Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't forget The Essential Ingredient.

Do you entertain visions of being a truly wonderful chef? Well, the way I see it is, there are two main routes. On the one hand, you could endure years of studying at the finest schools in Europe and spend hours and hours in the kitchen experimenting and pouring over countless pages of cookbooks from far flung regions in Africa and Southern America. You could learn all the techniques, burning, cutting and wearing down your poor old hands while discerning how best to infuse vanilla into a pear, how to create the perfect pasta, how to cut sashimi against the grain so the flavour just leaps out at you. You could visit provinces far and wide, seeking out rare ingredients and fragrant potions from mysterious locals in subterranean cellars at dusk. You could do all this, yes, or...
...you could simply visit The Essential Ingredient and do as I did on my first visit: stand in the middle of this earthly elysium with jaw dropped fascination for a few stunned moments and just soak up centuries of culinary mastership via direct and complete osmosis. Yes, this is where it all happens! This place immediately felt like the kind of business frequented by actual chefs, and when I sat down to speak with General Manager Michael Robertson, he confirmed as much, telling me that they supply wholesale to a not inconsiderable list of some very established Sydney eateries.

This fabulous store is a santas workshop of the finest groceries, spices, oils, chocolate, kicthenware, knifes, chopping boards, pans, teapots, cookbooks, tagines, pizza makers, blenders, kettles, cookie cutters, baking pans, a dizzying array of the local and the exotic, so specialized and yet so accessible at the same time. It is a place that caters to the most specific needs while also encouraging and inspiring novices to experiment with new ingredients, cuisines, techniques and equipment. If it feels like they run a tight ship in this very welcoming environment, that could be because Michael was once a captain for the navy. Michael, who adores muscles but loathes oysters, is a warm man with a very apparent passion for good food. He appears to have an enormous amount of energy for his work, the shop downstairs echoes this sense of things happening.
Within a few moments of sitting down to talk to me about the business, he was already discussing the imminent launching of two new Australian olive oil brands which will soon be in stock. Michael explained how they like to find niche products that aren't really stocked anywhere else, indeed it is this type of attention to detail that keeps the ample clientel of this buzzing north shore store so happy. They stock amazing brands, Gundowring ice cream, Dolphin chocolate, Equagold spices, Salt Miners Pastes...Upon seeing so many of my favourite products all in one place, I felt confident enough to experiment and purchase some ingredients i'd never even tried, predictably, the products were fabulous and yielded some amazing cakes and curries.
Their dedication to sourcing the best products from Australia and abroad, gives you faith in any new finds they've come across, it also proves that they are consummately carrying out their vision of "inspiring the joy of cooking and good food through the best ingredients". The staff have been lovely to me on all occassions, and gone out of their way to explain how to use oils and spices I have been hesitant about. They even have an impressive calender of demonstrations and tastings, the cup cake decoration classes usually book out first. And this is just the grocery section!
The fine Le Creuset cookware, Dualit electrical goods, All-Clad stainless steel, Mcusta kitchen knives...these are just some of the products that will beckon to your eye and to your wallet. Alot of the stock is top of the range, it's the kind of place you come to find a piece that you will cherish and that will last you a lifetime. This is the good stuff, equipment that will take your cooking above and beyond. You only need ask one of the knowledgeable staff a little to get a lot of information back. Viv reassured me about the purchase of a dualit hand held egg beater by telling me she had used the same one for years and it was still going strong, sold!
So you've got the ingredients and the fabulous knife and the state of the art casserole pot, still got no clue? Just wander a few paces off to the left and lose yourself for a good 40 minutes in a range of cookbook titles that Gordon Ramsay himself purchased six of. It's a good thing the range of titles looked impressive and well chosen, he wouldn't be the kind of customer you'd want asking for a refund.

Still not convinced? That's Viv on the right, as if she's not exactly the kind of lady you want to buy cooking equipment off and discuss recipes with. The Essential Ingredient: this is the mothership. If you are serious about cooking, or thinking about getting serious about cooking, and live in Sydney, Albury, Orange, Prahran, Canberra or Newcastle, find one of these stores and browse, spend and taste your little heart out. Even experimenting with one new spice or a different kind of chopping knife can really open up so many horizons in the kitchen. One or two wise investments here and there and you can find so many more ways to be creative. That aside, it is beautiful to have a space so close to home run by like minded people who are inspired by quality in all its forms.
When in Mexico I tasted a wonderful style of drinking coffee called Cafe De Olla. They take cinnamon, cloves, orange rind and infuse it in the coffee with a beautiful cane sugar called Panela which I have never been able to locate. After months of being back in Sydney I slowly relinquished the hope of ever tasting that coffee again unless I went back to mexico. What do you think I spied in the mexican section at The Essential Ingredient today:

Hola Panela, i've been waiting for you!

The Essential Ingredient
At: 477 Pacific Highway Crowsnest NSW 2065
Ph: 612 9439 9881
web: www.sydneyessential.com.au (look here for frequently updated events).


erin said...

Unbelievable! I would LOVE to go there - I'll be flush with money in a few weeks when I get some leave paid out, so I'll make a trip there before the rest goes into savings. You know who would love this place? Dana!!

amanda said...

hey, lets go with dana one of the next few weekends, we can make a brunch date out of it as well. its so cool erin, youll die when you see it!

sealegs said...

when do you find time to go to class amanda? or have you given that idea up and become a full time bloggster?