ASRC catering rocks!

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Consider The Sauce is at a family reunion in Northcote.

Actually, it’s more like a combined reunion and 30th, with not just family members but also friends and colleagues of birthday girl Nicole in attendance.

I fit into none of those categories but am being made to feel very welcome nonetheless.

It’s also a fancy dress event – and I have done my bit in that regard by turning up in full-blown ageing hippie regalia.

That’s a bald-faced lie, of course, in that ageing hippie is how I always dress!

And the food?

Oh, yes, that is very fine indeed.

 

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A few weeks before, I had received an email from Nicole.

She’s big fan of Consider The Sauce, is especially digging the recent community-based stories and could I suggest place along those lines to cater for her party?

I fired off suggestions she ignored completely – instead opting for the catering arm of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

That’s great, said I, I’ve been thinking of doing a story about them so let me know how it goes!

In fact … and thinking on my metaphorical feet … why don’t you let me blog your party, and then between us both we can give ASRC catering some well-deserved exposure?

To my delight, Nicole eagerly ran with the whole idea.

When I expressed my appreciation, Nicole said:

“It might be marginally preposterous, but if it helps the ASRC, then I’m all for it!  And anyone who knows me will not be at all surprised at this – you have to take interesting opportunities when they arise!”

Obviously, she’s my kinda gal!

 

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So it was that I spent an hour or so with ASRC sous chef Natasha in the Brunswick kitchen.

(As most readers probably know, the Melbourne base of the ASRC is these days in Footscray, but the catering wing will not be making that move until early in 2015.)

Small world department – Natahsa is a Werribee resident who previously worked at Cornershop in Yarraville and has also worked with Jess of Pod @ P.I.D.

But she really, really likes her ASRC gig, which she has had for a couple of years.

It’s mostly minus the crazy hours of restaurant work and she gets a great deal of satisfaction from working with and helping train asylum seekers from many parts of the world.

In this way, the catering business helps people rebuild their lives and is a source of income for ASRC itself.

 

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The food is all vegetarian – this not only avoids any cultural or religious issues with the asylum seekers but is also increasingly seen as an asset and selling point.

Nicole’s party is at the smaller end of the sorts of events ASRC caters, which include weddings and anniversaries and corporate awards ceremonies.

Finger food is the most popular option and plain, no-frills the most common form of delivery, though that can range right up to delivery accompanied by full service and staff

Nicole has chosen two dishes from the ASRC catering “lunch box options” – caramalised onion polenta baked in a rich tomato herb sauce, roasted mushrooms and mozzarella; and chick pea and vegetable coconut curry served with jasmine rice.

 

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Other menu selections that caught my eye include …

Baya kyaw – Burmese split pea fritters, served with sweet chilli.

Dal kachori – a spicy snack popular throughout India and Pakistan. Golden
fried bread filled with spiced dal (black gram) and served with raita.

Akaree – a typical snack eaten throughout Africa, black eyed bean fritters with onion, chilli and ginger, fried to perfection with a red capsicum and peanut sauce.

Fattoush – fresh cucumber, tomato, cos lettuce, feta cheese, and olives, tossed in lemon, garlic and olive oil topped with crispy sumac pita croutons.

Sudanese curry – a delicious stew of cannellini beans, tomato, eggplant and potatoes. Seasoned with cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, and served with our homemade yellow spice bread.

Tandoori vegetables – chunky, seasonal vegetables and paneer marinated in yoghurt and spice and roasted to perfection. Served with basmati rice.

ASRC cater can also provide beverages, including beer and wine.

For more information about ASRC catering go here, and for a full and extensive menu go here.

 

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Natasha and I make the brief journey from Brunswick to Nicole’s Northcote joint to find the party already in full swing.

Nicole grins when she tells me that she has evolved a simple way of avoiding any misgivings the assembled guests may have about the vegetarian fare she is offering them – she is simply not going to tell them.

She’s going to feed them instead – and it works a treat!

I really like the chick pea curry, which is packed with a variety of vegetables and has a rich gravy not unlike that of a massaman curry.

The trick there is the use of coconut milk – something I’ll be sure to try next time a cook with chick peas. It’s a nice alternative to the usual tomatoes/onions/spices combo.

There’s more food here, mind you, than just the fine ASRC offerings – there’s birthday cake, a tardis full of lollies and more.

Thanks to Nicole and her extended family for making me feel so welcome and to Simone and Natasha at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for helping make this story happen.

 

 

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Salad oooh! on Barkly Street

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Pod @ Post Industrial Design, 638 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 0400 193 038

It’s taken Consider The Sauce a while to get around to writing about Pod, a preview story aside and a newsy item on the kitchen’s gallery of vintage Melbourne menus.

Truth is, since it opened, Pod has become one of our regular stops.

Most often for always excellent coffee.

Sometimes for a sweet treat, as well – including a preposterously orgasmic choc cake Bennie and I shared a few months back.

More substantial Pod fare has been had less often, but today is definitely the right time for lunch.

Saturday, early spring gloriousness, the staff not run off their feet and a jazz combo doing their best Sonny Rollins in the window.

 

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I don’t have to make myself right at home because it already has that sort of feel about it.

I know not about the breakfast line-up here, but when it comes to lunches – and this has been noted elsewhere – the lovely food Jess is sending out from the kitchen is beautiful and delicious but decidedly not of the cafe heartiness variety.

But while the serves seem far from gargantuan, the quality is unmistakable – besides, it’s a light lunch I’m after.

 

 

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My warm salad of roasted seasonal vegetables is perfect in every way.

The superb potato, red onion, carrot, fennel and beetroot speak in magic tongues with the parsley, plentiful pine nuts and goats cheese.

Wow!

Worth every cent of the $16.50 I have paid for it.

There’s some very cool symbiosis going on between Pod and P.I.D.

The latter’s Mary tells me that in terms of buzz and customers, the results are most definitely greater than the sum of two parts.

I have reproduced below the current breakfast and lunch menus, but Fiona tells me they’ll be changing in a few weeks.

My $3.50 cafe latte, too, is perfect.

 

Pod @ Post Industrial Design on Urbanspoon

 

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Very Well Bread

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Well Bread Festival, Barry Road Community Centre, Lalor; Sunday, August 24

“Go north, young man, go north …”

These were the words of wisdom proffered by my Star Weekly colleague Helen a few weeks back.

Her point being that while Consider The Sauce is up to its neck in western suburbs food, it may as well occasionally turn its attention, enjoyably and profitably, to what is happening in Melbourne’s north and north-west.

She’s right … indeed, that process and mind-shift has already started, as detailed in this celebration of the ring road, my current employ in Airport West and a marvellous visit to Meadow Heights.

Whole new vistas of of people and their food – easily accessed.

Wonderful!

Thus it is that I find myself exiting on Elgars Road, turning left on to Barry Road and parking at the Barry Road Community Centre for the City of Whittlesea’s Well Bread Festival.

While I’m busy getting a handle on the slightly different dynamics and demographics of Melbourne’s north, there is no mistaking the vibe, the people, the whole deal of the festival as I enter the hall – it’s all very, very familiar in the best possible way.

Having been unsure of just how the festival will unfold, I am thrilled to discover – via the day’s running sheet – just how full-on and intensely bready it will be:

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And so begins a thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening and delicious day.

To take in the colourful bread wisdom and lore of so many diverse part of the world in a single sitting is a superb experience.

 

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First up is Luba, who makes a Macedonian bread called lep.

 

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Grace cooks Ghanaian meat pies, here being handed around by her pal Esther.

They’re buttery rich, a bit like a meat pastie and, according to Grace, a legacy of colonisation.

 

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Then it’s Esther’s turn … to prepare beignets de mais (corn doughnuts) from Cameroon.

She’s an entertaining hoot!

Also including banana, the beignets are starkly different to the beignets of New Orleans with which I am familiar.

These are chewy nuggets that Esther serves with a red bean stew.

 

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The stew looks dodgy to me – positively ugly, in fact.

But, oh boy, it tastes marvellous.

Just another example of ugly food tasting great, I tell Esther and her friends afterwards amid much laughter.

 

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Salma, with help from son Ahmad, prepares chewy Iraqi flatbread.

 

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The big star here is the family’s wonderful home-made tandoor oven that blazes away right there in the hall!

 

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Then it’s time for lunch …

 

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… which consists of Turkish bread with yogurt/cucumber dip, cheese and spinach gozleme and a tangy vegetable soup.

It’s all excellent.

 

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Zahra prepares noon shirmal, a plain sweetbread from Iran.

 

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Then it’s the turn of Whittlesea councillor Kris Pavlidis and daughter Zoe and their spanikopita.

 

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Ali Fael’s contribution is nan barbari (Turkish flatbread), which …

 

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… is served with fresh mint and salty fetta cheese.

 

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Finally, it’s the turn of Deepali and her tawa parathas.

Despite having eaten countless parathas and chapatis in my life, I’ve never really understood the difference between the two.

Now I do!

The former are folded many times – sometimes with the inclusion of, say, potato or cauliflower. The latter are simply rolled and pan-fried.

 

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What a great day it’s been.

Much kudos to MC James Liotta and council staff Caitlin, Helen and Julie.

Despite the packed schedule and numerous unpredictable variables, it’s all run like clockwork – and on schedule!

 

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Food truck weather

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Big Cook Litle Cook. Phone: 0450 395 344

Food truck.

I reckon there’s ground for considering that phrase as a food style.

You know … Vietnamese, Ethiopian, fish ‘n’ chips, burgers, Indo-Chinese, pizza, food truck.

Like that.

Take, for instance, my rather nice Saturday lunch from a new arrival in the ranks of  Yarraville Gardens truck squadron … Big Cook Little Cook.

 

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Big Cook’s Classic has tandoori chicken pieces, rice, hummus, Big Cook’s salad and roti.

It’s a good feed and I’ve been more than happy to pay $12 for it.

The chicken has good tandoori flavour, the hummus is fresh-as, the roti hot and flaky.

And there’s nothing at all incongruous about various elements of my meal deriving from various parts of the planet.

But it does seem like a food truck meal!

 

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Same goes for my friend’s Smoky Chilli Jam Chicken, also costing $12, with its sticky Indo-Chinese vibe.

I get talking to Conan, the offspring part of the father-and-son duo of Big Cook Little Cook, the name of which was chosen to give them flexibility in terms of not being tied down to a single style of food.

Conan and Raymond are much-travelled and passionate about what they are doing.

Conan asks me what I think about the pricing of the food trucks in general.

The prices of the regular Yarraville truck gang actually seem remarkably consistent.

 

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I tell him I’m sure the trucks are setting their prices very scientifically and where they must – any cheaper and they’d not be in business.

Our $12 meals have been fairly priced.

But the truth is a fully satisfying truck meal of main, a little something extra for, say, $5 or so plus a drink can run to about $20.

Many people, I suspect, compare that with the plethora of nearby regular eatery options that are cheaper and also involve tables and table service.

Still, as the several hundred folks out and about and busily trucking on what feels like the first day of spring attest, the food trucks have certainly found a place in the collective heart of the inner west.

It’s a happy scene indeed!

 

Big Cook Little Cook on Urbanspoon

 

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Asian tucker without meat?

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Shakahari Too, 225 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.Phone: 9682 2207

Consider The Sauce Thing 1 was happy to accept an invitation to a gathering at Shakahari Too in South Melbourne.

Consider The Sauce Thing 2 was rather less keen.

“Vegetarian?,” said he, skepticism plainly writ on his face.

“Think of it not as vegetarian but more as Asian food without meat,” father instructed son.

The occasion was a group dinner organised by Monique of Mon’s Adventure’s fame as part of her Vegetetarian Mission – and we fully enjoyed the whole night, eating different food and meeting new people.

The Carlton Shakahari has been around as long as I’ve been in Melbourne.

Despite vegetarian nightmares associated with previous lives in other countries, I was happy to give the South Melbourne branch a shot.

But in the end, and based entirely on the main courses Bennie and I selected, I confess his skepticism was warranted.

 

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Monique shouted the whole bunch of us an entree called Avocado Magic ($15.50).

This tempura dish was lovely, and its deep-fried vibe even impressed Bennie.

“Avocado wedges and red capsicum rolled in thin eggplant slices, tempura fried in a rice batter” and “served with a jade green coriander and sesame puree” was a terrific, the lusciousness of the avocado an unusual delight.

 

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I have cookbooks and recipes I revere that do without onions, garlic and chilli, so I know great food can be produced by doing so.

Or it is perhaps that we so very regularly eat such highly charged and spiced food?

 

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Shakahari Too on Urbanspoon

 

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CTS Feast No.9: Xiang Yang Cheng – the wrap

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CTS Feast No.9: Xiang Yang Cheng, 672 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 7128

Our CTS Feast at Xiang Yang Cheng was a truly memorable occasion.

I remain surprised that only just over the allocated seating was booked – this was and is, it seems to be, just the kind of food that is ideal for such an event.

No matter … no matter at all.

Because those of us who did indulge had a thoroughly grand time.

And with a smaller group, it was all very relaxed and rather intimate.

I really enjoyed getting around our four tables and having chats with everyone.

 

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And that was made easier by the very nature of the food an its preparation – what may have taken a half-hour so to consume if brought plated to our tables ended up taking more than two hours of rambling indulgence.

Many thanks to the XYC staff, including Larry, Zi and Alicia, for taking such good care of us.

Thanks, also, to Nat, Marc, Paul, Marketa, Jenni, Bronwyn, Adam, Philippa, Milena, Paul, Christine, Lisa and Julian for making it.

 

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But perhaps the most thanks should go to someone who was absent.

One of my first contacts at XYC was Peggy.

Peggy is off being a new mum but it was she who devised the broad and representative menu selections that graced each of our tables.

A lot of thought obviously went into it – and thus was vindicated my decision to leave our meal up to the staff and not bother cherry-picking it myself.

Wow!

What a spread we had.

 

Xiang Yang Cheng on Urbanspoon

 

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Saj revisited

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Saj Mediterranean Grill, Shop 27 320-380 Epsom Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9078 2633

After a happy first-up visit to Saj, I was always keen for a prompt return.

Mostly to see if I could talk the staff into serving their marinated, skewered meats on a plate with accessories – my preferred option and delight.

Perusal of their menu – which can be seen in the story of that debut visit here – seemed to have the meats only available in wrap form.

As luck would have it, a return visit comes to be much more quickly than I had foreseen – five minutes after Nat Stockley and I arrange a quickie impromptu dinner, I’m in the car and headed for Ascot Vale.

And as it turns out, Nat’s eyes prove a lot sharper than mine – what I want is right there on the menu, he points out, under the heading of “Eat in deals”.

Oh happy day!

This is the sort of Lebanese platter I have been yearning for, and wanting in the west, for years.

We both order identical $14.50 plates with one skewer each of lamb, chicken and kofta.

The hommus and baba ghannouj are as on that first visit – excellent.

So is the tabouli, our plates graced with quite large serves of it in cabbage leave cups.

A special word of praise for this Saj salad effort – not only is it sublimely moist and lemony, it also includes the all-important fresh mint, something often omitted from eatery versions.

The meats are fine, especially the nicely seasoned kofta.

We both reckon, though, the meats have all spent about a couple of minutes too long on the grill, the lamb cubes in particular being overcooked – not to the point of being unenjoyable, mind you.

We mention this to the staff as we are paying and leaving, and are told of one customer earlier in the day who expressed distaste for having her lamb pieces “pink in the middle”.

So CTS advises open and frank meat discourse with the Saj folks!