peking-style duck Maryland served with some thin and buttery crepes and slivers of spring onion. Yummy. The problems really started as the main course was served. I was offered the chicken. Putting aside any issues I have with alternate setting service options (when you are paying $100 per head for a meal, I believe that it is not unreasonable to expect at least a limited à la Carte menu), the chicken was not up to scratch. It appeared to have been crumbed, seared and baked. Reasonable start. Then, for some inexplicable reason, some genius had obviously decided that it needed 'jus', but rather than creating something that would compliment the dish, decided to use up the plum sauce left over from the afore-mentioned Peking Duck entrée. This was accompanied by some mashed potato from a packet, and several severely wilted vegetables, including a piece of corn, a snow pea and a floret of broccoli.

It's important to point out, I feel, that I in no way intend to deflate or belittle my friends or their planning of the wedding. This is not their fault. To blame are the owners of reception venues everywhere, who hear an imaginary 'ka-ching' every time the word 'wedding' is mentioned. And, I hasten to add, that I have no problem whatsoever paying over $100 per head for a meal. What I really want to know is, if your average local restaurant can handle 100-plus covers on any given night, why on earth can a venue designed specifically for the purpose of catering to large numbers at once not serve up anything more exciting than a piece of overcooked chicken and some mixed veg that's become far too familiar with a bain-marie?

Food for thought.

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Saturday, 16 June 2007

Magazine Dreams

I own every copy of delicious. (does anyone else find that full stop annoying?) and Donna Hay ever printed. They, along with my Gourmet Travellers and - ahem - Good Taste magazines, are proudly displayed on my kitchen bookshelf in CHRONOLOGICAL order. I'm not joking. I even have little post-it tags on marking my favourite recipes to make them easier to find at short notice (or should I say had; one of my son's current diversions is gleefully ripping them out and crying 'paper!', which sounds more like 'pappa'). Every now and then, when a new shelf becomes full and magazines begin to overflow onto neighbouring chairs, coffee tables and other available surfaces, I consider a cull. I say 'consider', because not once have I been able to part with a single issue. A year ago we moved into a new, larger (read: family friendly) home and one of the things that most pleased me was the amount of built-in shelving I could use for my magazines. Occasionally I wonder what will happen as my collection builds. I admit, I no longer look at recipes from the gone-but-not-forgotten Elle Cuisine (may she rest in peace), or copies of Good Taste pre-2004. I have also calculated, to my dismay, that even if I cooked a new dish every day, it would take me 50 years to attempt every recipe in those mags, and that's without even considering my covetable cook book collection.

Does this mean I am ready to part with any of these precious volumes of gastro-porn? Sometimes I think I might be able to ditch at least a dozen or so of the Good Tastes. Someone once offered to 'take some off my hands'. However, when it came time to give them away, I couldn't do it. As I was about to hand them over, a little voice in my head cried out in panic, "Wait! What if there's a fabulous recipe in there that you haven't tried? Once it's gone, it will be lost forever!" A melodramatic little voice, I know. But still, I just can't help feeling that if I get rid of even one magazine, I might be losing something special. Occasionally my husband, bless, asks what I intend to do when all of the shelves are full. My response is nothing if not predictable: "Build more".

Tonight's dinner, you'll be pleased to hear, is a Rose roasted lamb leg from the latest Donna Hay, followed by a blood orange tart from (for nostalgic reasons and possibly to prove a point) an ancient delicious. Who knows what horror might have befallen tonight's dessert if I had thrown it away?