by Patrick Jordan, viola
One of the most civilized things about touring in Australia is that about half the time, we are put up in apartment hotels. Australians travel a great deal both internationally and domestically and so have worked some of these things out very well. The basic idea is this: in each accommodation there are two separate bedrooms which share a small living area and kitchen, most often with laundry facilities. The laundry facilities are most welcome on a three week tour when you only have 23 kg of luggage space!
One of the least civilized things about touring in general is that I am away from my kitchen, where I spend an inordinate amount of time cooking. I’m sure you see where this is headed. Apartment hotel with a modestly appointed kitchen, check! An evening off in Melbourne, check! The fantastic Queen Victoria Market a 20-minute walk away, check!
What might not be so obvious is what I decided to cook. My treasured friend and colleague, oboist Marco Cera, has introduced me to several specialties of the Italian region of Veneto, where he grew up. Under his watchful gaze and with access to his mother’s recipes, I have learned several dishes, including baccala alla vicentina (salt cod braised in milk) and bigoli col anatra (a sort of fat spaghetti with duck ragu). Many years ago, as we were walking down the street in Seoul, Marco asked me, with his very dry sense of humour, “Patrizio, do you think we’re gonna find bigoli col anatra here?” To which I blandly replied, “Absolutely …” This has become something of a running joke, asked when we’re in some very unlikely place, “Patrizio, do you think we’re gonna find bigoli col anatra here?”
Knowing we had time and opportunity, I decided that yes, in Melbourne, if possible, we were going to find bigoli col anatra. Or more accurately, I was going to find the ingredients and prepare it. I just love the challenge of trying to do something very specific in a very different locale, in part because it forces one to overcome some limitations, but also offers the opportunity to engage with local people in a way that one might not otherwise.
Job one was to figure out what was practical in our very small kitchen (on this tour, Brandon Chui and I have shared accommodation). Of course, if you’re going to cook, why just make pasta? How about a second course as well? And you’ll need a little antipasto, too, to be properly welcoming. It is late autumn here, so we needed a menu that reflected the season as well. With the limited battery of pots and pans (and an eye to NOT setting off the smoke alarms), I could see doing the pasta and sauce, poached-then-browned kangaroo sausages (kangah-bangahs) with garlicky mashed potatoes along with some appropriate vegetable, and an antipasto to be named when at the market. Market, here I come!
The lynchpin of the meal was the duck, and if I couldn’t swing that, the whole meal would require a rethink. I had two sharp, but small knives, and I had decided that if I couldn’t find ground duck, I was not going to spend 45 minutes (and risk tendinitis) cutting it up myself; every challenge does have it’s limits. From previous tours, I remembered a nice butcher shop that deals in game, and when I got there, there was lovely duck breast to be had. I asked the young man serving me if he was set up to grind it, and he looked at me quizzically and said “I’m gonna have to work out what you mean by grind…” when a tiny, septuagenarian fellow-shopper in the queue next to me chirped, “MINCED!!” Yes he could mince it, problem solved. I also picked up the kangah-bangahs as I remembered them from our last trip to Melbourne — slightly garlicky with a hint of sun-dried tomato and basil. As he handed over my purchases, he asked, “Mind if I ask what you’re making with the duck?” I described both the dish and the friend who had asked for it, and he asked if I was a chef. I said no, just a devoted amateur. “A VERY devoted amateur with a very lucky friend I’d say,” he replied. Flattery will get you everywhere, mate; I’m sure I’ll be back to that shop if I’m lucky enough to revisit Melbourne!
The vegetable vendors were heavy with potatoes (all the ones I’ve seen in Australia have been squeaky clean, interestingly enough), and I got the rundown on which one would be best to mash: largish beautiful pink ones. It is autumn, again, and one of the veg dealers had the cutest, most tender looking broccolini, not cheap, but hey, you get what you pay for or a little less. Another part of this challenge is to minimize waste, and buy precisely what one needs. Butter came in bulk at one of the cheese shops so I could buy the 200g I needed. I picked up a half a head of garlic nobody else would likely buy, dropped 20 cents on a carrot and found a slightly mangled half a stalk of celery (it was headed for the sauce, so I was only going to mangle it further). One misstep was the pancetta required for the duck sauce; I asked twice to be sure it wasn’t smoked, but when I got back to the apartment I discovered it was (Marco said in the end that he didn’t mind). Olives looked good: one variety from Australia, a second from Sicily. I normally travel with both salt and pepper mills — the gods of improvisation smile on the man who is prepared.
Everyone offered to help, but the kitchen was so small only one other bum would fit in it. With the able assistance of Dominic Teresi, dinner was served, savoured, and devoured. Among the limitations I couldn’t easily overcome in this case were serving space and capacity. To actually have a place to sit at the small table and have cutlery to use in our apartment, I had to limit the guest list to five, and I don’t think the pots and pans could have handled much more. All of which is to acknowledge that if my colleagues read this I may be in some hot water! On the other hand, after two weeks on the road I should be careful about presupposing that anyone would be looking for my company!
For the full Australia tour schedule, visit tafelmusik.org/Tours